The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2) (3 page)

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
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“On our very doorstep, a being, a demon that had been hiding here in the palace, has somehow managed to interrupt a link between several high priests of Tiernon and their god.”

“Yes, yes, I brought that up early on,” Trevin sputtered.

“Wisely so, My Lady.” Maelen nodded. “But what you did not ask is this: how long before Tiernon sends his emissaries down to enquire as to who has been tampering with his supply line?”

There was shocked silence for a moment. “And by emissaries,” Sier Barvon stated, “you do not mean the Rod or any priests. You mean…”

“His avatars.” Maelen nodded.

Gandros moaned and put his head in his hands. The room once more broke into chaos.

~

“I seriously need a drink.” Lenamare said as he entered his office followed by Jehenna, Elrose and Hortwell. He headed directly to the glass cart with the brandy decanter on it and began pouring brandy for everyone. No one said anything as he passed the glasses around.

Lenamare nodded as Elrose took a glass; normally the sorcerer did not imbibe, as he felt that alcohol dulled his senses. He was making an exception tonight.

Jehenna took a sip and closed her eyes for a moment before opening them and observing, “So, as we suspected, our fourth-order was in Astlan all along, which was why we couldn’t summon him.”

“And in this palace,” Hortwell added. “Under our noses.”

Jehenna grimaced. “Embarrassing.”

“Well, he’s in the Abyss now,” Elrose observed.

Jehenna allowed a grim smile to cross her lips as she glanced at Lenamare. “Unfortunately, the wards around the city will prevent us from summoning it any time soon.” She gave a dark chuckle.

“Yes, how
un
fortunate that is.” Elrose shook his head, chuckling as well; Jehenna’s sense of humor was a bit dark.

Lenamare glanced at Jehenna half irritated, obviously not sensing her irony. “I may have a high opinion of myself, but I’m not stupid. We are not going to be summoning that thing any time soon.”

“I do not understand how it could have fooled us so well.” Hortwell shook his head.

“Clearly, it wanted into Astlan and we were a convenient portal,” Elrose stated.

Lenamare had closed his eyes, keeping them shut he took another sip of brandy, remaining silent.

Jehenna shook her head and then seemed to realize something and looked around. “Where is Master Trisfelt? I thought he and his students came in just before the wards went up?”

Lenamare nodded. “He did, but I sent him back outside to be our eyes and ears out there.”

“Elrose,” Lenamare turned to look at the other master, “I took over the keystone position for the wards this morning from Trevin. I can have them tuned to let you teleport out and back in to resupply Trisfelt. He may have a longer tour of duty ahead of him.”

“Longer?” Jehenna asked.

“More than ever, we need an observer outside that we can trust. If any avatars show up, I want advance warning.” Lenamare finished his brandy. “I have the wards set to allow telemirrors, and he still has his. Therefore, Elrose, coordinate a location and what supplies he needs and I’ll open the wards to let you out and back in. I only want to have them open for a few minutes at most.”

Elrose nodded. “Sounds wise. I am pretty sure I know what he’s going to need. I’ll go tap a few wine kegs.” Elrose and Hortwell chuckled, and even Jehenna made a small grin. At this point, any amount of levity helped.

~

“This is most distressing!” Randolf whined to his two lords as they walked back to the archimage’s chambers.

“It is, My Lord, most certainly,” Lord Rothgart agreed.

“Indubitably, my illustrious lord,” Bartholomew agreed, adding extra color to his words to make up for answering second.

As they reached the doors to his chambers, Randolf stepped aside to let his lord chamberlain go forward and open the doors for him. Once opened, he slunk through the entranceway as was his habit. Randolf could tell by the sour expression on Bartholomew’s face as the man looked into the suite that Crispin must have returned and was most likely draping himself over a divan in the parlor.

As Rothgart shut the door behind them, Randolf marched through the rear doors of the entrance hall into the parlor, where Crispin was indeed lying on the gold divan. As was his custom, the boy was scantily clad and provocatively posed to arouse maximum discomfort in the two lords. Randolf stopped in the middle of the room, standing up straight and holding his arms out from his sides to allow the lord chamberlain to remove his robe. The chamberlain snapped his fingers and two young men in livery emerged from the sides of the entry hall and flowed into the parlor to remove the Archimage’s robes.

Randolf coughed slightly. Bartholomew raised his eyebrows in sudden understanding of the oversight. Clearly, the crystal ball playback had rattled his wits. The lord chamberlain produced a mint chocolate and placed it in Randolf’s mouth, which opened as the chamberlain’s fingers approached.

Randolf savored the mint as the two valets removed and folded his robe and then removed his boots and replaced them with slippers. A rather tricky feat, considering that the Archimage insisted on remaining standing. Randolf appeared to be contemplating as he savored the mint.

