An original story by
Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.
Day Two: Let There Be
Dawn found Heart awake, the first grey wisps of morning flowing in around the heavy velvet curtains.
Sunrise! She thought excitedly. That was enough to prompt her out of bed. She grabbed her glasses off the bedside table and hurried to the window. She peeked around the curtain, grateful their room was high enough above the surrounding buildings to allow her to see the sun rise. She watched happily as the huge orange orb crept slowly into the sky, glistening off the glass buildings and lighting the city with a warm ethereal flame. It washed the city with a copper glow and the promise of a bright new day.
Filled with euphoria at the beautiful sight, Heart watched until the copper faded to the plain light of day, then let the curtain fall, plunging the room into twilight again. She turned and sat on the small couch to look through the assortment of magazines the hotel had provided. She found a few that contained listings of places to go for entertainment, and her mind reeled at the myriad of plays, museums, night clubs, and fancy restaurants this city had to offer. She couldn't wait till Seraph awoke so they could go and do all these things together.
She looked to the bed where Seraph still lay sleeping. Her pale skin seemed to be still fresh and glowing from the night before. Her wings sprawled off the bed, their tips nearly spanning the room. Her tail trailed off the end of the bed, its tip twitching with her dreams. Her long legs were curled slightly to one side, offering only a small glimpse of the curly white locks that crowned her pubis, and her delicate purple hooves poked out from the tangle of sheets around the end of the bed. One of her long-nailed hands rested on one of her generous breasts, the other dangling off the side of the bed. Her long hair made a pale corona around her head, accenting the small curved horns on her temples. Her full, red lips were parted just slightly, her elongated canines shaping her lower lip into a small pout. A look of utter peace graced her face, giving her a glow that spoke of contentment.
Heart was enraptured. Seraph was so beautiful when she was sleeping. Heart watched her for almost an hour as she tossed and purred, small noises of pleasure reminiscent of their previous night escaping her now and then.
At a murmured "Mmmmmm… Heart…." from the still-sleeping succubus, Heart smiled, her entire body filling and swelling with a warm sensation that flowed from inside out. Seraph even dreamed about her…
She reflected on the activities of the night before, the sheer joy of feeling Seraph's love flowing from her, filling her, the rush of passion that had burned through her, the pleasures of sharing that passion with Seraph, the ecstasies of feeling her feed. Heart's eyes teared at the awesome power their lovemaking had released. Her emotions, her heart, and her soul were singing a song sweeter than ten thousand hosannas. How could she ever have believed something so glorious was wrong?
Finally, she was unable to gaze at Seraph anymore without an overwhelming urge to wake her and renew their activities. She stretched; reveling in the ways Seraph had made her body feel, then turned to the TV, looking for a distraction. She pushed her glasses back up her nose as she flipped the channels, her face souring at the sight of all the violence, the gratuitous sex, and the constant promises of instant gratification and indulgence. It was all so overwhelmingly sensationalist. Where was the love?
Then she found a movie about angels. She was mildly disturbed at the black trench-coats they all wore, but she smiled happily as they all gathered to watch the sunrise, just as she had. However, when the Angelic main character fell in love with a human, her heart went out to him. It was so like her and Seraph. Then, when in the movie, he fell, she couldn't bear it any more, she turned off the TV, tears in her eyes. Why was love a crime?
Then her eyes fell on the white purse that contained all her belongings…
Until then, she'd been able to forget that she'd Fallen, had managed to push it all to the back of her mind and ignore it, but the sight of the purse, and the knowledge of what was in it combined with the movie brought it all crashing down like a bludgeon. Numbly, she sat on the couch and began to pull out the mementos of the life she had lost…
Her harp was the first thing she placed on the small table before the couch, an ancient instrument of Greek design. It had been crafted for her by one of her first assignments as a young Guardian Angel. Demetrius had been a master harp maker, enslaved to a Roman Patrician in the first century. He'd converted to Christianity and, fresh out of the academy, Heart had been assigned to guide and guard him. She'd never known he could see her until she was playing one day and he had whispered "Your song would shame even the Muses…"
He'd spent a decade crafting a harp he felt worthy of her, a gift he had carried all the way to Heaven to give her on the day he'd died, a thank you for all she had done to free his spirit, if not his body…
How many countless days had she sat on a cloud in the centuries since, playing it softly and gazing down at the planet she cared so much for?
A small music box came next, a memento of a Swiss clock maker she had comforted following the loss of his son. The intricate mechanism played nearly a minute of the Moonlight Sonata on tiny chimes. Then came a necklace of polished glass beads with a crudely carved figure of an angel in a crude wooden box. A small scrap of paper inside the box bore the words "For Heart, my best friend" in a childish eight-year-old scrawl. Despite the hardships an orphan had to face in Victorian England, Reggie had never given up that bright spark of hope that let him face every day with a smile. The day he'd been adopted by a loving family had been one of the proudest moments of her life…
Then came the small carefully rendered portrait… a memory of one of her toughest assignments. She remembered Michelangelo De Caravaggio well: an angry young man who saw only a world of hate and violence. All of his paintings of people reflected this chaos, but his beautiful still lifes had been full of bright promise, with apples so real you could taste the juice, and flowers so bright you could detect their perfumed scent from the oil and medium. The man had loved nothing but his art, and in a tortured time, it had been all she could do to keep him painting, to keep him telling the stories of the Son of God and his Angels, Saints, and Martyrs.
Still, in the end, he had died young and alone on a beach. Heart had been there, watching as Abaddoniel's angels had come and taken him, holding the small portrait of her he had done… Like Demetrius, he had had the Sight.
She shook her head as she put the master work aside. She'd once considered her guidance to the angry youth a success. Now it was… what? A success? A failure? Or just another meaningless chapter in a pointless existence? Two thousand years of service in the name of Love and for what? To be told that she didn't know what Love truly was? She pulled several more items from the bag as she thought: her spare halo, a jar of polish, some soft polishing cloths…
When she pulled out the long stiff-bristled brush, she could control it no longer. The tears came unbidden, choking her. She collapsed on the floor, her tears flowing freely, the weight of all that had been taken from her crushing her…
Seraph woke up to an empty bed in a strange room. Noting that that was nothing unusual, she stretched, basking in the afterglow of the night before…
She sat bolt upright and for a panicked moment couldn't find her angel, her beautiful Beloved. She felt a tight knot in her stomach — had she slept through an attack? She checked the bed and the bathroom for Heart… or worse, the telltale signs of brimstone burns…
…But the faint glistening of silver light by the window, nearly drowned by the sunlight leaking into the room around the curtain, drew her attention. She went to investigate.
Heart's halo glowed as bright as it ever had, but the angel herself was in a dark mood, tears streaming down her rounded cheeks. By her hand was a large flat brush, apparently dropped in her anguish. Only its long bristles kept Seraph from mistaking it for a scrub brush. Thinking to comfort her love, Seraph sat and cradled Heart to her breast, combing her hair to calm her. "Oh, Beloved, what's wrong?"
Heart's only response was a renewal of heart-wrenching sobs. Seraph dropped the brush and held the angel tight. "My Heart. What is it? What's wrong?" she whispered, concern clear in her voice. Tears streamed down her face. "Beloved, what did I do to upset you so?"
It took Heart a few minutes to catch her breath and calm down enough to answer. Her voice was a barely audible squeak. "That w-was m-m-my fuh-fuh-feather brush!"
The terrible realization of what that meant to the wingless angel combined with the complete absence of any joy in Heart's eyes crushed Seraph, her emotions spiraling down like the fresh stream of tears on her face.
They held each other as they cried for the angel's loss, comforting each other as only the presence of a loved one can. Long moments passed before the tears quieted and Seraph whispered, "I'm sorry, Beloved… I didn't know… My beautiful angel…"
"Am I? How can I be an angel anymore, Beloved? I've Fallen…"
Something within Seraph rebelled. "That's not true!" she said intensely. "They may be able to take your wings and exile you to the Mortal Plane, but they can't force you to Fall! They can't take what makes you an angel: Your warmth, the purity of your soul, your compassion, your love! That's what makes you an angel, Heart, your love! You love, Heart, so much you even gave your love to a succubus like me." Seraph reached up to touch Heart's halo. "You are the truest angel of Love I've ever seen, Beloved. And if showing me how to love isn't an indication, what's this?" She pulled Heart's halo down in front of her nose. "Or this!" She held up Heart's harp as the angel straightened her halo. "Or even this!" She snagged the first thing that came to her hand — a jar. She looked at it in puzzlement for a second, then opened it and took a whiff. She closed the lid hurriedly as her eyes watered and tossed it to Heart. "What IS that?"
