Heaven and Hell
THIRD PARTY HARDY
By Bek D Corbin
Edited by Steve Zink
Author's note: This story is set in Maggie Finson's Heaven & Hell universe, with her blessing. Much of the particulars of the Hierarchies of Angels and Demons are derived from the Steve Jackson Game In Nomine. While it pains me to write it, I must remind readers that this is a fantasy, and is not meant to reflect any given religious doctrine, and is most definitely not any kind of revelation of Mystic Truth. Like, I'd know Mystic Truth if it walked up and bit me on the nose...
As she slinked down the bustling downtown street, Jezebel knew that every heterosexual male eye was on her. As a succubus with just under three thousand years of experience, she'd be in real trouble if she weren't. Of course, the way things were going lately, she couldn't be absolutely sure of that. Somebody had to be out to get her. It was very possible that she was just having a streak of bad luck, and was being paranoid. But, when you live - for want of a better word - in Hell, Paranoia isn't just an asset, it's almost a basic necessity.
She leaned over and primped a bit in her reflection in a window. Actually, she wasn't primping - she was feeling around for the mystic link that would lead her to tonight's meal. But it wasn't there. Oh, this is just classic, she thought to herself. She was peckish, the tantalizing smell of Man was driving her nuts, and there wasn't a completely open male in miles. Of course, she could just pick up a guy at random and screw his brains out for his male essence. But that would just sate her hunger; it wouldn't open up another human soul for "infiltration'. You needed that stupid link for that. And coming back empty handed wouldn't earn her any points downstairs.
And Lucifer knew she needed points. Lord Baal was chafing under the restraints of the Truce with Heaven, and he was taking it out on everyone in Command HQ. The fact that Jezebel had been a faithful follower of his back when he'd been a god and not a devil and she a mortal, wouldn't buy any ice with him. If anything, her past successes only made her current failure to discover any breaches of the truce rankle more fiercely with her bellicose master. Lord Baal was Hell's Generalissimo in charge of The War with Heaven, and he wasn't getting to strike out at the Hosts of those who had cast him down. Ah, screw that - the chancerous assed bastard was just bored.
Then one guy just kind of jumped out of the crowd at her. He wasn't her appointed target, but any port in a storm - or even a nice dry sherry! He looked like easy pickings - sloppy, a little on the pudgy side, glasses and cheaply dressed. One look at him, and she could tell that he'd sell his soul just to have something - anything - go his way for once. He wasn't Filet Mignon, but in the face of her hunger, who was she to sneer at McRonald's?
I rubbed my face, and tried desperately to forget. It had been a pretty average week; in other words, it had been pretty damn horrible. I'd lost yet another job - not even a job that I really wanted, but I still had to pay the rent. I'd been at the CopyMart just long enough to qualify for Unemployment Insurance, and then - Bam! Downsized. My bank account was three cents over the minimum to keep it open, and I was working on my third 16% APR credit card just getting this sandwich. I knew that I'd get another job - after weeks of futile resume updating and job-hunting, and just before my Unemployment Insurance ran out. It was a pattern. It was a pattern that I hated, but that pattern is one of the few things that I have learned to count on. Everything else in my life has been a series of exercises in Murphy's Law. Negligent parents, overbearing family, feckless friends, dismissive teachers, bullying classmates, sneering girls, opportunistic strangers, oppressive employers - I try to take it all as a kind of challenge, really I do.
The really annoying thing is that I seem to have a Golden Touch - for everybody else. My brother and sister learned early on to keep an eye on me, or more accurately on all the golden opportunities that just missed me. In High School, my brother Aaron turned in a term paper that I'd written - and somehow lost - and not only got an A+ on it, but got a recommendation to Stanford on the strength of it. My sister Sarah is still pulling in royalties on a song based on a poem that I wrote in Junior High, to which she put some generic music. The song stayed in the Top Ten for six weeks, and now I hear it every time that a certain automobile ad comes on the radio and TV. I hear that they're gonna make it the theme music to the entire fucking campaign. I dated a fat girl in high school, and helped her with her diet and exercise regimen. After she lost sixty pounds, she dumped me for my best friend.
But, I can't really complain. Well, of course I can complain - I'm an American, it's my right! But really Bad things don't seem to happen to me. I don't get mugged, I don't catch debilitating diseases, and I once walked out of a car wreck with just a bruise on my forehead. But that doesn't stop the gut-wrenching aggravation when yet another golden opportunity drops into the lap of the person sitting right next to me. I wondered what the next really great thing that almost happened to me was gonna be.
And then she sat down next to me.
She was quite possibly the most gorgeous creature that I'd ever laid eyes on. My first impression was her large almond-shaped dark eyes, framed by a fall of midnight dark hair. Her lean, regally angular face was saved from being hard by a wide expressive mouth. Her skin had an olive tint, and her body was sleek and curvy within her tight dress. Absolutely gorgeous, if you like that type. And who doesn't like that type?
To be perfectly honest, I don't remember exactly what she said to get the conversation started. She just plopped herself down, and the next thing I know I'm pulling out that 16% APR credit card to pay for a full meal for her, and enjoying every minute of it. That sounded off the warning claxons in my head. Every time I start really enjoying myself, something shitty is just around the corner. Okay, a dynamite babe has just attached herself to me. Either she's a very expensive hooker - naaahhh, she's too good lookin' to work a deli. So, either she's got a really jealous boyfriend, or she's settin' me up for a badger game. So? Either way, it'll be fun while it lasts. Just keep yer pants and wallet where y'kin see 'em at all times. You can't blackmail a guy who's broke, and if she's got a boyfriend with a nasty temper? Oh well, at least it will all be over with a bang, rather than a whimper.
Jezebel was a tad taken aback. His tongue wasn't dangling between his knees. He was interested, but it wasn't the running-around-in-circles-and-drooling kind of interested that she was used to. Oh, Sweet Ashtarte's forgotten sixth tit, he was one of those - the kind that look gift horses in the mouth, and then check the animal for mange. Fortunately, she knew how to handle those. She smiled seductively. "Call me Jessie. What's your name?"
Jezebel almost lost it. Elijah. That Moloch-accursed prophet! The one that called down drought, disgrace and dissention down on her, her husband Ahab, and her sons Joram and Ahaziah. Even after three thousand years, the memory of that withered old desert rat's braying accusations and slanders still rankled her down where she really didn't like to be rankled. Well the prophet was in Heaven, well out of reach - for the moment, anyway. But his namesake was right here in front of her. Little man, she thought, your soul may not buy me any ice with Lord Baal, but I'm sure that it will hurt your name-source, even a just a little, to know that I destroyed you in his name. As a matter of fact, it's rather a pity that Elisha and Jehu aren't more popular names - I wouldn't mind getting a little of my own back at them, either.
"Elijah! What a lovely Old Testament name! Well, Elijah, let's cut through the bullshit." Jezebel knew that nothing got past a skeptic's defenses like a really crass lie right after you say 'let's cut through the bullshit'. "Elijah, I married a really rich old man, who couldn't warm up a glass of milk in Texas in August. Right now, I'm just looking for a little fun, meaningless sex, and you'll do as well as the next guy. If you don't think you're up to the job, I'll go over to the bar and try my luck there."
Eli wavered. "Okay, why me?"
Jezebel shrugged, knowing full well that it did really interesting things to her cleavage. "Why not? You remind me of somebody who was a real...um, influence in my life." She turned up the heat a skootch. "Besides, everyone knows that the pretty boys are so wrapped up in themselves that they don't appreciate what they get. I want to be appreciated!"
I didn't really believe it, but hey! I've always said that what separates me from the other losers is that I never just walk away from an opportunity. I've never fumbled the ball; mind you; the second that I have to rely on anyone - or anything - else, it immediately goes screwy. But I never just walk away, whining, 'It'll never work'.
The next few steps in our little 'romance' are straight out of bullshit locker room stories - we walk out of the deli, go to a motel and get a room. She peeled out of her dress with the ease of a ripe banana, and proceeded to screw my brains out. I kept expecting a knock at the door for her pimp - or boyfriend, or father or husband or a PI, or whatever the scam was - to complete the picture. But the knock never happened. We just kept fucking - far longer than I had ever gone before. It was the greatest sex that I had ever had - no technique, just deep down primal screwing. When I came for the third time, it was so intense that I actually passed out!
As her mark blasted the very last drop of his masculinity into her, and started the metamorphosis into a female, Jezebel grinned. She rolled off of 'him', the last physical remnant of his manhood snapping off inside her like a twig. Then she reached down and opened 'his' mouth to grab the fluttering little mothlike soul.
"HEY! What the HEAVEN do you think you're doing, Bitch?"
Jezebel whirled around to face a creature that looked something like a mangy pit bull with cancerous looking wings. "Hunh? You're...a Malkerab, aren't you? A Guardian Demon, right? You're telling me that this schlub had a Guardian Demon?"
The Malkerab stalked over to the supine form, which was oozing around, trying to figure out what sort of female form it would take. "He's Mine, all right, but I ain't nobody's Guardian, slut! My job is to see to it that nothing good ever happens to this guy, and now you've completely screwed it all up! I ain't gonna take the fall fer this, NO Way! YOU poached on MY property, and YOU are gonna answer to Lord Kronos for it!"
Jezebel blinked. Lord Kronos? The Prince of Fate? He was a major player in the Lower Echelons of Hell; not as directly powerful as Lord Baal was - even during the Truce - but far more influential. "Hanh? What in the name of Tiamat's scaly ass does Lord Kronos want with a never-was, never-will-be loser like this?"
The Malkerab snarled, "He was a loser, 'cause I do my job! Lord Kronos says that this guy has some kind of Destiny - don't ask me what, I don't think that even Kronos is sure, for all his posturing. I've been with Elijah here since he was fuckin' Three! Do you know how rare it is for a Malkerab to be assigned to a mortal at that age? And he's been a real handful, I can tell you! Always pushing, always looking around, always trying to make something work - I tell you, if it weren't for the occasional screaming fit or bout of despair, I'd'a sloughed this off on somebody else years ago. All That Work, and you just sashay in here and try to waltz off with a soul that's supposed to be mine!"
Jezebel made 'calm down' gestures. "Now, now, don't worry! I haven't taken his - or should I say her - soul yet. You can take up where you left off, no problem. Hell, if this doesn't push him over the edge, and right into your hands, what will?"
"Lord Kronos said, 'Let NOTHING happen to him! Nothing Good, and nothing too Bad! He is supposed to live a very long lifetime of bland frustration and quiet despair, never quite sure whether it's his fault or someone else's.' His very WORDS!"
Then something occurred to Jezebel. "Hold it. Aren't you guys supposed to leave some sort of mark on your 'wards' forehead, to warn other demons off?"
"Yeah! One which you totally ignored, you ravenous sow!"
"I didn't ignore it, Stumpy, It Wasn't There!"
"What?" The Malkerab metamorphosed into a short stubby looking man with a head of oily curls, a pencil mustache and a sour expression. He turned Elijah's body over and looked closely at the brow. Even as the body was still taking form, he could see no sign of his mark there. "What?" he said again, this time in complete confusion.
As he looked for some clue as to what had happened to it, Jezebel paced around the room furiously. This was too pat - her losing trace of her allotted prey, Elijah catching her eye, the mark being missing, the Malkerab being away when she picked Elijah up - it just had to be a set-up. "Yo, Stumpy!"
"My name is Dagnabbit. His mother was real big on him not using swear words, and that was his favorite 'Mama Correct' cuss word. He'd use it every time that he lost his temper when I soured something for him, so-"
"So you changed your User Name to Dagnabbit, so that he'd be calling your name every time he got mad, and you'd get a little bit more of his Essence. I know the scam. Anyway, Dagnabbit-"
"Call me Dag."
"Dag - we are both up the creek without even a fucking canoe! Look! No Mark! But even with that, we're stuck in the same pit of Larvae! You screwed up, 'cause you weren't on the job, and I screwed up, 'cause I shit on your doorstep. We both failed. And you know how Hell treats failures!" Dag screwed up his face and broke out into a bituminous sweat. "But there's more! Dag, why weren't you at your post?"
"Hey, Do NOT try to pin this on ME! I-"
"I'm not trying to pin anything on you! I'll bet you had a reason - I just want to know what it was."
"I got an urgent summons from Lord Kronos. But after I sifted through all his receptionist's bullshit, it was just a routine progress report! And when I got back here-"
"You got back here just in time to find me screwing up years of diligent work. And the only reason that I chose this loser was 'cause I lost track of my evening's meal. Sooo..."
"We got set up."
"Big Time. But who? Were they using you to get at me, or did they use me to get to you? Or were they using us to get at one or both of our Patrons?"
Dagnabbit growled, "Whoever it was, they're good. Damn Good. But they made one mistake - they removed my mark. That proves-" even before the Malkerab could finish his sentence, his mystic mark reappeared on Elijah's brow, "*SHIT!* Shitshitshit! Now we got Nuthin'!"
Jezebel nibbled on the tip of a thumb and thought furiously. "The only way for Me to get out from under this is if I didn't do it. And the only way that You can get off, is if there's no way that you could have stopped it. So, we have to somehow blame this on somebody who's powerful enough that you can't stop 'em, but dumb enough to do it in the first place."
Dag looked up at her. "An Angel? There's nothing like blaming the opposition."
"No, why would an Angel change his sex? It has to be a succubus - just not ME. Somebody really powerful, but so dumb - or new to the game... And has all kinds of favors owed her... Somebody that the Lower Downs wouldn't mind seeing take a fall..." A nasty smile crossed her sensuous lips, making her predatory canines all too prominent.
Then she looked quickly down at Elijah's settling form. "SHIT! We don't have much time!" She shoved the Malkerab down and started to suck vigorously on his cock.
"Hey! WHAT do you think you're DOING?"
Jezebel took her mouth off his cock long enough to talk, but kept rubbing it between her breasts as she did. "I need just enough of your Maleness to keep our pigeon from settling into a female form. My bond with him should be strong enough that once he's more or less stable, I can make him look like an attractive male. Then we put him in this particular Succubus' way while she's hunting. I can lay down a false trail to make her think he's her evening's dinner. She slurps up what Maleness we give him, and he goes femme. You pop in, and start yelling. I come along and back up your story. I get off the hook, and you have somebody credible to blame who has very deep pockets to give you restitution from."
Dag nodded. If there is one thing that all denizens of Hell understand and appreciate, it is lawyer-think. He leaned back and let Jezebel suck him off. He erupted in her expert mouth, and she pulled off, catching the demonic seed in her hands. She molded the dark roiling mass into a ball. She took the ball over to Elijah, and opened his mouth. Gingerly, she shoved the ball of infernal essence into his mouth.
Elijah's body shook, and started to change. The softening curves hardened, and the slender form gained mass. When Jezebel was finished with him, he was a little on the stocky side - as he reflected some of his donor's nature - but all in all a very attractive, very masculine man. But he was like a balloon animal - all form, little substance. A succubus would slurp all of the Maleness out of him in a New York City minute.
The beefy hunk started to rouse. Jezebel shifted back to her mortal seeming, and snapped, "Dagnabbit, remove your mark and hide yourself! I'll take it from here!" She crawled under the sheets with him, entangled herself in his arms, and breathed the fumes of dreams into his ear.
I started to wake up, but then I realized that I was dreaming. I knew that I was dreaming, because I was in bed with this absolutely magnificent woman who made the MTV babe-of-the-week look like a dachshund. She was curled up next to me, and smiling the smile of a well-fucked woman. So, naturally, that meant that it had to be a dream. Stuff like this only happens to me in dreams, and not often then. So, it's a dream; so, enjoy, stupid! I felt a rousing surge of Male energy stiffen my groin. I pulled the uber-babe to me and rubbed my rhinoceroid prick against her. She murmured happily, and stirred. I started to position myself for another round of the vaguely remembered mind-blowing sex, but she resisted.
"Mmmm... Sorry, stud, but I'm all fucked out. Another round with you just might kill me." I rubbed my urgent groin against her. "Buuut...I just might know someone who could help you with that."
Of course she did. It was a wet dream. In wet dreams, gorgeous broads only refused hot monkey sex if they were going to lead you to another gorgeous broad, who desperately wanted hot monkey sex.
I stretched like a cat. "Hmmm - who's this friend of yours?"
She smiled voluptuously. "Her name is Lorelei."
Lorelei wandered down the shopping mall sucking on a tootsie-pop, looking as sexy, harmless and innocent as a little kitten. She was indeed, sexy. Harmless? Innocent? Hardly. While one of the youngest succubae of Clan Lilium, Lorelei was precociously powerful; powerful to the point where she tended to unnerve some of her subordinates by casually whipping up a magical effect that would have taken the average hell-fiend hours and gallons of sweat to produce. And, though she was laid-back and fun loving (as Demons go), she had a nasty streak in her that had four on/off-ramps.
It looked as if she were only window-shopping. She was really hunting for a man. She wasn't looking for a man to take his soul - if anything, her quota of souls recruited for the service of Hell was full for the next few years. But she was hungry, and she needed the raw Male energy that only having sex with a potent man could give her. Her steadies, Stephen and Richard, weren't right for today - she'd had Stephen only yesterday, and the poor man needed time to recharge his 'batteries', or she'd turn him into 'Stephanie'. Richard, her opposite number incubus, would probably jump at the chance, but unless she wanted to increase the Incubus/Succubus population the hard way, she'd best leave that alone. She'd had a lead, which had brought her to this suburban mall, but lost it somehow. She hadn't known that could happen. But, she was new to the whole 'sex demoness' business, and new things were always popping up.
Nope, no sign of the trail that had led her here; so if she couldn't find the man she was 'meant' to seduce, then it was potluck. She started to cast about, when a nasty little dog started barking at her. The silly thing didn't really scare her, but she couldn't just step on it and squish it. That would be tacky. The senseless thing advanced, snapping and snarling. She turned around and ran straight into a big, strong pair of arms. Now this was more like it! She snuggled in, and let the big strong man deal with the nasty old dog. He said a few harsh words to the dog, but the mutt only started yapping louder.
Then the mutt's 'mommy' came along and picked it up. "Stop that, you brazen hussy!" Brazen Hussy? Who talks like that? "And exactly What do you think you are doing? Stop It, Right Now!"
Who did this overfed hausfrau think she was? Lorelei just stuck out her (blunted) tongue, and snuggled in closer to her 'rescuer's' arms. The old sow nattered at them for a bit while her dog yapped from the safety of her arms, and then seeming disgusted, they left. Fortunately for Lorelei, there was a motel close to the mall.
This was one really great dream. First, the groovy Mediterranean chick named - what? Right, Kayla - and now Lorelei. She slithered out of her dress like a snake shedding its skin. Oh, yeah, women don't come like this in real life. Those curves, those luscious tits, those delightful legs, that peach of an ass - they only come together in dreams (and a plastic surgeon's table). She crawled next to me on the bed and lowered herself down on my cock - and I passed out.
Lorelei looked at her erstwhile swain in undiluted disgust. How could such a BIG guy have so little steam? She barely got a taste of his maleness, and-
And he was shrinking! She felt something drain out of her into him, some trace of what Mama had filled her with when she'd been metamorphosed into a succubus. Not only was he shrinking, he was growing boobs. She'd seen it before, but it made no sense - how could such a macho guy have so little Maleness in him?
Then she saw the mark. She was sure that it hadn't been there before, so she took a good hard look at it. It was definitely some kind of demonic marking. She searched through the cluttered mass of lore that she'd absorbed from that sorcerer Girard and made a mental note to do a thorough house cleaning on that - someday. Then she found it. It was a mark claiming a mortal as the sole property of a Malkerab, a kind of reverse guardian demon.
_Oh _ Shit_.
Not only had she eaten off of somebody else's plate, she'd probably unwittingly screwed up some long-term magical project! That would account for this big guy having so little real maleness. Shit! She already had enough people pissed off at her for letting those Angels go after she'd put the kibosh on Girard... Angels. Some of those Angels still owed her. And she knew their True Names, so she could just call one and get him to help her out of this mess. But that Malkerab must know something was wrong with his pet project by now... Lorelei picked up the rapidly mutating body, slung it over her shoulder and summoned up a portal.
Jezebel and Dagnabbit, still looking like the overweight matron and her yappy little dog, waited outside the motel room a bit, to let the rookie freak out for a while. Then Dag shifted to his diseased winged dog form, and broke down the door. Remembering what he'd said to Jezebel, he snapped, "HEY! What the HEAVEN do you think you're doing, Bitch?"
To an empty room.
Jezebel followed him in. "Where in the name of all that's Unholy are they?"
Dag snuffled around. "He was here. So was she. There was some sex, but-"
Jezebel picked up Elijah's clothing. "She...must have created a portal, and taken him through it."
"A portal? But that takes hours! And if she hasn't fed-"
"She's supposed to be very powerful. From what I've heard, besides his soul, she sucked all the magical power and knowledge out of that black sorcerer Girard. I didn't think she was that powerful, but she might have done it."
"Girard? You mean that diabolist who worked for that renegade Angel? You mean she's that succubus?"
"Yes, she may be powerful, but she's still just a rookie. So, she'll go and ask somebody older and wiser to help her."
Jezebel shook her head. "No. That would mean 'fessing up. And if she's already moved his body, then she isn't gonna just go and throw herself at Mama Lilith's feet. She's gonna try and do something to cover her ass. Since we don't know who she's going to ask for help, our next best bet would be just finding her, no matter where she goes."
"Gotcha covered. Elijah's my victim, he wears my mark. I could track him down if he was hiding under the Most Highest's Own Throne!"
Jezebel smiled evilly. "Good. Then we're still in a position to play our cards just like we planned."
"How? We didn't catch her in the act."
"Yes, but she's trying to hide the evidence. That's even better. So, we do what all decent law-abiding citizens of Hell should do when they know that someone's trying to circumvent Lucifer's Own Justice - we call the cops."
Lorelei leaned over and sipped from the magic spring. It wasn't Maleness, but she couldn't spare the time to go hunting. Besides, the mortal - what was his name? Right, right, Elijah - was coming to, and shouldn't be left alone to cope with being turned female by herself. The Essence laden water took the edge off her hunger, and gave her enough nutrition to do what she had to do. On an inspiration, she filled up a dish with some of it - it would help in the summoning.