“As I was saying,” Randolf suddenly continued as the valets backed away and began to leave. “This is most distressing. The fact that Exador would so depart without telling me, on a flying carpet no less, and with a bunch of hooligans.” Randolf began pacing. “And to think he gave me no word of his departure before leaving, I am summoned to this council meeting, which he knows I hate attending, and I have to make excuses for his absence—off the cuff, even!” Randolf continued pacing silently.

The two lords looked back and forth at each other. Finally Rothgart spoke up. “My Lord?”

Randolf paused and looked at the lord chancellor, raising an eyebrow, awaiting the chancellor’s question. “Are you not at all concerned with the fact that he was seen on the carpet with two archdemons?” Rothgart asked.

“And that the Council now suspects, nay, believes Exador to be an archdemon?” Bartholomew asked.

Randolf stopped where he was, his face going slightly pale. “Hmm, interesting point. I hadn’t considered that in great detail.” He tilted his head from side to side, then glanced at Crispin, who was smiling brightly. “Yes, this is most awkward. I mean, it would look bad to have an archdemon in one’s employ, yes?”

The two lords gave the archimage slightly horrified stares. “My Lord, I think that may be the least of our problems?”

Randolf seemed puzzled. “Well, what? You think he would do us harm? I’ve known Exador since I was a child, just as my father knew his father. They’ve served us loyally for over a hundred years! If he meant any harm to us, don’t you think we’d know it by now?”

The two lords were looking extremely pale. “I’m not sure, My Lord; I’m not an expert on the machinations of demon lords,” Rothgart replied. “However, I am not sure I would trust one.”

Randolf tried to smile, but the smile broke down and he grabbed himself. “I know, I know! But what choice do we have? Are you willing to call him out on it?” He looked around worriedly. “I know
I
certainly don’t want to walk up to someone who might be an archdemon and tell them that they’ve been lying to me!” He raised his hands up and out. “You know the man! He was scary enough when we thought he was a human!” Randolf shook his head and began pacing. “I think we have no choice. I have no choice! I must continue as if nothing has changed! If he returns, we pretend nothing has changed, that we do not suspect him, or anything! Am I clear?” He glared at his two lords; both of whom gulped and nodded.

“And furthermore, spread the word that I, the archimage, do not believe such scurrilous lies and have the utmost confidence in Lord Exador!” Randolf nodded at the two lords, trying to get them to nod back.

“Yes, Milord,” Rothgart and Bartholomew murmured.

“Also, he’s got an army camped in the basement somewhere. Locate his generals and make sure they have whatever they need now that Exador has gone missing. Technically, they march under the banner of Turelane, so I probably need to keep them fed.”

He paused and added, “Oh, and don’t bring the archdemon thing up, unless you hear people grumbling, or whatever. We don’t want to make them nervous if they haven’t heard anything!”

 

 

 

Chapter 83

DOF

Night 15-17-440

Saint Hilda of Rivenrock trudged through the brambles in the dark, in the middle of the night, scanning the terrain for any demonic manifestations. It was quite tedious. If only she had not been so diligent, she could be home enjoying a good book and a fine glass of wine this evening.

This morning one of her illuminaries had suddenly gone dark and then, not long after, had started drawing mana at a rather large rate for several minutes before dropping to a very dark level. A single illuminary might not have been noticed by some of the more famous avatars; but frankly, Hilda didn’t have a huge number of illuminaries, so she was sensitive to each one.

She had reported it to her supervising archon, who probably would have ignored it, except that another avatar reported a similar experience shortly thereafter. Both were identified to be in the same area, and after a few more enquiries to avatars with illuminaries in the area, it was learned there was a total of five illuminaries in the same state in Astlan, all in close physical proximity and all stationed with most of the Rod. All currently dark.

Clearly, something had happened. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic nature of these things slowed down their ability to synthesize all the relevant information. Thus it wasn’t until late in the evening, relative time for Hilda, that she’d been notified that she was to join the advance team to do the ground work preparation for a Visitation from the archon currently overseeing this project. She had been chosen, as one of her illuminaries had been affected and she had been the first to report the problem. Joy.

Naturally, to the uninitiated, being part of an advance team sounded like a high honor; but having been at this now for just over two hundred years since her canonization, Hilda knew better. This was her fourth recon job, and they all sucked. They had to do a complete perimeter scan and interior scan for the region, which meant manually checking the area for any sign of anything that could potentially disrupt the archon and his or her Host.