Heart couldn't help herself; she giggled. Seraph's vehemence in defending her had lifted her spirits, having her halo pulled in front of her nose had made her smile, and the wrinkled face Seraph had given the jar made her laugh, her nose crinkling as her cheeks gathered in a broad smile.
"It's Halo Polish," Heart said as she giggled. She took a cloth from the table and dipped it in the polish, then took her halo off. "All that nasty psychic residue of evil tarnishes halos and turns them black." She showed Seraph a few small smudges. "Halos do need to be polished every so often."
Seraph looked horrified. "Oh, no! I smudged it!"
Heart laughed. "No, silly! Those demons you fought did." She took Seraph's hand and laid it on the halo. "See? You can't smudge it, Beloved. You love me." Heart smiled her crinkly grin again. Seraph was happy to see it. Heart only gave that smile when she was really happy. But there was one small problem…
"I'm so glad I didn't smudge it, Beloved, but could you please do me a favor?"
"Could you please put your halo back on?" Seraph's voice was so plaintive that Heart had to laugh as she complied.
"Is that better?"
"Much!" Seraph said as she gave Heart a quick hug. "You look naked without it."
"Silly! I am naked," Heart giggled.
"Not like that."
Heart understood, and her heart soared. Seraph could make her feel like an angel, halo or not, but if it made her happy…
Seraph looked at the table. "What's this other stuff?"
Heart took Seraph on a grand tour of the contents of her purse, telling the stories of each item as she pulled it from the bag. Seraph listened raptly, her eyes shining with pride as Heart told her about her various assignments.
Finally, Heart had all her belongings out of the bag and spread out on the table, two thousand years of gifts and memories.
Seraph hooked a long fingernail into the top of the bag. "Anything else in here?" she asked as she peeked in the top.
"There shouldn't be…" Heart shrugged as Seraph stuck her arm in up to the shoulder, her tongue sticking out one side of her mouth in concentration as she searched the enormous insides of the small purse.
"Hmm… what's this?"
Heart's head snapped up to see what Seraph had pulled from the bag, then with a bounce and a glad cry she snatched it up.
"My sword!" Heart's face erupted in unabashed joy as she held up the elegant weapon.
From tip to pommel, it was just over five feet long. The blade was an elongated leaf shape, broad at the head, then tapering to a narrow middle and flaring out again right above its base. Circular blades formed blade breakers on either side of the flare, their outer edges sharpened. Faint traceries of blue light danced along the mirror-bright cutting edges. The flats were dead black in contrast to the polished edges, almost seeming to draw the light in. The blade was set into a rounded cone-shaped hilt piece, from which sprang a finely-crafted crosspiece carved into the shape of silver angel wings. A large sapphire graced either side of the golden hilt guard, of a blue so deep it seemed the gems had no bottom. A spiral of twisted copper descended from the cross guard to a second ring of gold supporting a golden circle like a halo. The hilt that sprang from the ring was an elegant hardwood carved into a graceful repeat of the blade's curves. A heavy gold pommel crowned the hilt, its edges carved into a design of an Egyptian papyrus flower. From the center of the pommel a spire rose to a carved crystal heart that glowed crimson from an inner light that shone as brightly as Heart's joy.
"I still have my sword!" Heart whispered, her eyes behind her rose glasses shining.
"See, Beloved?" Seraph said brightly. "They can kick an angel out of Heaven, but they can't steal your birthright." She rose to give Heart a hug.
As she did so, Heart's purse fell over and one last object fell out. The bundle of papers fell to the floor, trailing the ends of the white ribbon that bound them. Seraph bent to pick them up.
"My eviction papers," Heart said sourly before Seraph had a chance to ask.
"What should I do with them?"
"Just—" Heart sighed. "Just throw them away. It's not like I need them anymore." With finality and resignation, she replaced the sword in the purse and began putting everything away…
Lipton sighed and threw the folder on his desk. It was as useless as the rest. The only real evidence had been dismissed as a hoax… Again.
He looked at the plaster casts the evidence team had made, the ones no one had taken seriously. Personally, Lipton felt like cheering… maybe. It was hard to make up his mind on how he should react to real tangible proof he wasn't insane.
The two larger casts were very plainly the bottom of a pair of spike-heeled platforms, woman’s size 10. Somehow, they had been driven through six inches of asphalt to imprint the clay beneath. Overlaying the soles of the shoes, and descending slightly deeper into the clay, was a pair of cloven hooves, somewhat smaller than a cow's and somewhat larger than a goat's. Lipton figured that after she had changed, her leap up had driven her hooves into the clay. It fit with the witness's testimony.
The other cast was almost more disturbing. It had had to be cut carefully from the asphalt, but had emerged nearly perfect. It was a feminine hand, the fingers slim and graceful, the nails a good five inches long. The evidence team had almost chucked it, sure someone had planted a joke, though no one could figure out how. Lipton had caught them before they had disposed of it and rescued it along with the others. He stared at it, unsure even he wanted to believe it. The strength it hinted at was… unsettling. He had debated about tossing all three himself, but had decided they at least made interesting paperweights.
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his temples. This case made absolutely no sense! Mrs. L. had been absolutely positive that the tall, white-haired female had been a demon, but there were only a handful of female demon types he was aware of, and what she looked like made no sense. There was only one female demon type he was positive could have caused the carnage in the alley and made the hand imprint, but there was no way the witness could have mistaken six arms and a snake's lower body for batwings…
Lipton shuddered at the memory of his one and only encounter with a Marilith. The super-fast, six-armed Cusinart had nearly turned him into stew beef before he could blow her heart out with blessed 12-gauge slugs. He'd been lucky, but he knew there was no way to mistake a Marilith for anything else.
Trouble was, the wings and hooves were common to about three of the other types, but none of them could be classed as fighters. So where did that leave him? He couldn't even confirm that the girl had been a demon beyond the witness's testimony. He'd seen the angel well enough, but the demoness had been fully shape-changed into human. All he had to go on as to her identity was a license plate that made no sense. SE2 YOU.
Why had the demon saved the angel? Mrs. L. had been positive they had been in love, but she was a lonely woman OD'd on daytime soaps and baby boom memories. Not exactly what Lipton would call reliable.
And the angel? Why hadn't she fought? Or just flown away? The only weapons Mrs. L. had described were the demon's, yet every angel Lipton had ever seen possessed a sword; why hadn't this one?
His head was pounding as he decided his only option was to check the plate. Most of the tags he'd ever tried to run on demons before had been stolen or nonexistent… maybe for once he'd be lucky enough to have one who was actually registered… Time for a trip to the Pit.
Lilith studied Lipton from her vantage point in a spider's web above the door to his office, wondering what was going on in the demon hunter's head. She'd been amused to find out he'd been assigned to the case. The New York rumor mill had been buzzing for years about how annoyingly effective Detective Bruce Lipton had been at demon slaying, but Lilith had never had a reason to look him up before. She'd found the detective's reaction to the plaster casts curious… Most mortals found evidence for the existence of supernatural beings like herself either reassuring, or incredibly unsettling. Lipton seemed almost… resigned?
He'd finally come to some decision and got up to leave. She hurriedly dropped down as he passed and latched onto his tan trench coat, changing into a tan moth to better camouflage. This… diversion… was becoming intriguing…
Lipton headed down to the sub-basement, home to the super computers that linked the NYPD precincts and lair of the two super geeks who ran those computers: Randy Barnes and Barry Davis, the only two people in the precinct he could be said to be more than working with…
No. Randy and Barry were probably the only people in the precinct he could legitimately call friends, however loosely. The rest of the precinct had labeled them "The Three Muskaweirds" since Barnes was obsessed with aliens, and Davis was convinced everything was a government conspiracy, from early morning traffic to planes vanishing in the Triangle. Lipton knew better, but saw no point in trying to convince them. They used everything as evidence in their favor anyway. At least they never raised an eyebrow when he had them covertly close a case for him. He had solved them after all, even if his superiors wouldn't have approved of his methods, or believed his reasons for using them.
But knowing they'd been solved helped him sleep better at night.
Besides, they all shared a common bond, one shared by all those whose beliefs included a bright future, the nobility of the human spirit, and the need to expand their horizons. A belief that merit was rewarded, that going against the grain when you were right was justified, and above all, a drive to "know all that is knowable, learn all that is learnable." That drive had created a generation of people whose imaginations and vast knowledge let them see the world with a unique perspective, and given them a need to dream and create, at least in their own estimation.
In other words, they all watched Star Trek.
So when Davis rose at Lipton's entry, snapped him a salute and said, "Captain on the bridge!" followed by Barnes, Lipton's only response was a sour "He was Admiral Kirk for awhile, you know."
