The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2) (8 page)

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
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He had then thought maybe a different god, a different Etonian. There were no proscriptions against changing one’s devotion between the different Etonian gods. He tried to get accepted as an initiate of Tiernon with again the same answer. Okay, fine. He could dedicate himself to the Rod. Be a soldier for Tiernon. That had lasted about two months when they gave up on him as being a failure at most traditional weapons skills, and again, not a great spiritual fit. Either liability was forgivable, but not both.

Thus, Vaselle had decided that if he could not be a servant of a higher power, he’d
be
the higher power. He had gotten accepted at Master Yeltsin’s School of Conjury; and while starting very late, it proved to be something he was actually talented at. He often mused that perhaps it was his very talent for summoning and controlling others, particularly demons, that made him not a great fit for the priesthood.

He laughed as he sketched out the pentacles in the area he had cleared of forest debris and grass. Clearly being talented in demonology would be contraindicated for Etonian priesthood. So perhaps that had been for the best. The priests must have known or Seen something in his future. It might have been nice for them to explain or mention it to him; it would have saved him a lot of pain. However, given that Etonian priests did not like conjurors, pointing him in that direction would not have been something they would have wanted to do.

There; the pentacle was complete, the brazier set. He lit the fire and began his chant. It was the standard conjuring for a bound fiend. A type II demon that he knew well. At home, he had permanent pentacles set up and inscribed for conjuring this particular demon, but that was not working now, thanks to the Council’s anti-demon wards. It had certainly been a shocker when Estrebrius had suddenly jumped up and slammed the door open and fled Vaselle’s house with no warning. Vaselle had followed, yelling and screaming at the demon to return, but it just made a beeline over the city walls. Vaselle had quickly cast a flying spell and took off after the demon as it flew over the city, but had been stopped at the wall.

As he chanted the summoning spell for Estrebrius, he reflected on what he had seen going on outside. It was hard to see through the wards, but he had eventually adjusted his wizard sight for a clear view of the events that were about to occur. He had been floored , could not believe what he was seeing. Fortunately, by the end of the evening, the black market had bootlegged scryings of the event for sale and he had been able to watch it over and over again throughout the night. And thus, in the wee hours of the night, he formed his plan.

“Estrebrius, I command you come forth!” He released a handful of sulfur into the brazier, causing a large flash. And there the demon was, standing in the pentacle as usual, although he was looking a bit sickly, Vaselle thought.

“Master,” the demon bowed slightly unsteadily.

“Why are you so wobbly, Estrebrius?” Vaselle asked, rather concerned. It was odd to be concerned about a demon’s health, but Estrebrius had always been a very reliable demon. He clearly was not well.

“I am sorry, Master. Yesterday I was overcome by a compulsion to flee the city.” Vaselle nodded and waved to the demon that he understood and was not mad. “And once outside the city, I was overtaken by some scoundrels on a flying boat who shot me out of the sky and proceeded to turn me into a pincushion, forcing me back to the Abyss.” The fiend shrugged. “Unfortunately, I’m still recovering.”

“Hmm, sorry to hear about that. Very unfortunate. I won’t keep you long, but I do need your assistance.” Estrebrius looked at him, a bit confused by the apparent contradiction. “Are you aware of the battle yesterday between Sir Talarius of the Rod and an extremely powerful demon, who in the end defeated the knight?”

Estrebrius blinked in surprise at the question and then nodded. “I saw a bit of it, and naturally everyone in the Abyss is talking about it.”

Vaselle nodded, pleased. “Are you familiar with the demon champion? Do you know him?”

Estrebrius looked at his accursed master in surprise. “Uhm, no, no one really knows who he is. No one had seen him before yesterday, or very few. There are lots of liars in the Abyss, so it’s hard to know for sure.”

Vaselle frowned; that was inconvenient. “Hmm, so this may take you a while. I need you to locate this demon, reach out to him and get me in contact with him.”