Then Lorelei heard a deep yawn, and turned to see Elijah sit up and stretch voluptuously. Besides being drained of Maleness, Elijah had somehow absorbed a touch of Lori's succubus femininity. Elijah was tall, sleek and tanned, in the manner of a California beach bunny. She had a long face on a swanlike neck, with a straight nose, a wide full mouth, high cheek bones, and big gray eyes, all framed by cloud of dark curls. She had full, probably C-cup breasts, a trim waist, a bubble butt, long sleek legs and a nice firm body tone. She wasn't up to Lorelei's standard of send-a-man-into-a-breeding-frenzy gorgeous, but then, Elijah was still a mortal, not a succubus.
I stretched out, feeling great. That had been a really great dream! I was sad that it was over. Then I felt something tickling my chest. I looked down, and saw locks of dark hair dangling down onto an absolutely huge set of tits. I lowered my arms to these new hooters, and gave them a squeeze. Whew! What a sensation! I must be having another dream. I looked around, and saw the cute little number that I'd fucked the second time. She was leaning over a pond, looking like the nymph in the White Rock™ logo - except for the bat wings and barbed tail. Ah well, same dream, Act Two.
Lorelei watched and waited for the inevitable freak out. Elijah fondled her tits for a while, an amused expression on her face. Then she got up and sashayed sensuously over to Lorelei. "Hmmm...cute!" she said, as she playfully ran a finger over one of Lorelei's horns.
"So I've been told," Lori replied dryly. Well, this was one for the books! The usual first reaction was, 'What have you done to me?' Lorelei hoped that the shock hadn't made Elijah's trolley jump its tracks. The Malkerab whose mark still showed on her forehead was gonna be pissed off enough with Lori just trespassing on his charge - if Lori had driven Elijah insane, there was gonna be Hell to pay. Literally.
"Weird dream. If I'm a girl, and you're a girl, how're we gonna get it on? Oh!" A lusty smirk crossed Elijah's face, "A little Girl-on-Girl action?" Elijah embraced Lorelei and suggestively rubbed their breasts together.
Ignoring the sensations created by Elijah's rubbing, (with effort - discipline was not what her body had been created for!) Lorelei shook her head. Well, that explained that! A mortal could accept almost anything, if they thought that it was in a dream. She smiled and said, "No, I have something better in mind! Haven't you ever wondered what it's like for a woman, to have sex with a man?" Elijah raised her eyebrows, and a look of sensual speculation crossed her face. "Very well then. If you'll give me a moment, Sweetheart, I'll whistle you up a real hunk for you to learn with!"
Elijah shrugged, and bemusedly looked around the glade.
*whew!* Lorelei heaved a great sigh of relief. So, to work. She drew a pentacle in the dirt with her toe, added a glyph in each leg of the star and spat in the middle. "Dimona! Front and Center!"
Eschewing the stereotypical puff of brimstone, a small blonde female figure appeared in the pentagram, dressed in a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform, carrying a large furry teddy bear. She would have looked like an absolutely perfect First Grader, if not for the hourglass figure and (proportionately) large breasts. "Hey, Boss! Wuzzup?" she chirped.
Lorelei eyed her critically. "I thought you completed your punishment for 'the Great Tail Caper'. What's with the 'Li'l Darlin' act?"
A very unchildlike grin split Dimona's lovely face. "I did. First of all, why mess with a look that works? Secondly, I find that in Hell, the smaller you are, the more people mess with you; I've been an Imp for thousands of years - I know. But, if I walk around looking like this, your average Hell Spawn thinks to themselves, 'A sweet little girl, wandering around in the labyrinths of Hell? Its gotta be something truly horrible under that disguise!' You wouldn't believe the lines I can cut in front of, lookin' like this! Lastly," Dimona snuck a quick look around, "...if they think I really enjoy this, they won't try it again as a punishment."
Lorelei crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow. Right, she thought to herself, and maybe you figure that the other Succubae are devious enough to think that that's you're what you're up to, so they will 'punish' you like this again. Not for the first time, she wondered if there were any good psychiatrists in Hell. Or, at least if there were any that could be trusted to use their couch in the approved manner. *sigh* "All right, listen up - I have three things I want you to do, in this order: One, I want you to bring me a bowl of red sand, a bowl of fresh sea salt, six sticks of 'Harmonious Breath of Heaven' incense, a pure white beeswax candle, a silver mirror, and an acorn that is just starting to sprout into an oak sapling."
"Oh, y'gonna Conjure somebody up? Why don't I just go an' get 'em?"
"As we used to say back when I was mortal, 'the less you know, the less you can be asked about under oath'."
"Go find Angelique, and tell her to come here ASAP, if not sooner. Last, see that woman over there?"
Dimona looked at Elijah, leaning over and drinking from the spring. "Your work?"
"Don't ask. She has a marking on her forehead. I think it belongs to a Malkerab-"
"Ah-Hah! So that's what this is all about!"
"- But I don't know who it is. Take a good look at it. After you've taken care of the first two chores, I want you to look up who it belongs to, and find them."
"Ah, Boss, I may not be an expert on Malkerabim, but I do know that they can track those with their mark on them, no matter where they go."
"Maybe, but given the nature of the situation, it's hideously important that I find them, before they find me."
"Gotcha." With that, Dimona stepped out of the pentagram and skipped over to Elijah, who regarded her with amusement. Dimona peered up at the Malkerab's mark. As she was studying the sigil, Elijah cooed, "Ooooh, how adorable!" and gathered her into a crushing hug.
A cross look scrunched up Dimona's face. She held her teddy bear up to Elijah's face. The teddy bear's face distorted into a fiendish mask of fangs and blazing eyes, and the blunt arms grew long curved talons. Elijah gasped, scurried back a few feet, and then broke out into peals of laughter.
With a haughty dignity many magnitudes greater than her frame, Dimona walked into the pentacle, did a quick two-step tap, and disappeared.
Elijah shook her head. "Man, this is one crazy dream! Hey, Lori! I thought that you were gonna whistle up a studly hunk for me to lose my virginity to!"
"I'm working on it!"
"While you're at it, why don't you call Room Service, and tell them that the Queen of Hearts wants some tarts? And, speaking of tarts-" Elijah drifted over and fondled one of Lorelei's breasts.
Lorelei shrugged. It wouldn't nourish her, but there were worse ways to kill time while waiting for her materials to show up.
Lorelei was demonstrating the 'Siamese Tiger Trap' when Dimona came back, awesomely laden for her diminutive size. Pulling her head out from between Elijah's buttocks, she said, "Well, that was quick, even for you!"
"Yeah, well, I was bound to old Girard for two and a half centuries - I know where all his supply stores are. While I was there, I took the liberty of scoring these as well." Dimona threw a white terrycloth robe, a plain blue jumpsuit with an elastic waist and short sleeves, and a pair of sandals at Elijah. "Male or Female, there's gonna probably come a time in this when you're gonna want to show up in public."
Elijah shook her head in bemusement and pulled on the robe. The terrycloth tickled her nipples.
Lorelei raised an eyebrow. "And what about Angie?"
"She was out cruising with Sylvana. It'll take me a bit to find her. Any specific messages when I do, Boss?"
"Just to haul ass, and leave her preconceptions at the door. I want her mind open when she gets here."
With a chipper, "Rightie-O!" Dimona was gone again.
Well away from the pentagram that Dimona had been using, Lorelei began her work. She used the bowl of red sand to form a six-pointed star on the ground, and placed the other components, including a bowl of water from the spring, into the triangles radiating from the center hexagon. After lighting the incense and candle, she carefully drew a name in an alphabet that isn't taught in any mortal school. She carefully checked her calligraphy - a misplaced flourish, and somebody she'd never met might show up, boiling mad.
When she was as sure as she was gonna get, she spoke a True Name under her breath. Even in a whisper, a True Name is something that you only say if you really mean it.
From the skies, a column of golden light appeared in the center hexagon. To the strains of a single violin played by a virtuoso, a long serpentine form slid down the beam, like a firepole. When it reached the ground, it spread its three sets of wings wide, and regarded her with three sets of green gem-like eyes. It was long, and covered with deep blue feathers instead of scales. Then it twisted in on itself, and from the tangle a man appeared. He was tall, trim, tanned and well tailored. He was dark and rather Latin-looking, with longish hair pulled back in a discrete ponytail. His regular features were just a little too sharp to be really handsome. His outfit was obviously not off the rack, and probably hand-made by expert tailors. His tie was silk, and of the kind of subtle colors that one usually associates with real power blocs. He looked like the broker that you hope you get - young enough to know the newest angles, but experienced, and obviously closely connected to the real power brokers. From the center of the hexagram, he regarded her. Then he put on his most professional smile, stepped out of the star and handed her a calling card. In a brisk, cultured voice, he said, "My Card."
The card read:
Expeditor of the Exchequer
Seraph of Eli, Archangel of Creation,
Currently attached to the service of Marc, Archangel of Trade
Lorelei cocked an eyebrow. "You're a Banker? I thought we - that is, Hell - had Wall Street all sewed up!"
"As I'm sure your Lord Mammon would like everyone to believe. No, while Greed does run rampant in financial circles, so too does the international market play a positive, nurturing influence on-"
"You're new at this, aren't you?"
Trisagion gave a wry 'you got me' half-smile. "I've only been at it for a few years."
"It shows. What did you do before you got stuck increasing profit margins?"
The banker-angel sighed with nostalgia. "I used to work as a talent scout for Motown. Then I got pulled off that, and was traded over to Marc. Why do you think 'Soul Music' has sucked so badly in the last few decades?"
"I'm sure Barry Gordy misses you deeply."
"Barry Gordy! Don't Get Me Started!"
Lorelei tried to steer the badly misdirected conversation back on course. She twisted her body around in a pout, stuck the tip of her tail in her mouth and looked up pleadingly at the Angel. In a mournful, little girl voice she said, "Yes, well, y'see, I'm in a lot of trouble, and I was wondering if you could help me out."
Trisagion straightened his suit a jot. "You do realize that I can't do anything that would violate my Professional - or Angelic - Ethics."
"Not to worry. As a matter of fact, I've brought you here to save a mortal's soul."
The cufflink with which Trisagion had been fiddling popped off of his sleeve, and his jaw almost hit the ground. His voice lost its Ivy League precision, and resounded with the drawl of pure street Dee-Troit. "Say Whaaa?" Six lambent wings formed at his back, and six bejeweled eyes shone on his face. The Seraph, a creature of Truth, gazed deep into Lorelei's soul. "You're on the level!"
"See that woman over there?" Lori pointed at Elijah, who had shucked the terrycloth robe and was joyfully splashing around in the spring. "Yesterday, she was a guy. A guy with some very weird strings attached to him. Somehow - I won't go into details, just now - I tangled up those strings. So, unless I wanna be up to my horns in deep doo-doo, I gotta get her back to being a guy, and back with her minder."
"I see. And exactly what do you want me to do about it?"
"Well, I can't give her back her Maleness - we just aren't set up that way - but I can give her some Maleness taken from another. And since the Male Essence of Angels is so magically potent..."
Trisagion straightened his tie and ran his eyes up and down Lorelei's delectable form. "And...exactly how do you intend to get my, um, Male Essence...?"
With a speed and grace born of considerable practice, Lorelei had the Seraph unzipped and in her hands with a single motion. She knelt down and wrapped her long, forked prehensile tongue around his member, and began to bring it to full attention.
As she worked, Trisagion thought to himself, 'Not only am I paying off an embarrassing debt to a member of the opposition, not only am I helping to save a mortal, but in the process, I'm getting my Willie Wonka'd. Who says Virtue is its own reward?'
Lorelei did do that voodoo that she does so well, and after a few minutes, Trisagion erupted a volcano of shining pearly Maleness. Lorelei - not realizing that she was copying Jezebel's tactic almost exactly - pulled off and captured most of it in her hands. She molded it as best she could into a kind of paste. There were some bits splashed around on her breasts and face; curious, Lori scooped some from off her breast and tasted it. Her eyes went wide at the honey-sweet, oh-so-satisfying taste of it. She cleaned her face off with her long agile tongue greedily, swiping up every dab. She looked hungrily at the paste in her hand. No, no, Lorelei, she thought, first things first - get Elijah back to normal, and then you can start planning on tying Trisagion down and keeping him as a milk cow.
She held up the golden paste in her hand. "Okay, Step One completed. Now, how do we get Elijah over there to eat it?"
Panting hard, Trisagion struggled to his feet. Steadying his quavering feet, he reached up and from nowhere produced a doughnut shaped piece of thick bread. "Here - some people will eat anything, if you put it on a bagel."
Schmearing the paste on the bagel - and greedily licking the overage off her fingers - she took the treat over to the spring. "Oh, Eliiijaaahhh? Care for a snack?"
Elijah stopped splashing around, and came up out of the spring, water dripping off her curvaceous form. The sight triggered a few old male fantasies that Lorelei had from her previous existence as Michael. Lori reigned herself in. Dammit, she thought to herself, I have got to get this mischegosche over and done with! Discipline and Self-Restraint are not in the succubus' job description!
Elijah looked past Lorelei, to where Trisagion was standing. "Is that the Hunk you've been promising me?" A look of wanton anticipation crossed her face.
"Uhhmm...Of course! But first, Eat! Eat! It's Good for you!"
Looking directly at Trisagion, Elijah made an Italian Art Film show of consuming the bagel - and didn't do a bad job of it at first, either! But, once she tasted the Maleness paste, she wolfed it down, spoiling the effect. She polished off the roll, licked her lips and rubbed her tummy appreciatively.
Then she stopped stock-still. Her lovely, large gray eyes snapped wide open, and her entire body shuddered. Her body wavered, and then she started to fall. But, before she could hit the ground, she began to float and rose up into the air.
Lorelei and Trisagion looked up at her as she wafted upwards, both of them completely flabbergasted. As one, they looked at each other and said, "What did you DO?" "I didn't do anything, I thought it was you!" "What the Heaven/Hell is going on here?"
They both spread wings and flew up to see what was happening with Elijah. Showing a keen sense of the obvious, Trisagion said, "She's levitating."
Lorelei shot him a sharp glare. "More to the point, she's still a She."
Trisagion returned Lorelei's glare. "She's levitating; that's very difficult for mortals, even experienced sorcerers. But she's doing it spontaneously. But if the Essence of Maleness that we fed her was just filling the void of masculinity that you accidentally created, why is she showing all the signs of magical supercharging? And why didn't the Essence turn her back to her male form, instead of this? Help me get her back on the ground - this is going to be touchy enough without a backpacker spotting us and getting the Mortals all stirred up."
Together, approached Elijah's levitating form. As they reached for her, bolts of silver lightning lashed out from her body, searing both of them. They fell and hit the ground hard, though it was more from the unexpected drain on their Essence than from the damage.
As they struggled to get up off the ground, they heard, "Hey! Featherhead! What the FUCK do you think you're doing?"
Lorelei and Trisagion turned around quickly to see a golden vision of demonic beauty striding toward them, a long vicious sword glittering with fiery ice in hand, fangs bared, azure batwings spread, and barbed tail twitching testily. Carefully lagging just behind her, Dimona peeked curiously, holding onto her teddy bear as if it would protect her. Of course, it might have done just that.
"Angie! Chill! Trisagion, this is Angelique-" the Seraph snorted at the derivative name, "-one of my most trusted fol-, ah, friends. Angie, this is Trisagion. He's one of the Angels that I freed from Girard's control. He's helping me out here, in repayment of that debt. Trisagion, before she was - ah, adopted into Clan Lilium, she was a mortal sorcerer of no small skill. Between the two of you, I think you should be able to figure out what just happened."
Angelique sheathed her sword, crossed her arms, and glared at the true angel. Trisagion put on his most pleasant expression, and tried to explain the situation (please keep in mind, Seraphim are not noted for their people skills). Lorelei left them to it, and took Dimona off to one side.
"So, Boss, you still want I should go find the Malkerab whose mark that is?"
"Yeah, Squirt, ASAP. But don't approach him. Find him, find out what he's doing, and come find me; I want to know what he's up to. If a Malkerab can track down their victim wherever they are, then why hasn't he made an appearance yet? There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and I wanna know as much as I can, before I set one cloven hoof firmly down."
"Right! Boss, can I take Helga along with me on this one?"
"Why? I thought you had the Halls of Hell quaking with fear of the Horrible Cute Little Schoolgirl."
"Yes'n no. Y'see boss, there are a couple of old Imp buddies of mine that I recently ran into again, and well, they didn't exactly react the way I thought that they would."
"Homophobia in Hell? Well, I didn't expect it, but it does make a certain kind of twisted sense - which is only par for the course in Hell."
"Wrong reaction, Boss," Dimona blushed.
Lorelei looked down on her abashed underling in genuine surprise. "They made untoward advances?" Dimona just looked away. Lorelei scooped her up in her arms. "Why, our little girl is becoming a woman!" Lori gushed.
"Boss, don't make me sic Mr. Fuzzy on you."
Lorelei dared the teddy bear's wrath by kissing Dimona on the forehead and sending her off. With that done, she returned to the edge of the spring. Trisagion must have gotten through to Angelique, because between them, they were carefully manipulating the energy coursing through Elijah to bring her down to the ground. When Elijah was only floating a couple of feet off the ground, those six bejeweled eyes reappeared and he began a close examination of the mortal's energies. Angelique made passes over the body, forming complex patterns of circles, triangles, squares and pentacles out of electric blue energy.
After a few minutes of this, Lorelei started tapping her dainty hoof. "Well, is she going to be able to play in the Big Game, or What?"
Angelique turned to her with a puzzled look on her face. "One thing about hanging out with you, Lor - it's educational! From what Trisagion tells me, you accidentally over-drained this guy, and femmed him; then you spotted the Malkerab's mark. So, to cover up your goof, you fed this putz an Angelic Maleness muffin, hoping that it would replace his lost manhood. Not a bad plan - but instead of permeating your playtoy's spirit, the Angelic Essence seems to have congealed and right now is engaged in a kind of struggle with that blob of Demonic Essence that was already in him."
"Blob of Demonic Essence? What are you talking about? He seemed like a perfectly normal mortal guy when I picked him up! He was as mundane as a rerun of The Brady Bunch."
"Well, it was there - and when you fed her Trisagion's Essence, they locked into a weird quasi-stable relationship." To demonstrate, Angelique whipped up a minor illusion in the palm of her hand. It was a circle, divided into two teardrop shaped halves beside each other, a dark one with a light dot in the center of the bulge that was always descending but never quite reaching the bottom on the left, and a bright one with a dark dot in the center of the bulge that was always rising but never quite reaching the top on the right. "They seem to be in conflict, but they're also in a paradoxical harmony. There's no real Dissonance - it's like it's their natural state."
Lorelei bit a knuckle and furrowed her brow. "Hold the phone - I know that symbol from somewhere."
"Symbol?" Angelique looked at the disc again, and smacked herself on the forehead. "OF COURSE! It's a Tao symbol! Yin and Yang!"
Trisagion nodded. "Yes. That explains why she didn't go back to being a male - if there was a 'blob', as you put it, of Demonic Essence in him when Lorelei drained him, she must have drained the Maleness, _but not all the of Demonic Essence _. It became a female Demonic Essence, which became a perfect 'Yin' counteragent to my 'Yang' Essence. It also explains why this mortal has suddenly become such a magical powerhouse - Heaven and Hell are perfectly balanced in her. Throw in the way that the sex-changed suck up Essence like a black hole, and you have the equivalent of a magical Fusion Reactor. The fact that she was standing in this magic pool when she ate my Essence probably didn't hurt, either."
Lorelei held up a hand. "Hold on - we still haven't explained how a reasonably nice, perfectly mundane guy comes to have a big undigested lump of Hell inside him. Angie, Trisagion - give her another looking over - look for any external links or connections."
The Hell Maid and the Seraph resumed their examination. "Lessee, there's her link to Trisagion; there's the link to you, Lor; there are two links to the Malkerab; and - well, dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians! - there's a link to another succubus!"
Lorelei bounced up and down. "YES! It makes sense now! For some reason, this other succubus drains and femmes Elijah; then somehow she talks the Malkerab into helping her frame me by donating some of his Maleness - just enough to make Elijah look like a meal. That would explain why Elijah petered out so quickly! He just didn't have that much to give!"
Angelique nodded. "It works - but Who? And Why?"
Trisagion offered, "I think your Imp will be able to tell you that when she gets back. My guess is that this unknown succubus will be close by the Malkerab when your lackey finds him. Speaking of which, may I suggest that we move? A Malkerab can always find its marked victim; come to think of it, why hasn't it tracked Elijah down yet?"
The answer to Trisagion's question was that Dagnabbit and Jezebel were caught in one of Hell's most fiendish traps - a Waiting Room. Dag had expected to cut through the red tape, because he knew a Calabite who worked under Asmodeus, the Hell Prince in charge of Lucifer's Secret Police. Instead, he was given a number, and they had to wait. Jezebel had buffed all of her nails to a perfect sheen, and both of her hooves, and was starting on the barb at the end of her tail. Dag leafed through a Saturday Evening Post and a Life Magazine, both from 1953, as the same five Muzak pieces played over and over in an endless cycle. He started to lose his temper; Jezebel held up a silent restraining hand. She waited until the demoness at the desk left and was replaced by another. She smiled sneakily at Dagnabbit. Once the new receptionist was well installed at her station, Jezebel stood up and went to the desk. With a nervous expression on her face, she said, "Uhhmmm... Y'know, Miss, it wasn't very important, what Mister Hjkerius'vij wanted to see us about. Why don't we make an appointment for some time later, and we'll be out of your hair?"
The demoness gave the pair a razor-blade smile. "Why, don't be ridiculous! Your appointment just opened up! Go right in!"
As they walked down the corridor, Jezebel smirked down at Dag, "Reverse Psychology. Works every time!"