The other two looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
"Still worshipping the wannabe, I see," Barnes quipped.
"First gen is so limited for creatures," Davis chimed in. "Not like DS9."
"How lame can you get? Sisko is no comparison for Picard!" Barnes parried.
They could go on like this for hours if Lipton let them, but he was here at least semi-officially. "One word gentlemen…" he interrupted. They turned expectantly. "Janeway."
Both the tech wizards emitted little tiger growls.
"Oh, Janeway…" Davis said, stretching his tall lanky frame in his chair. "Many nights I have dreamed of… Janeway."
"That with your left hand or your right?" Barnes smirked.
Davis flicked his pudgy partner off, then addressed the detective. "You coming to the con this weekend?"
"'Fraid not. I've got a multiple I'm working."
"Ooh? Another weird one?" Barnes cooed.
"Hot damn. Whatcha got for us?"
Lipton handed over the tag number. "Black Corvette. New York tags."
"Seduce you? How cute." Barnes said wryly as Davis turned to his computer and logged on to the DMV.
"Seduce?" Lipton started. Ahh… of course. S E 2… deuce… you. "Cute." He echoed. Trouble was, it gave him a clue as to what the demoness was, but that made no sense. Succubae weren't warriors… they were sex demons. He'd never run into a single one that could fight worth a damn.
"Here we go," Davis announced. "Seraph Darkfell, nice name. No alias listed."
Seraph Darkfell? Another cute pun for fallen angel. Lipton thought with a sigh. Whoever she is, she has a sense of humor.
Davis handed him the printout of her license while he looked at her record. "Hmm… couple of hundred minor traffic tickets… but not a single bench warrant. Let me check her credit records…" He started typing again as Lipton checked the license.
The face it revealed was stunning, fairly typical for a succubus. The outfit she must have been wearing had to have been extremely low cut, as the photo appeared to be a nude, again typical. Only… there was something different about her he just couldn't place. She just didn't look like a typical succubus…
"Here we go," Davis said as Seraph's credit records showed up on his screen. He whistled. "Whoa. I wish I had her credit limit. Quarter mill, quarter mill, hundred thou, half mill. Shit! Her investment portfolio alone is worth — uh, make that was worth, thirty mill. Looks like it was seized and all of her credit's been cancelled. I'd say IRS, probably at the behest of the CIA. Houses, stocks, property. All gone. Looks like the car's hers though. Paid in full, cash. '72 Corvette Stingray, custom order from Detroit. Police Interceptor engine kit, minus tweaks. Probably had 'em added. Damn thing's a rocket. Original owner… Seraph Darkfell? I'll be damned… she's aged well for someone over forty."
Lipton nodded. "So most of her assets are gone?"
"Looks like," Barnes said from his console. "This record's a maze. Looks like she might still have a few assets but it's gonna take a while to track them down through all the dead ends. Whoever set this up is a pro."
"Probably CIA. Most likely she's a government agent. This sudden turn in fortune probably means she's gone renegade and is on the run," Davis said. He looked at the license again. "No way that is over forty." He tapped a few more keys, changing screens faster than Lipton could keep track of. "Yeah, see." He pointed his nose at the screen while still tapping. "Police records. She's been arrested a shitload of times. Looks like either no charges filed or charges dropped. Suspected prostitution, suspected drug use, suspected drug smuggling, lewd and lascivious behavior… What the fuck?! Suspected bootlegger?" He called up the file. "1928? " Disbelief colored his voice.
"Must have been her grandmother." Lipton supplied.
"Had to have been, or she's using a cover identity that's been around awhile." Davis nodded.
"Any of the charges stick?"
Davis scanned further. "Nope. No pictures, prints, or DNA on file either. They probably made sure of that." No need to ask who they were.
"Same on Interpol." Barnes added. "Lots of arrests, no convictions and looks like she never even saw the inside of a courtroom. But she's been all over the world." He gave Lipton a look that said he wasn't buying the grandmother line. "Most of the places she's been have been hotspots, just before or just after trouble." His eyes showed he'd come up with his own explanation for Seraph's long record.
"Want me to put an APB on her?" Davis asked. "I can, but it'll put up a red flag to the Agency and the IRS that you're looking for her."
Lipton shook his head. "Just dig me up everything you can find on her, no matter how far away or long ago. This case is so strange you never know what might be useful."
Both of the geeks' eyes gleamed. Whether long-lived alien transplant, or government conspiracy agent, it didn't really matter as much as the joy of the hunt. Lipton nodded to himself as he headed back upstairs. They had never believed in his "demons" but they were useful nonetheless. If it existed online, they'd find it.
Unfortunately, the trip had led to more questions, not less…
Back in his office, Lipton put his feet up on his desk and watched a tan moth struggling in a spider web above his door for a few seconds before reaching into the right hand drawer and pulling out his recorder. He closed his eyes as he activated it and spoke.
"Puzzles, puzzles, puzzles. I have six dead demons in an alley, not that anyone else believes that, one live one who's proving to be one of the most confusing demons I've ever run into, and one angel who apparently needed saving, and if the witness is telling the truth, by the demoness no less."
"Fact: Something killed six combat demons in a matter of minutes.
"Fact: I saw the angel myself."
Lilith nearly fell out of the web. He had?
"Fact: I saw the supposed demoness with the angel. However I cannot confirm her status as a demon yet, she looked human, even though she is extremely tall for a female. However, evidence does suggest she is a demon, and most likely a succubus."
Lilith was impressed. He was more knowledgeable than she'd given him credit for.
"Fact: Most succubae are not warriors. They are built for sex, not combat."
"Fact: Angels and demons do not get along. Encounters between them are usually fatal for the demon involved."
Lilith smiled mentally. That wasn't really true. The G.O.D. just did its best to clean up the messes before humans found them, the better to promote it's "infallible" image.
"These are established facts, or have been previously. So now we are left with questions this case has raised.
"Question one: Who is Seraph Darkfell? Why did she save the angel, and, if she is a succubus, where did she learn to fight?"
"Question two: Who is the angel? Why was she there? Why did she become the target of a party of six demons? And most importantly, why didn't, or why couldn't she defend herself?"
"Question three: What is the connection between the angel and Seraph Darkfell? The witness seemed to think they were in love, but that makes no sense for several reasons. First, they are angel and demon. By all previous evidence, they should be trying to kill one another. Second, they are by appearance, both female, and the last I checked, homosexuality was still classed as a sin. Thirdly, by that reasoning the angel could not still be an angel if she had committed a sin. Obviously, there must be another reason, or there are factors involved I've never heard of."
Lilith was giving the detective a slow once-over. He was definitely interesting. She wondered how he would react if she seduced him. He was certainly not like most mortals she'd dealt with before.
Oblivious to the spider's scrutiny, Lipton reached out, picked up the plaster hand and looked at it as he continued.
"And finally, Question four: Who is behind Miss Darkfell? Until yesterday, no succubus I've run into has ever had the kind of clout Seraph had. Credit cards, land investments, stock portfolio, I've never run into any demon with that kind of background. I've dealt with a few succubae in High Society, but every one has been a kept woman. None of them had the kind of bankroll Seraph had. Obviously, someone went through a lot of trouble to set her up, and just as obviously, pulled it down. Beyond that, who has kept her out of trouble? Most succubae have records, it's a natural result of their work, but someone went to a great deal of trouble to keep Seraph's record clean. Who? The answer could go a long way to explaining some of the mysteries around this case. Like motive. What could force a succubus to fight?"
Lilith smiled to herself. She'd had no idea Mephie had invested so much into Seraph. No wonder he was so upset with her defection.
Lipton was continuing. "Something… or someone?" A thought seemed to occur to the detective. "Could Seraph be being controlled?" he mused.
He reached into the desk again and brought out a thick manila folder labeled "Magick Users" and flipped it open. Inside was a thick stack of 8x10s. Lipton looked through the stack slowly, reading the notes he had written on the backs of each photo. He stopped at one of a refined-looking Latino which had been crossed out with a red marker.
"Santobal. I'd suspect you, knowing your penchant for 'enslaving' succubae and for murdering angels, but somehow, I just don't see you surviving that 12-gauge slug I put through your brain." He chuckled as he scanned through the rest. As he dropped the last one, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Not one of you has the power to make a succubus capable of winning a fight against six combat demons." He tossed the folder back into the drawer. "Which means I'm either up against a new mage, or someone else gave her the power."
Lilith chuckled to herself. If he only knew how close he actually is!
