The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2) (55 page)

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
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“Well, if they’ve come to her for assistance, that seems okay,” Boggy said.

“Far more ethical than a love potion,” Talarius noted. He had remained silent up to this point. “But still, not particularly savory. Sex should only occur within the bounds of matrimony.” Talarius shrugged. “Ideally.”

“Does your religion allow premarital sex?” Tom asked, suddenly curious.

“Well, it’s frowned upon, but not forbidden. As a rule, it is very disadvantageous for younger women, particularly if they are virgins and using that fact to woo a husband. However, that is more an issue of familial duty than religious duty. Tiernon only demands that the partners respect each other and don’t take advantage of or harm each other, emotionally or physically.”

“Hmm, seems oddly rational for a god,” Boggy noted. “So are knights, priests and such chaste?”

Talarius shrugged. “That depends on the knight and his or her vows. As far as priests, monks and Sisters, that is a function of their order. If one joins an order that has a vow of chastity, one has to keep one’s vows, the same as joining an order with a vow of silence.”

“Hmm, seems rather reasonable to me,” Tom said. Talarius gave him an odd look. Or maybe he did, it was very hard to tell through the helmet, even with the visor up.

“You know, I can lower the temperature in this room if you want to get out of your armor for a bit,” Tom said suddenly.

“What trick is this?” Talarius demanded, suddenly on his guard.

“There are all sorts of crazy runes hidden in the walls,” Tom said, “including runes for heat, cold, air purification. As it is, it is actually cool enough now that you would not die, you would just be uncomfortably hot. I can cool it even more.”

“And then, once I’m out of my armor, you turn on the heat and bake me!” Talarius said.

Tom glared at him. “At what point will you start taking me for my word? When have I ever violated my word to you?” He bent his head and stared straight at the knight. “Can you say the same?” Talarius did not respond.

Tom shook his head. “I tell you what. Follow me.” He headed into the room that Talarius had been sleeping in. “I’m going to show you the runes for heat and cold. I will be glad to power them, but if you prefer, you can power them yourself, assuming you know how. Which to be honest, I am not sure how to tell you, given that I am an animage and you are a Knight Rampant. In any event, once I show you, you can come in here and cool it when I’m gone, and I won’t know that you are not in your armor and ready for roasting.”

“I think you meant to say he is a Paladin!” Tizzy shouted behind them as they entered the knight’s room. Talarius stuck his fist out behind him, making a rude gesture at the demon.

Tizzy smiled and turned to Boggy. “He’s growing on me. I’m starting to like him.” Boggy just shook his head as Tizzy asked, “Do you think maybe he’s starting to like me?”

~

DOF +6

Midday 16-03-440

Tom stood looking over the maps in the command center. Zelda, Arg-nargoloth, Darg-Krallnom, Roth Tar Gorefest and Vargg Agnoth were also around the large table. It was rather an impressive mapping system. Like most things in the complex, it was rune powered and could display a vast array of three-dimensional maps of the Abyss and other worlds.

“How many worlds does it contain maps for?” Tom asked.

Zelda was shaking her head in amazement; the map table had never been powered in her lifetime. Tom himself was amazed; the table was of carved stone, reminiscent of a very large pool table when dormant. Active, it was essentially the 3D map table used in science fiction movies where unscrupulous mining companies schemed to steal Unobtanium from theoretically helpless blue aliens.

“As many as there are tribes with shamans who worshipped you, lord,” Vargg said. “The shamans used special crystals you provided to dream travel to the Ethereal Realm of their world and map it. Not all are complete, and obviously after this many years, towns and roads may have changed.”

“In the very old days, when we had enough shamans on a world, we could have live views of events on the grounds,” Arg-nargoloth said. “That was impressive.”

“And frustrating,” Darg-Krallnom said.

“Frustrating?” Tom asked.

“We were able to observe your battles with the FOG.” Darg-Krallnom shook his head.