Jezebel's good mood was immediately shattered when they stepped into the indicated office. Instead of the blasted hole of rubble and ruin that Dag had described, it was a neatly organized warren of a more extreme decor. All Angels and Demons hope someday to embody a Word. To embody a word was to make it the primal focus of your very being. Angels had Words like Honor, Love and Mercy. Demons embodied Words like Hate, Fear, War and Despair. Of course, as with all things, all the really good Words were taken, so most lower ranking Angels and Demons tried to find less obvious Words to embody, and somehow make that Word significant. For instance, a hundred years ago, the Demon of Television was a complete unknown; now he was a Prince of Hell. The denizen of this particular corner of Hell obviously hoped to embody the Word 'Chain'. The cavernous chamber was draped and festooned with chains of all sizes and materials, with a few locks and shackles to break up the monotony. The figure seated at the desk was also draped in chains. And not dinky little gold chains, either. He wore a cloak of big clanking chains that would bear a lesser being down and crush him. He had chains poking in and out of his body, and links pierced his cheeks and lips, pulling and contorting his exquisite features. A chain even held up one eyelid, adding to the burning madness in those eyes.
Oh _Shit_, Jezebel carefully thought to herself, making sure that he couldn't read those thoughts, a fucking Habbalite. Habbalah are stone cold fucking nuts, every one of them. They make Shedim look sane.
The twisted figure before them gestured them to sit down on a pair of spools of chain, which served as chairs. "I am Urigael, Inspector of Iniquity. What...news...do you have of treason?" Jezebel and Dag told their story in technically truthful terms, not lying, just carefully omitting distracting factoids like the fact that Lorelei wasn't the first succubus to drain Elijah.
As they told the tale, Urigael ran a length of chain through his hands, playing with each link like a bead in a rosary. Though he'd probably rip your head off if you pointed out the similarity to him. In a deep harsh voice he answered bleakly, "And? What does...that...have to do with Our Unholy Office? Why don't you go to your superiors if you can't...handle...it?"
Because I don't wanna go to Lord Kronos and 'fess up to my failure without a scapegoat right at hand, thought Dag. "Well, Sir, Lord Kronos hisself put me on this case. His Fatefullness doesn't so much as go to the bathroom without a deeper meaning to it. If this high-powered Succubus with very tight Angelic connections-" the chain between Urigael's hands snapped taught with a *ching!* at the mention of the word 'Angelic' "-messes up something that important, it seems to me that your Office should take a look at it, just in case. If You say she just screwed up, I'll take it to Lord Kronos. If there's more to it, well then, it is your business, isn't it?"
Urigael shifted his burning eyes to Jezebel. "And what is your...interest...in this?"
Jezebel shrugged. "I was hunting up a meal. I spotted this - what was his name, Dag? Right, right, Elijah - this Elijah, and thought he'd make a small snack. Dag filled me in. Then we saw Lorelei cuddling up to him. We tried to warn her off as best we could, under the circumstances." She carefully forgot to point out that there was no way that Lorelei could have understood either one of them.
Urigael shifted his gaze back to Dag. "And what is Lord Kronos' interest in
Dag shrugged his cyst-ridden wings. "I dunno. Lord Kronos sez, 'Go make this mortal's life miserable, but not too miserable', so I go make the guy's life miserable. Even if I did ask, he'd just get all cryptic and shit."
Urigael stood, his chains rustling ominously. "If Lord Kronos has personally selected this mortal for obstruction of his...Destiny...then it must be a matter of the greatest long-term importance for Our Cause. We must investigate this, to gauge her... loyalty... to Our Cause. The Succubus Lorelei's interference in this matter may merely be a matter of...inexperience...and incompetence. But, she has also sided with the Angels on more than one occasion. It may be a question of...treason..."
When Elijah was damped down enough to handle safely, Lorelei whistled up a portal to a place where Trisagion said they'd be safe for a while. The apartment on the other side of the portal was sedately furnished in Queen Anne, and looked like the home of a well-to-do lawyer or financier. With a quick look around, Lorelei said, "Nice Digs."
Trisagion looked up distractedly from checking on Elijah's condition. "Hunh? What? Oh, the apartment. Actually, I think it's a little staid, especially after my gig at Motown. I had a Mercurian I sometimes work with handle the decorating. I don't really stay here much; I just use the place when I have to maintain a mortal facade. You know how it is."
'I really should know how it is,' Lorelei thought to herself. 'It wasn't that long ago that I was a perfectly normal mortal horndog. Have I become so much a Demon, so quickly?'
Elijah murmured, and started to come to.
Things got clear and I looked around. At first, I thought that I'd woken up in somebody's apartment. God, I hope I just got drunk and some atypically charitable yuppie had taken me here to sleep it off. Otherwise, I was in Big trouble. People with places like these don't care much for unemployed bums like me crashing in their pads uninvited. But I didn't have a hangover. I looked around and saw a dainty little devilette in blue with a knockout body and the face of angel, a Warrior Maiden from a Frank Frazetta print with magnificent blue wings, and guy who would have looked like a cross between a Cuban dance instructor and a prim Boston banker, if not for the six emerald eyes on his face and six glowing wings coming from the back of his Brooks Brothers' suit. Oh. Same dream, Act Three. I stretched, and the sensation from the full breasts bobbing on my chest told me that I was still female. Abstractly, I wondered what that meant psychologically. But there was no way that I was gonna tell my bartender about this dream. Oh well, might as well enjoy it before the Jabberwock comes along and screws everything up! "Hi, guys! What's next on the agenda?"
The cute devilette, Laurie I think her name was, turned to the guy with the six eyes and wings. "Y'know, it strikes me that maybe we really just tried the wrong end. Maybe instead of feeding it to her, we should try putting it back in the way it got out!"
The Xena wannabe sat down next to me and said, "Hi, we haven't been introduced. I'm Angelique-" Well, of course she was. Man, what a great dream! "-and that-" she nodded toward the guy with the wings "-is your date for tonight!" Then she gave me a weird look straight in the eyes. "Wow, you really are wonky, aren't you?" She peered deeper into my eyes, and then turned to others. "Well, no wonder she's goofy! Her head is full of dream-smoke! Do you want I should clear her head?"
The guy tucked his wings away, and cleared his throat. "While, ah, performing would probably be easier if she thinks she's dreaming, ethically it would be the equivalent of rape. Clear her mind, please."
Laurie gave him a weird look. "She won't thank you, y'know."
He shrugged. "That's nothing new. Doing what's right is usually hard. Besides, it's not like I'm going to do her right now. First, I may be an Angel, but I'm not a machine. I gave you a lot of my Maleness back at the spring; I'm going to have to recover for a while. Also, once she regains her lucidity, she's going to need a little time to wrap her head around the concept that she's going to have sex with a 'man' in order to regain her own manhood."
Laurie pouted prettily. "Oh, poor baaayyy-beee! And I can tell that you're just champing at the bit to have her!" She snickered and turned. "Okay, Ange, 'Alice In Wonderland' time is over. Let's see what she's like when she's in her right mind."
The Amazon Devil leaned over coquettishly and blew lightly in my ear. Then she reached over and pinched my tit. *Yow!* I leaped up, cradling the offended gland. "HEY! You're not supposed to feel pain in a dream!"
Then it hit me like a brick wall. I wasn't dreaming. Stunned, I looked down at my body. Slowly I looked up at the impossible creatures before me. A six-winged angel, and two seductive she-devils. "Wow." I sat down, blinked, felt my breasts again and looked at them anew. "Okay, what's going on?"
The two she-devils blinked, and looked at each other, flabbergasted. "Well, this is a first!" the smaller one, Laurie, said. "Usually, they say, 'What have you done to me?' at the top of their lungs!"
The blonde nodded. "Yeah, I remember when I found out what had happened to me, I almost screamed my throat hoarse." She turned to me. "Not to sound ungrateful that you aren't trying to tear your own throat out, but why aren't you freaking?"
I shrugged. It did weird things to my chest. Then I suddenly realized that I was naked - and in front of a man! Sort of. I hastily covered myself. Recovering my composure, I said, "Well, I'm not really all that happy with it, but with the gonzo way that my life works, it ain't exactly new. Weird stuff is always happening to me. Well, not as weird as this, this is a real new high point in weird for me, but stuff that shouldn't happen always happens to me. No, actually it's that stuff doesn't happen to me, it always happens to somebody else. If anything, it's kinda nice to actually not be grasping a vapors for a change."
The chestnut haired one nodded. "Yeah, I can imagine that having a Malkerab on your case can be real pain. But then, that's kinda the point."
"Hunh? Malkerab? What's a Malkerab?"
"You've heard of 'Guardian Angels'? Well, Guardian Angels are more formally called 'Cherubs' or Cherubim. Malkerabs are their Infernal counterpart. Instead of keeping bad things form happening to you, they keep good things from happening to you, and screw up the things you're trying to do."
"You mean like lose homework, change the answers you put on exams, steal the money you put away for a rainy day, that kind of thing?"
"You say that one of these 'Malkerabs' is on my case?"
"Suddenly, my entire life makes sense."
The Angel - well that's what he was - stepped forward. "Elijah? I think that introductions are in order. My name is Trisagion. I am a Seraph, a kind of Angel. This charming creature-" he gestured toward the smaller devil-woman "-is Lorelei. She is a Succubus. This other lovely is Angelique. She seems to be some kind of Succubus as well, but I wouldn't swear to that in court. The reason that you're here, is that through a complicated series of events, Lorelei was tricked into draining you of all your masculinity."
"Y'mean, when we had sex?"
"Humph. You do pick up quickly. Yes, when you had sex. The thing is, Malkerabs always leave a mark on their victims that is invisible to mortal eyes. It warns other demons to leave that mortal alone, because they're the 'property' of that Malkerab."
"Like a dog marking its territory."
"Exactly, though I imagine that this Malkerab has been pissing on you all your life. Anyway, Lorelei could be in big trouble for intruding on this other demon's territory. So, she called on me to help her-"
"Excuse me, - Trisagion? - but why is an Angel helping out a Demon? I mean, that just doesn't sound like anything that I ever heard of in Sunday School."
"Heh. Basically, I owed her a debt, and she called it in. But it's gotten far more involved than that. Do you remember that bagel that Lorelei fed you?"
"Well, the spread that you enjoyed so much was a concentrate of Angelic Maleness, with which we intended to replace the mortal Maleness that Lorelei sucked out of you. No, she can't just put it back, it doesn't work that way. You should have turned back into a Man; instead, it somehow ignited a reaction inside you. It interacted with a 'lump' of Demonic Essence within you. They somehow stabilized in conflict with each other, and as a result, you have become a great source of mystic power. This may be what the Malkerab was set on you to prevent."
Lorelei interrupted, "And if it is, then I'm up to my tits in shit, Elijah. Malkerabs aren't just sicced on folks for shits and giggles. The more powerful ones are set on those who have Destinies." I could hear the capitalization of 'Destiny' in her voice. "This can't be a coincidence. It's either a plan from somebody really high up - I can't say which side - with an agenda that I can't even guess at, or it's Destiny, in which case we are well and truly fucked."
I held up a hand. "Hold it. If you got rid of this Malkerab, why are you in such trouble?"
"I didn't. He just wasn't there, and for some reason, his mark wasn't showing. So, he's still out there, and Malkerabim can find always their victims, no matter where they are."
"So, where is he?"
"Hey Babe, don't be that way..." The Imp leered at Dimona, and ran a long bony finger over her jumper. "I mean, we've been friends for so long, and now ya don't wanna spend time with me?"
"Listen, Hakkoz, I'm on the Bosses' dime here, and I don't have a lot of time to spend schmoozing, y'know? I finally snuck into Central Filing, and got what I need. Now, do you know where this guy Dagnabbit is, or not?"
"Well, shit, I just don't remember! But maybe you could prick my memory - or just massage my prick." He jutted out his knobby member at her.
"Helga? Would you handle this?"
Hakkoz felt something warm on the knob of his member. He looked up and saw a large maw that could have easily been mistaken for the stalactite-riddled opening of a volcanic cavern close around him. The Hellhound lifted him up by his cock and gently bobbed her head.
"Dagnabbit? Oh, you wanted Dagnabbit! Why didn't you Say So? He's down in Infernal Affairs!"
Infernal Affairs. Headhunter Central. Lord Asmodeus' bailiwick. The place where they thought that the Gestapo and the KGB were little children playing Cops & Robbers. Dimona looked at the Malkerab mark that she'd written down. According to the file, Dagnabbit was on special assignment for Lord Kronos personally. Why, oh why, did Lorelei have this uncanny knack for stepping on the biggest land mine in the field?
Dimona snuck past the receptionist - it wasn't that hard. After all, demons aren't supposed to want to go into Infernal Affairs. They're supposed to avoid it at all costs. She followed the Malkerab's trail down the hall. Then out of one particularly nasty looking door popped a diseased looking dog with gangrenous wings, followed by a succubus and a truly vile looking guy draped in chains. Dimona flattened herself into the doorsill and listened.
Urigael turned to the Succubus. "Will you be accompanying us, Jezebel?"
"Uhm, no. I have to check in with Lord Baal. I've spent way too much time with this nonsense. Just let me know if you need me to make a statement or anything."
"I doubt it. We leave such measures for lesser powers. All that really needs to be done is to lay hands on the traitor. From there, it will resolve itself."
Jezebel shuddered. "I guess so. Well, if that's all..."
The Malkerab growled. "No way. This bitch Lorelei has a reputation for twisting things all bass-ackwards to suit herself. I want you there to back me up. If nothing else, it will help if we have a succubus there to counter any allure tricks that she might use."
Jezebel sighed. There was no way that Dagnabbit was going to let her off the hook until he was completely in the clear himself. Typical Malkerab. "Very well. But I still have to check in at Command HQ. Lord Baal may have something that needs looking into."
"We'll wait. There's nowhere she can hide him from me, so it's only a matter of time."
Shit! Shitshitshit! They were after the Boss's sweet ass, and armed for Dragon! Dimona crept out of the hallway and snuck a look at the office chart. Urigael. She'd have to check this Urigael guy out. But Jezebel's little side trip to Lord Baal wouldn't take that much time. There must be a way to put them on a false trail. But how do you fox a creature that knows it's mark like it's own stink?
Jezebel walked through the corridors of Hell Command HQ, her dainty hooves clicking. Normally, Command HQ was a hive of activity. But since the signing of the Truce, the only real activity was various bureaucrats shuffling around reports on the replenishing of Hell's forces and supplies. Lord Baal, Generalissimo of Hell's Forces, bent over the main strategy board in his War Room. The walls of the cavernous chamber were lined with huge screens that mapped the corners of the Mortal Realm, the frontiers of both Heaven and Hell, and the Marches of Dream. Inset charts showing supplies and restock rates only marked the screens, normally alive with lines and icons. Lord Baal was idly shoving markers around the board, trying futilely to find a more efficient placement of resources. In a show of pique, he picked up one winged figure, crushed it, and threw the shards to the ground.
The Prince of War turned around and looked at his servitor. He was dressed in a dark red BDU with a few token ribbons, and a black beret marked with a bright red inverted pentagram. He was handsome in a dark, angular and feral manner. His predator's eyes pierced her. "Jezebel. Well, what news do you bring me? More reports of resting armies, restocking magazines and 'blessed' peace?" he snarled.
"Well, Sir, I have found a lead toward what I think may be the real plan behind the Hosts' long-term exploitation of this so-alled 'truce'. I believe that a rookie succubus was manipulated by the Angel Ariel into subverting one of Lord Kronos' long range plans into a penetration of our forces by one of Heaven's pawns."
"Hmmm... Maybe. But what if it's just another case of incompetence?"
"I've made contact with Urigael of the Infernal Affairs office, and we're looking into it together. If it's just a routine screw-up, he'll handle it. If not, we'll have proof of Heaven's double-dealing, and control will be handed over to you."
"Perhaps. But I am not inclined to leave it at that. If it looks like it's only a tempest in a teapot - break the teapot and let the tempest loose."
"You mean, manufacture an incident?"
"If it worked for that piker, Hitler, it will work for us. Hold. Who is this 'rookie succubus' you were talking about?"
"Her name is Lorelei."
"Shame. I was hoping that it would be that bitch, Angelique-"
"Wait! Angelique is directly subordinate to Lorelei! Indeed, there's a good chance that Lorelei may have already called in Angelique to help her out!"
Baal smiled. It was not a pleasant sight. "Good. Whether or not it is a breach of this damned truce, and Angelique is implicated in treachery, I want that to be the final judgement. Make it happen."
'Shit,' Jezebel thought to herself, 'I shoulda just kept my mouth shut.'
A cute little schoolgirl bamfed into existence in Trisagion's apartment. "Woof! Nice Digs!"
I shifted in my jumpsuit, and wished that these stupid tits of mine weren't so damn big. For some strange reason, neither Lorelei nor Angelique knew anything about bra sizes, and my back was starting to bother me. I turned to Angelique. "Is she one of yours or one of his?"
"She belongs to Lorelei, and she can have her."
The cute little girl stuck out an unnaturally long - and forked - tongue. She turned to Lorelei. "Boss! Pack yer bags and find some mattresses to go to! I found the Malkerab! His name is Dagnabbit-"
"Dagnabbit?" I said, a strange sense of deja vu hitting me.
"Yeah. Yeah, he was at Infernal Affairs, and it looks like he took the matter to a particularly nasty headhunter called Urigael." She reached behind her and produced a dossier file that was far too large to have been hidden there. "I snagged his file from IA. He's a scalp-hunter, with a really impressive track record. From what I overheard, Urigael's pretty much got you tried and convicted of Aiding & Abetting the Heavenly Host and Treason against Hell."
Angelique sprang up. "Shit! No matter what we do now, we're up the creek!"
Lorelei stayed calm. "Dimona, was there a succubus along with the Malkerab?"
"Yeah, an old-timer named Jezebel."
"Yeah - but don't worry, boss, she isn't really that hot. She just managed to really piss off the guys who were writing the Old Testament."
My ears pricked up. "Jezebel? Waitaminnit - I remember now! The last thing I remember from just before things got all cloudy was I got picked up by this really dynamite chick called 'Jessie'."
Lorelei plopped down on the sofa. "Okay, now we know that I got set up, and who set me up - Dagnabbit and Jezebel. But why? I've never done anything to either of them!"
Angelique tried to pull her up off the sofa. "Ah, honey, the real point you're missing here is that we have to get out of here! That Malkerab could-"
The little girl plopped down next to Lorelei. "Rookies. Don't sweat it, Wings - I had Dagnabbit's mark written down on a piece of paper for verification. They stopped by Hell Command HQ - Jezebel works for Lord Baal-" the Angel's ears pricked up at the name of Baal "-and she wanted to check in before she went off on a traitor hunt. While they waited for her, I boosted a little Essence into his mark, tucked it in Helga's collar, and sent her off to play in the sewers of Paris. Even if it only sidetracks them for a while, it should give the tourists a thrill."
Lorelei ruffled the girl's blonde hair. "The Sewers of Paris. The effluvia and waste of people who think that bathing more than once a week is a waste of water. Well, at least Helga's having a good time."
I held up a timorous hand. "Ah, exactly how can this Macrab thingie-"
"Whatever. How can it track me down?"
"Well, remember that mystic mark that Trisagion told you about? As long as it's on your forehead, this Dagnabbit can find you no matter where you hide or how fast you run."
I stood up and walked over to the mirror. At first I just saw the rather pretty girl that I'd become. Funny how less than an hour in the presence of couple of mind-numbing beauties like Lorelei and Angelique could make me think what I was looking at was 'rather pretty'. Funnier still, for some reason, it didn't bother me. I looked hard.
"Elijah, it's a magical mark. Mortals can't see it. What good is a mystic mark to a demon if all the mortals can see it?"
"But, I do see it."
I reached up and touched the cancerous looking glyph on my forehead. I poked a finger at it, and felt something. I worked at it for a minute, and felt something give. I pulled, and the mark sort of unravveled, like cheap embroidery when you pull a loose thread. I kept pulling at, until it was completely out, and lay in a tangled clot in my hands. I ran into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet. Then I vigorously washed my hands until the icky filthy feeling was gone, and rejoined the Immortals in the living room. Once the unclean sensation was gone from my hands, I felt both cleaner and lighter, like a heavy weight that I'd just learned to accept had somehow been lifted.
The weirdoes in the living room were all looking at me with even odder expressions that usual. Lorelei said, "I didn't know you could do that."
Angelique replied without taking her eyes off me. "You can't."
In a sewer deep under Montmartre, Jezebel picked fastidiously through the filth-encrusted water after Urigael and Dagnabbit. She silently cursed Elijah, Lorelei, Angelique, Lord Baal, Urigael, Dagnabbit, the original Elijah, Elisha, the rest of those Moloch-chewed prophets, Jehu, the eunuchs, Ahab, her father Ushanibal, that cute gardener who hadn't even given her so much as a tumble back when she was a girl because he was afraid of her father, and everyone else she could think of. Except Lord Lucifer. There are certain powers you don't even think that kind of thing about.
Suddenly, Dagnabbit stopped in his tracks. He cocked his head and then let out a howl that would have made the Hound of the Baskervilles turn green with envy.
"What are you...yowling...about, fool?" Urigael snarled.
I've lost him! I've lost Elijah! My connection with him is gone! Somehow, somebody removed my mark! Thirty-five years of hard work, flushed down the Abyss!"
Jezebel mused, "Maybe he fell in the sewer water and drowned?"
Dagnabbit turned around and snarled, "He's nowhere near here! We've been following some kind of decoy. I'm not sure exactly where, but he's thousands of miles away."
"You mean we tracked through miles of garbage that would make a basilisk puke, for nothing?"
Urigael held up a hand. "All this proves is that the traitor Lorelei is working very hard to...evade...our Justice. I regard this as proof persuasive - if not...positive... - of her guilt. All we need to do now, is actually lay...hands...on her."
Jezebel flipped a curled lip at him. "Well, that's rather been the entire point for the last few hours now, hasn't it? So, if you don't have any ideas of how we're going to actually do that, I think that I'll just-"
Urigael held up a hand for silence. "I know exactly...how...to do that. This way." He pointed off in the direction of the nearest portal.
Dag and Jezebel looked at each other, shrugged, and slogged after him.
The portal took the three hunting demons to the top of a wind-swept peak somewhere in the Pyrenees. Urigael reached into his coat of chains, and pulled out a golden ring. "A link in a...chain...a chain that cannot be...broken...not even by the gulf twixt Heaven and Hell. Only mortals can ignore the next...holiest...of bonds." He swept a hand down his form, and his coat of chains transformed into a cloak of fine silver mesh. The chains piercing and distorting his face vanished, leaving his features in their proper regal form. Only his eyes remained, burning with the madness that never left them. He held the ring up high, and whispered a name.