Lipton looked up at the clawed hand he held, then shook his head. "Maybe it has to do with the angel?" he asked to no one in particular. He clicked off the recorder and rose. As Lilith watched, he bolted the door to his office and moved to a locked cabinet against the far wall. He took out a set of keys and opened the cabinet. Lilith gasped in surprise at what was inside. A lot of would-be mages would kill for the contents of the cabinet, and if the church had ever seen it, Lipton would have been excommunicated and burned at the stake on the spot. The majority of the books were trash, New Age mysticism, but a few of them were real. Ancient books dealing with Demonology and Black Magick, many written in Latin… A Hebrew Kabala sat next to Assyrian religious texts and even a copy the Mahabharata in Sanskrit was on the shelf. It was certainly the last thing Lilith had expected. She wondered where he had gotten them.
He knelt down to the bottom of the case, removed an iron box, and took it to his desk. Curious, Lilith crawled across the ceiling to get a better look. After Lipton sat down, he took out another key and undid a lock on the iron box, then opened it. As the lid swung open, Lilith was nearly shocked into dropping her shape change from the holy energies the book poured forth. The reason for the iron box became easily apparent: unshielded, the book in the box would have turned the other texts into smoking ruin.
In appearance it was nothing special. It had a plain thick leather cover reinforced with thin iron straps, and a simple clasp that held it closed. The pages were crisp vellum, yellowed with age but otherwise whole and undamaged. The title was simple, written in elegant gold script, but Lilith nearly passed out in shock as she read it. At most, the book looked a hundred years old, but she knew it was over four thousand, and that the passing of time would not have affected its accuracy, Jehovah had seen to that. Only fifteen copies were known to even exist, and Lilith hadn't know of one in New York, yet somehow, the detective had managed to get a hold of a copy of the only book her first ex-husband had ever written.
The Directory of Angels.
Lilith nearly panicked. If the Detective could even read the Directory, it meant he had True Sight! He could see her! Only the fact she was shape-changed instead of glamoured had kept him from discovering her already…
Then logic reasserted itself. He hadn't discovered her, and so long as she didn't shift where he could see her, she was safe. It simply made for an interesting tidbit. The detective really could see demons and angels… even glamoured ones… only a shape shift couldn't be seen through.
It made the notion of seducing him more appealing. Seeing how he dealt with the Queen of Hell could be… entertaining.
But that was for a later time, for now, she watched as he slowly flipped through the book, looking at the picture of each angel and reading the short description. After nearly an hour, at the end of the G's, he lost patience. "This is hopeless. Without a name, I'll never find her." He got up and paced the office for a minute than grabbed his long empty mug of coffee. "Definitely need a caffeine break. Then maybe I'll check out her apartment." He unlocked the door, and at the verge of heading for the coffee maker, paused and looked at the book on his desk.
"Hell, it's just for a moment…" He exited, but locked the dead bolt behind him anyway.
Lilith shimmered into her own form beside the desk. It was time to check on Bhaalor. She looked down at the Directory one last time.
The breeze from Lipton's departure had flipped several pages over, and there, staring serenely up from the page, was Heart's face…
Lilith laughed all the way to Hell.
In many ways, the Pearly Gates Complex was the nexus of Heaven. Through its myriad of gates and terminals passed all the souls of mortals who believed in the Christian Savior, and all of Heaven's various agents. On a good day, over a million souls passed through is massive halls, refurbished time and again as the Human Race expanded its population.
Looking down on it from his plush fifth floor office, Saint Peter could recall when he had sat at a table outside the gates with his pen and the Book of Life. That had been replaced over the centuries with a library and an army of scribes, and most recently, by the vast Database of Life and the sprawling bureaucracy of the Department of Immigrations, of which he was President.
A long way from the simple life of a fisherman.
He sighed and turned from the huge bay window. It had been so much simpler then, all he'd had to fear was crucifixion. Now? Between the massive juggernaut of the Department and… his other duties… he'd welcome another crucifixion as a nice relaxing break from all of his worries.
Horrible thought for a Saint, he mused as he sat down behind a massive desk piled high with stacks of paper and documents, all of which needed his personal attention. He was contemplating setting fire to all of them when a document caught his eye.
He pulled the papers out of the stack that had partially concealed them, and confirmed that his eyes hadn't deceived him. They were exile papers.
What in home's name is this? I'm supposed to be apprised of any exiles. He looked at the bottom of the page where his signature had to go for any exile to be processed.
His flowing signature sprawled across the signature line. Hmm… funny… I don't remember signing this.
He flipped through the rest of the form, noting that it had been processed and the Exile Clerk's paperwork had been completed yesterday morning. Everything appeared to be in order…
But he definitely didn't remember approving an angel's exile.
He shoved the other papers off his desk, ignoring them as they fluttered to neat stacks on the floor, until he found his video intercom.
The G.O.D. had frowned at his modernizing the D.O.I., but he'd succeeding in convincing them of the need, and it made his life much easier… So few of Heaven's agents really understood modern technology, which made his clandestine activities easier to conceal. But this time, it looked like someone had expected that same effect to shield them from his scrutiny…
The man who answered the vidcom was a distinguished older gentleman, a few years younger than Peter in appearance. In life, he'd been one of the few people Peter had come close to hating, despite his master's teachings. Alive, the man had been almost single-handedly responsible for corrupting, as far as Peter had seen it, the Christian religion from the elegant and beautiful teachings of his master, to the bloated law-ridden tool of the G.O.D. it had become. Saint Paul had been born a Pharisee, and even after his "conversion" had remained one. His "advice" helped turned his new faith into as rule-bound a religion as his old one, and he had never realized he was playing right into the enemy's hands doing so. Peter had fought him while still alive, but had lacked the charisma Paul exuded, and Paul had never understood why Peter had been so angry about the spreading of the faith… But then, Paul had never actually met Christ while he was alive. Peter had been quick to change that when he had died.
In two thousand years, they hadn't had much success, and for the most part, the G.O.D. ignored them. Peter had remained the gatekeeper because that was the role he'd been given by tradition, and Paul had pretty much become his vice president, but neither role had any real power or say in the G.O.D.'s policies.
But occasionally, the G.O.D. made mistakes… and this had all the earmarks of one.
Peter held up the form to show Paul. "I think you might want to come up here… Looks like I have a case for you…"
The girls had showered, with a short break from actual washing for other activity, then Seraph had had a paper delivered with breakfast. She pored over it with Heart as they ate, making a list of places to check out for jobs. Then Seraph availed herself of the modem line while Heart called and made appointments. The girls finally left the room around eleven and hopped in the 'vette to make the interviews.
Hours passed and Heart was dizzied by interviews, applications, and social security numbers. Seraph had tried to explain the concept of the social security to her when she had run across a request for the number on her first application, but the explanation made no sense to Heart, so Seraph had simply given her a number to write into the space, one that had belonged to one of her alter egos until that morning.
Seraph had given the basic info to a hacker she had "helped" not long before her retirement, and now the number reflected the personal data and history of one Harteriel Serafina. It had been a favor returned for getting him a pair of live-in girlfriends, twin sisters who incidentally had been living on the street before Seraph had introduced them all. Now, all three lived in a nice apartment, the girls no longer had to hook, and the hacker was basically teaching them about computers. Heaven frowned on the arrangement, but they all three were very happy and the hacker's desire to take care of his girlfriends had even encouraged him to take a legitimate job with a computer security company. Hacking the Social Security card had been the first non-legal job he'd pulled in the two years since.
Another example, in Seraph's opinion, of Heaven's messed-up morality. They were happy, law-abiding, productive people now, but condemned to hell for the "sin" of fornication, because they all couldn't marry each other.
After several hours of job hunting, they stopped for lunch, the two sitting dispiritedly in a small cafe downtown.
"We're never going to find human jobs at this rate," Heart sighed.
"No, love, I know we can do it. How many of your interviews said that they would call you back?"
"None," Heart's beautiful face held an unhappy frown. "They all said I didn't have enough experience."
Seraph reached into her cleavage and pulled out the list. She looked it over, her brow wrinkled in thought. Finally, she looked at Heart, an idea bright in her mind.
"Beloved. I think we're going about this all wrong."
"What do you mean? I'm doing exactly what you told me to, Beloved." She looked down at her exposed cleavage. "Even though having my shirt pulled this low is a little uncomfortable."
Seraph blushed as she moved a little in her chair. "I'm sorry, love. I thought it would help. You can pull it up if you like."
Heart gave her a sidelong look over her glasses. "No. I've noticed you seem to enjoy looking at me more since I pulled it down."
Seraph blushed even brighter as she wrenched her eyes away from the rise and fall of Heart's breasts. "Ummm…"
Heart laughed. "I love you… Anyway, what am I doing wrong?"
Seraph fought the urge to let her eyes return to their previous gaze as she answered. "Well, umm… maybe we should be trying to find jobs where we do have experience. You were the best matchmaker in Heaven. We should get you a job doing that here."