Estrebrius made a choking noise and seemed to almost jump in his pentacles. “Master, are you serious?”

“Very,” Vaselle confirmed.

“You understand this demon must be at least an archdemon, if not a Prince. It’s really not a good idea to attract the attention of such a being.” Estrebrius sounded incredulous, as if Vaselle had lost his mind. Perhaps he had, the conjuror thought to himself. However, after yesterday, he knew in his bones that this was the right course.

“I understand that, but I need to meet with this demon. I believe I can offer him something of great interest and it would be most worth his while to grant me an audience.”

Estrebrius stared at his accursed master. “My Lord, master,” he finally said, “I really must advise against this. It can only lead to pain and death for both of us. This demon is thousands of years old and has remained a complete mystery over all that time. That requires a tremendous amount of cunning and almost unimaginable shielding power. Plus, he’s tied to a number of other archdemons, the Rod, the Oorstemothians; you’d be safer to walk into the very Abyss than to have so much as a whisper with this demon!”

Vaselle took his demon’s warnings very seriously; they were thoughts he had had himself. However, he had steeled himself for this. He would be strong. He shook his head. “I’m afraid I must do this, Estrebrius. I command you by your true name to obey me and locate, contact and act as my emissary to this demon.”

Estrebrius looked almost desperate. “Please master, don’t do this. You are a very great master, wise and powerful, and I am honored to be your humble servant, but this is a most dangerous course of action. Please reconsider!”

Vaselle shook his head again. “No, demon. Obey me. Locate this demon for me, and arrange contact!”

Estrebrius bowed his head, feeling the wizard’s spells urging him to obey. “Very well, master.”

~

Randolf rolled over on his side and caressed Crispin’s face in the late morning light. Their morning love session had been as magical as ever, perhaps even sweeter now that Exador’s undoing seemed to be underway. He mentally reached out to his wardings around the room, ensuring they were still secure. He was not concerned about the privacy of making love with his catamite; that was an open secret. It was their conversations that needed to be secure.

“New day, new perspective!” Randolf grinned at Crispin.

The youth grinned back. “Don’t get your hopes up yet. It’s too early,” he said, massaging Randolf’s side. “I know how you want this charade to end, but until we are sure Exador is completely exposed and discredited as a human, the masquerade must continue.”

Randolf rolled onto his back and sighed. “I know, I know. But I’ve lived my entire life as someone I am not. I want to be me and not Randolf the Second, Exador’s Arch-Toady!”

“Well, unlike your father or grandfather, you may get a chance to escape the role your line has been forced to play to protect Turelane,” Crispin said, rolling onto his own back.

“It’s a shame you couldn’t see the balling,” Randolf noted, “It was fantastic. It totally upended the playing field. I have to believe Exador was near shitting himself on that carpet near the end.”

“You may thank your esteemed fellow councilors for my hasty departure yesterday morning. I was almost blasted back to Djinnistan!” Crispin shook his head. “Fortunately, their spell was directed at demons and other extra-planar individuals. The
other extra-planar
part is what saved me, I think. I would hate to have been a demon subject to that spell! Even after they turned off the overt expulsion part, the general compulsion gave me a headache until I eventually figured out how to counter it.”

“And I assume that’s why you weren’t back when I had to leave for the meeting?” Randolf asked.

Crispin raised his arm to give Randolf a thumbs-up from beside him on the large pillow-topped bed. “My master’s wisdom is as deep as the waters in the sea!” Crispin giggled.

Randolf rolled over on top of Crispin, his forearms propping him up above the lad. “You boy, need to quit with the sarcasm before I stuff you back in your bottle!” Randolf pretended to snarl before breaking down into laughter.

Crispin laughed as well. “How many times do I have to tell you, it’s a lamp! Not a stupid bottle! Men have lamps, women have bottles!”

“Bottle this!” Randolf’s mouth covered Crispin’s and their laughter was lost to their lust.