The clouds opened up, and a beam of silvery light came down to hit the ring. There was the sound of a lamenting single viola. A flight of doves came down and collected to form a single serpentine mass, which regarded Urigael for a moment. Then it changed form, shedding its feathery scales and six wings for the form of a woman. She was tall, slender and regal, her long white hair pulled back into a chignon, and dressed in the black robes of an Italian judge. Large grave eyes looked at Urigael. "Urigael. Beloved. Have you finally come to your senses?"
Urigael smiled crookedly. "Yes, Taberah, I have. It is you who are...misled...but I have...faith...that eventually you will come to comprehend what I have known for Millennia. But that isn't what I have called you here for. In my...role...as agent for Lord Asmodeus, I am appealing to you, as an agent for Lord Dominic to...police...your own people. One of your people, I am not exactly sure who, is...interfering...with a long-range project of Lord Kronos'. This interloper has...subverted...the succubus Lorelei, and used her to take the mortal - what was his name, Dagnabbit?"
"Elijah Quick. This mortal was part of a...project...that started after the Truce was declared, and as such, was protected by the terms of the Truce."
"If this mortal was...interfered with...by this succubus, how do you come to the conclusion that one of Our people had anything to do with it?"
"The succubus trespassed on the...property...of Dagnabbit here, a hand-chosen agent of Lord Kronos. Then she spirited the mortal Elijah Quick off, and...somehow...removed his mark. She is far too...young...a demoness to accomplish such an...exacting...task unaided. Lady Lilith, her...nominal..Superior, has no reason to cross Lord Kronos. The succubus Lorelei has...aided...the Heavenly Hosts before. The Elohite Ariel...requested...her specifically, by name, in the handling of the Shen-Dai Affair. She has...recruited...a Half-breed named Adrianna and a disfavored Death Angel named Jedidiah to her service. Yet...neither...of them has formally aligned with Hell. I have heard rumors that the Elohite Ariel is rather...taken...with the young lady. Or...perhaps...she is rather taken with him? Perhaps, she is...displeased...being Damned, even in
such...pleasant...service as Lady Lilith's, and seeks to purchase...asylum...on your side of the Pearly Gates. If so, and there is any...collusion...on the party of any servant of Heaven, then that would be a...blatant...violation of the Truce. One that would place your side at an extreme...disadvantage..."
Taberah stiffened, and looked like she was sucking on a lemon. Six sapphire eyes appeared on her face, and she peered into Urigael. She flinched from the insanity she saw roiling within, but saw no deviation from the facts (if not reality). "Heaven has kept to both the Letter and the Spirit of the Truce. If your twisted paranoid fantasies have any substance to them, I will personally see to it that this Lorelei is handed over to you, and any Angel assisting her is punished for such a reckless ploy. As for the mortal, well, I will have to see to that myself and devise the best remedy." With that, she exploded into a cloud of doves that rose up into the clouds.
Dropping his seeming of wholesomeness, Urigael smiled twistedly. "I always...could...play her like a fiddle."
Angelique was trying to explain to me why I couldn't have just pulled out the Malkerab's mark, when there was a knock at the door. In the blink of an eye, Trisagion had shed his wings and extraneous eyes, and Lorelei and Angelique were dressed as fashionable - if provocative - young women. The little one - Dimona - was seated on the sofa, cradling her teddy bear in her arms, looking adorable.
Trisagion went to the door. There was a voice just outside, and then a man pushed his way past Trisagion. "Lord Tris! I told you this was important! Now what could be more important right now than the Green- Oh." He spotted us seated on the couch. "Why, Tris! It's about time you got something that could pass for a social life!" He smiled broadly and straightened his tie. He was a tall, trim black man with a head full of dreadlocks and a goatee. He was very well dressed, and if his tie was a little too colorful, his vest was satin brocade, and his cufflinks were a tad flashy, it just implied that he was so well connected that he could afford to let his panache show. He was open and friendly, without that slightly creepy fawning vibe that Arsenio Hall occasionally had. I thought that he was kind of a fox; Whoa, where did that come from?
Then his friendly demeanor was shaken when he took a second look at Lorelei, Angelique and Dimona. Then he took a second look at me. He gave me a lopsided smile. "Hey, what's a nice girl like you doing hanging around with people like this?"
"Well, this time yesterday, I wasn't a girl. Indeed, hanging out with her got me this way."
Trisagion stepped in. "Elijah, Lorelei, Angelique, Dimona, this is Tobiashazaar-"
"Please, don't call me Toby. I keep getting Kunte Kinte jokes."
"Shaz, this is Lorelei, the-"
"THE Lorelei? The one that bagged that puss-bag Girard, and sprung ol' Trisagion and a small regiment of the Host from durance vile?" He gave Trisagion a look. "She's calling in the favor?" Trisagion nodded. Shaz shrugged. "I can respect that."
Trisagion gave him the stripped down version. Tobiashazaar gave me a long look, and sat down next to me, elbows on the back of the couch. He leaned in and asked, "So, ah, just between us guys- what's it like, on the other side of the equation?"
I twitched my shoulders. "So far, all it is, is a pain in the back. They didn't include a bra in this outfit."
Shaz looked reproachfully over at the succubae. "Startin' the Torments of Hell a little early, aincha, ladies? She's still got a pulse!"
Lorelei pouted, crossed her arms and thrust out her even more impressive chest. "Well, we only need the silly things as accents. I don't know nuthin' about measuring no bra sizes!"
"Thank you, Dragonfly McQueen." Shaz reached into his wallet and pulled out a credit card. "Since you ladies can whistle up your own, ah, accessories, but none for poor Elijah here, why not do a little female bonding, and go shopping to get ol' 'Lige here some duds to tide her over. If nothing else, it will give m'man Trisagion time to 'recharge', as it were." He handed the card to me.
I looked at the card. "Celestial Express™ Orichalchum Card©?"
He smiled broadly. "M'yes...y'see, every day, hundreds of thousands of dollars - in various currencies - are destroyed; burned, shredded, torn up, eaten by vermin, water-damaged, riddled with bullets, and like that. Those lost funds are miraculously transferred into the accounts which that card ties into. This way, we can operate, without stealing needed resources from innocents - in pointed contrast to the way that certain other parties operate, may I add?" He shot a pointed glance at Lorelei and Angelique. "Take that card and at least get yourself a bra. Besides, Tris and I have some urgent business to take care of. It should take a few hours, and well, you might as well enjoy the time you have left as a woman. Splurge! Besides, afterwards, we can always donate the clothes and stuff to the Salvation Army." He pulled out a business card for Victoria's Secret®. "If yer gonna try it, do it right; tell 'em Shaz sent you."
Trisagion cleared his throat. "Shaz, there are a few things I'd like to discuss with you, before they go?"
Shaz spread his hands. "Not in front of the D-E-M-O-N-S."
"Who can S-P-E-L-L," Lorelei countered.
Trisagion gestured into another room. Shaz got up. Lorelei held up a hand. "Hold it." She marched into the room, and came out holding up Dimona by the back of her collar. "Say you're sorry."
Dimona looked up with wide, teary eyes. "I'm Sowwy," she said disconsolately.
Trisagion smiled, ruffled her hair and went into the room with Tobiashazaar. After Trisagion closed the door, Lorelei raised Dimona to face-level. "You stashed 'Mister Fuzzy'?" Dimona nodded with a razor-toothed grin.
They plopped down on the sofa, and Dimona opened her mouth. Out of her mouth came Trisagion's voice. "I'd like to help you, Shaz, but I'm obligated to help Lorelei out of the spot she's found herself in. Besides, Elijah's, um, condition puts a whole new spin on the situation. Not only are we talking about an innocent mortal soul who's being screwed over, but she has great potential."
Then Shaz's voice came out. "What kind of potential?"
"Well, when it first kicked in, I thought it was Sorcerous potential - I thought we might have another Virgil or Merlin on our hands. But a few minutes ago, Elijah 'unravveled' a Malkerab's mark from her forehead, as easy as taking off a pair of slippers!"
"Hold on. That's impossible. A mystic mark like a Malkerab's is woven into a being's very soul."
"She doesn't know that."
"Oh, Please! That 'the innocent aren't bound by the rules of the experienced' schtick doesn't work in real life! Modern Artists who don't bother learning the Established Rules of Art because they want to 'break out of the barriers' are just wasting time and paint! Artists like Picasso and Dali could do that because they had already mastered the Rules; they could break the rules because they knew where the artificial boundaries and restrictions were - they could break the rules intelligently. And it's the same in Sorcery, only a thousandfold worse, because you're tinkering with the very fabric of reality!"
"Maybe so; but the fact is, she simply ignored those rules and pulled the Malkerab's mark off her forehead and flushed it down the toilet. I don't know what she is, but whatever she is, we can't allow her to fall back under the thumb of Kronos' minion."
"All right. But what about Lorelei and her crew? Doesn't that pose a bit of a conflict of interest for you?"
"Not really. Lorelei got suckered into this, and just wants to get out from under it without hurting anyone. I'll offer to take over care of Elijah from her, and let her get back to her life. It's pretty much what she wants, and it's the best for everyone involved."
"Handing Elijah over to a minion of Heaven ain't gonna do the lady much good Downstairs, Bud. What she needs is some kind of proof that she was set up; and the only proof of that is Elijah's testimony."
"True. I'll also offer Elijah and Lorelei's crew sanctuary here while we put out some feelers. Without that stupid mark, the Malkerab doesn't have that much chance of coming and breaking down the door, so what I can offer her is time, which is what she really needs."
Lorelei turned to Angelique. "Oh, how sweet! Don't you just love the way that they're rationalizing trying to short-change us on the find of the century? And All for our own good!"
We could hear Tobiashazaar hmmpphh. "Okay, but in the meantime, we are STILL on Archangel Marc's dime! The complications on the Hetty Green mansion just aren't going away! Somebody's onto it, and trying to trip us up. It would probably resolve itself if we could just find what the trigger was! I need somebody with your, ah, discernment-"
"You mean my Seraph's ability to perceive Truth."
"Package it how you want, Bud, the side still needs you. Besides, you can't help out either Lorelei or Elijah for a few hours. A watched pot, and all that. Get out, take a look around the joint, see or don't see, and then you can come back and put a sparkle in Elijah's eyes."
"Hmmm... So, if we do it your way, we all come out the better."
"Hey, we're supposed to push Win-Win solutions, remember?"
Trisagion agreed. They came back into the living room, and Dimona quickly shut her mouth. Trisagion offered Lorelei asylum in his apartment until we could find some kind of evidence to clear her. Lorelei smiled prettily and thanked him. Then he turned to me. "Elijah, whether you choose to remain as you are or to have sex with me and return to being a Man, you are going to have to make some very important decisions."
Shaz smoothly cut in. "What Tris means, in his own way, is that we'd like to talk with you, y'know, about where you're going, what you're gonna do, things like that. Just remember, no matter what anyone tells you, your Destiny is in your hands. Nobody can make the really important decisions for you. We'd just like to present an alternative set of options for you to consider."
Lorelei drawled, "In other words, they'd like a chance to pitch their side to you, Elijah." She smiled lazily at the two angels. "Just remember, guys - that cuts both ways. We get a chance to tell her our side of the deal."
Tobiashazaar smiled, and spread his hands. "All right! And just to show you our good faith, we're gonna give you first shot at it. We're gonna go out, and let you try to convince Elijah what a Good Deal Eternal Damnation is. I'll even leave the credit card with you, so you can use our money to ply her with materialistic goods." He ended with a sardonic smile, and they both left.
As they left, Lorelei chuckled. "Y'know, I'm damned glad there's a Truce on. Five minutes in a head-on negotiation with Tobiashazaar, and he'd probably have me working an honest job at a perfume counter." She turned to Angelique. "Angie, does the name 'Hetty Green' mean anything to you?"
"Sure! I never met the lady, but I heard a lot about her a hundred years back. They used to call her 'the Witch of Wall Street'. She was an absolute wizard when it came to investments. And, she was so tight with a nickel, that she caused her son to lose a leg, 'cause she wouldn't cough up the money for a doctor when he broke it, until it was too late. She owned a mansion somewhere in New York, but she was so cheap that instead of enduring the cost of keeping the place open, she lived in a series of really cheap hotels."
"If she didn't live in it, why didn't she just sell it?"
"And walk away from Equity? Mammon forbid!"
"You think that it's the same 'Hetty Green mansion' that they were talking about?"
"Why not? Trisagion came out and said that he worked for the Arch Angel of Trade, and if Tobiashazaar isn't in the same department, I'll swallow my own sword - the hard way."
"I think there's something interesting going on there."
"Probably. But it's none of our business."
"So? When has that stopped us before?"
Angelique shrugged, and then giggled. "Why not? It may not do us any good, but it'll be fun sneaking around behind Tobiashazaar's back. Hetty's mansion is in the Mid-30's, if it's still standing."
I raised an eyebrow. "I thought you said that you never met the woman."
"I didn't! But after she died, her son tried to rent out the place. Weird things kept happening to the people who lived there - they kept going broke. Investments went sour, accountants ran off with their money, and let's not even start with the Crash of '29! It developed a reputation as a 'jinx house', and there were rumors that old Hetty was haunting the place."
Lorelei shook her head. "Nope. Doesn't work. From what you said, Hetty avoided the place like the plague. Why would she haunt a place that she hated?"
"That's what I thought. I rented the place back in '37, on the chance that there might be some kind of mystic power connected with the place."
"There is, but I could never get a bead on it. And after four months there, I lost almost half of my fortune. I had to tear myself away from my mystic studies for the better part of two years, just getting them back on track!"
I twitched my back again. "Hey, if you're gonna check this place out, fine. But can we do something about getting me a bra first? This lack of support thing is giving me a headache!"
Lorelei looked down at the gleaming card in my hand. "Bra? Elijah, honey, even for a mortal, you think small!"
As we got up to leave, the little girl, Dimona, whistled into the other room. The teddy bear came tottering out, and Dimona gathered it into her arms. "Good Mr. Fuzzy." The teddy bear flashed a razor-toothed grin.
Okay, I won't bother describing what happened next. Just paste in all those 'the girls go shopping at incredibly expensive name-brand stores' montage scenes from your favorite movies. I gotta admit, even though we were all beginners that this sort of thing, it was fun, going through all those stores and not having to worry about the money. I noticed that they pointedly didn't even so much as mention making any kind of formal alliance, either with them or the Angels. It struck me that Shaz had tried to stick them with making the first pitch, so that he would have advantage of making the counter-claims. They were probably trying to return the favor by putting him in a situation where he would have to try to refute allegations that he could only guess at. I am dealing with people who are smarter than I am.
Lorelei and Angelique naturally hid their wings and tails while shopping, but thoughtlessly exposed at least part of their demonic nature by hauling around more bags and boxes that were humanly possible. Or not; I swear I saw a fifty-year-old matron from Scarsdale toting around twice as much without so much as a sweat.
Still, if I choose to go back to being a guy, I have to wonder what the Salvation Army is gonna do with outfits from Hermes® and Christian Dior®.
I did actually get a bra, among other things. Lorelei insisted on using Shaz's name at Victoria's Secret, but I insisted on getting a nice comfortable sports bra. The lacy stuff was in the bag. I was wearing sporting togs, since I still hadn't decided on which way I'd swing (gender issue or otherwise), and Lorelei told me that it was quite unlikely that I would look as I did when all this mischegosche got started, so I couldn't be sure of things like sizes. Over that I had on a slightly baggy leather bomber jacket, which Lorelei called the 'boyfriend's borrowed coat' look. Lorelei and Angelique were dressed like the Art School Girls from Hell. Dimona had scared up a navy coat and red felt hat from somewhere. Looking at us in a window reflection, I said, "Heck, we look good enough to stop traffic."
Lorelei raised an eyebrow, and dragged me five blocks over to Times Square. She parted her long coat, raised a finger as if to hail a cab, bit her lip and took a deep breath. Every motor vehicle on the Square came to a dead stop. Every cabby on the beat tried to cram his hack into the spot right in front of her. The one extremely tough cab driver asked her, "Want a ride somewhere, honey?"
Lorelei smiled sweetly and said, "No thanks, just checking."
I hauled my bags over by the cab and said, "Hey, as long as it's here, why not take it to the mansion? After all, how much do we really have to buy?"
Lorelei, Angelique and Dimona all gave me withering 'you are such a guy' looks.
I gave them a snide look right back. "Hey, it's been fun, but we don't just have to go into every store just because- Oh, Look! Shoes!"
Eventually, we did get out of the stores and over to the Mid-30's. The 'mansion' was more of a slightly glorified townhouse that commanded the corner it was on. The ground floor had a storefront with large glass windows that were taped over. Angelique looked at the place. "I guess they did a little remodeling since I've been here. This ground level used to be a solid fieldstone front and the parking garage for the house. If I remember right, there should be an alley out back, leading to a small yard..."
There was an alley out back, but they must have done more remodeling than Angelique expected, because if there was a yard in the back, it had been walled off. I looked around for some way in, and couldn't find anything. Lori and Angie just smirked at each other. They turned into columns of smoke and slid under the door. Man! I keep forgetting that these are unnatural creatures that I'm palling around with!
Lorelei opened the from the inside for us, and we went in. The ground floor looked like any of a thousand old converted spaces in New York. Wooden floors, bare rafters, and a few reminders of day gone by in the moldings. Judging from the proliferation of bookshelves, I'd say that it had been yet another bookstore that had tried and failed. Angelique sighed. "Y'know, I accept that being in Hell is supposed to be a punishment, but I really miss puttering around in bookstores."
Lorelei raised an exquisite eyebrow. "Why? Are the clerks in book stores cuter than the ones in other stores?"
"Mmmm... It's just that I miss being able to just sit down and lose myself in a book. Back when I was a sorcerer, I was on several publisher's lists. Now, if I'm not pulling your tail out of some wringer you've gotten it into, then Sylvana's marching me somewhere to whack somebody upside the head with this sword. And if it isn't that, then its back to the Forge for a little nip-and-tickle with Giruduir. I just don't have any time to catch up with Toni Morrison or Kurt Vonnegut anymore. Y'know, I think that's one of the few things that being in Heaven and Hell have in common - you always regret the little mortal things you left behind."
An odd look passed over Lorelei's face. "...Left behind..."
Lorelei and Angelique looked around, making noises about 'something there just out of the corner of your eye'. I couldn't believe it - couldn't they hear it? The heartbeat? The soft, faint heartbeat - no, more like someone breathing, or the soft rush of a tide. Feeling along a kind of generalized sense more than anything else, I found a stairway behind a door.
"Hey, Elijah! Where are you going?"
I went down the stairs to the cellar. I heard the succubae call and then follow after me. The cellar was dark, though not dank, and had probably been used as a storeroom for the bookstore while it lasted. There in the center of the cellar, I found it. I didn't know what I'd found, but I found it anyway. There was a kind of knot of...power, for the want of a better word. I reached a hand into the knot, and felt around. It was like a clogged artery or pipe. I wiggled my fingers about a bit, and found the center of the clog. A little working around, and I managed to clear the clog.
Which was like removing a brick from a dike. A rush of something coursed out of the 'knot', through me and filled the building. It wasn't material, like water or soil, and it wasn't energy, like fire; it just was. A certain cramped feeling left the building, a relaxation as if something that particularly disagreed with it had finally voided.
Lorelei slapped me out of the trance that I'd been in. "Elijah! What Did You Do?"
"What do you mean? I just cleared out the clog and set it to right."
"Elijah, do you have any idea what you have just done? This place is a Font, like that magic spring I took you to. It's a place where the Essence, the very lifeblood of the entire fucking Universe flows freely. The only reason that spring I took you to isn't fought over tooth and nail is 'cause it's way up in the fucking Andes Mountains! This Font is in New York City! It's gonna influence almost everything in New York! And anything that effects New York, effects the entire Mortal sphere of the entire world!"
"But...it seemed like the right thing to do..."
Angelique leaned over to Lorelei and said in an aside, "Now you know how we feel, when you pull one of your little stunts."
I explained about the 'clog' and how I 'cleared' it. Angelique raised both eyebrows and nodded in a thoughtful way. "Makes a kind of sense. Somehow, Hetty must have tapped into the power of this Font, even though she wasn't either an Immortal or a Sorcerer. She probably didn't even realize that she was doing it. It's happened before. She probably viewed power in general as money in specific, so when she tapped into the Font, it gave her incredible financial insight and timing. But, since she didn't understand the mystic nature of the power, she didn't understand that a kind of balance is needed when you handle it. So, it magnified what was probably an already existing 'thrifty' streak into the maniacal stinginess that she became so famous for. Being in this house probably made her uneasy, so she kept moving around. And her, ah, unbalanced nature probably created that 'clog' you spoke of, Elijah, which effected everyone who lived here for any length of time. Since Hetty saw power as money, the 'clogged' Font screwed with the resident's money, until somebody came along and unclogged it."
I held up a hand. "Hold it, hold it, hold it! Didn't you say that you lived here for a few months? You're a Demon! Why didn't you sense it?"
"Actually, Elijah, I was a mortal sorcerer at the time - long story, I'll fill you in later. But you're right, I was actively looking for something just like this, and couldn't find it! But you just walked up and found it. Why?"
I was about to say something - I'm not quite sure exactly what - when a shower of gold interrupted me.
Yes, a shower of gold. A stream of gold coins fell from out of nowhere, quickly formed a pile, and Trisagion and Tobiashazaar walked out of it. Shaz, looking stricken, gaped at us and yelped, "What Did You Do?"
As one, Lorelei and Angelique said, "She did it!" and pointed at me.
Tobiashazaar walked over to me, took me by the arms and looked me straight in the eye. He didn't look angry - if anything, he just looked baffled. "Elijah, what did you do here?"
I told him basically what I just told you.
Shaz chewed on that for a while. "Tris, would you take a look at Elijah here? I have a very bad feeling about this."
Trisagion came over and looked at me with his six eyes again. "You're right, Shaz - this is bad. Not only did she open up the Font, but also, in doing so, it appears that she has become part and parcel of the energy flow. Anyone trying to manipulate this Font will have to use Elijah as the controlling mechanism."
I held up a hand. "Hold it. Use me as a controlling mechanism? What am I, a remote with tits?"