"Are there jobs like that on Earth?"
"Of course. Humans thrive on personal contact!" Seraph exclaimed. "I've met lots of my assignments through matchmaking services. Lots of lonely people try to meet through matchmakers. Most of them are just looking for companionship, the sex was just incidental. I've started lots of affairs that way, and I've seen a lot of relationships that came under your old office's jurisdiction come from them too."
Heart nodded. "Lonely souls needing someone to love."
"Well, humans have all kinds of ways for meeting one another," Seraph said. "And I know they have matchmaking services that try to do just what you used to do, bring two people together who will fall in love, just like there are places that do the kind of matchmaking I used to do too…"
Seraph stopped as a thought struck her, then she groaned. "I am such an idiot. Why am I worried where I'm going to get a job, when I already have a job just waiting for me to come back and take it."
"You are not an idiot," Heart said firmly.
"Yes, I am. I've been worried about how quickly we've been draining my bank account, and forgetting where the money in it comes from. I already have a job. All I have to do is go and tell the manager to put me on the lineup."
"Oh? What will you be doing?" Heart looked excited. Seraph hoped she still would be after she told her what the job was.
"Oh?" Heart's eyes lit up. "Maybe I can too? I know the minuet, the waltz, the—"
"It's not that kind of dancing, dear," Seraph interrupted. "I'll be doing erotic dances."
Heart looked confused. "What does that entail?"
Seraph looked off to the side. "Well, for one thing, a lot less clothing."
Heart nodded. "How much less?"
"Umm…" Seraph looked down. "I think New York law says I have to keep my g-string on nowadays."
"You mean you'd be nude?" Heart looked puzzled. "Don't humans forbid that?"
"Only in public,"
"But if you're dancing for people, won't you be in public?"
"No. It's a club where men come to watch nude women dance."
"Oh… Why?" Heart really did look confused.
Seraph shook her head. "Oh, Beloved, you really are an innocent to the ways of lust. It's so the men can fantasize about having sex with me," she admitted.
"Oh," Heart's face fell. "I see. Well, if you need to do that to feed I suppose it's okay." Her voice held a note of sadness.
Seraph took Heart's hand. "Beloved. I don't need them to feed. I need you for that, and only you. You are the one I love, and only you can satisfy my desires. But men will pay a lot of money just to fantasize about sex with me, and I never have to actually fulfill that fantasy. I can dance and arouse their lust without having to do anything else… except of course to arouse my desire for you even more."
Heart smiled at Seraph's words, but then a thought struck. "But isn't that demeaning, Beloved?" she asked plaintively.
"No, Beloved. Not for me. I'm a succubus. I was created to arouse lust. It was my purpose for existing before you taught me how to love. It's all I've done for over a thousand years." Seraph struggled desperately for the right words to say. "I took pride in my work, Beloved. That's part of what you fell in love with, no?" Heart nodded. "I love to dance, Beloved, and it's always been one of my most effective means for arousing lust. What's best about it, is that I can make us money doing something I enjoy." Inspiration hit. "Besides, Beloved, we were both the best at what we did because we loved our jobs. It doesn't matter that we're not working for them anymore. We don't have to give up on what we love doing, what we are best at! Heaven doesn't have a monopoly on Love!"
Heart still looked uncertain, so Seraph continued. "Heart, we can keep doing what we're doing right now and spend our immortal lives unhappy, or we can continue doing what we were meant to do, make people happy. We can do that better than Heaven or Hell, because we can give them a love like ours. The love, the passion, the joy, all of it! All we have to do is keep doing what we love best, our jobs, but for the people we help, not for our idiot ex-bosses!"
Heart's eyes said she wanted to believe. "Oh, Beloved… I don't know if I can bear to keep doing my job anymore." Tears trickled down from the corners of her eyes.
"No Beloved, that's not true! You can do it better!" Seraph tried to keep her voice encouraging, but she too fought back tears. The sight of how badly Theliel had undermined Heart's confidence infuriated her, and it was all she could do not to howl her frustration. If I ever get my hands on him again… She left the thought unfinished as primal bloodlust coursed through her body.
"Beloved? Are you okay?" Heart's voice was full of concern.
Seraph shook her head as s few tears escaped across her cheeks. "When I think about what Theliel must have said to you to hurt you so much, the horrible thoughts he put into your head…" Her teeth and hands clenched. "I just want to rip out his heart and eat it raw!"
Seraph looked up, pleading in her eyes behind the anger. "You are an angel of Love, Heart. Nothing Theliel can say will ever change that unless you give in to him and give up. If you do that, he'll win. I know you can do it, love." Her head hung till her bangs overshadowed her eyes. "Won't you please try?"
"But nothing, Heart. Theliel didn't make you good at your job. You did."
"Did I, Beloved?" Heart looked at her. "I always thought so, but…"
"Beloved… He isn't the Creator. Only an angel. Like you." Seraph met her eyes through the rose-tinted lenses. "He couldn't take your love, your halo, or your sword, so he tried to take your spirit instead. Don't let him win…"
Heart saw the faith Seraph had in her, and it helped to spark her own. "I will try, Beloved." She smiled. "That's all I can promise."
Seraph returned her smile. "That's all I could ever ask…"
They gazed at each other for long moments, the cafe ceasing to exist around them. Activity continued around them, but they took no notice, lost in a world where no words were needed… were the contentment in their eyes said all that needed to be said…
Then Heart rose.
"Let's go get you a job, Beloved," she said to the succubus.
"Love? Are you sure?" Seraph rose as well, pulling a wad of cash from her cleavage and tossing several bills down on the table.
"Of course, Beloved," Heart grinned. "You're right. We should do what we're good at, and I can definitely attest to how good you are at arousing lust. If people will pay you to dance for them and arouse their lust… well… that's our good fortune, although I still don't see how dancing could get them that aroused."
Seraph smiled. "Let me get you alone tonight, and I'll demonstrate."
Heart smiled indulgently. "Does that mean I might get a full demonstration?"
Seraph arched an eyebrow. "You mean using my powers on you?"
Heart wrapped an arm around her, and gave her smile full of promises. "Yes. I love you, Seraph… and you won my heart without them… but I am curious…"
Seraph gave her a lopsided grin. "I-I just didn't want you to think I was taking advantage of you…"
Heart stopped at the curb and turned to her smiling mischievously.
"Oh no, dear. I plan to take advantage of you…"
Behind them, the busboy cleaning their table peered in puzzlement at the eight crescent-shaped holes that pierced the table, perfectly matching Seraph's nails…
The buildings were tall enough to block out the sun even though it was still early afternoon. A stray cat scampered across the alley, not sparing a glance at the girl who was wading through an ankle deep swamp of old newspaper. She scanned the piece of paper in her hand and looked around, trying to match the number to a building. She stepped further into the shadows, her ankle length trench coat flipping idly as she walked, apparently so absorbed in her quest that she didn't notice the mugger creeping up on her until he cocked his nine.
"Reach for the sky, bitch!"
Casually, she took a last drag on her cigarette and nonchalantly turned around as she reached up. She said not a word.
The thug appraised her for a second, noting the habit-like headdress that covered most of her long black hair, and the skimpy little silver bikini she had on under the trench, but what really caught his eye was the arsenal her spread coat displayed. The shotguns across her back and the twin cannons at her hips were definitely grown-up toys that would fetch him a small fortune from the fence he knew who handled that kind of artillery. Then again, he knew a guy who'd ask no questions about the girl either, and she'd bring a nice price too.
Fuck it. Be too much trouble to drag her there. Waste the bitch and take the guns and money. Not like she can use 'em anyways. Stick with plan A…
"Prepare to say hello to God, baby!" He began to pull the trigger, then something hot burned into his eye. He had just enough time to realize she'd thrown her cigarette and fling his arm across his face before he felt something strike him in the arm with the force of a baseball bat.
His gun flew across the alley as she planted one of her custom-made blade-heeled boots in his chest and she kicked him nearly thirty feet. He slammed into a dumpster, denting the side before dropping to the hard asphalt bruised, but miraculously unbroken. He gasped for breath.
She strode up to him, a sneer on her face, the wickedly curved blades on her heels chiming with every step.
"I have," she said flippantly. "He's about two thousand years behind on his child support."
She placed one of those viciously bladed boots on his belly, the needle sharp tip just resting on his crotch. She pulled one of the small cannons from her hip and pointed it at his nose. He stared down the black maw of the barrel.
"Now," she said. "Give me one reason not to kill you. A good one. Because until now, Matthew Weaver, you've been a scumbag. No real surprise that you'd off a thirteen-year-old girl, or were you planning to sell me to that child pornographer friend of yours?" Her harsh laugh echoed across the alley. "If I thought for a second it would get this titanium bikini off me, I'd have let you!"