 

Chapter 85

DOF +1

Late Morning 15-18-449

Hilda stood at the edge of the still dewy clearing, gnawing on her burnt, crusty and cold breakfast cake, about four hours after dawn. Not that she needed to eat the damaged baked good; she never
needed
to eat, it was really more stress relief. She could not actually gain or lose weight as a saint. Saints generally looked exactly the same for all eternity, short of some strange event. In some ways this was convenient in that she had never had much luck losing weight when she was alive; she had been on what seemed like a lifelong diet. Now she could eat whatever she wanted and not gain any weight. However, that also took a lot of the pleasure out of it. No more sense of being “bad” and cheating on her diet.

Actually, it was pretty dang hard to be “bad” as a saint. It certainly put a damper on getting dates. She would be at a party or a bar, and someone would ask her what she did. “Oh, I’m a saint.” Suddenly, the other person would make pleasant excuses and move on. And that was at an avatar bar; she was sure a human party or bar would be even worse.

That was one nice thing about this undercover work; she could pretend to be someone else. She could lie and do it for the cause of Good.  She shook her head and put the rest of the burnt cake into her belt pouch. The other nice thing about this whole adventure was wearing street clothes. She had been given an account at the quartermaster’s to be outfitted in Astlanian garb and tools.

Unfortunately, they had no “normal” horses to complete the masquerade, so she would have to get some from the Rod. She had also been advised to locate a follower of hers and use him or her as a guide to current customs and appropriate behavior. Further, as a lady in the city, she would need to have a man-at-arms or squire. Technically, she should also have a maid, but that would start to get really complicated. They needed to keep this quiet.

The question had been, who? She had scanned her followers in the area and finally decided on a young man named Danyel. Danyel had been born not too far from Rivenrock and was in fact a descendant of the children Hilda had died to protect. He had also been possessed by the demon, and then had the stuffing beaten out of him by other Rod members, who had to take him down to protect Talarius.

At the moment he was unconscious from his wounds. He’d been going in and out as far as she could tell, but she hadn’t been monitoring that actively. Given that he would almost certainly feel great contrition for allowing himself to be possessed and attacking Sir Talarius, she was fairly certain she could get him to agree to assist her quietly as part of his penance. Naturally, he would help her in any circumstances, but her thought was that his guilt, undeserved in her opinion, would help assuage his concerns in performing surreptitious services. Not something the Rod was famous for conducting.

Hilda was currently dressed in a modern version her old habit as a Sister of Tiernon, and had surrounded herself in her most subtle misdirection and anti-noticeability rituals. Being invisible was too risky in this camp, so simply being unnoticed would be far better.

She made her way through the camp towards the guarded area where the possessed soldiers were being kept. At least, that’s what she assumed the guards were for. She was actually just following her link to Danyel. She paused near the tent to allow some guards to look the other way before sneaking into the tent.

There were three soldiers in the tent, unconscious and heavily bandaged. They also appeared to be loosely chained to their cots. She was going to need to heal Danyel so he could help her, but she could not ignore the other two. So, first things first. She went to each cot and said a prayer of sleep over each man to keep them sleeping, and then she set about examining and healing their wounds.

It took her a few minutes per patient, as she had to make sure she had caught everything, but as she had often noted, saintly healing was a heck of a lot faster than priestly healing and definitely faster than what she’d been able to do as a Sister of Tiernon.

She healed Danyel last.  When she was finished, she sat back on her stool for a moment and took a deep breath, preparing to wake him. Hilda grimaced and then put a silence spell around the tent. She did not want Danyel waking up and screaming when he saw her. With the ritual in place, they would be able to talk, but no one outside would hear them.

~

“I have to admit, you do have a nice view,” Ramses said, looking out the French doors of Exador’s breakfast room. They were at Exador’s tower in Astlan enjoying a late breakfast, Astlanian time.