Tobiashazaar cut in. "Nice going, Mister Tact. No, Elijah, Tris here worded it badly, but the simple fact of the matter is that you've managed to put yourself in a position where, ah, parties are going to try to use you just like that. Y'see, this place is a Font. A Font is-"
"Angelique already explained that."
"Oh, good. 'Lige, this Font is situated so that it effects the Advertising firms on Madison Avenue, the Finance companies on Wall Street, the TV Network headquarters, Broadway, and the major publishing firms. And what those business communities decide influences what happens in the country - Heck, the World! - in a BIG way. That is a lot of influence. And You control it. There is NO WAY that either Heaven or Hell are gonna let you try to be neutral. They're gonna try every trick in the book, and probably invent a few new ones, just to get you to sign on with one side or the other. And they won't all be matters of trying to get on your good side. They're gonna trot out trickery, deception, blackmail, and force; and if somehow those don't work, people on both sides are gonna decide that they'd be better off with you safely dead.
"I'm not trying to scare you, Elijah; I'm just trying to give you the straight facts. And 'Lige, you have a chance here to do some real Good in the world. Tris and I work for the Archangel Marc, who's in charge of Honest Trade. Marc is the living spirit of everything that MBAs tell themselves they're supposed to be about, but can't live up to: Honesty, square deals, fair wages, decent goods, responsible management, humane personnel policies, like that. Marc has a plan that he wants to put into operation. He calls it 'Good Business'-"
"Good Business?" Angelique scoffed. "Oh, that's really gonna set Wall Street on fire! Forget Greed, Power, lavish perks and chasing secretaries around the desk! They're all gonna just start bending over backwards to give everyone the best deal possible!"
Shaz gave her a 'very funny' glower. "It's a working title. PR is working on a more 'Sociology 101' kind of title. The point is that the traditional charity model simply isn't working anymore. It's become more about cheap 'feel good' liberalism, professional 'activism' and whittling money off your taxes than it is about making any real improvements in society. So, Marc's idea is to get businesses to gear their practices so that they make a profit in such a way that there's a larger social benefit. Like, getting businesses to hire parolees and ex-convicts - the ex-cons, who mostly want to go straight if they can, get honest jobs; the employers and customers get motivated employees; the government gets a lot of people who are paying taxes instead of eating them up in prison. A society wide Win-Win deal. But, as Angelique pointed out, Mammon has a very strong grip on the financial community. We've only been able to get a few companies like Rubbermaid® to consider it, and they've pretty much been on our side for years. It's preaching to the converted - and that only looks like a success.
"But, if we can get the Guardian of this Font - that would be you, Elijah - to formally declare this Font for Heaven, things will change. Important financial writers will write articles and books praising the idea. Ambitious executives and managers will start using those techniques and making a profit. TV shows will be made that assume that it's a good idea-"
Dimona made a rude noise. "Yeah, right! Like Lord Mammon and Lord Beelzebub are gonna let that happen! Hell owns the networks!"
Shaz smiled. "They won't even notice it. That's the beauty of it. It will just be part of the background. So Mammon and Beelzebub will either have to let it happen, or opt out of the New York sphere of influence. Like they're gonna let that happen."
Lorelei cleared her throat. "Ah, Shaz, I realize that I'm kind of a guest here, but I'm still a card-carrying member of the Legions of Hell™. Elijah, my halo-headed friend here is painting a very pretty picture, but he still hasn't answered the quintessential American question - 'What's In It For Me?'. As usual, the Angel is blithely glossing over the fact that if you did that, you'd be making yourself a prime target for every ambitious demon that comes down the pike. But, if you sign on with us, that's another story! I can't speak for Mammon or Beelzebub, but if Mother Lilith were here-"
Somebody must have been listening, because before Lorelei could finish what she was saying, something poked up out of the floor. The tip grew upward and quickly developed into a large bulb. The bulb split length-wise and opened. Out of it stepped the most absolutely, incredibly, unbelievably, bodaciously gorgeous female I had ever set eyes on. She was tall, with long flaming red hair down to her absolutely perfect ass, alabaster skin and green eyes to match the hair, and a figure that made both Lorelei and Angelique look like little girls. She was poured into the Little Black Dress™ to end all little Black dresses. She looked at Lorelei, shook her heart-shaped face, and resignedly said in a smoky contralto, "Oh, Lor, what have you gotten yourself into this time?"
"Mother Lilith!" Lorelei cried out joyfully. She ran over and gave the vision a savage hug. I guess Lilith is one devil that you speak of, and she shall appear.
Angelique approached more cautiously. "Mother Lilith, first of all, I want you realize that all this is not our fault."
Lilith looked up from the embrace and said, "Oh, yes. The other one. AND the Imp. Where's the Hellhound?"
Lorelei looked up from her nesting place in Lilith's cleavage. "Last we heard of Helga, she was romping around in the sewers of Paris."
*Hmmpphhh!* "Nice to know that somebody's having a good time! You have both Heaven and Hell in an uproar, young lady - again! I've had Infernal Affairs breathing down my neck - if they're going to breathe down something, does it have to be my neck? - and Hell Command HQ is making noises about you being a spy sent here by Heaven to infiltrate us. Not that I listen to what those morons say. But then Ariel drops by, wanting to track you down to confirm that whatever you did, Heaven wasn't behind it. It seems that their version of Infernal Affairs was bending his ear about it as well. Hmmm... speak of the devil - or whatever..."
Lilith was looking off to one side. I turned to see what she was looking at. Approaching - not in normal length, width or height, but still somehow approaching - was a tall, powerfully built man with wide pure white wings and a halo. When he had arrived - however you determine arrived - he shed the wings and halo, and looked sort of like a Fabio clone in white shirt and pants. He nodded toward Lilith. "Hello, Lorelei. Angelique. Dimona. Trisagion? Are you involved in this somehow?"
Tris stepped forward. "Ariel. What is this uproar that you all are talking about?"
Ariel quirked a half-smile. "It seems that there are people in both the Higher AND Lower Realms talking about a - quote - Blatant Violation of the Truce - unquote. A rather tiresome seraph under Archangel Dominic, one Taberah by name-"
There seems to be something about using an Angel or Demon's proper name, especially if they're listening. A shuttered window (one that wasn't there before!) burst open, and a bevy of snow-white doves flew in. They gathered together to form a tall woman with long white hair. Six white wings poked out of black robes that somehow suggested a judge. She was beautiful, in a severe, mother-spank-me kind of way. She looked at us all like a kindergarten teacher who'd found her students playing doctor. She shot Ariel a nasty glare. "Tiresome, Ariel?" I guess Angels aren't immune to the temptation to eavesdrop - or to being insulted at hearing what wasn't meant for their ears. Setting that aside, she turned to snarl at Trisagion, "Very well, Trisagion, you had best explain yourself! As one of the Choir of Seraphim, you cannot lie, and you had best not dissemble! Are you attempting to sabotage one of Lord Kronos' plans, in direct violation of the Truce between Heaven and Hell?"
Taken somewhat aback, Tris looked her straight in the eye - all six of them - and simply said, "No."
"HAH!" She whirled around to bear down on Lorelei. "SO, that means that this cheap promiscuous little floozy-"
"Hey! Who you callin' cheap?"
"-has been trying to arrange a false provocation, involving Trisagion and Tobiashazaar in a pre-arranged tampering with a minor - possibly even totally bogus - project, in order to either breach the Truce or to gain title to this Font as a reparation!"
Lilith possessively wrapped her arms around Lorelei. "Hey, watch your mouth! Lorelei doesn't need to descend to such tactics! She has more than proven that she can cause more havoc and chaos crossing the street to get to a strip club than most demons can with decades of planning!"
"Am I seriously supposed to take on face value a testimonial of innocence from the Mother of All Sluts?"
"Better that than a dried-up frustrated old Prude!"
"Bottomless sink of Iniquity!"
It was getting nasty, in a very petty way for such exalted powers, so I tried to step in. "Excuse me, Miz Taberah, we haven't been introduced - not that I've been introduced to either of these exalted personages. My name is Elijah Quick. It seems-"
She cut me off peremptorily. "I don't care. This matter is not for lesser beings."
I narrowed my eyes. Hey, rationally thinking, maybe I am working on a lower level, but who does this bitch think she is? "Hey, we are dealing with some very important things here, which you were not invited in on! Now, since according to what I've just been told I seem to have been empowered with some kind of authority here, I will kindly ask you to mind your manners or leave!"
The newcomer fixed me with a frosty glare and imperiously raised her hand. She made a few minor gestures, and a winged globe of light flew at me. It burst when it hit my forehead, but other than that, bupkiss. "What was that? An Angelic fart?"
She looked at me like I'd just wiped my ass with the family heirloom china. She raised both both hands, and a gleaming winged sword of light appeared between them. She said a word of some sort and it flew at me. It didn't do much more than the winged globe did.
She gave the a repeat of that look - hitched up a quantum shift or two - and started screaming something that didn't sound like anything I've ever heard. She started gesturing frantically, and a complex diagram made up of lines of silver and gold light started to form. I was getting a little tired of all this crap, so I walked up and bopped her in the nose. She stopped in mid-gesture, dropped on her ass and held a hand up to her bleeding nose. "You Hit Me!"
"No shit, Bitch!" I turned to Tobiashazaar. "Shaz, you seem like a reasonable sort. Would you please tell me what the Hell is going on, who these people are, and why this bitch making noises like the Voice of Ultimate Judgement?"
Shaz cleared his throat nervously, and adjusted his tie. *ahem!* "Well, she-" pointing at the love goddess who was still hugging Lorelei, "-is Lilith, the progenitor and leader of the Succubae, and according to some, the First Woman and Adam's first wife before Eve. More to the point, she's Lorelei's boss. He-" pointing at the stud muffin in white "-is Ariel, a high ranking Elohite - that's a kind of Angel."
Ariel interrupted. "I am here because I've worked with Lorelei on a couple of occasions, and I asked Lilith to track her down. Have you been told of the Truce, Elijah?" I nodded. "It seems that there are several nasty rumors flying around Heaven that Lorelei is acting on somebody's behalf to upset that rather delicate armistice. When Lilith found her and mentioned my name, I came just to be absolutely certain of what was going on. These nasty rumors were brought to me by her." He pointed at the white haired nuisance, who was nursing her bloody nose. "Her name is Taberah. She works for Dominic, the Archangel in charge of making sure that all the Angels stay on the Straight and Narrow. Oh, and Taberah? I said 'tiresome' and I meant tiresome."
I gave him a worried look. "So, you're saying that I just hit one of Heaven's Cops?"
Lorelei leaned forward and said, "Yes, and nicely done, too! Elijah, it's obvious that you have a real knack for this kind of thing, so-"
Trisagion cut her off with a shrill whistle. "Before we get back to playing 'Dueling Recruiters', what say we get this entire convoluted mess untangled?" With that, he proceeded to relate what he knew of the whole thing to the three Big Guns. Lorelei, Angelique, Dimona and 'Shaz all piped up to fill in the blanks that they could.
When they got up to the point where Lilith made her grand entrance, Taberah held up a hand. She looked at us all with six shining sapphire eyes. She cleared her throat. To me, she said, "So, Lorelei had nothing to do with interfering with Kronos' project, on behalf on anyone, either in Heaven or Hell, at all?"
I shrugged. "Not that I know of. Ever since I got the dream-fog cleared from my mind, she's done nothing except try to get everything as close to back to normal as possible. Not that I'm all that crazy about 'normal', if what they've been telling me about that asshole 'Dagnabbit'."
"And you removed this Malkerab's mark by yourself?"
"You say that like it's hard. I just pulled, and it came off."
Her lean face lit up like someone had just told her that her favorite child had just been nominated for a Nobel Prize. "Oh, this changes everything! The breach - if indeed there IS any real breach of the truce - is clearly on Hell's side! Not only are the Heavenly Hosts completely exonerated in any violation, but we have successfully neutralized one of that bastard Kronos' plans - without compromising ourselves - and gained a most formidable new Soldier of God! Tobiashazaar, Trisagion, the problems that you've been having should clear themselves up nicely now; see to it that we get complete legal title to the property. Ariel, have Ms. Quick formally inducted into the Ranks."
I didn't much care for the way that Taberah was blithely assuming that I was signing up on her side. I briefly thought about hitting her in the nose again. "Ah, Taberah, aren't you rather jumping the gun in taking for granted that I want to get caught up in your Holy Cold War? Or is it Cold Holy War...?"
She brushed my objections aside. "Oh course you are on our side! All they have to offer are lies, spiritual compromise and the certainty of Eternal Damnation! We offer the Glory of hurtling yourself into the breach on the side of Honor, Decency and Righteousness!"
Shaz leaned over and whispered in an aside to me, "This is why we never allow Seraphim to handle our recruiting."
Taberah was so into her little rant that she didn't hear Shaz. "Yes! We will finally have a decided advantage over the Enemy on the Financial and Media fronts! It won't be a quick or easy victory, but those of us who have Faith will endure! Through all the constant trials and battles, we will stand fast! Eventually, we'll even be able to show that delusional oaf Urigael-"
By now, she shoulda known better than to say his name out loud. The wedding ring on her left finger flashed gold, and a slender golden chain faded into visibility. The chain led downwards on a slant from her hand, passing through the floor. It pulled taut, taking hold of her arm. Then more, larger chains erupted up from the floor and wrapped her up in a cocoon. They became large clanking chains of rusting iron, which radiated out from Taberah to wrap around all of us.
Once we were all too tightly bound to move, more chains rose up from the yawning pit and coiled themselves into pillar. Then the pillar fell apart, revealing thirteen hellish figures. Ten of them looked like they escaped from a Boris Vallejo poster - big, hulking brutes in piecemeal armor with lots of spikes, carrying big whacking nasty weapons. Their faces were hidden in the shadows of their sinister looking helmets. Just in front of them was a very familiar looking succubus and a creature that looked like a diseased mastiff with rotting wings.
But all seven of them were eclipsed by the bizarroid standing at the front. He was tall and all dressed in chains. Not fine mesh chains, either - big honking ones that looked really heavy. I think that he might have been handsome once - before he ran lengths of chains through his face, pulling at his mouth, cheeks and the lid of one eye to completely distort his features. From his shoulders sprang a pair of wings that looked like they were cobbled together from old scissors' blades. For all that, it was his eyes that grabbed you; they blazed with the kind of insanity that Hitler must have had when he ordered Paris burned to the ground.
He advanced and smiled - at least I think that it was a smile - at Taberah. "I... thank...you, My Love. A major triumph! I have...proven...the existence of a conspiracy to breach the Truce. An underhanded...plot...by four Angels, a very...Princess...of Hell, and her darlings. I'm not sure...who...will be more...pleased... - Lord Asmodeus, Lord Kronos, Lord Baal, or Prince Lucifer Himself! Milady Jezebel, loyal Demon Dagnabbit, I want you to positively identify...which...of the succubae was the primary... instrument... of this.... treason..."
Dagnabbit. That _name_. It snapped me out of the shock that the explosion of chain had put me in. "_Dagnabbit _?" I looked at the sick looking dog. "You? You're the thing that's been riding me since I can't remember when? You're the thing that made everything that I've ever tried a complete and utter shambles? You are the one that robbed me of what I sweated and slaved to accomplish, for over Thirty Years?"
The pit bull gave me a dismissive glance. "Hey. It's a job."
Okay, I admit it, I totally lost it. I screamed with a rage that I never even knew that I had, and ripped out of the chains with a single shrug. I jumped at the pooch and started hitting it with a newspaper the size of the London, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Tokyo Sunday Times all put together, complete with funnies, extras and shopping inserts. I'm still not sure exactly where I got that newspaper. The shrapnel from my chains exploded out from me and tore into everyone around me. The ones who were free were ripped mercilessly, while the ones bound up in chains were torn free of their bonds.
The pooch skittered yipping into the nearest corner, and I went after him. Not really thinking about what I was doing, I grabbed a broken length of chain and formed part of it into a solid bar. I advanced on the cringing cur in the corner. I grabbed him, and bent the bar around his neck, creating a collar and leash. The mutt raged at the collar, trying to break it, but couldn't. When he realized that he'd been bound, he let out a mournful howl, as I started beating him with the newspaper again.
All the rest threw themselves into a confused vortex of claws, shining swords, wings both feathered and bat-like, chains, and fire. I wasn't paying attention, so I can't give you anything like a blow-by-blow description. I have since been told that Taberah spent a lot of time tearing into Urigael - something about a marriage that had gone sour because of politics.
Once I'd vented on the cringing pooch, I grabbed a stray length of chain and started whaling on whoever looked like they needed it. I cold-cocked Taberah and weighed into Urigael for my own.
Urigael put two fists together at the thumbs and pulled them apart, producing a length of black chain. He whirled it and swung it full force at me. I grabbed it, used his own momentum to sweep him off his feet, and swung him against one of the big hulking brutes. The chain was cold, and I noticed a sensation of fear in it, so I dropped it.
He did the thing with his fists again, and this time produced a length of burning chain. He swung this length at me, but the links just broke on my skin, and didn't even char my bomber jacket. Then Urigael smiled (?) a sneaky smile (?) and held up his left hand. He flicked his golden wedding band with his finger. A slender, almost invisible chain lanced out from the ring, catching me by surprise. I looked down as it hit me square in the chest and pierced me to the very core. I felt my heart ...blossom... and I fainted from the exquisite intensity of the emotion.
Tobiashazaar was burying one of the Cacodaemons under a pile of gold coins when he saw Elijah fall. He wasn't quite sure what the thin line of gold light meant, but coming from a stone cold bastard like Urigael, Shaz was sure that it couldn't mean anything good. Urigael kneeled over Elijah's body and started to loop the gold chain around her neck. Shaz didn't even stop to think - he just dropped a Mercedes Benz on top of the Habbalite. He sprouted wings and flew over to Elijah's side. Shaz found that he'd managed to just barely miss creaming Elijah with the car as well as Urigael. He felt around and found the golden chain springing from Elijah's chest. A brief exertion, and the slender chain broke in his hands.
Then he picked her up in his arms and started thinking very quickly. His primary goals were to help Archangel Marc secure Hetty Green's townhouse and it's Font for the forces of Heaven, and to help Elijah, who was an innocent in all of this. The best way to do both, while respecting Elijah's Free Will, would be to remove her from all this mess, and let his action speak for the rightness of Heaven's cause. He couldn't risk using his Celestial powers to just teleport out - too many ways that he could be followed, either by the Demons, or by that tact-challenged idiot Taberah. He looked around for some way out.
Lorelei was locked in a good old fashioned catfight with Jezebel - Lori was boiling mad, and very powerful in her own right, but Jezebel was over three thousand years old, and had survived centuries of The War with Heaven, fighting under Baal, one of the riskiest posts in Hell. Both of the heartbreakers were doing - and taking - severe damage. One of the Cacodaemons had Dimona literally by the throat. The Imp pushed her teddy bear in the huge brute's face. 'Mister Fuzzy' extended his jaws to impossible lengths and swallowed half of the Cacodaemon. The Hellwarrior dropped the Imp and concentrated on avoiding being entirely eaten. 'Mister Fuzzy' sat down and calmly started chewing down on the bigger demon. Angelique, Ariel and Trisagion were all rumbling with two Cacodaemons of their own. Taberah looked down for the count.
Lilith was facing three Cacodaemons and the Malkerab. But she was a Princess of Hell; that's not an entirely political distinction - there's a fair amount of sheer Power that goes along with it. The Cacodaemons were looking much worse for the experience - Lilith might need a manicure, but not much more than that. She had the Malkerab by his throat, and looked to be just on the verge of ending his infernal career. Taking a chance, Shaz yelled, "Lilith! Throw him there!" and pointed at one of the storefront's papered over windows.
Not thinking in the heat of battle, Lilith pitched Dagnabbit through the window. Shifting Elijah to hold her with just one arm, Shaz conjured up a glorious blinding prismatic spray of diamonds with his free hand. As the assembled immortals tried to regain their senses, he flew out the window with Elijah in his arms, his radiant white wings outstretched to catch the breeze coming up East 33rd Street. There were at least a dozen mortals on the street as he came out the window, but in a display of that particular mindset that New Yorkers are so adept at, not one of them happened to see a blessed thing.
Lilith watched Tobiashazaar as he winged out the window with the prize of the new millennium in his arms, and she cursed loudly and creatively. After she vented for a bit, she shouted at the top of her lungs, "STOP FIGHTING, YOU IDIOTS!" It was a measure of her sheer force of presence that everyone in the store immediately stopped dead in their tracks, even Lorelei and Jezebel. Lilith stalked over and forcefully separated them. "The Angel just left with the only thing really worth fighting over." She threw Jezebel into the arms of one of Urigael's Cacodaemons. Turning her full withering attention on one of the Cacodaemons, she purred ominously, "Get your master out from under that heap. Then take him down to Hell, and tell his master, Lord Asmoday, that I shall attend to him forthwith, to explain how his minion has compromised my attempts to rescue Lord Kronos' project. It may be a bit - first, I must attempt to remedy what your master so egregiously bungled." She turned eyes that were as cold, hard and green as Ireland in February on Jezebel. "You, go get your mangy friend, and hie yourself back to Hell with them. And thank whatever forgotten gods that may have interceded on your behalf that you work directly for that half-wit Baal, and not for me."
Jezebel fetched Dagnabbit's limp form and carried him over to where the Cacodaemons were levering the Mercedes off of Urigael. Once the Inspector of Iniquity was out from under, Jezebel stamped her foot and a yawning chasm opened up in the floor, from which tongues of flame and billowing clouds of sulfur came out. One by one they started down the stairway to Hell.
As the last Cacodaemon disappeared down the stinking hole, it closed, leaving Ariel, Taberah and Trisagion more or less alone with Lilith and her minions. Lilith calmed down and regarded Ariel with a touch of amusement. "I get the feeling that we've all been played for saps. Feels like Old Times, doesn't it?"
Ariel quirked a half-smile. "In more ways than one. We're still on opposite sides of this. I have to get this Elijah person to side with Heaven-"
Lilith gave a rueful laugh. "And I have to get her - or him - or whatever - to side with Hell. *HA!* It is like Old Times, dammit. But, before we get down to the nitty gritty of out-maneuvering each other, a strategic understanding to keep this from escalating? Elijah has to decide of his own Free Will - no Fascinations, no Dominations, no Exaltations, no-"
Ariel cut her off. "No Sexual Compulsions, no Obsessions and no Declarations at sword-point. Also, no hostages."