Her eyes full of fury, she leaned closer. "So tell me, Matthew Weaver. How do you plead?"
The thug seemed mesmerized by the barrel of the gun, his mind barely registering the fact she'd used his name twice. In desperation, he closed his eyes and began a prayer he hadn't used since childhood.
"Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is—"
Her backhanded slap rocked his head on his shoulders. "Blessed this, blessed that… blah, blah, blah. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that." She stuck the gun against his forehead. "You're a hypocrite. First you get yourself in deep, and now you want deliverance? Did it ever occur to you not to do the bad thing in the first place? Now, I'll ask you again, Matthew Weaver. How do you plead? Are you a scumbag? Why shouldn't I just shoot you?"
Fear even stronger than before streaked across his mind as her use of his name registered.
"H-how do you know my name?" he whispered hoarsely, an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach warning him he didn't want to know.
"Matthew, Matthew, Matthew…" She said as she pulled the gun away from his forehead and leaned on the bent knee, pressing the blade against his crotch. A warm trickle began to flow down his leg, either blood or urine. "You've been praying to me since you were six, and you don't know who I am?"
"No… no way…" he whispered, as if denial would chase away the terror he felt.
She grabbed him by the collar as she effortlessly lifted him and placed the gun under his chin.
"Go to church, scumbag. Pray for forgiveness and confess your sins," she cooed. "Go straight, or I will be back, and have no doubt I'll know where to find you…"
She smiled as she holstered the pistol and let him slump back against the dumpster as she turned to sashay off.
"Wh-who are you?" he croaked.
"The Virgin," she called back over her shoulder.
Weaver stared after her, the fear in him doubling at the utter confidence she exuded. She had no fear of him going for his gun, there was only the sureness that she was finished here.
"Mother of God," he whispered involuntarily.
Her reply was faint, but her voice echoed in his ears mockingly.
Mephistopheles glanced around the apartment, feeling the faintest echo of remorse. It was dingy, dusty and the little bit of light that came through the dust-encrusted windows did little to improve its appearance, but if he knew his best agent, it had not always been so. Yesterday, it had probably appeared a hundred times as large, and been impeccably neat, a lavish plush den suitable for lusty debauchery. The old rusted bed frame had probably been an oaken four post bed, perfect for bedtime sport. The cracked bathtub had probably been a spa filled with crystal water that flowed from golden faucets…
No, not clear, he thought. Bubbles… He smiled as he imagined those fine white breasts, their lush pink nipples bobbing at the waterline, laced in bubbles… But, time for those thoughts later. He had work to do.
He began searching the apartment, unceremoniously dumping and overturning the bed, the dresser, the closet… anything he could find, looking for clues to where the succubus might have gone to ground. In the process, the Demon Lord caught an item from his belt on a doorknob and it fell to the chipped concrete of the floor with a clear chime like a bell. He reached down and retrieved the silver hoop, tarnished nearly black, and stroked it fondly, reminiscing…
The entrance door slammed open, startling him into dropping the metal ring. It rolled across the floor and clattered to a halt against the far wall.
He looked up at the young girl who'd just entered so dramatically, taking in the knee-high blue leather boots, the lithe shapely body, the arsenal. He would have given nearly anything to have a way past that titanium chastity set she wore, but he never would, and he knew that trying would be his death. She was pure for a reason he feared as much as he desired, a reason not even his master Lucifer would cross lightly. She was the ultimate prize for the Lord of Temptation, the one woman pure enough to have born the Son of God… the Queen of Heaven… the Virgin.
"Mary," he said, his voice conveying disgust, but he couldn't hide the fear and desire he felt for her.
"Well, hello Mephie," she cooed, knowing how much he hated the nickname. She played with the keyless padlock that sealed her metal halter top. The small lock swung back and forth with a hypnotic rhythm between her shapely breasts. "You get manlier every time I see you."
He took a step back. "Don't try to vamp me, Virgin. Yours is one maidenhood I'd rather not claim," he lied.
Mary sauntered up to him and looked into his eyes with a sultry look. "But Mephie, you know how much I want you." Her hand casually cupped his crotch as she purred. "And you know you want me… It's not like my husband cares…"
The Demon Lord felt his loins starting to betray him, visions of Mary chained to a bed, nude, begging him to come and give her release playing across his mind. She was beyond any Angel, any being he had ever taken… perfection personified… He could almost feel her wings as they closed around him, forcing him down on her in her hunger… He could almost feel the ecstasy of plunging himself into her virginal body…
He pushed her and his fantasy away.
"I said forget it," he growled. "The Creator claimed you, and He would find out and we'd both pay… The G.O.D. may rule Heaven, but He rules you. I have no wish to suddenly cease to exist." He crossed his arms. "Why are you here, anyway?"
Mary laughed, "Why Mephie… I'm crushed. You wouldn't brave nonexistence for…" She pulled her trench wide and inhaled. "Me?"
Mephistopheles closed his eyes to keep from being driven to an attempt he was sure to suffer for.
"Just answer the question,"
If only she was serious and not just trying to lead me to my own destruction… the back of his mind whimpered.
Mary stepped back, the glint in her eye telling him that he may have won this round, but she was confident of getting him in the end. "I heard an angel had Fallen, and was captured by a succubus who lived here. I came to either free her and slay her captors, or kill them all if she had already been corrupted." She paused and looked around the apartment. "One may ask why you are here as well. Hoping to soil another angel?"
"I was. However, as you can see, there is no angel here."
The steely gaze she fixed him with left no doubt what she would have done to him if she had caught him defiling the angel, Demon Lord or not. "So it seems," she said in an icy voice.
"Now, now Mary, you know the rules. I'm not a valid target. Hell needs a Lord of Temptation. I'm just doing my job."
The look she gave him would have frosted the Lake of Fire. "Oh, please," she snorted. "As if there aren't a hundred other demons lined up to take your place."
Mephistopheles decided cowardice was the better part of valor and that leaving the apartment to Mary was a wise idea. "I suppose I should be going now," he said as he began to fade into teleport.
"You're up to something Mephie. What?" Mary asked, her arms crossed.
"I would stay to chat…" His words faded as he did. "But Bhaalor's…" His last words were lost as he vanished.
Bhaalors? she thought. As in more than one?
She glanced around the apartment, trying to figure out what Mephistopheles had been searching for. Her eyes fell on the tarnished circlet. Her eyes hardened as a corona of silver fire flared around her, and she strode over to pick it up.
It was, or rather, had been, a silver halo.
Her corona flared even brighter as she hissed, "You fuckers will pay for defiling an angel." She clutched the circlet tightly.
Suddenly, the apartment was filled with the roar of an inferno. Mary leaped to a standing position, her free hand drawing forth the Desert Eagle from her hip holster. The smell of brimstone was heavy in the air as six demons appeared, armed to the teeth. With a start, Mary realized what Mephistopheles had meant.
"Well, well. Bhaalor's minions. How sweet. A welcoming committee for little old me?"
"Ah shit! It's the Iron Virgin!" one of the demons exclaimed.
"No matter!" the leader yelled. "There's only one of her and six of us!" He gulped as Mary's pistol spoke and one of his subordinates' head exploded. "Umm… make that five of us."
"Blessed bullets," Mary announced. "I've noticed your kind has an extreme allergy to them."
"You don't scare me, bitch!" the leader called, then looked at his subordinates. "Get her!"
As they lunged for her, Mary leaped up and grabbed onto the chandelier, releasing a spray of gunfire into the demons below. She hit another one dead between the eyes, and grazed the arm of a third, the halo dangling from her wrist like an oversized bangle. She got off another round, but missed as the chandelier gave and she fell towards the waiting maws of the demons…
Lipton checked the address, then he checked it again, then a third time.
"This can't be right," he muttered. "I've seen nicer crack houses."
But the numbers matched and there was nowhere else on the corner it could be. The building looked like a converted warehouse, fairly common in New York, and in typical New York contrast, it was just off a street full of high-rent high-rises. He supposed that in the dark, the fact that the block was deserted of all but derelicts might not be noticeable. A succubus could drain a man to a dry husk back here and the body would never be found.
He unpacked the twelve-gauge from his trunk to be on the safe side, double-checking to make sure the symbol laden slugs were still loaded. Blessed ammo, like all his guns, custom made for him by a friend who was a young priest and warded against evil with everything the Jesuit could dig out of the Catholic texts on exorcism. Never hurt to be cautious. He tucked a box of the slugs into his trench as well.
