The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2) (7 page)

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
4.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

~

Not surprisingly, the morning’s planned intercession was canceled. For one thing, the predawn meeting that was supposed to last for less than an hour went nearly two hours. Afterwards, Moradel, Beragamos and Sentir Fallon, the older archon against the wall, had taken Hilda back to a private conference room to delve into more details of what she knew.

It was, Hilda sighed to herself afterwards, exhausting. She had spent four hours with the three archons peering at her with every form of Sight they could come up with as they quizzed her on all the details of what she had told them and how she knew it.

“So,” Beragamos asked for at least the third time. “This wizard, Trisfelt, he didn’t know who he was talking to? He just thought you were a mortal woman?”

Hilda nodded, tired. “Yes, my cover was quite good. We had a very relaxed conversation over wine, meats and cheese. How many humans, wizard or otherwise, are going to have a relaxed conversation with an avatar who shows up on their doorstep?”

Sentir shrugged. “She does have a good point. Most people go slack jawed.”

“He could be extremely skilled; he is a Master Thaumaturge at this fellow Lenamare’s school,” Beragamos noted.

“Well, his cover was very good then, because he certainly knew his food and wine. Further, he was clearly intoxicated in my presence; would someone trying to fool an avatar allow themselves to get intoxicated?”

“Admittedly, someone capable of that level of power and deception is unlikely to be posted as an observer in the woods,” Beragamos admitted.

“This is all quite interesting. I have to admit, Hilda, I’m very impressed with your surveillance skills.”

“Thank you, Archon.” Hilda smiled at the compliment.

Moradel smiled a bit more grimly. “Give it a moment, and you may not be thanking me.” Hilda arched an eyebrow in question. Moradel looked at the other two archons. “I assume we can agree that there is too much unknown, and too many unknown parties here, to do a straightforward intercession?”

“I think it’s too dangerous to tip our hand at this point,” Beragamos agreed.

“Clearly, this is a very dangerous situation with archdemons all over the place, demons stealing mana from us, Oorstemothians and who knows what else. We need to understand the players better, and if we just show up in all our divine glory, the other players will know we are on to them.”

“But they will assume as much anyway, correct? How are we supposed to ignore this?” Beragamos asked.

Moradel chuckled. “Was it not you who told me that it is often better to remain silent and to be thought incompetent rather than reveal yourself through action to be incompetent?”

Beragamos twisted his mouth into a dark smile. “That sounds like me. I agree with the assessment in any case; I simply want to point out that without some reaction, we might be thought weak. We need to be aware of that.”

Sentir rubbed his chin. “I am not so sure. I suspect the Arch-Vicar of the Rod and the local Arch-Diocate are worried we are going to show up. Perhaps letting that fear build might be to our advantage. This is a major screw-up on their part, and the more we can learn about how it happened without disturbing the scene of the crime, so to speak, the better.

“Further, the reversal of Excrathadorus Mortis gives me great pause. You know my history with it, before I brought it to Astlan?” Sentir looked at the other avatars. Hilda had no idea what he meant, but she was certainly not going to ask. Beragamos nodded solemnly. Moradel looked puzzled for a moment before opening his eyes wide in some realization and then closing them for a moment of silence.

Beragamos became resolute. “Clearly we must engage in this delicate situation with the utmost caution.”

Moradel nodded. “My thoughts exactly. Sentir?” Moradel looked at the elder archon.

“I think it seems eminently reasonable given the opportunity that has fallen into our laps, so to speak.” Sentir beamed, somewhat bemusedly, at Hilda, which in turn made her a bit nervous.

“Hilda? Do you agree with this plan, that we do more recon on the situation before an intercession?” Moradel asked.

Hilda had a queasy feeling in her stomach. Why was an attendant archon asking her opinion? “Um, yes. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.”

“Excellent!” Moradel slapped the palm of his hand on the conference table. “We thank you for your service in this. Undercover work is not something we do well in Tierhallon, but you’ve done an outstanding job and I can only imagine what more information you’ll retrieve for us!”

Hilda blinked. “I’m not sure I follow.”