Lilith pouted prettily. "Oh, you are bound and determined to suck all the fun out of this, aren't you? Oh, very well, agreed. By the Halidom of Hell, and all that-" She stuck out her hand.
Ariel took it and shook. "By the Honor of Heaven and all attendant phrases."
And so, that settled, they left the Font, which apparently didn't want either party there without the Guardian to keep things in line.
Lilith gated Lorelei and her followers to a tastefully furnished townhouse on the Upper East Side. She went over to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a healthy snifter of brandy. She reached into the snifter with three fingers and snapped those wet fingers at the carpet. Nine drops hit the carpet with sulphurous puffs of smoke. From each puff of smoke a lovely succubus appeared. Suzette had her arms cradled in front of her, as if she had been whisked away from a man's arms. She looked around crossly and said, "HEY! I was in the middle of something!"
"YOU were in the middle of something?" Melody countered dryly. She was on the floor on her back, her legs still spread up in a vee.
Lilith clapped her hands briskly. "Sparkling banter later, my dears! We have an emergency!" She rattled off a bare-bones version of what had happened. "So, in brief, we have to keep this Elijah from signing with Heaven. Lorelei, darling, would you give your sisters a taste of the link that you have with this Elijah person?"
Lorelei sighed, and pulled a thin red cord from her midsection. The other succubae gathered around and licked at it with their long agile forked tongues. Mikki smacked her lips. "Tastes like woman, Mother Lilith."
"Yes, Mikki. Currently, Elijah is female. But, we can expect the angel Tobiashazaar to return her to a male state soon, so memorize the other tastes of it. Once he's returned to his male state, he's in our ballpark. Now, here's the hard part. We can't use most of our bag of tricks to get this Elijah to sign with us, but neither can the opposition. So it pretty much comes down to a matter of who has more 'pull' on him. Both Lorelei and Jezebel have links to him that influence him in ways that he probably doesn't understand. That idiot Malkerab had two links, but Elijah bound him during that fight, so that doesn't count. The Angel Trisagion has a link to Elijah from that Maleness that Lorelei fed him, and Tobiashazaar will have one once he boinks the female Elijah. So, we're pretty much at a stalemate. UNTIL one of you can have her way with him - then it's just a matter of salesmanship."
Lorelei piped up. "Remember, girls, it's vitally important that we keep Elijah alive. Mother Lilith, what would be the result to the Font be if Elijah were violently killed?"
Lilith raised an exquisite eyebrow. "Good point, Lor. There might be an adverse reaction, barring the side that kills the 'Guardian' from using the spring. Dimona!"
"Yeth, Mother Lilith?" the cute little blonde packet of trouble lisped.
"Go find Sylvana and as many of her Hell Maids as she can spare. Fill them in. Tell them that they are to protect this Elijah - but only if the parties trying to kill him are Demons. If they're Angels or unaffiliated Mortals, it's hands off."
Lorelei looked at Lilith with pleading eyes. "Mother Lilith, none of this is Elijah's fault. Why should he suffer, just because that bitch Jezebel couldn't keep her hands off of some other demon's property?"
Lilith took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Lorelei, Elijah is the Bone of Contention in this affair. Ask your pet, Helga - bones are made to be chewed. It's the nature of things." Then Lilith turned to the other succubae and started assigning patterns of search.
Lorelei snagged Dimona as she was gearing up to go. She whispered in the Imp's ear, "Go, get Syl, and tell her what Mother Lilith said - but, uhm, leave out the part about 'only if it's Demons', understand?"
Dimona raised big blue worried eyes at her patron. "Yer playin' with fire, Boss. Mommy Lil won't like it if Syl breaks the Truce tryin' to save Elijah."
Lorelei thought quickly. "Well, ah, if Elijah thinks that the Angels are trying to kill her, and that we poor mis-portrayed Demons are trying to save her, then she'll side with us, right? Having the Guardian of the Font on our side way is better than having the Font without a Guardian, and having both sides carving away at each other trying to get control of it, right? So, we're working to save the Truce!"
Dimona scrunched up one side of her face. "Maybe. But yer still playin' with fire."
"Hey, in Hell, that's kinda the name of the game. Go."
Once safely back in Hell, one of the disgruntled Cacodaemons turned to Jezebel. "Well, that sucked! We got our asses handed to us, the boss is gonna be thirteen different kinds of pissed when he comes to, we cheezed off a fucking Princess, and now we got a big fat failure on our records. Me, I'm gonna go beat the crap outta somethin' to forget my troubles. You comin', guys? I got a Waffen SS battalion on hold that I been savin' for a special occasion."
One of his fellows nodded and said, "Sure. I'll even throw in that Khmer Rouge patrol that I been nursin'." With that, the goon squad shuffled off, seeking solace in slaughter. As they rounded a corner, one looked at a well-chewed-on comrade and snickered, "Teddy bear!"
Dagnabbit shook his head, trying to get the collar off his neck as if it were a rat that had landed on his back. He finally gave up, bitterly frustrated. "FUCK! This just keeps getting worse and worse! Now I gotta go tell that asshole Kronos that not only have I let the project that he personally gave me go flush, but it looks like the Halo-boys have him squarely in their pocket! With Lilith involved, it might even escalate into an all-out resumption of The War!" He shot a suspicious cyst-encrusted eye at Jezebel. "But YOU work for Baal, the General in charge of The War. This is exactly what he wants, isn't it? You set me up! That Lorelei bitch was just your scapegoat, wasn't she? You wanted her to go to those Angels to cover her ass, didn't you? This is all an elaborate scam on Baal's part to kick-start The War back into full gear!" With that, Dagnabbit scuttled off, probably to find Lord Kronos. He finally had a story that he could tell that got him off the hook, and he was gonna stick with it.
Jezebel looked after him sourly. Like she cared what that flea-bitten loser would say. She was doing Lord Baal's work, and that was enough for her. Indeed, if Dagnabbit sold Lord Kronos on the idea that it had all been Baal's doing, so much the better - Lord Baal could take the heat for it far better than she could. She looked up toward the Mortal Realms. Princess Lilith had only told her to go to Hell - she hadn't said anything about staying there. The Demons and Angels competing for Elijah's soul would probably be playing it very much by The Rules. That would never do. She'd have to go back and make sure that things got out of hand, if Lord Baal was ever to get the war he wanted. But she'd better get some better backup than the ones she'd just had. She stopped for a moment. There was something that she should be worrying about, but she couldn't put her finger on it. She shrugged it off, and headed for Hell Command HQ.
When I came to, I had one of the most remarkable sensations I've ever had - and I've had quite a few recently. I was being held in powerful yet gentle arms, and I was flying. I clutched desperately to his chest and looked up. I was being carried through the air by the angel Tobiashazaar. I looked up at his face, and he gave me a reassuring smile. "You did very good back there, but I had to get you out, because that creep nailed you with something. We're going somewhere where you'll be safe for a while." His caring words touched me so deeply that I couldn't say anything. I just nestled against his chest and reveled in the experience of flying in the arms of an angel.
I could have flown in his arms forever. But, it ended. All too soon, by my admittedly quite biased reckoning. He swooped down to land on the terrace of a high-rise apartment. He let me down, and I rather reluctantly disentangled myself from his arms. He let himself in the French windows, and we went into his place. "Let me guess - you are the, uhm, what did he say, oh yes - Mercurian, who decorated Trisagion's place?"
"Oh, he mentioned that?"
"Well, it takes a certain deft touch to effectively combine Queen Anne with a lava lamp."
He grinned mischievously and chuckled. I couldn't help but chuckle right back at him. "Well, make yourself at home while I make some coffee."
"Angels drink coffee? Does the Church of Latter Day Saints know about this?"
He chuckled again, and began what looked like alchemical rites over a glass and brass pipey doo-jobbie. I watched him with a concentration that I normally don't have for watching other guys. He came back with two cups of coffee. I sampled the brew and watched him put exactly the right amount of sugar, cream and cinnamon in his. "So, why does a creature of Perfect Goodness have an apartment that has to run at least three Grand a month, and obsess over getting the perfect cup of joe?"
He smiled ruefully over the rim of his cup. His smile sent a shudder of something down my spine. Yet, somehow I knew he wasn't doing anything to me. "Well, I don't know about perfect goodness... But I do try. The apartment? My job is to try and get the people in the Finance community to do the right thing. You can't do that if you're Joe Blow off the street. You need an office, a gym, a club, a favorite restaurant and, of course, a place to hang your hat. As for the coffee - well, if you're going to partake of the pleasures of the flesh, you have to get it right!
"Oh, and speaking of the 'pleasures of the flesh', m'man Tris should be all charged up to get you back to your male self - or as close as we can. With all the supernatural influences affecting your body, it's unlikely that you'll look just like you did when all this started. You'll look sort of like what you did, with some of Jezebel, Dagnabbit, Lorelei and Trisagion thrown in - which probably means that you won't look anything like you did."
We talked for a little while, nothing serious. Unless you consider the relations between the Heavenly, Infernal and Mortal Realms, and the true nature of Reality serious. I suppose some peope do. Under it all, I could tell that Shaz was trying to sell me on buying in with Heaven. Nothing really obvious, mind you. He was probably relying on the old 'just tell your side of it, and let your conviction sell the customer' ploy. And why not? It's one of the best ways of selling anything.
I licked my lips and steeled myself to ask the question. "Ah, Shaz? Have you made that phone call - or whatever - to Trisagion yet?"
Shaz shook his head. "Tris isn't clear yet, for whatever reason."
*ahem!* "Ah, well, then - He's...ahhh...a little stiff, y'know?"
"He's a Seraph. The Seraphim are called 'The Most Holy', and they aren't noted as a Choir for having a very good handle on the Human Condition. As Seraphim go, Tris is pretty loose; he's a real 'people angel' - by Seraph standards."
"Maybe so." I looked at Shaz over the rim of my coffee cup. The thundering in my chest was only half from nervousness. "But odds are that I'm only going to have one chance to experience sex as a woman. And... well, somehow I think that such an experience requires a...different..touch." Ah, screw this - how do you out-subtle an Angel? "Shaz, it doesn't necessarily have to be Trisagion who does the deed, and I think that you should really like the person who gets your cherry - will You...?" I ended the question with what I hoped was a beguiling raise of the eyebrows. At the very least, I hope that I didn't look like a begging puppy dog.
My question only slowed him for a second. He looked at me for a bit, and then put down his cup, stood up and offered me his hand. I took it, and he pulled me up off the couch and into his arms.
I fought giggling like a schoolgirl as he carried me into his bedroom. His bed was king-sized, and I didn't think that he got it just to sleep in. Do Angels even need to sleep? He lay me down on it, and took my face in both of his hands. Having never kissed a guy before, I had nothing to compare it to, but it definitely made me reconsider this whole 'going back to being a guy' thing. Or maybe that was just the fact that Shaz is an Angel. I had a brief moment, as he undressed me, where I regretted not actually trying on the lacy things I'd bought at Victoria's Secret®, but that vanished with his clothing which he shed with just a wave of his hand. He played my body like a saxophone - with agile lips, much vigor and lots of elaborate finger work. He brought me to four screaming orgasms before coming himself. His eruption inside me did more than just inject a warm liquid - his seed filled every part of my being, a blissful wave of heavenly heat that sent me into a last thrilling orgasm that made me faint. I seem to be doing a lot of that these days.
I don't know how long I lay there. When I came to, I felt a slight disappointment that Shaz wasn't still inside me. I looked at him beside me with a fondness that I still feel to this day. I reached over to touch his cheek, and then saw why he wasn't still inside me. It wasn't physically possible. My hand was larger than it had been before, and my arm was well muscled. I got up and went to the mirror. Again, a stranger looked back. At least I looked good. I think I was taller. I was definitely darker, swarthy even. I had a vaguely Mediterranean look to me, but I could have been almost any of a dozen ethnicities. My face was long, angular and square-jawed, with deep-set dark eyes over a patrician nose. My hair was black and curly, and it just covered the tips of my ears. My body was lean and fit - a definite improvement over my flabby old physique. I could have been a male model; no, that would have required that I get a lobotomy. And there's no way that I could become a male model, even if I wanted to - it appeared that it was my Destiny to be the Guardian of the Font at Hetty Green's old house. Exactly what the hell that entailed, I had no idea. But I did know that I'd have to choose between Heaven and Hell. There's no way that either one of them would let such a potent influence on the world just be a cautious neutral. If nothing else, like the US and the USSR in the old Cold War, they'd both go to ridiculous extremes just to keep it out of the other's hands.
I looked over at Shaz on the bed. He was still out, and if he'd lost as much as I thought he had, he might be out for hours. I still felt a strong fondness for him, but the enraptured passion that I'd felt was gone. Not that long ago, he'd been the golden apple of my eye. Now, he was just a really nice guy with a weird job. The prospect of having a guy-guy breakfast with a guy that I'd just had sex with didn't exactly set my world on fire, so I got dressed. I thanked my paranoid stars that I'd bought sporting gear - jogging pants, a T-shirt, sneaks, and that bomber jacket - instead of the more femmy things that Lorelei and Angelique were pushing. Okay, the underwear felt funny, and the sneaks were probably gonna fall apart if I actually tried to run in them, but it all more or less fit. All except the sports bra, of course. Not knowing what to do with it, I just shoved it in a pocket. In the pocket of my Bomber jacket, which now fit like a glove, I found Shaz's Card of Near-Infinite Credit. A quick run through a men's store would put me on a sure footing, clothing wise, and then I'd see about getting this card back to Shaz.
Looking out the window, I saw that it was almost sundown. This posed a problem. While Lorelei and Angelique had shown no problems using their demonic powers during the day, it struck me that both sides probably got away with a lot more during the night, when the shadows could hide most of their doings from mortal eyes. But if I waited around for sunrise, then I'd be faced with telling Shaz 'thanks for the lay, but I'm not ready to commit'. After that, the prospect of going out into a night full of fanged demons and sword-wielding angels didn't seem so bad.
I brewed myself your basic cup of coffee and was starting to think about my next step, when there was a knock at the door. Isn't there always? I looked through the peephole. There was an attractive looking red-headed woman in a 'power' office outfit standing there, holding a leather briefcase and looking impatiently at her watch. Looking that good, she had to be one of Shaz's Angelic colleagues. She peered impatiently back through the peephole. "Shaz?" she asked plaintively. "Are you IN there, Dude?"
I opened the door. She started when she saw me. "Oh! Is Sh- I mean, Tobias in?"
I wasn't sure about this. "Do you work with Tobias?"
She bit her lip, as if not sure exactly what to make of me. "Well, sort of. We work in the same field."
I wracked my brains for the name of the Archangel that Trisagion and Shaz had said they worked for. "Do you work for Marc?"
At the name 'Marc', she relaxed. "Oh, good. You never know how much you're supposed to tell mortals. I guess that you're one of Shaz's affiliates. My name's Serena. Aren't you going to ask me in?"
"Oh. Right. Won't you please come in?"
The split second that she crossed the doorway, I suddenly remembered that old bit where a vampire has to be invited into a house. I gave her a sharp second look, and suddenly I was sure that there was something wrong with her and that I'd really screwed up.
I whipped around and took a good hard look at her. She was starting to say something, when my eyes fell on the two delicate little horns poking out from just under her hairline. She followed my gaze and figured out what I'd seen. "Oh, poo! I've been rumbled, haven't I? Oh well, it's much more fun when you keep them guessing, but..." She gestured, and her appearance of normalcy vanished. She stood there, letting her demonic beauty have its full effect. She was a glorious redhead, with deep emerald green eyes that twinkled with mischievous anticipation. She wore a snug one-piece strapless leather miniskirt that was a dark grass green that perfectly matched the color of the bat-wings that sprang from her back; together they complemented the flame-red hair that tumbled to her waist. She puckered full sensuous lips, and blew a kiss to me.
I felt something hit me - a caress that touched me all over (especially my crotch), a waft of some primal female perfume, a riff of some particularly raunchy jazz, or a primordial sexual heat. I felt it, I recognized its power, but I also knew that I could choose to refuse it. I took a deep breath, looked at her and said, "Nice try. But, if you'll excuse me, I'll be going..."
Her eyes popped from heavy lidded to wide open, and her jaw almost hit the carpet. "But – HOW? Saints have given themselves heart attacks resisting Succubae Charms! How could- What Are You?"
I gave her a parting smile and said, "What I am, is gone." I reached for the door.
The Succubus reached out and grabbed me. "Hey! Hold on! Wait a minute! I was only kidding! Can't we talk this over like consenting adults?" As she scrambled for a better hold, she grabbed at something just under my solar plexus. "Hold on, what's this?" She took an experimental tug at it, and my brains fell out of my pants.
I turned around helplessly, and marveled at the sheer feminine glory of her. She had a slender length of golden chain in her hands, and a look of smug satisfaction on her lips. "Weeelll... This is more like it!" She looked around the apartment. "Hmmm...I doubt that Tobiashazaar will be up and around any time soon. But, doing it on an Angel's home turf is just asking for it. C'mon, Elijah, we gotta find a nice four star hotel." With that, she sashayed out the door, with me following like a dog on an invisible golden leash. Oh, right, like you wouldn't!
Shaz's miracle card was good for more than buying clothes. It breezed us into a very nice Old Money hotel without luggage. Once I'd stiffed the bellhop for a tip, we got down to business. To give her credit due, she did try to talk to me a bit, but I was so charged up from the double whammy of her Succubus' Charm and whatever the power of that golden chain was that I wasn't in any condition to be reasonable. I do remember that she had milky white skin, and that she giggled as she was being penetrated. Past that, I can't really remember that much. Which is a shame, 'cause when I woke up, the bedstead had been broken, and she was looking at me like I was some kind of sex god.
She stretched luxuriously and smiled at me. "Not bad. Not bad at All. It's a pity that I can't come back for seconds, but what can you do?"
Hunh? Oh. Right. Sex with a Succubus drains a man of his Maleness. And since my Maleness had been a loaner from Shaz until I could start generating some of my own-
I looked down at my body. Yep. I'm a girl again. I got up and looked in a mirror. I looked different than I did the last time. My face wasn't as long, my nose turned up a bit, the mouth was different, the eyes were hazel, and my hair was more of a chestnut with russet highlights. The body was different, too. Still damn hot, but different. I let out a long breath, and turned to look at her. "Well? Isn't this the part where you try to convince me to sign on with Hell, and maybe Satan will turn me back into a guy?"
"Actually, we call the big guy Lord Lucifer. Satan is more of a job description. It means 'adversary' in some old language or another. And as for trying to convince you of anything? Not with that attitude, little missy!" A sardonic smile crossed her lips. "What I'm gonna do is let you get an idea of what the Halo-boys are really like. I'm gonna let you walk, and then put out the word that you gave Tobiashazaar your solemn oath to side with Heaven, and then sold him out for a roll in the hay with me. You'll see - they'll drop their nicey-nicey act real quick, and out come the big whacking flaming swords. And enough of them are so quick on the trigger that they won't bother to listen to ol' Tobe if he says otherwise. But don't you worry. When they come at you, all you gotta do is-"
She didn't get around to whatever she was going to say. The window of the hotel room blew in, and in the wreckage of the window bay stood three bewinged figures. The two on either side were female angels in archaic golden armor carrying those flaming swords that Serena had been talking about. The one in the center was that screaming bitch Taberah. She pointed at Serena. "Take out the Hell-Whore. I will handle the warlock."
I gave her an 'oh yeah?' look and crossed my arms. "Oh Please! The last time that you tried this, you wound up on your ass with a bloody nose."
She gave me a wintry smile. "True." She reached into her robe and pulled out a very mundane looking large caliber revolver. "But no amount of magical tricks will stop ordinary bullets." She leveled the gun at me and fired.
The room echoed with the sound of the gun going off. The roar stopped Serena and the two she-Angels in mid-tussle. I looked down my chest. Nothing. I checked every part of my body. No blood, no bullet holes, no nothing. The idiot bitch missed!
She let off another round, and killed a lamp. Then it hit me - the bitch can't aim! She's probably never handled a gun before! Serena and her two sparring partners were trying to hide behind furniture, but it struck me that the safest place to be was where Taberah was aiming. Taberah looked at the gun as if it had somehow betrayed her. I took advantage of it to get in close and break her nose again. I got control of the gun and trained it on the three remaining Immortals.
"Okay, the hotel should be sending for the cops. Since this is New York, we have at least an hour. Or maybe not, since 9-11. Anyway, I don't wanna hang around and give crazy answers to stupid questions. What's your name, honey?" I asked the Asiatic Angel with the black pageboy hairdo.
"I am Lun Tai Bao."
"Okay, Lun, do you know either Tobiashazaar, Trisagion or Ariel?"
"I know how to get in touch with Ariel."
"Good enough. Take me to him."
Serena poked her head out from behind the bed. "Elijah! You can't trust them! They'll just off you, because they think it will serve some greater good! That's what they're all about! Total Control, all for the sake of what some invisible unknowable God thinks is better for everyone else! At least in Hell, you get to make your own fate!"
Lun Tai Bao and her colleague started to make some heated retort, but I fired the gun again to get everyone's attention. "Not an issue! All I want is to talk to somebody with some real authority, so that I can at least get a few terms to think over!" Grateful that I hadn't thrown away that stupid sports bra, I got dressed. I gestured to Lun Tai Bao, and she picked me up and flew me out the wrecked window.
On a rooftop across the street and a few buildings over, Jezebel testily clicked her tongue. She had been sure that that termagant Taberah would have at least wounded either Elijah or the other succubus. Now Elijah had a measure of control, and would probably start intelligent, civilized negotiations, allowing both sides to make offers and counter-offers. The issue would be resolved without an further escalation. That simply wouldn't do. She ran her forked tongue over her lips as she weighed her options. That annoying sense of something that she wasn't getting hit her, and passed again. She pulled out her cell phone (of course, she had a cell phone - doesn't everyone have a cell phone these days?) and made a few phone calls, carefully disguising her voice. Ariel would be off on a wild goose chase when Elijah got to his place, and an Angel named Remeliah would be there. Remeliah was ambitious. She knew that she could count on him to screw things up.