“Fog?” Tom asked, not understanding why he, or rather Orcus, would have been fighting
fog
.

“Forces of Good,” Vargg said.

“Or so they call themselves,” Roth said bitterly.

“Hypocrisy of the highest caliber,” Arg-nargoloth said.

“Leave it to both the alfar and the humans and their gods,” Roth said. “They have the best media. They always end up spreading their side of the story to the other races, and we always end up looking bad.”

“Not always; the Drow and most of the Dok Sidhe have been good allies of the orcs,” Vargg noted.

“Not all of our allies have been completely reliable. Many of the so-called ‘dark races’ are a bit unhinged,” Darg-Krallnom noted to Tom on the side.

“I will never work with necromancers again,” Roth stated firmly. “Bad news.”

Vargg was shaking his head. “I think the real problem is that these groups try to force some sort of huge narrative on everything. Every conflict must be a battle between the so-called ‘good’ and the so-called ‘evil.’ It’s not just a territorial or trade dispute. No, it’s an ultimate battle for the survival of their way of life!”

Arg-nargoloth sighed. “Seriously? A trade route? That’s the one thing that allows you to keep your way of life intact. Your entire civilization will collapse without that trade route through our territory, and you can’t afford to pay us a toll for traveling on our land?”

“What about grazing lands? Or a mine that they absolutely must have, that we happen to possess?” Darg-Krallnom said. “Really, unless we hand over our mine at sword point, your way of life is over, and the FOG is defeated?”

“In any event,” Vargg said, “that was why you, or rather your previous self, so proudly chose to take on the mantle of the FOE, the Forces Of Evil. Someone had to stand up for the oppressed and downtrodden. And you, Great One—you saved us!”

“Your leadership allowed our people to build unified armies to defend ourselves against the depredations of the FOG,” Roth said proudly. Once again, Tom was feeling a heck of a lot of weight on his shoulders. What had he signed up for?

“So…” Tom said, attempting to move the topic along and pull this group out of the funk it had suddenly descended into. Who had ever heard of depressed orcs? Tom wondered, but maybe that was just FOG propaganda. “We need game for the feast; that means we need to send out hunting parties, which means we need to open gateways to the Planes of Orcs and the localverse, and that means reestablishing links with any remaining shamans.”

Vargg sighed and scratched his chin. “After this long, it may be tricky. On none of the planes do our people live longer than about one hundred Abyssal years, maximum.”

“Generally, a lot less,” Darg-Krallnom snorted.

“Shamans live longer than most warriors,” Roth said.

“In any event…” Vargg cut them off. “The temple will have link stones to the various tribes. On the off chance anyone out there is listening, you may be able to contact them.”

“The temple?” Tom asked.

Vargg grinned. “We call it ‘the temple’ because it’s where we store the talismans that are the other side of the shamanic links, and thus it is where the dream walkers are drawn to.”

“That makes sense,” Tom said.

“Back in the day, we had someone monitoring it in case a dream walker showed up,” Arg-nargoloth said. “If we are activating the links, we may want to do that again.” Tom nodded in agreement.

“I will set up a rotation schedule so someone is always on duty. In fact, I believe my great grandfather said his father had two on duty at all times,” Zelda told Tom.

“Indeed he did,” Vargg agreed. “Kept them from falling asleep, and if a dream walker did appear, there was always another to attend the dream walker while the first called on the master or steward.”

“Excellent; let’s head over to the temple to see who we can contact,” Tom said.

“As you wish, My Lord.” Zelda nodded with a truly horrifying smile. “The Temple of Doom awaits!”

Tom blinked at her in surprise and then grinned himself. Naturally, one would expect the temple in Mount Doom to be the Temple of Doom!

~

Exador materialized in the arrival alcove in his suite in Freehold. Time to deal with the Council and get the details of what had been going on since his forced departure. He did not expect it to be pleasant, but it should still be better than listening to his Nysegard allies whine about their defeat at the hands of the Nimbus.