Moradel smiled. “Why, your generosity in volunteering to continue undercover, posing as a mortal. It’s perfect; this Trisfelt fellow is obviously intimately connected with the source of this entire incident! Let’s get you set up and in the field immediately.”

“Uhh...” Hilda was struck speechless. She’d left her cinnamon-and-sugar breakfast cake baking in the oven. She couldn’t go under cover this morning —it was already over-baked as it was!

~

“I’m thinking I should go into the Courts and gauge the reactions,” Antefalken said to Tom as the greater demon exited his cave after checking on his sleeping guest.

“Huh?” Tom looked at him, puzzled. “What reaction?”

“The reaction to your little display yesterday. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already?” Antefalken snorted.

“How would anyone in the Courts even know about yesterday?” Tom asked. That other sick feeling, the one he’d had after his last conversation with Antefalken, was coming back. It felt like indigestion, as if he had eaten way too much food, rich food full of butter, fat, sugar and caffeine. It had kept him pacing all night, unable to feel comfortable sitting still. Now the queasiness that he had felt thinking about avatars was creeping back into the fray.

Antefalken shook his head, not understanding how Tom could not see the obvious. “Hel-
lo
… there were at least a few hundred demon witnesses to your battle, that are now back in the Abyss, having been evicted.”

“Ugh.” Tom seemed shocked. “I didn’t think about that. The demons were fighting for their lives. Are you saying they stopped to watch?”

Antefalken shook his head in… well, Tom wasn’t sure if it was admiration or exasperation, but certainly some form of -ation. “When you and Talarius started fighting, not only did the entire Rod stop to watch, so did all the demons they’d been battling. Hell, even the Oorstemothians stopped slaying demons to watch once they figured out what was going on. Everyone outside the city, and a huge horde of people on the walls of the city watched the fight. This was like a classic grudge match, greater demon versus Knight Rampant of Tiernon. No one in their right mind would miss that.”

Tom looked stunned. “So you’re saying that all the demons that watched came back and told people here?”

Antefalken slapped his thighs and started laughing. “I am sure every bar in the Abyss was packed with demons hearing a blow-by-blow account from witnesses last night.” Antefalken shook his head. “Ignore for the moment the trick with stealing a deity’s mana; you defeated and then kidnapped one of the greatest knights in the Rod’s history, on several planes. That is big, my friend. Toss in the mana trick and you’re going to be the stuff of legends!”

Tizzy buzzed up and into the conversation. “Yep! I am thinking you’re going to be mobbed by people asking for autographs next time you hit the courts. And the paparazzi are going to be jumping out around every corner!”

“Paparazzi? You mean like tabloid photographers?” How could there be paparazzi in the Abyss?

“Photographer? Not familiar with the word,” Antefalken said, “but mirrographers, and tabloid ballers, definitely. The Courts thrive on gossip, so tabloids and gossipmongers do great business!”

Tizzy shook his head. “I only wish you’d told me in advance you were planning all this; I’d have figured out some way to set up a mirror feed to the Abyss and then charge admission at bars for demons to watch it.” The octopod shook a couple of index fingers at Tom. “Remember that next time and I’ll cut you in for a share!”

Tom grabbed his horns with his hands and just shook his head back and forth. “Argh!”

~

Bess purred as the gentle warm air of the fur dryer cascaded over her body from all directions, gently whipping the water from her body. She really missed the luxuries of home. The Abyss was so damn hot that it was impossible to get a decent bath, let alone a blow-dry. The Outpost, as they called it, did have air dryers but they were principally used for cool air on extra-hot days. Of course, that was every day in the Abyss; there were no seasons in that hellhole.

She had no idea how that place had come about. It had just always been there, certainly as long as she could remember, which was an incredibly long time. Like any normal deity, she had ignored it until they’d hatched this scheme about a hundred years ago, or no more like a hundred and fifty years ago—time flew. That’s when they’d built the Outpost and she’d “revealed” herself to the “Court.” Since then, she had had to spend the vast majority of her time there schmoozing demon princes and archdemons.