If only she had a decent singing voice, maybe she could have gotten into a Host. Just show up and sing praises to Tiernon and whichever archon needed to announce their presence. Unfortunately, she couldn’t carry a tune, so that wasn’t going to happen. Not to mention that the body fascists in the Hosts would have made her afterlife miserable.

Squelch
. Hilda stopped and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She had just stuck one of her golden-slippered feet into a six-inch-deep puddle of mud. Great. It would probably get stuck in there. Boots would have been so much better, but no; avatars could not wear boots while in the field. Not unless it was specifically mentioned in their canonization and subsequent depictions that they wore boots.

Seriously, was it really this big of a deal? There was a battle, a few priests got taken out, so they went dark. Priests die. If the Afterlife Receiving Department was a little quicker on reporting deaths, they could have had the explanation already, with no need of a Visitation. However, there were no reported dead priests from the area. Of course, everyone knew the department was a day or two behind on reporting.

[Gods and Their Agents]

~

“So, what are your plans for him?” Antefalken asked Tom as they sat on a ledge a few hundred feet from the mouth of Tom’s cave. They had taken the knight there as a first staging location. The knight would need to sleep and the cave was far safer and cooler, a dark place for him to rest. The man was extremely beat up. Tom guessed he was about as close to dead as a human could get in the Abyss, without actually being dead.

“I have no idea.” Tom shook his head. “It was one of those ideas I had in the middle of combat that sounded a lot better then, than it does in reality now.” His wings twitched; he was still feeling rather wired from the battle, which was surprising given the time that had passed.

Antefalken smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, I’ve made more than a few of those decisions in my life. Usually involving a pretty maid.”

“After the crap he was pulling during the battle, I figured he’d try one last time to cheat, kill me. I was thinking if he finally showed some honor, I would just grab you guys and we’d leave. However, if he wanted to try and cheat one more time, I’d give him a lesson he would never forget.” Tom shook his head again. “Of course, what I didn’t realize at the time was that that meant I’d get a lesson too: what to do with a hostage.”

“Killing him would have been a lot easier. He would probably be happier up there in the heavens with his god. Who knows, they might have made him a saint,” Antefalken replied.

“Easier, yes, but I’d like to put an end to these stereotypes of demons being pure evil killing machines—basically all the bullshit he represents,” Tom said, gesturing to Talarius back in the cave. Tom grimaced and emitted a small belch, rubbing his stomach.

Antefalken chuckled. “Good luck with that; it’s pretty much what his religion is about. Tiernon is a warrior god, dedicated to expunging evil. It is their raison d’étre. You get rid of the stereotypes about evil, you get rid of their religion.”

“But evil isn’t a thing. It is a point of view, a perspective. It’s how one behaves and interacts with others that determines good versus evil,” Tom complained.

“Well, I might argue that it’s not that simple. From a practical point of view, it is political, or societal. People form groups, align with others for their common good. Oftentimes, what is good for one group is bad for another. Think of it as a competition for resources. So in that sense good and evil become relative, depending on which group you are in,” Antefalken said.

“Yes, but I think there has to be a higher level of arbitration or justice that can define intergroup good and evil,” Tom said, grimacing again as his stomach continued to rebel. Rather odd, since he had not eaten anything.

Antefalken shook his head. “That can only happen when everyone agrees on the same ultimate authority to decide that.” He rolled his eyes back a bit. “And even then, you have groups that say they worship the same god, but have almost entirely opposite views of that god or goddess, and then you get intragroup schisms and warfare.”

Antefalken chuckled. “I’d be careful of taking that too far; you might get lumped in with the followers of the archdemon Anselm.”

“Who?”

“Anselm, he was, or I suppose is, an archdemon popular about 1700 years ago. He was probably the only religious demon ever. He was also a masterful logistician who provided to his followers a logical proof that basically required the belief in the existence of a one true god, of which nothing greater could be conceived,” Antefalken said.

Tom grinned. “I think I’ve heard of such a being.”

“Indubitably, the omniscient, omnipotent single creator god,” Antefalken agreed. “Not a preferred concept on the Outer Planes.” He raised his arms in an amused shrug. “Go figure.”

He sighed and then continued. “In essence, Anselm argued that as a mental exercise, if one could comprehend or conceive of a being of such infinite magnitude that it was the best and most of everything, that it had every virtue, power and grace conceivable, such that no being could possibly be greater, then the existence of such a being in the physical world must be true, and one could not possibly deny such an existence.”

Tom shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Antefalken smiled. “His construct was to have one conceive of a being so vast, so omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent that one could not possibly imagine anything greater than that construct existing. This is because if you came up with some other property that a being could possess that would make it greater than the being of your concept, on any front, then the being of your concept would automatically possess it, in order to become the greatest thing you could conceive of.”

Tom shook his head again, still not following.