He kicked open the door, checking the hall beyond for demonic ambushers. When none made an appearance, he stepped inside. The hallway extended to a freight elevator, the doors to several apartments leading off. He tried the elevator, the noiseless ascension surprising him. The eerie silence of the building would have convinced him the place was deserted, but the sounds of gunfire upon his arrival at the top floor let him know otherwise.
He made his way cautiously across the high ceilinged area around the elevator over to the door through which the sounds had issued, completely unsurprised it was the succubus's apartment. He peered in the doorway, shotgun ready, then stepped into the room, his jaw slack and his eyes wide.
Three demons had gathered around a figure of feminine proportions. Two of them held the girl pinned while the third seemed to be tugging and slashing at the metal bikini bottoms the girl wore. His talons were leaving no mark on the metal, and even though his claws were making small scratches, they barely marked the girl either.
Suddenly, the faint silver nimbus around her flared. Her foot lashed out with a kick that buried the bladed heel of her boot into the crotch of the demon trying to remove her bottoms. The force of the kick viciously ripped the blade back out as the demon was flung across the room. He howled in fury and pain as she brought her arms together and slammed the others' heads together. They fell back, dazed. In a whirl, she retrieved her Desert Eagle and rolled to her feet, allowing Lipton his first really good look at her. He nearly fainted in shock. He wasn't given to being easily impressed, but she was an awe-inspiring sight.
Silver fire burned around her like a candle flame flickering in a gale, illuminating the dark hair which flew about under the blue veil that covered the back of her head. Above the veil, an ornate golden halo crowned her, nearly blinding in its brilliance, the rays of light streaming from it illuminating the demons starkly. Her body was lithe and voluptuous, athletically formed and covered only by the minimal metal halter top and bikini. She had an ornate crowned dagger strapped to her right calf. Twin holsters on her hips held the Desert Eagles, while a pair of nines rested in the shoulder rig. Over her groin, and on both breast plates, was a symbol Lipton had seen many times, the two Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Her face was young; Lipton would normally have estimated her to be only about thirteen, but he knew she was much older, and none of the thousands of pictures he had ever seen of her came close to the reality. And he doubted that anyone would ever have envisioned her with the bloodlust he saw in her eyes.
She fired a shot at the demon whose crotch she'd mutilated, his head exploding into so many bloody chunks, then she kicked at the one charging her from the left. He flew back, his face bleeding from where her heel had caught him, and she drew a bead on him. The third stepped quietly behind her, ruddy flames flickering along the blade he swung to decapitate her.
Lipton's shotgun kicked in his hand a second after the girl had fired, her bullet caving in her target's face. She whirled to see the last demon's corpse collapsing, most of his upper torso gone from the twin twelve-gauge slugs. She looked at Lipton, her eyes blazing. "I had him covered!"
"Sure," Lipton said sarcastically. "I noticed."
For a second, the silver aura flared, tracing the pattern of glorious wings. It faded as she holstered the pistol with a huff, her halo fading to a simple gold circlet of light. "What the fuck do you know anyway? You're just a stupid cop," she muttered.
"Well, I can see we're just a two-thousand-year-old bitch, aren't we?" Lipton responded angrily. "One wonders how you ever got the reputation for being merciful or forgiving."
"Excuse me?" She'd frozen in surprise and was staring at him. "You know who I am?"
"Lady, I've seen a lot of pictures of you. None of them did you justice." He looked her up and down appraisingly. "Sure as hell none of them ever captured this side of you."
"Artists have their visions. I'm under no obligation to live up to them." She cocked her hands on her hips and looked at him saucily. "Still, I think Michelangelo captured me best."
"What, a mother mourning her son?"
"No. A girl never allowed to blossom into womanhood." She plucked at the metal bikini. "My husband played a rather nasty trick on me."
Lipton gave her the eye. "I have bolt cutters in the car."
Mary laughed. "I think I like you, Detective Lipton. Not many people with the Sight actually treat me like a person. It's refreshing. But I'm afraid bolt cutters won't work. Believe me, I've tried everything. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is being forever a hormonally-overloaded thirteen-year-old when you can't even get yourself off?"
"Umm… well, I suppose that could account for the psychotic look in your eyes a few moments ago,"
Mary gave voice to a full throated laugh. "No, Lipton. That's from two thousand years of devout Catholics whining at me to do something for them. After a thousand years of that, I got very fed up." She smiled coquettishly. "You don't think that's unwomanly of me, do you?"
Lipton grinned. "Not at all." He gave her another look. "In fact, I'd have to say I'd probably be the same way in your shoes." He looked at the wicked blades on Mary's boots again. "Not that I'd ever fit in your shoes, that is."
Mary sat down on a dusty easy chair, displaying herself to good advantage. "So tell me, Detective. What brings you here?" Her voice was sultry.
Lipton swallowed hard. "Umm… I came to search the place."
Mary gave him a half lidded gaze. "So… why don't you?" Her voice left no doubt that she included herself in things to be searched. She toyed with an oversized hoop of tarnished silver around her wrist.
Lipton backed up a step. "Um… actually, I can come back. Why don't we go for a slice of pizza, and you can tell me why the Madonna is in a succubus's lair."
She gave a disappointed pout. "Ok… Pizza and an explanation… but only if you tell me how you knew a succubus lived here." She stood and sauntered to the door, picking up her trench coat from where the demons had thrown it. Lipton followed her, bemused by the weirdness of it all.
"Pizza with the Virgin Mary," he muttered. "Won't my Catholic friends be so impressed…"
"Are you sure this is the place?" Heart asked, looking up at the gothic facade of the three story building Seraph had parked in front of. "This place looks so intimidating, and…" She paused long enough to scrape a wad of bubblegum from the bottom of her shoe. "…kinda dirty."
"That's just out here, Beloved. It's kept low-key for a reason. It's much nicer inside." She looked around, noting that at least the exterior had been kept properly. No garish neon or tasteless ads, just the same old bronze plaque bearing the name "Dante's."
"Come on," she urged Heart as she headed for the massive double doors, solid oak slabs bearing a carved impression of an ornate double-ended trident that looked suspiciously like Seraph's own.
"You said you could definitely get a job here?" Heart asked, following her timidly.
"Oh, definitely," Seraph said, opening the door for Heart. "I'm the reason Club Dante exists."
"Okay, if you're sure," Heart said as she entered and stopped.
"You worry too much, Love," Seraph laughed as she stepped around Heart and vanished through a curtain into the interior, leaving Heart alone in the antechamber.
Heart took a deep breath, and told herself it was only a room. No matter that the red lights overhead illuminated stark murals of the River Styx, or that the curtains of red and yellow streamers over the two doors to the main room gave the uncanny impression of being walls of flame, or that the marble floor was inlaid with a copy of the club's logo trident surrounded by Dante's most famous quote, it was not the Gate to Hell.
It just looked like it.
Heart took an involuntary step back. What she stepped into was not the exit door as she had been expecting. It was tall, and hard, and it had its arms crossed sternly. Heart let out a small cry and whirled around.
Facing her, muscles bulging against his tight tee shirt, was a man every bit as tall as Seraph. His arms were as thick as an average human's thigh, and his legs were like tree trunks growing from his hips. His thick beard was trim, neat and as blond as his streaming hair. His face bore the unmistakable stamp of Nordic ancestry, his square jaw and strong cheeks giving him a look of stern dignity. His ice blue eyes gazed down at Heart scoldingly.
"You the owner of the Corvette parked outside?" he demanded, his deep booming voice carrying a rumbling undertone like distant thunder.
"Umm… no… My friend is," Heart said lamely.
"Well, your 'friend' needs to move it," the big man snapped. "It's blocking our liquor delivery. We can't have that now, can we?" He cocked his head to one side and gave her an appraising look, giving Heart the distinct impression he was stripping her in his mind. "Say. You're a cutie. You new talent come to try out?"
"Umm… no… My friend is," Heart felt like a broken record.
"You should try out too. The slobs who frequent this place would go apeshit over a beauty like you. I can see it now—" he unfolded his arms to size up the marquee in his mind. "Club Dante's very own dancing angel." He interrupted his daydream to ask her "What's your name again?"
"Heart," Heart said, backing up at the word angel.
"Heart," he smiled. "That fits. You a Dominion or a Virtue?"
"A Virt—" she broke off in shock. "How- how did-"
"You angels are the only ones with those cockamamie halos."
Heart straightened her halo self-consciously.
The big man laughed. "Ah, don't take it personally. I think yours is kinda cute. And the pink glasses are a nice touch." He stuck out his hand. "My name's Thor."
Heart shook it lightly. "Like the Norse myth?"
Thor looked amused. "No," he said jovially. "Like Thor Odinson. God of Thunder."
Heart looked at him pityingly. "The Norse gods are a myth."