Lun Tai Bao put me down on a terrace of an apartment, and flew off. I entered the apartment and called out for anyone. The place was empty. Finally being alone, I sat down and tried to collect my wits. That guy Ariel had seemed like a reasonable sort, but what's reasonable for an Angel? I mean, let's face it, between Sodom & Gomorrah, Jericho and the Passover, Angels have a rather dodgy track record! I was starting to pursue that thought when there was a flurried sound at the terrace and a soft flash of light. The terrace door opened, and a young god walked in. He was tall and kind of Arabic looking, with long dark hair, hawkish features, and eyes that were both stern and kind. He smiled at me, and my brains fell out of my pants.
At this point, I'm gonna kind of put things in fast forward. The young god's name was Remeliah, and he was subbing for Ariel. He was nice, funny, and sexy and he took very little time in seducing me. Or donating a measure of this Maleness, in the cause of my recruitment into the service of Heaven, if you prefer that. Just as I was getting used to being a guy again, another one of Lorelei's sorority sisters dropped by - this one was named Suzette - and yanked my golden chain again. Apparently, Serena had filled in all of her friends on my little, ah, weakness. She hauled me off while Remeliah was still dozing, and screwed the Heaven out of me; after which, another flock of militant angels showed up, and I nearly got my ass skewered again. Notice a pattern? I did, after about the sixth time I got run through the same maze. Nice guy angel screws some of his maleness into me, then a succubus comes along and screws it out of me. Then a bunch of pissed off angels come along and try to kill us all. I get away and try to hitch up with one of the Angels I already know and trust, but get sidetracked onto a new guy. Go to Step One and repeat. Over a period of about three days, I figure that I ran through the same sequence fifteen times. I have had more spectacular sex in the last four days than I've had in the last twenty years. I'm supposed to be the Guardian of the Font; instead, I'm becoming Heaven and Hell's doorknob.
Jezebel, despite herself, had a moment of empathy with Elijah's fate under Dagnabbit's 'care'. She was getting a very good idea of what it must have been like. For the last four days, she had industriously been arranging opportunity after opportunity for Angels and Demons to start whaling on each other; but they kept holding back! Every time, Elijah would somehow weasel out and remove the bone of contention. Time after time, she came so close, only to have it fall apart at the last minute. Dammit, these things are supposed to escalate!
She watched Elijah - at least she was pretty sure that it was Elijah, the guy was wearing his Bomber jacket and was stuffing a sports bra into one of the pockets - climb out onto the fire escape of the Angel's loft. He probably wanted to short-circuit the pattern by getting out before the Succubus showed up. Not that she would - Jezebel hadn't bothered notifying any of her Band-sisters of where Elijah was. It was time to try something different. That nagging 'there's something I should be worrying about' feeling hit her again. Since she couldn't nail it down, she swept it aside.
At this point, Elijah was the real problem. He was the guardian of the Font, or so her informants told her. If he were to die, then the Font would be up for grabs; if he were killed by one of the Hosts, then Hell would have the superior claim to the Font. There was no way that Heaven would let that happen. It was just the thing to push the whole situation over the brink.
But how do you finagle an Angel into killing an innocent? Well, first of all, you convince him that Elijah's not an innocent. Then you hit him where it hurts.
Hmmm...there was an Angel flapping around here somewhere, where was he... Ah! There he was! Jezebel became as a shadow of a shadow, and glided over to where he was standing, surveying the cityscape. The shady lady reached out and touched his shadow, looking for an image. There it was! She learned what she could and withdrew a bit. Then she retook solid form, though not her own form. She became a pixyish slip of an Angel in the short robes of a courier, with golden wings, short curly blonde hair, an oval face, huge amber eyes and a cupids bow mouth. She rose, flapped her wings a few times, and made a production of landing. "Melchizedek!"
The Angel, indeed Melchizedek by name, turned and saw what he thought was his One True Love. "Chorazin!" He rushed over and gave her a fierce hug and kiss. Jezebel fought mightily against her base nature to take it to a more carnal level. "Chorazin! What are you doing here? It's dangerous to be in New York right now! There are demons and worse everywhere! The Truce is unraveling even as we watch. Until this Elijah Quick is found and brought into the fold, there is a very real chance that The War might start up again in earnest!"
'Chorazin' pouted prettily and said, "I know that. But how could I rest, safe and sound at my post, knowing that you were facing not only the very worst of Hell's forces, but maybe this Elijah Quick as well?"
"The mortal? What of him?"
"Haven't you heard, 'Chize? He not only has the raw power of both Heaven and Hell coursing through him, but he also seems to have an ability to completely ignore the Laws that bind both Demon and Angel alike! So far, both sides have been blithely giving him more of their power, in hopes of swaying him to their side. But what if he decides that what he really wants is more power? What if he starts just taking that power from either Them, or Us no matter what they say. No, 'Chize, you may be one of Archangel Laurence's most formidable Malachites, but dealing with Elijah Quick won't be a matter for a strong arm and a fiery blade. It will be a matter of reaching his better side and appealing to it - while he still has one." With that, 'Chorazin' pulled away and sketched a bow. The True Chorazin was a Mercurian attached to the service of the Archangel Yves; her job was to encourage mortals to seek their Higher Destinies, instead of their Dark Fates.
Jezebel grinned and giggled through her mask of being Chorazin. "If I run into any trouble, I'll call out your name." With that, she launched herself into the air, to where she knew Elijah was just getting off that fire escape.
I hopped off the fire escape and checked out the alley. It was just the kind of place where some of the Celestial Nutjobs that I'd been running into lately would try to set up an ambush of some kind.
I took the opportunity to look at that stupid golden chain again. It had taken me a while, but I finally figured out what the damn thing was. The creep who'd sicced it on me had a thing for chains. Apparently, his magics - or whatever they were called - all used the metaphor of chains. The first chains that he'd used on everyone at the Font had been Chains of Inertia. The reason that they bound everyone was that just couldn't get started. Once that Malkerab had pissed me off enough, I just walked out of them. Once I was out of the Chains of Inertia, everyone else could just shuck them off.
The second set of chains must have been Chains of Fear. I avoided them completely, by simply refusing to let them have me. The next set had been made of fire. But Chains of Fire? It wasn't in keeping with the other chains. So, Chains of Anger, maybe? That would explain why they didn't touch me - I was so full of my own rage, there wasn't any room for them.
But this golden chain had pierced me to the core, and was making me do stupid things. A slender golden chain, that binds more securely than great clanking links of iron. What else could it be, but the Golden Chain of Love? It seemed to affect me differently when I was Male from when it did when I was Female. As a Male, it took a Succubus' Charm to combine with the golden chain to knock out my better judgment. As a female, all it seemed that I needed was to be in close proximity with an attractive male to fall head over heels in love. For about the thousandth time, I jerked at the chain, trying to pull it free. It was lodged in deep, set into a part of my very being that I was afraid might rip out if I pulled too hard.
I turned, and saw what looked like a teeny-bopper Angel come gliding down. Oh lovely, just what I needed - a sophomore class lesson in Civics. I held up one hand and said, "Listen, Miss, I don't know what your name is, but right now I really don't need - oh, God! You're bleeding!"
Large red patches had appeared on her breast and at her crotch. Huge, hideous bruises appeared on her cheeks and eyes, and her lip sprouted a nasty split. She lashed out at me and scratched me with her nails and then rubbed something on my crotch. She screamed out, "Melchizedek!" and fainted in my arms.
Melchizedek? What the hell is Melchizedek? I looked her over, to see if I could figure out what was going on. Then I saw it. It was another goddamn Succubus illusion! Once I knew what it was, the illusion thinned for me like a fog in strong sunlight. I almost had a heart attack when I recognized the bitch inside. Jezebel!
I grabbed her and yelled, "You fucking bitch! What are you up to this time? What's with the blood?"
"_Let _ Go_ Of_ Her_, Mortal_ Scum_." The voice came from behind me. I turned to see a very pissed off looking Angel is dull silver faux Greek armor.
"Hey, man, this is NOT what it looks like." Y'know, that sounds just as weak in real life as it does in the movies. And, apparently, it's just as effective. The Angel made a noise that I suppose might have been a word or name in some language that I've never heard, and a bright shining sword appeared before him, all wreathed in silver flame. A week ago, that would have really impressed me. But in the last few days, I've seen better - and worse. He let out a shout and came at me with the sword. But, as I said, I've seen a lot of weirdness in the past few days - I kept the thought that his sword didn't really exist in mortal reality foremost in my mind. His sword went <tink!> on my skin and shattered. "Ucaliel!" the Angel cried, as he bent and wept over the shards.
Hey, I tried to reason with him. "Listen, man, this is not Ucaliel. This..creature...is the lying-"
"Ucaliel was the name of my sword, Filth! That woman is my wife, the blessed Chorazin! You have defiled them Both! I will _Kill_ you, raise your ghost, and then kill you again!"
He picked up a double handsful of shards of the sword, and threw them up in the air with another maybe-word noise. The shards stopped in mid-air, spun and began to glow. From each shard, a new sword grew. From behind each new sword, a winged Angel appeared.
The first Angel pointed at me and shrieked, "He raped Chorazin, and destroyed my sword Ucaliel! No Mercy! No Mercy At All!"
"Noo, Noo, Aes tha' enna whey fer an Agent a' Maircy, t'talk?" The body connected to the 'James Doohan School of Bad Scots Accents' burr was that of this very large woman. She looked like a wingless diesel dyke version of Angelique. A very good looking diesel dyke, mind you - if you like your women seven feet tall, decked out in leather and brass armor, and toting a double headed battleaxe that would have given Paul Bunyan hatchet-envy. Behind her were about four or five of her sorority sisters, all looking like they were in the mood for a donnybrook-
- or a riot-
- or the Battle of Stalingrad.
"Well, Sylvana, I've always said that the Hosts were long on talk and short on delivery." Angelique stepped out from behind a corner, dressed to kill (literally) in her Frank Frazetta/Xena armor, her sword glistening icy fire in one hand, tongues of black flame flickering up from the other.
"Now, now, Angelique, I'm sure that these blessed creatures are more than willing to give poor Elijah a chance to explain things. After all, they don't want to be the ones to break The Truce, now do they?" Lorelei stepped out from behind another corner with neither weapon nor obvious magic at hand. She was a head shorter than the other Hellions, but still somehow twice as impressive for it.
Seeing that a really nasty scene was brewing, I tried to inject a little sanity. "Hey, Jack, this is not your wife, whatever her name is. I'm telling you, this is Jezebel-" I tried to break the Illusion by physically swiping it away from her face. I've had better ideas, like the time in Third Grade, when I thought that the bunch of playground bullies would back down if I stood up to them. They didn't, and they wiped up the schoolyard with me. My current brainstorm lead to the mock 'Chorazin' screaming like a banshee while it looked like I was trying to rip her face off.
The lead Angel screamed, and his halo crystallized into a nimbus of sharp crystalline shards, which exploded into a hail of deadly missiles. The shards that hit me broke into puffs of dust when they struck and Lorelei managed to bring up a magic shield that destroyed the shards in mid-air. Angelique and the other Hell Maids weren't as lucky. Their shields and armor took most of the blast, but there was dark ichor on the ground.
The other Angels let out a truly terrifying battle cry and charged. The Hell Warriors met them sword for sword, blow for blow, and the alley became a confused mess of wings, fangs, swords and limbs. I managed to hold onto the false 'Chorazin', who was trying her level best to get the hell outta Dodge. Lorelei took advantage of this to whip out a blast of red lightning that knocked the mock Angel out of my grasp and through the brick wall we were standing next to. Jezebel came out of the hole looking like herself, and snarling to beat the band. The two Succubae went for each other and started up their catfight again from Stage One.
The lead Angel came forward to rescue his 'lady-love' and separated them. "What? You're not Chorazin!" he yelled, showing his keen grasp of the obvious. Jezebel snarled and pulled at a necklace of sharp fangs that she had around her neck. She broke the strand of the necklace, and scattered the teeth on the alley floor.
Teeth. As in Dragon's Teeth. As in the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, where Jason sews a field with dragon's teeth, immediately reaping a harvest of fully armed warriors. In a way, it's nice to know that a woman who's three thousand years old has a good grasp of the Classics.
Where each tooth hit the ground, a figure dressed in a full suit of dark armor sprang up. These men where very different from the Cacodaemons that Jezebel had backing her up before. The Cacodaemons had relied on bulk and intimidating armor and weapons to demoralize their foes. These warriors wore plain, simple armor and weapons that instead looked far more impressive for their Spartan elegance. From the disciplined way they assumed their stances and gauged their opposition, I got the distinct impression that in life, these had been men who had devoted their lives to the arts of killing, and pursued those arts past the grave.
Without a word, they dove right into the mass of Angels and Hell Maids, not really caring which they mowed down. The fight had been nasty - now it was downright vicious. All sides faced two opponents, and the Hell Maids were definitely looking like the lesser of two evils to the Angels.
I grabbed Jezebel, and shook her. "Are you insane? What can you hope to accomplish here, except for an end to the Truce, which both sides want?"
She smiled back at me with a vicious grin. "You, know Elijah, you are just as thick and obstinate as your original namesake. He died starving and outcast - I can only hope that you do as well."
It hit me like a brick wall. "You mean, that you did all of this, just to get back at a man who's been dead for Three THOUSAND YEARS?"
She snarled, "He condemned me and my GOD to HELL! In Hell, we never forgive, and we cannot forget! If what happens to you causes that brazen voiced pain the in ass up in Heaven to share even a second of my suffering, then I'll do it again and again until you die, and then I'll find another fool named Elijah, and do it to HIM ALL OVER AGAIN!" She looked down at my chest. "Oh, and just to make things interesting..." She grabbed for the golden chain.
I beat her to it. I filled with- not rage, but some kind of fantastic intense focus that is like rage, but does not burn or fury, but is cold and calculating. Ignoring the pain and internal awkwardness, I pulled the chain. Suddenly, whatever it was embedded in gave. Not only did the chain come out, but I released something that I'd been holding onto, something worthless that I'd clutched at like Gollum clutched at the One Ring.
Jezebel watched me, thunderstruck, as I pulled out the chain and formed it in my hands into a bar. "That's impossible. You can't do that!"
"People keep saying that. It's getting annoying." I grabbed her and forced the bar into a collar around her neck. She fought me every inch of the way, but it was like a kitten fighting a full grown Bengal tiger.
When the collar closed around her neck and fused into a solid ring, she let out a pained "Nnnoooo!!!" She called to the Hell Knights, "Stop fighting the Angels, you Fools! Kill HIM! Kill Him NOW!" With that, she stumbled down the alley, clawing uselessly at the collar.
The Hell Knights silently turned from their badly battered opponents and wordlessly considered me. One of them advanced on me with a pair of medium length swords. I stood stock still, and let him break his weapons on me. He looked at the stumps of the swords, and said nothing. The massed Hell Knights broke into three groups. Two of these groups formed flanks that separated me from both the Angels and the Hell Maids. The third group sheathed their weapons, and grabbed lengths of pipe, pieces of masonry and other makeshift weapons from the refuse in the alley. One even broke a bottle and came at me with the jagged edge. Ah, Man, just when you think that you're invulnerable.
The lead Angel must have finally figured out that he'd been had by Jezebel, and anything that she wanted was now at the top of his 'Must Stop' list. He called out, "Protect the mortal! Destroy the Hell Knights! Hell Maids! I call a Truce with you! Will you honor it?"
The towering leader of the Hell Maids - Savanna, I think her name was - sneered back, "OH, NOW y'wanna call a truce, do ya, Halo-fa'-braens? Well, since y' ask so nice-like! Have at the Mymirdons, girls! Show these knightmares in their own minds how it's really done!" The Hell Maids piled into the Hell Knights with a passion that I normally associate with White Sales.
The leading flank of Hell Knights ignored both the Angels and Hell Maids and came straight at me. Two lithesome forms vaulted over the heads of the battle lines, and put themselves between my attackers and me. Lorelei stayed aloft and pelted them with bolts of scarlet lightning. Angelique was swinging her sword with a will, and blocking as much of the Hell Knights' attacks as she could. Still, she was taking damage. These guys were damn good, even with makeshift weapons. One of them caught her in the neck between her helmet and breastplate with a length of pipe. She gave a soft *hrrrggghh!*, and fell. I broke off from the Knight that I was grappling with, and grabbed her.
Filled again with that terrible clear purpose that I'd felt when I yanked that chain free, I glared at the Hell Knights and growled, "_Stay _ Back _!" I forced them to retreat, not with force of arms or magic, but by simply refusing to allow them to exist any closer.
Lorelei cried out, "Angelique!" and dropped. She looked her over quickly. "She's hurt bad, Elijah. If she isn't healed quickly, she could die!"
"Demons can die?"
Lorelei nodded, worried. "Yes. The Final Death. Grab her, I'll get us out of here." I picked up Angelique as Lorelei gestured, and a hole in the fabric of space formed in the air. She gestured me through, and we were gone.
The three groups of Immortals that remained in the alley looked at each other. The point of contention was gone, but none of the three had any reason to love - or trust - the other two. They each reformed their ranks, and cautiously watched the others for the first false move.
Then a sultry contralto voice came from the mouth of the alley. "Oh, this is pathetic!" All eyes turned to see the curvaceous form of Lilith, with the small blonde figure of the Imp Dimona just behind her. "MYMIRDONS! I am the Princess Lilith! I also speak as the voice of the Prince Asmodeus! Your action is in direct opposition to the will of Lord Lucifer himself! Return to Hell immediately!" The Hell Knights sank into the ground, leaving behind only the dragon's teeth that had brought them forth, which then evaporated into whiffs of sulphurous smoke.
Lilith watched them leave with detachment. When the last whiff of bituminous smoke cleared, she turned her eyes to the contingent of Angels. She half-lidded her eyes, and smiled lazily at the lead Angel. "And YOU are?"
He straightened up, looked her disapprovingly in the eye and said, "I am Melchizedek, Captain of Valor. I-"
Lilith cut him off. "On behalf of His Infernal Majesty, Lord Lucifer, I thank you and your gallant band for assisting these hearty Hell Maids in their efforts to uphold The Truce. The presence of Lord Baal's agent, Jezebel, and his elite guard of Mymirdons was in strict violation of the agreement that Ariel and I had made regarding the recruiting of the mortal Elijah Quick. How noble of you to so diligently guard this bubble delicate Truce that serves both Heaven and Hell so well."
Melchizedek knew an attempt to provide a face-saving front when he saw it. His honor briefly cried out to refuse this candy-coated lie. But it wasn't a complete lie. Indeed, her statement was technically the truth! And his common sense told him that there was no honor in being had. He took a deep breath and nodded. "Thank you, Princess Lilith. Our Honor demanded that we do everything to uphold The Truce. Well, Lads, back to the Citadel!" The collected Angels held their swords before them, folded their wings and became as shards of light, which rose up into the sun.
Lilith watched the Angels leave. Then she clicked her tongue in distaste and murmurred, "Putz." Then she turned her gaze to Sylvana and her band of Hell Maids. "I thought that I gave strict orders that you weren't to interfere if Elijah Quick was attacked by Angels."
Sylvana looked up from tending to a nasty abrasion. "Those weren't the orders that we got. Our orders were t'keep the mortal alive, and t'make Hell look as good as possible."
Lilith chewed on this for a bit, and then looked down at Dimona. But the Imp was nowhere to be seen.
Lorelei's portal led to another spacious, well appointed apartment. Why do these Celestial types get all the good real estate? I hauled Angelique into a bedroom, and set her on the bed. Lorelei started to pull the armor off her, but it snarled and snapped at her. Then I started unstrapping the armor. It snarled, and tried to snap at me, but it didn't do any good. Once I had her unclothed, I could see the extent of the damage. Besides the injury to her neck, she had several bad cuts, including a gaping stab just under the rib cage. Her breathing was ragged and shallow. Lorelei looked over her friend again, then looked up at me. "She's hurt bad. She could be healed easily down in Hell, but given the amount of Essence that she's lost, I don't think that she could survive being transported down there. She lost a lot just being portaled a few blocks to Lilith's penthouse."
I tried to think. "The Font! I could charge some water or wine or something with the Essence from the Font at Hetty Green's place and..."
Lorelei shook her head sadly. "Too little, too late. She needs Maleness. A lot of Maleness. A lot of very _potent_ Maleness. Angelic Maleness, maybe charged with something more..." She turned her large pleading blue eyes on me meaningfully.
Suddenly, the little blonde Imp Dimona was with us. "How is she?" she asked plaintively.
"Not good. But Elijah can help her." Lorelei fixed me again with her eyes. "Will you?"
I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. At this point in my existence, I mused, it isn't so much as what you Do as what you Are. Am I the sort of being that would let someone who put herself on the line for me die, just because I'll probably lose my manhood - again? A manhood that, to be honest, doesn't seem to really mean that much to me any more? "All right." I waited for them to leave. "Well?" They raised eyebrows at me. "I'm not a Porn Star - I don't do it for an audience. Go!"
They silently grumped and turned to leave. "Yeah, right, like we're all hot to watch you go at it!" Dimona sour-graped.
I started to undress. Then, I remembered something. I looked around the room and saw a rounded plush ear poking out from behind a dresser. "Hey! Mister Fuzzy!" A cute stuffed head popped up. One ear was torn in the fight, he was missing a button eye, and one shaggy arm was kind of ragged. I pointed a stern finger at the door. He looked at me pleadingly. "Go!" He toddled off sadly through the door.
I felt something brush against my leg. Angelique's tail was snaking playfully around my calf. "Now that we're finally alone..." Angelique drawled weakly. I looked down at her. Even with the cuts, abrasions and bruising, she was heart-breakingly beautiful. I let down my guards, and let Angelique's Succubus Charm wash over me. I felt my manhood harden, and I bent over to give it to her - in every sense of the word.
Lorelei and Dimona huddled together, looking intently into Mister Fuzzy's remaining button eye, and watching what was going on in the bedroom through the eye that the teddy bear had left in the bedroom.
I let out a scream as I came for the third time. I must be getting used to this - what a concept! - because I stayed conscious as I felt the last of my Maleness flow out of me and into Angelique. She sighed, both in contentment and in relief. Struggling to stay awake, I bent over her and listened to her breathe. Her breathing - and why is a demoness breathing, anyway? - was both more regular and deeper.