What morons. All of them, running around pretending to be evil. The evil of the demons was nothing compared to the evil of the Etonians. Now there was true evil with a capital “E.” It was hard to imagine she could hate any pantheon more than the Demi-Urge, but somehow the Etonians had managed to one up the biggest Ego in the multiverse. The Demi-Urge was just a crazed greedy narcissist, and not that bright; not bright enough to understand the concept of hypocrisy. The Etonians were a different story. They seemed to revel in hypocrisy.

Further, at least the Demi-Urge had the Adversary to oppose him. No one seriously opposed the Etonians and their massive land and soul grab. For one thing, their PR teams would quickly brand anyone standing in their way as “evil.” The joke of that!

“Enough!” Bess said aloud to herself. She could not allow herself to go down this path again. Too much anger was a distraction. It made her boil inside, and she needed to be cold. As cold as the Abyss was hot. Bess exited the dryer chamber into the poolroom. Anup was still in the pool. She admired his trim muscular form, his firm muzzle and sharpened canines, his silky long ears pointing straight up. The jackal had to be one of the most beautiful creatures after the cat, Bess thought idly, smiling to herself.

“Do you have to go so soon?” Anup asked, licking his maw with a lustful stare.

“Three times is enough for one morning.” Bess smiled playfully at him.

“Yes, but when I only get one morning every decade, I should be entitled to make-up sex for all the missed mornings!”

Bess arched her eyebrow. “Men. You are all the same. You confuse a man’s entitlement with a woman’s gifts. Two things that only occasionally coincide.” Anup chuckled. “Besides, I must meet with General Thuti to assess the recovery of the troops we lost when Lenamare blew up his castle.”

“That was painful; you could literally hear a roar as the Wheel of Life sped up to unprecedented levels to hold the lost souls until they can be reborn. I’m still amazed it was able to handle that large of an influx so incredibly fast.”

“Usiris is good. You have to admit that,” Bess stated.

“That I will give him.” Anup gave her a grim smile. “It’s not his skill that annoys me.”

Bess laughed.

~

Vaselle dropped his backpack in the clearing. It was midmorning and he was finally outside the city. He had tried to get out yesterday, but they were still under lockdown. As of this morning, however, the city guard were finally letting people leave the city, and letting them back in, but with significant inspections and long lines. However, he would worry about that later. For now, he was outside of the city and outside those damn wards that had driven all the demons out, and which completely prevented him from conjuring his demon back.

It was seriously annoying, but given the power he had witnessed from the walls yesterday, the council’s precautions certainly made sense. It was just inconvenient that sensible precautions were keeping him from realizing his dreams. Although, he supposed, the fact that such sensible inconveniences were impeding him might be an indication that he should heed them.

But how could he? What he had seen yesterday, what that demon lord had done to the priests… Was that not his dream? To be filled with the divine spirit? Okay, maybe a negatively divine spirit in this case, but… seriously, to be the servant of a being capable of standing toe-to-toe against the forces of Tiernon and winning? A being capable of subverting, infiltrating and manipulating those same priests and soldiers that had rejected him?

Vaselle was off the road by a half-hour walk, surely far enough to avoid attention. He began pulling his components from his backpack to set up his pentacles. Vaselle smiled to remember the tales of Myrion, the old priest of Hendel who had spent hours tutoring him when he was a young boy. His stories of how the spirit of his god, Hendel, would enter him to perform healings and miracles. The peace and joy that came from being filled with the divine spirit, to be the willing tool of a greater power, a greater good.

He had dreamed of being a priest and letting a god fill him, use him to work the god’s will upon Astlan. He had first entered the seminary of Hendel as an aspirant spending a year learning the ins and outs of the religion, but when it came time to dedicate himself, the priests had informed him that he did not have the calling. His nature was not a good fit for the god; he was not really priestly material. The bitterness, the disillusionment had hurt. To this day, this memory brought tears to his eyes.

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
4.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase
The Asylum by Theorin, Johan
Cheryl Holt by Total Surrender
The Zurich Conspiracy by Bernadette Calonego
Afterwife by Polly Williams
Her Warriors by Bianca D'Arc
Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden - Love and Other Scandals
Lovely Vicious by Wolf, Sara
2nd Earth 2: Emplacement by Edward Vought