“Thank you. I’ve spent centuries perfecting these gardens,” Exador said, setting his coffee down. They were having human beverages this morning, playing the necessary role for the servants and staff.

As Ramses picked up his cup, the room suddenly dimmed considerably and a deep, damp chill came over the room. “The air conditioning kicking into overdrive and dimming the lights?” Ramses asked, raising an eyebrow. That did not seem too likely, given that they were in a brightly fierdlit room.

The chill was bone deep, oddly palpable even to archdemons. Ramses gave Exador a concerned look. Exador glanced around the suddenly dim room and smiled. “Greetings, Morthador!” he exclaimed to the room.

A deep bass whisper reverberated from the darkness. It was felt more in the inner bones of the ear than in the air itself. “Greetings, master. I have news to report.”

Ramses relaxed slightly, realizing that Exador was in control of whatever this was. He was still on edge, of course; they were archdemons and treachery could never be ruled out.

Exador grinned over at Ramses, fully understanding his associate’s disquiet. “Ramses, allow me to introduce my most trusted spy, Morthador.” Exador gestured at the room.

Ramses looked around the room, trying to locate the source of darkness.

Exador chuckled. “Morthador is a greater shadow,” he explained.

“A greater shadow?” Ramses asked uncertainly.

“A type IV Shadow.”

Ramses shook his head. “A shadow that is a greater demon?” His brows furrowed. “I don’t believe I’ve heard of such a demon before.”

“They are rare, but not as rare as one might think,” Exador said. “For obvious reasons, they are often hard to find.”

“So this is a demon that has chosen to advance its skills, but not morph to an imp, sprite or fiend along the traditional paths?” Ramses asked.

“Exactly. There are a few who find true and lasting comfort in the darkness of the Shadow,” Exador said with a grin. “Morthador is one such. He has been quite invaluable in many ways. For the last thousand years or so, he has been stationed deep in the under-chasms of Astlan, in particular between Freehold and the Grove.”

Ramses furrowed his brow again, not understanding. “I see.” He clearly did not.

“As you may or may not recall, the Grove in Astlan is located due east of this tower, about three hundred plus leagues. Their ridiculously high mountains and more importantly, sizable military resources have been a thorn in my ability to deal with Cal Crestor on the other side of the Grove.” Exador shook his head.

Ramses nodded. “I recall they were a pain for us on the Council of Anilords. We never were able to conquer them.”

Exador nodded. “And as you may recall, going south one crosses the United Federation, whose general anarchy is something of a nuisance, and is also loosely Grove aligned. They were not organized back when you were here. One then has Jotungard to deal with, as you recall? Clearly, not Grove aligned, but still unpleasant.”

“Indeed, I recall,” Ramses said drily.

“Going north through Turelane, I am blocked by Kel Femaer, which is purely alvaren territory and also closely aligned with the Grove.” Exador waved his hand.

“Yes, I get your point on the alfar. Never have liked the sanctimonious bastards,” Ramses said.

“In short, the Grove has been a thorn in my side for my entire time in Astlan. Both before my adventures with the Rod and you, and since.” Exador took a breath. “So, I like to keep an eye on my fellow Councilor Trevin D’Vils and her Grove.”

“And Morthador fits in how?” Ramses asked.

“The Grove has a very secure communication line that runs through all of Norelon and, in fact, to all continents that rely on very deep rock veins and geological plates,” Exador said.

“Ahh,” Ramses said, suddenly understanding.

Exador smiled. “Exactly. Morthador enjoys the really deep, dark caverns and has no trouble spending time underground. He can intercept those communication lines.”

Ramses chuckled. “Quite clever.”

Exador smiled. “Thank you.” He rotated slightly toward the darker part of the room. “Morthador, what news do you bring?”

“The enchantress shall be journeying very shortly to the Grove with an entourage and shall then be taking the Nimbus out to investigate urgent Seeings of orc uprisings in Murgandy and Jotungard,” The bass voice reverberated in their ears.

“How soon?” Exador asked.