I got up off the bed, and sat in a chair to experience my body changing again. This time, I hadn't had my manhood taken away from me; I'd given it away freely and of my own will. There would be no more bopping back and forth across the gender barrier for me. I felt around for any remorse, and couldn't find any. So, I just let it slide. I did briefly wonder what I'd wind up looking like. With traces of seventeen Angels and eighteen Succubae running through me, there was no doubt in my mind that I'd be beautiful - I was just mildly curious as to what the precise results would be like.
There was a timid knock at the door, and I called for them to answer. Lorelei and Dimona looked at my still-blurry form. "Is everything all right?" Lorelei asked.
I spread my arms. I was all right. "You'd better get her down to Hell ASAP. She should be able to make the trip now."
"And what about you?"
"I'm all right. If anything, I could use a little alone time. Jezebel didn't really let me have a chance to catch my breath and figure out what I really feel about all of this. Now that she isn't in a position to keep me from just sitting down and concentrating, maybe I can get a grip on this."
Lorelei picked up Angelique and gestured at the air. Another portal appeared. She started to enter, but then stopped. "Y'know, I really don't envy you that decision. I didn't get the option. I was more or less drafted into Clan Lillim. Thing is, if I had to make the decision, even now, I'm not sure what I'd do. I know good people and bad on both sides of the Great Chasm. I love Mother Lilith and Sylvana and Angelique - yes, and you, too, Dimona, don't sulk - and I've met some really nice Angels. At the same time, some of the biggest assholes I've ever stumbled across have worn halos. And I don't have to tell you about some of the people we've got down in Hell. Good people, bad people, and they're all fighting, even with the Truce on. Y'know, sometimes I wonder if they even remember what they're fighting about? It's like The War is more important than anything; so important, that they'll never stop fighting, 'cause they wouldn't have anything to do if they did."
With that little expositional lump out of the way, Lorelei carried Angelique through the portal, followed by Dimona, who was followed by Mister Fuzzy - who now had both eyes.
I sat there, carefully not thinking about anything for a while. I felt my body make up its mind and settle into a form. I got out of the chair and got dressed. I didn't look in any of the several mirrors around the place. Curiosity and Vanity could wait. I had more on my mind.
I went out onto the penthouse patio and looked at the city. I was still in New York. So were most of the Angels and Succubae that I'd slept with in the last week. I could feel them all, the mystic links all pulling at me, tearing me between Heaven and Hell. I tried to focus and start to reason it all out, but my mind just couldn't settle. Maybe this decision is beyond the rational mind. In exasperation, I asked the Universe, "Can't I just tell both of them to take a flying jump in the lake?"
From somewhere off to the side, I heard a voice say, "Elijah, you have no idea of how long I've been waiting for you to say that."
ONE MONTH LATER
In the Manhattan office of the Archangel Marc, Trisagion and Tobiashazaar faced their Chief. Marc adjusted his silk tie, and gave them a hard glare. "So, still, after a full month, there's no sign of Elijah Quick, either in Hell or on Earth."
Trisagion sighed and said, "Nope. Not a trace. There's a lot of activity on Shaz's Orichalchum Card©, but for some reason, we can't trace it."
Tobiashazaar nodded. "Yeah, and somehow, the Hetty Green property got sold out from under us, to a buyer in Hong Kong. But, again, we can't get a lead on the buyer."
Marc raised an eyebrow. "Any chance that the elusive Mister Quick is with the Hong Kong buyer?"
Shaz shrugged. "Definitely. They might even be using my Orichalchum Card© to help finance the escrow. But I'm pretty sure that whoever the Hong Kong buyer is, they aren't affiliated with Hell. Serena, a Succubus that I've, ah, done business with-" Marc, Tris and Shaz all gave each other 'we're all guys here' looks "-has been discretely pumping me for any news about Elijah. She tries to pump me, I try to pump her, we wind up pumping each other - it makes for an amusing evening."
Marc gave a crooked smile. "Oh, I'm sure that Mister Quick hasn't signed on with the Opposition. That cheap-ass bastard Mammon has been spending money like water, trying to buy leads as to his whereabouts, and Mammon pinches a penny until Lincoln coughs up blood. So..."
The meeting was interrupted when a cute Asian Tenchi poked her head in the door. "Mister Marc?"
"We have urgent messages for Mister Trisagion and Mister Tobiashazaar."
"Bring them in."
The Tenchi opened the door a little wider, and two white doves flew in to settle on the two Angels' hands, and turn into fine white linen envelopes. Kimiko gave them a 'hey, it wasn't my idea!' look, and retreated.
Tris and Shaz opened their messages and read. Shaz looked at Marc. "It's from Elijah! He says that he's made his decision, and this is an invitation to his formal Declaration of Allegiance! He says that this invitation will automatically transport me and a guest to the Time and Place of the Declaration." Shaz raised an eyebrow to Marc.
Marc unnecessarily straightened his tie again. "Of course! I wouldn't dream of not attending!"
Similar invitations were delivered to a wide variety of addresses on Earth, in Heaven and down in Hell. Plans, back-up plans and contingency plans were drawn and preparations made.
The appointed hour arrived, and the invited guests broke the seal on their invitations. Portals opened, and they crossed-
-into a coffee shop. Shaz looked around, and saw Ariel, Lilith, Lorelei, Dimona, Sylvana, Taberah, Urigael, and a mixed bag of other Angels and Demons, with the latter very heavy on Succubae. A touch of tension flared, which faded when Lilith pulled a faux socialite shriek of recognition at seeing Taberah again, and gushed all over the prim-face Seraph.
Then a young woman stepped forward. She was tallish and slender, with a wasp waist and a full bustline. She had an oval face with high cheekbones, a wide full mouth and a turned up nose. She had olive skin and dark wavy hair that came down past her shoulders. She wore a jade green turtleneck sweater under a long plain apron and a tweed skirt. She was lovely and looked somewhat 'exotic', but most people would have been hard pressed to guess exactly what her ethnicity was. She could have been anything or nothing. "Good Evening to you all! I'm so glad that you could come! I am your hostess, and the Guardian of the Font-"
Shaz came forward a step. "Elijah? Is that you?"
She smiled, and her green almond shaped eyes danced. "Yes, Shaz, it's me. Though, for obvious reasons, I can't call myself 'Elijah' anymore. The name that I've chosen for myself is 'Jade'. In Asia, Jade is the Stone of Heaven; yet Jade is also the name of a woman of *ahem!* 'negotiable virtue'. In this way, I pay homage to both of the natures that run through my blood." She looked through the crowd. "Oh! I see that two of my guests seem to have decided not to show up! And I can't really do this right without them." Jade reached in front of herself with both hands and appeared to mime grabbing at two ropes and pulling. The door of the coffee shop burst open, and the figures of Jezebel and Dagnabbit came flying in, as if being dragged in by the neck. "Well, well, if it isn't the Netherworld's answer to Boris Badinoff and Natasha! Now you two scape-graces didn't really think that you could just run and hide, now did you?"
Taberah forced her way to the front of the crowd. "This is all very sweet, _Jade _, but it is NOT the reason we all came here. You stated that you were going to unevoquivicably commit to either Heaven or Hell. Stop blithering, and get to the point!"
"Ah, _NO _, I didn't say that I was going to commit to either Heaven or Hell. I said that I had made my decision, and was going to made a formal Declaration of Allegiance."
The Malachite named Melchizedek came forward, his confusion plain on his face. "What do you mean? To make a Declaration of Allegiance is to choose between Heaven and Hell!"
Jade shook her head in bemusement. "No, it doesn't. If I have to choose between Heaven and Hell, then I choose Pistachio! And while I'm at it, while several of you have been more than kind to me, I'm afraid that I must formally Renounce and Repudiate you all!" With that, each of the Celestials who had formed a link with Elijah felt that bond shatter like a strand of glass.
Urigael forced his way to the fore. "So, you formally announce your neutrality, and disavow any link to either Heaven or Hell?" Jade nodded. It was nice that somebody got the point, even if it was only a whacko like Urigael. Urigael's face lit up with that mad elation. "Fool! With no patron, you are helpless and alone! The mere power of this Font isn't anywhere near enough to protect you! Heaven may be bound to honor your neutrality, but Hell is NOT! The power of the Font will belong to Hell before Walpurgischnacht!"
"No, it won't, because she does have a patron." The clear feminine voice came from somewhere off to the side. A trim Asian woman with a beautifully serene face stepped forward. While she was dressed in tweeds, as was Jade, somehow she managed to be dressed in flowing robes of ethereal silk at the same time. "I am Jade's patron. I have had many names. My name when I was a living mortal was Avalokitesvara. I am also known as White Tara and Kwannon. But I am best known as Q'uan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion."
Ariel took a deep breath. "Oh, Lord, she's gone and thrown in with the Bodhisattvas."
Lorelei crossed her eyes in confusion. "Bodhisattva? Whuzzat?"
Lilith whispered over to her protege, "A Bodhisattva is a mortal who somehow figures out how to completely ignore both the power of Heaven and Hell. When they die, they don't go to either place or reincarnate. It's kinda like being a Buddha, only they don't go over to Nirvana - they kind of hang around and try to get more mortals to try for Nirvana."
Q'uan Yin smiled, and nodded serenely at Lilith. "Close enough for America."
Urigael came forward with his Cacodaemon guard, and sneered at the woman. "Bodhisattva. Pfaugh! A bunch of powerless mortals who pretend that they are above the matters of the Celestial powers by carefully avoiding anything that even smells of Hell!"
Q'uan Yin didn't flinch. "Maybe you should consult with your kindred among the Rakshashas. They have tried to disturb our serenity on more than one occasion."
Urigael shrieked, and erupted in an explosion of chain. The chains tore through the air and wrapped around Q'uan Yin in a crushing cocoon. Urigael grinned viciously as he squeezed the chains. Then there was no tension in the chains. He laughed. "Hah! The great and powerful Bodhisattva! Nothing more than a moment's nuisance!" He let the chains drop to reveal the body-
-which wasn't there.
"Your parlor tricks are amusing, Fallen Angel, but you are taking up too much time. There is business to discuss." Q'uan Yin was standing right behind Urigael's shoulder. The Habbalite wheeled, his chains flailing about to where Q'uan Yin-
She was right at this shoulder again. "_You _ are noisy. We must have more quiet if we are to discuss things in a civilized manner." She put her hand on Urigael's head and pushed down. The Habbalite shrank down into his coat of chains as she pushed. Finally, she reached down into his coat and pulled him out, cupped in her hands. Jade produced an empty bottle of seltzer water and a funnel. Q'uan Yin crammed him into the bottle, and then inscribed characters into the glass of the bottle and sealed its neck with a stopper bearing another character.
Jade took the bottled demon and put it on a high sideboard. She turned to Urigael's guard. "Tell his boss that he can come and pick him up anytime."
Taberah stepped forward, her face slack in distress and disbelief. "Urigael! Beloved! What manner of magic IS this?"
Q'uan Yin made a dismissive noise. "Magic! Magic is nothing but a distraction! Bodhisattvas - and their proteges - don't need to stoop to using miracles or magic! We merely live in the world, and deal with reality. It isn't our fault that Angels and Demons can't deal with reality."
Jade piped up. "What I think she's trying to say, is that what both Heaven and Hell do when they perform their miracles is nothing more than illusions that only work because the parties involved agree that they work. You-" she pointed at Melchizedek, "-what did you say your name was?"
"Okay, Melvin, what was that sword that you were so attached to made of?"
"It was made of the prayers of the faithful, of the tears of the innocent, of the-"
"In other words, the beards of women, the roots of rocks and the wits of bears. Intangibles. Abstractions. Things that don't have any material basis. Illusions. Your sword broke on my skin, because I refused to accept the reality of it. The reason that I could do all those things that blew your minds so much, wasn't that I didn't know any better; it was because I simply wouldn't allow myself to accept them. None of your illusions have any reality for me - how can I be harmed by smoke and vapors?"
Jezebel wasn't having any of it. "Hold ON, now! When I first met you, you were no different than any other schlub on the street!" She cast a quick glance aside to Dagnabbit. "With one small exception, of course. If you're so damn immune to our illusions, then why did you not only change sex when I drained you of your maleness, but keep changing sex back and forth, hunh?"
Jade smiled serenely. "You have the order backwards. I gained my immunity, because I kept changing sex - and appearance - and so many other things. You kept destroying my sense of identity. When I first met you, I had only been mildly distanced from consensual reality by Dagnabbit's tricks. Then you came along and started chipping away at even that! Of course, once it had started, I had to accept it as part of my reality, because there I was. But every time I changed, I was slowly being dislodged from the tapestry of illusion."
Q'uan Yin gave her protege a wintry glance. "You are still trapped in the tapestry! You only know on a gut level that you are trapped. They just don't realize that they are trapped as well."
Jezebel looked horrified at Q'uan Yin. "YOU! You're the one! You're the one that hid Dagnabbit's mark, so that I would hit on Elijah! You're the one who kept me from realizing that I was being manipulated, so that I'd keep moving Elijah from Angel to Succubus and back again, so that he'd keep changing sex! You're behind ALL of it!"
Q'uan Yin shrugged, and said nothing.
Ariel surged forward. "Q'uan Yin, if this is true, then your little mind games risked destroying the Truce, and threatened the safety of Heaven and Hell alike!"
Q'uan Yin shrugged, and said, "How can you threaten shadows on the wall? Your War means nothing. Before your Heaven and Hell, there were other Gods and Demons. Did the world end when the Aesir and the Jotuns fought their last battle at Ragnarok? No. Did the world end when Tiamat finally slew Marduk and Dagon? No. There has always been a Kingdom of Heaven imposing its idea of Order and a Kingdom of Hell in opposition. You think that you embody Good and Evil. You don't. You are merely manifestations of Yin and Yang in the world. Yin & Yang have always been in the world, and they will be until the last fool wises up and steps out of this madhouse into the reality that is Nirvana. And I will be there to hold the door for him."
The Angels and Demons looked at each other. They were NOT used to being dismissed in such a cavalier manner.
Jade came at Jezebel and Dagnabbit. "Speaking of which-" she pointed a finger at Jezebel "-you lied, manipulated and slandered me. You set both Angel and Demon after me, and would have killed me for the simple reason that I just happened to have been named after someone who caused you a few problems over three thousand years ago. Now, you wear my collar of binding, and are completely at my mercy." She reached over and broke the collar off of Jezebel's throat. "So, I give you all the mercy I have. You obviously need it. As for punishment - well, you sneer at the very concept of 'forgive and forget'. Just being Jezebel is a worse punishment than any I could come up with."
Then Jade turned to Dagnabbit. "You cheated me of everything I worked for, for over thirty years. I could have been anything, if I hadn't been carrying you around." She reached over and broke the collar off of Dagnabbit's throat. "So, I forgive you. I carried you for thirty years - I have no intention of carrying you around any longer." She gestured Jezebel and Dagnabbit to the door. "You can leave any time that you want. I won't hold you back."
Dagnabbit started to move toward the door. Jezebel stood there, looking hard at Jade. "Hold on. Dag, we both screwed up Major League, with both of our superiors. You not only didn't keep Elijah from rising to his Destiny"-
"Not Destiny," Q'uan Yin corrected, "Karma."
"Whatever, you didn't keep Elijah from meeting his _Karma _, but it can be argued that you were an indispensable part of him doing so. Somehow, I don't think that Lord Kronos is either not gonna hear about this, or like it if he does."
Dagnabbit screwed up his round face in sheer terror. "He'll turn me into a pair of slippers, walk on me for a century, and then kill me!"
"And I not only didn't produce the War that Lord Baal wanted, but everyone knows that I was his agent in it. I'd be lucky if he only turned me into slippers!" She looked stricken at her partner in misfortune. "The ONLY way that we can get out of it, is if we're bound to a mortal sorcerer! No power in Hell can touch the Bound!" She looked at the door. "If we leave, then we aren't bound. But if we just stay here..." She turned to look at Jade. "Please?"
Jade snorted, and strummed her fingers on a counter. Then she looked at Q'uan Yin, who said nothing, and gave nothing away with her serene expression. <pfaugh!> "Okay! Okay! You can stay! But this isn't a flophouse, 'yknow - I'll expect you two to work for your keep!" She marched behind a counter, got a pair of aprons and handed them to the two demons. "You," she said to Jezebel, "can work the register and wait tables. You-" to Dagnabbit, "-are on dish duty. Get moving!"
Jezebel looked at her poleaxed. "Food Service? I was a Queen! I don't do Food Service!"
"That was then - this is now. Either you earn your keep, or you hit the bricks. What's it gonna be?"
Jezebel sighed, put on an apron, and went over to the cash register. She poked a finger at the keys experimentally. Dagnabbit went into the back, and a scream of panicked anguish filled the shop. One Angel leaned over to another and whispered, "Remind me never to piss her off."
Jade brightened up with a professional smile, and addressed the rest of the Celestials. "Okay, now that that's over with, you're probably all wondering what's gonna happen with the Font, right? Which side is she going to bar from accessing the Font?
"The Answer? Neither. This Font is open to anyone who comes and wants a cup of coffee or tea and fresh pastry. This is, of course, how the Essence will be distributed. And, more to the point, this is a place where Angels and Demons can come and kick back, schmooze, and not worry that somebody's gonna do something foolish. While your War may be on hold, you still have a Cold War of sorts going on. Think of this as Vienna - by definition, not on either side." She pointed at the window. Reversed on the inside, painted in gold leaf, were the words 'Neutral Grounds'.
The Archangel Marc stepped forward. "An absolutely lovely idea!" he said suavely. "BUT, neutrality means _nothing_ if you can't enforce it. Heaven will, of course, honor your declaration of neutrality. But what about Hell?"
Lilith started to retort, but Q'uan Yin held up a hand. "Jade, as Guardian of the Font, has more than enough power to deal with anyone who gets out of hand. And even if she isn't here-" the Bodhisattva pointed over the door. Placed over the door was a large green crystal plaque with an Enochian Rune inscribed in gold on it.
One of the Angels gasped. "That's one of the eight lost Emerald Tablets!"
Q'uan Yin smiled. "Not lost. We had all of them. But then, you Celestial types have always chosen to ignore the Enlightened Ones. All eight of those tablets are here, at the midpoints and corners of this property. None of your Celestial powers will work on these precincts, whether Jade or I are here or not. Neither will the illusory powers of Djinn, Manitou, Loa, Div, Kami, Fae or whatever breed decides to come here and partake of the fare."
Marc raised an eyebrow. "And this is going to be Free?"
Jade curled a lip. "Don't be ridiculous! Nothing in life is Free. The prices for the food and drink are listed on the chalkboard. The price for the Essence is pretty much a matter of running up a tab. Accessing the Font is pretty much an open favor. But the favor will eventually be repaid."
Shaz came forward. "Speaking of favors, ah, Jade, do you still have my Orichalchum Card©?"
Jade smiled fondly, and pulled it out of a pocket on her apron. "Yes, Shaz. Here it is - it was very helpful in getting this place set up. For You, the first cup will always be free."
Shaz smiled broadly. "And refills?"
"Then you run up a tab, like everyone else." But her eyes promised more than just refills.
The Archangel Marc cleared his throat. "Of course, since Tobiashazaar's credit was such a material factor in setting up this place, I think that Heaven really should be given some kind of discount or-" Both Jade and Q'uan Yin fixed him with sour looks.
Marc smiled weakly, and spread his hands. "You can't blame me for trying!"
Lorelei made a disgusted noise. "And people are always going on about us demons!"
Q'uan Yin swept that aside with a gracious wave of her hand. "Very well, 'Neutral Grounds' is now officially open for business! Jade, you handle making the coffee. I will make the tea." She added complacently, "Jade is a good girl, but Westerners know absolutely nothing about making Tea."
The customer was a Loa called Shango. "I'll have a double de-caff espresso with a dash of caramel, two double dashes of essence of hazel, and extra whipped cream."
"If you're gonna be like that, you can go down a couple of blocks to Starbucks®!"
I knew that something was up when roughly a third of my customers suddenly turned into the cast of Friends. I mean, four Monicas at one table is just plain wrong! I looked behind the counter - Jezebel was nowhere to be seen, and from somewhere one of those white ceramic cats holding up a paw had appeared. I looked at the door - just in front of the glass, looking in was a large snarling winged wolf that looked like it had been in a forest fire.
I went to the door and opened it. "Are you going to come in like a person, or do I call the dog pound?"
It stood upright and shifted form into a tall dark dressed man with a stern, predatory look about him. "I am Asmodeus, Prince of Judgement."
I smiled back at him. "Very well; enter freely and of you own will!"
He glowered at me, and wordlessly entered. The Seraph who'd been entertaining the room with her exquisite violin playing stopped. The place was as quiet as a tomb, and all eyes - Angelic, Demonic and otherwise - were on Asmodeus.
He fixed burning eyes on me. "You are Jade?" I nodded. "I understand that you are holding three of Hell's Own in durance vile."
"Nope. I AM holding one of yours, one Urigael by name, but only until somebody came to pick him up. He's yours for the asking."
"And what of the succubus Jezebel, and the Malkerab Dagnabbit?"
"Oh, I let them go. Of course, you can't really free anyone - they have to do that themselves. It's not for me to tell them to go back."
"Hmmm... And technically, they are still bound and out of Hell's power until they admit that they are free. I see... So, what about Urigael?"
I went over and took Urigael's bottle from off the sideboard. Darkness shifted around in the bottle, and a pair of insane eyes glared at me from inside. I handed the bottle to Asmodeus. He looked at the now-fearful eyes in the bottle. Impossibly, a smile cracked his dour stone face. "Well, Urigael, you always wanted to be the Demon of Chains - maybe I can talk Lord Lucifer into naming you 'the Demon of Bottles'."
Asmodeus extended a claw from his forefinger. "Ah, Asmodeus, don't open that inside." He looked at the roiling inside, and nodded. "Also, that isn't Free, y'know."
Asmodeus looked at me with fulminating eyes. "Oh, Yes. Your already famous 'Tab Chits'. Where do I sign?"
"Actually, that won't be necessary." He raised an eyebrow. "A straight favor for favor. Something's come up, and it's right up your alley." He raised both eyebrows in surprise. "Y'see, we're getting some problems from City Hall. It seems that somebody has loose lips." I turned to look around the room at the Angels, disguised demons, Loa, Djinn, Ghosts, and like at the tables. "Y'see, we don't have a license to serve spirits."