If they were going to whine like this after their own failure to marshal sufficient forces to take advantage of the intelligence he had provided, it would probably have been better to not have told them. Talk about ungrateful.

That is odd,
Exador thought to himself, suddenly realizing that the wards to his suite had been triggered. Someone had been in his suite, at least once.

He had not received an alert due to Lenamare’s giant barrier, or so he assumed. This was quite unusual; Exador went around his suite, through the multiple rooms but did not see anything obviously missing. Nothing sensitive was kept here. His laboratory was a different matter, but he could sense that the wards were on and fine. Perhaps Randolf would know something.

Exador headed out, down the hall in the direction of Randolf’s suite. As he walked along, he surveyed the damage done by his escaping demons. He had to admit this whole fiasco had been a learning experience; he shook his head thinking about it. It took him a good ten minutes, but he finally decided that people he was encountering were acting a bit odd.

Not everyone, but several people he passed gave him odd looks. Once he noticed the first person or two, he noted what he thought were people whispering behind him as he proceeded. Something was definitely amiss; very few people were willing to look him in the eye.

This was not normal. True, given his normal temperament and reputation, not that many people enjoyed making eye contact with him, but rarely was it this obvious. As he came closer to Randolf’s quarters, he encountered more of Randolf’s lackeys; all of them seemed to give him a wide berth.

Exador spotted Bartholomew, Randolf’s lord chamberlain. “Lord Chamberlain!” Exador hailed the man. Bartholomew turned at the hailing; was it his imagination or did the man seem to wince and then swallow, suddenly seeming very uncomfortable? “Is the archimage in his rooms?”

“Ah… as far as I know, Magi,” Bartholomew said nervously.

“Good. Run ahead and tell him that I am coming for a visit. I would hate to arrive unannounced and interrupt his consultations with Crispin.” Exador gave the chamberlain a malicious grin. He knew the man hated to be reminded of the archimage’s activities. Personally, Exador found simple pederasty to be a bit “vanilla” for his own tastes, but to each his own.

The lord chamberlain scurried off to find Randolf while Exador headed to Randolf’s formal parlor. He entered the parlor and took his accustomed seat to await Randolf’s arrival. While he waited, he contemplated the best ways to make Randolf uncomfortable. Certainly, simply explaining the odd behavior of the people in the palace should make the man uncomfortable. Actually, everything made Randolf uncomfortable; that was one pleasant thing about the man.

The other door opened and Randolf came in, looking hurried and harried as ever. “My dear Exador! So good to see you again!” Exador stood and shook the archimage’s hand; they did not go into the formal title thing. Technically, Randolf was his liege, but the archimage did not push the issue.

“I had to leave suddenly the other day; I am sure you made appropriate excuses to the Council for me?” Exador asked as they both sat down.

Randolf gave him a rather odd, sickly grin. “Yes, well… I tried…” Exador raised an eyebrow, questioning Randolf’s statement. Randolf grimaced. “It seems there was well, some awkwardness.”

“Awkwardness?” Exador asked.

“Yes, well, as you know, there was this interesting battle outside the walls between Lenamare’s greater demon and the Knight Rampant Talarius.”

Randolf looked at him, clearly indicating that Randolf knew that Exador knew, despite the fact that Exador had planned to say he had left before the wards went up and forced the demons out.

Exador adjusted and said, “Yes, I have been made aware.”

Randolf grimaced a bit more. “Well, my dear Exador, that’s sort of where the complication comes in.”

Exador shook his head slightly, not following.

Randolf made a sort of disturbed hand motion and said, “Well, I suppose I just need to get this out there.”

Exador simply stared at the archimage.

“The Oorstemothians balled the entire thing and a special meeting of the Council was called that afternoon to watch the balling,” Randolf told Exador.

The mage shrugged. “So the Council had a close-up view of this battle and the rather remarkable events. I am sure they were quite shocked.”

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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