“From what I gathered, she plans to depart on the Nimbus to Murgandy within a day or two,” the shadow informed them.

“The Nimbus?” Ramses asked.

Exador sighed quietly. “One of their military vessels. Trevin’s flagship.” He stroked his chin in thought. “I have allies in Nysegard who will want to know about this.” He looked up towards the darkness. “Excellent work, Morthador. Thank you.”

~

Danyel was having horrible dreams. He dreamt of imminent evil attacking his companions. He tried to stop it, and then his fellow soldiers turned on him, apparently possessed by the evil. The next thing he knew, he was in some weird location, some sort of leather-padded seat in the back of something like an enclosed chariot, hurtling down a stone road at an ungodly speed with no sign of horses; and then he was back on the battlefield watching Talarius slay the demon. In the dreams, a giant fireball would suddenly expand, then his legs would ache as if he had jumped off the top of a mountain and landed on stone feet first.

He remembered coming to between dreams and seeing nurses bandaging him, and feeling bruised and battered all over. But now, on waking, he found himself feeling better; quite refreshed, in fact. Actually, thinking about it with his eyes closed, he felt better than he had in some time. He smiled and opened his eyes to see his patron saint, Hilda of Rivenrock, dressed in her Sister of Tiernon habit, beaming down at him.

“Fuck, I’m dead!” Danyel cried out in dismay.

Saint Hilda frowned momentarily.

Crap! He had cursed in the presence of a holy saint! Some start to his afterlife. Danyel closed his eyes and gulped. “Forgive me, Saint Hilda! I beg you to forgive my ingratitude for your generous presence in greeting me at the gateway to Tierhallon.”

His patron saint seemed to snort and then chuckle. “Okay, not the reaction I’d been expecting,” she said, “but then I really wasn’t sure what to expect.”

Danyel felt the holy saint pat his hands, just like any Sister of Tiernon might do to a patient in her care.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Saint Hilda continued, “but you’re going to have to wait a bit longer to feast in Tierhallon.” Danyel cracked his eyes open again to peer at her. She beamed back at him, her radiant smile making him feel warm and safe for some reason. “You’re very much alive, and chained to this bed after being possessed by a demon.”

Danyel blinked. Possessed by a demon? What was she talking about? “I’m sorry, Your Holiness, but…”

“You don’t remember?” She moved her head from side to side. “I am not really surprised. You were under the complete control of the demon, so you probably didn’t have much conscious thought.” Danyel just stared at her in shock. “Okay, we need to make this short. You remember the battle between Talarius and the big demon?”

Danyel nodded.

“Well, Talarius apparently defeated the demon, but not really. It somehow took possession of a good number of high priests and about a third of the Rod’s nearby archers and some others , including you. He then used those he had possessed to battle Talarius and defeat him. A few details later, and the demon hightailed it back to the Abyss with Talarius as a hostage.”

Danyel gasped in shock at this information. How could this be? He did not remember any of this, at least nothing after seeing the demon crumble to ashes on the battlefield. After that, things got blurry and he really only remembered a bunch of chaotic and weird dreams.

“Long story getting shorter still,” Saint Hilda continued. “Because you were possessed, they locked you and the others up in these tents while working to heal you.” She pulled on his arm to show him that he was, indeed, chained to the cot.

“Uhh…” Danyel was at a loss for words. “What? Uhm, I’m not dead?”

“Not at all!” The saint beamed at him. “In fact, I just healed you and purged any lingering demonic influences in you and your tent mates!” She gestured around the tent. Danyel noted that there were two other Rod members in here with him. He had seen them around, but did not know their names.

“If I may, Your Holiness?” Danyel was shaking his head, and the saint nodded for him to go on. “To what do I owe this great honor? For a great and holy saint like yourself to so intercede on my behalf in this manner is…” Danyel had no idea what to call it.

BOOK: The Heavenly Host (Demons of Astlan Book 2)
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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