“Here is the clincher: existence, the actual physical existence of something is and must be a higher state of being. It must be greater than the simple concept of such a thing.” Antefalken looked him in the eye. “The existence of something is greater than the concept of that same thing. It is more real,” he said.

“Yes. I agree,” Tom said.

“So if your imaginary being was actually real, tangible, then it would be greater than your imaginary being. Yes?”

“Yes,” Tom said, starting to see where this was going.

“Thus, if you took your imaginary being, of which nothing greater could be conceived, and it actually were physically real, that real being would be greater than the imaginary being that wasn’t real. Thus, in order to complete your imaginary construct, your imaginary being must be real. Because true reality is greater than a mental construct. Thus, you must believe that your mental construct is real in order for it to be the greatest thing you can conceive of. Thus, if you
can
believe in such a being, then you
must
believe it exists in order to be logically consistent with yourself.” Antefalken smiled brightly at Tom as the demon tried to digest this mental bender.

“So,” Antefalken summed up, “Anselm held that if a sentient being could go through this exercise of conceiving of such a being, they had to believe in its existence. Therefore, one would also have to believe that there were no greater gods than this single god. That all other gods were simply false gods.” He laughed. “As you can imagine, he wasn’t too popular among the priests of any religion.”

Tom tilted his head; Anselm’s god sort of sounded like the one he was familiar with. “I’m not sure I’m going that far. I am really just looking at good vs. evil and stereotypes. I’m not trying to define what a god is or isn’t. I think people are entitled to their own beliefs as long as they don’t try to impose them on others. I see Talarius as trying to impose his beliefs on me and other demons.”

Antefalken shrugged. “They do tend to evangelize via the sword.”

Tom smiled. “Even so, I want to try, however futilely, to change a few of his crazy beliefs. Who knows, maybe he can then help convince others in his religion.”

Antefalken turned to look at him strangely. “Hmm, you are from one of those monotheistic deist type cultures then?”

“What do you mean?”

“A world with a single god, one who is all powerful and stays above the fray?”

“I guess. I mean, there is no proof that God exists. People just have to have faith. If they choose.” Tom said.

“Yeah, well… that’s why your plan might work in your world, but not here,” the bard told Tom. “The gods are not hands-off in Astlan. In fact, they tend to be very hands-on. They are egotistical, power hungry, vain people who bicker and fight among each other and who stir up considerable trouble in the worlds of men.”

Tom felt the other sick feeling in his stomach return from this morning. The one he had felt when he had first seen the umbilical cords to the sky. “Yeah, those links went somewhere. The gods, so to speak, aren’t real in my world. But apparently they are very real here?” Antefalken nodded; Tom was getting his point. Tom continued his observation. “The mana stream coming from the heavens, or wherever, was extremely purified; possibly flavored, you might even say.” Tom paused for a moment, thinking. “So then Tiernon is an actual person that you can, at least in theory, talk to?” Tom asked.

Antefalken grinned grimly. “Yeah, Tiernon is very real, as are his avatars; we are probably going to find that out soon enough.”

Tom got an even worse feeling. “What exactly do you mean?” His stomach was now a total mess. Actually, he wasn’t even sure he had a stomach, but something inside him was upset. He was getting a very sick feeling from this conversation, beyond the feeling of indigestion and of being too wired he had been dealing with.

Antefalken snorted. “Are you telling me you don’t understand what you did?”

“Apparently not. At least not completely.”

Antefalken sighed. “Well, you stole mana dedicated to and destined for Tiernon; and then you actually started using his already collected mana in a way that only very powerful priests are permitted to do.” Tom grimaced. “He is not going to be happy and he’ll most likely send some avatars to investigate.”

“What are avatars?”

“Saints, angels, lesser divine beings. Sort of counterparts to demons, I guess. I’m not an expert, but from what I understand, they are sort of like demons in the service of the gods.”

“Oh. I’m thinking that’s not good,” Tom said. “I suppose they aren’t going to be happy about me abducting their champion either?”

Antefalken simply flashed him a grin.

Tom belched, his indigestion starting to turn to nausea.

~

Hilda was close to completing her circumference of the city and the two encampments. She was tired, dirty and sweaty. Her feet were killing her. She could have done a cleaning ritual, but that would have only lasted so long before the forest soiled it again; it simply did not seem worth the bother.

White silk was just a ridiculous fabric for marching through a forest; Hilda far preferred wool or cotton fleece, but no… avatars of Tiernon had to maintain an appropriate level of graceful appearance. Which, considering she was under the aspects of an invisibility ritual and a silence ritual made no sense whatsoever. Who was going to see it? No one. Who was going to have to clean or repair it? Her, that was who. Argh.

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
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