"Now who told you that?" Thor still looked amused.
"My… my superiors," Heart said, knowing in retrospect how lame that sounded.
Thor nodded. "The G.O.D. has gotten pretty good at denying reality over the centuries. No, young Heart. The Norse Pantheon is no myth, any more than the Greek or Egyptian. Not many of us live in Asgard these days, though. Your superiors' tactics of attacking our followers and their faith is rather effective. I didn't feel like surrendering to their dictatorship, so here I am. Bouncing in a tittie bar in Manhattan." He shrugged. "It's a living."
"A-a 'tittie bar'?" Heart looked confused. "But Seraph called it a 'strip club'."
Thor laughed even harder this time. "Poor little angel. You need to get used to living in this plane. The humans call places like this a tittie bar, a strip club, a dance joint, even a gentleman's club. It's all the same place, a bar where women dance naked for money."
"And men pay for that?"
Thor nodded. "Pretty good too. This place is classier than most, so it attracts the well-to-do set. The girls here can take home five to six grand a night. Some girls try for years to get a gig here, but the boss has standards. I'll say this for Miss Darkfell, she may never stop by, but she makes sure the girls are taken care of." His paused, his brow wrinkling. "You know, your kind usually comes by here to cause trouble. I really hope that's not true in your case. I'd really hate to snap that lovely little neck of yours." He stepped closer, looming over Heart.
She stepped back, alarmed. "M-miss Darkfell?" She stammered. "B-but that's who I'm here with!" She didn't like the look in his eyes.
"You?" Thor shook his head. "No way." He continued advancing.
Heart stepped back again. She could feel the blowing ribbons against her back, and the air from the fans was hot and dry. She realized she might have to do something to keep the huge man from carrying out his threat, and she reached into her purse, grasping the smooth wood of her sword's hilt. "You've never even met Seraph Darkfell, have you?"
Thor shrugged. "I doubt you have either, or you wouldn't be claiming to be her friend."
"That's not true! That's her car outside, and I came in here with her," Heart cried. "Why won't you believe me?"
Thor looked uncertain for a minute, then shook his head. "You know, it's really not like an angel to lie," he said, anger in his voice.
"I'm not lying!"
"You really expect me to believe an angel is going to hang out with a succubus?" He grinned ferally. "No. I don't think so." He reached for her.
Heart stepped back, realizing too late that she'd stepped through the curtain. She drew her sword and held it at the ready, fearfully eyeing the flickering wall of pseudo-flame…
Seraph strode purposefully towards one of the bars, her eyes taking in all the old familiar sights: the large overhead dome painted to look like the roof of Hell, grinning demon faces glaring down from nooks and crannies; the plush flame-stitched carpet; the antique iron and glass tables; the vast three-pronged stage with its brass railing and sturdy brass poles. She was happy to see so much of her handiwork and planning had gone unchanged. True, the current manager had replaced the murals on the walls with mirrors, and all of the couches and chairs with cheap black leather that didn't match the rest of the decor at all, but it had been about thirty years since she had last been here. Still, she had thought Monty had had better taste.
She could remember how much fun she had had setting the place up in the Twenties, first as a speakeasy, then, after Prohibition, as a gentlemen's club. It was one of the oldest such clubs in the city, having had several managers over the years, but only ever one owner: Seraph Darkfell. She'd built the place with money John Jacob Astor had left to her following their affair on the Titanic. He'd handed her the bank draft as he made sure she had a place on one of the lifeboats, thanking her for a wonderful voyage, and insisting it was a gentlemen's duty to stay behind and allow as many of the women and children to leave as possible. She'd waited till he had left and gave her seat to a young black woman, winging off to try and get the desperate vessel aid. Unfortunately, she'd gotten lost in the fog…
She'd built the club in a style she thought he would have approved of, a mix of classical elegance and pure debauchery. The mirrors covered scenes which would have done her old home proud. She'd kept a low profile over the years, allowing her managers to have mostly free rein in running the club. She just checked occasionally to ensure that her share of the club's payroll made it into her Swiss account. She'd carefully overlooked the millions of dollars laundered every year by the syndicate she'd chosen to protect the place. They maintained a low profile as well and made sure no one tried to muscle in on her ownership. It had been a mutually profitable arrangement and in all the years of the club's existence, it had never been raided.
She glanced around. A beefy bartender was wiping down the bar, a sour look on his face. A fat little man with a cigar sat at one of the tables, counting wads of bills and prepping the tills for the day. Neither was the man she sought.
The bartender spared her not even a glance when she approached.
"We're closed," he said abruptly as she stepped up to the bar.
"I know. I'm here to see Monty,"
"No Monty here,"
Seraph blinked in surprise. "He's the manager,"
"Look, lady. I don't know what bar you think you're in, but it ain't this one. Ain't no Monty here." He turned his back on her.
"No. It's the right bar," Seraph said icily. "And when I find the current manager, you're fired."
The bartender threw a thumb over his shoulder at the fat man. "That's the manager, sweetheart. Go ahead and try to get me fired. I wish you the best of luck."
Seraph smirked as she approached the little man. She sat down at the table and cleared her throat. The little man looked up at her chest and wolf-whistled.
"Well, you're a tall one. Cute too. You here for a job?"
"Something like that," Seraph replied. "I'm looking for Monty Scorciano."
"Monty ain't here no more. He retired about eight years ago," he replied, his eyes never leaving her chest. Seraph smirked again and inhaled.
"Did you take over for him?"
"And you are?"
"His nephew, Tony," the man replied, a sudden guarded look coming to his eyes.
"Ah," Seraph said in sudden recognition. She remembered Tony, a chubby child in the early Sixties who'd had a bad habit of grabbing the dancer's breasts. He'd grown up into an obese man with the same beady eyes and the same bad taste in clothes. She wondered if he still grabbed the dancer's breasts.
"Look, if he owes you money or something…" Tony began.
"No, he's been paying me just fine," Seraph replied with a wicked grin. "Surely he must have told you I would be back eventually to check on things?" she asked sweetly.
Tony's eyes widened. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
"Don't you remember me, Tony? I used to sneak you candy bars backstage," her voice held a teasing lilt.
"No way. You'd be geriatric by now."
"I age well," Seraph said coldly.
Tony's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Yeah? Prove it," he said, though not without some reservation.
Seraph rose and motioned Tony to follow as she led the way to the manager's office. It was done in antiques, and from the dust, had obviously never been used by Tony. Of course not. Can't see the show from in here, she thought as she crossed the room to a large painting behind the oak desk. It showed a scene from Dante's Inferno, where the narrator had encountered the circle of the sin of lust. Seraph stared at the painting of the lovers Francesca and Paolo, thinking They were truly in love, only the G.O.D.'s Code made it a sin… So for love, they were damned… She shook her head and reached for the concealed latch. The picture frame swung away to reveal the wall safe. She spun the dial and opened it with a smile. Inside were several stacks of bills, over a quarter of a century old.
"Oh, cool. Extra cash," Seraph exclaimed.
"That safe is the property of this bar," Tony said uncertainly.
"I know," Seraph replied. "And—" She reached into her bosom and pulled out a key. She picked up the large iron box in the back of the safe and plopped it down on the ink blotter on the desk. Tony came over and looked on in interest as she used the key on the box.
Inside the box was a treasure trove of antiques: old photographs, newspaper clippings, and a thick file folder of paperwork. Seraph spread it all on the desk.
Tony Scorciano looked at the pile of pictures and newspaper clippings before him, his eyes wide and his jaw gaping. Here was a picture of Seraph, opening night, 1920. There was a picture of her on stage in the Fifties' idea of sexy lingerie, teasingly pulling off an elbow-length glove. And here was a picture of her and her crew, a young Monty Scorciano looking proud in a new tux…
"Wow… You did age well," he whispered.
Seraph smirked. "Told ya,"
A small stifled cry from outside the office brought both owner and manager running out to see what was wrong. Seraph put her hand over her mouth as Heart faced off, in a fighting stance, an invisible threat on the other side of the curtain. Her sword was drawn and gleaming.
Then the bulldozer piled through the curtain…
Heart looked up at Thor, eyes wide, and tried not to panic. Something about the man made her far less certain of winning this fight than any demon she'd ever faced. Thor halted his advance when he saw her sword, but he grinned rather ominously. From his belt, he produced a massive iron hammer, its head fully as large as Heart's own. Small arcs of electricity played over its surface as his eyes danced gleefully.
"It's really too bad your bosses won't let you believe in other pantheons," he said to Heart. "Or perhaps you'd know I'm also a God of War."
"Hell has a Horseman for that," Heart responded curtly.
"Yeah, I know. Ares got fed up with fighting them after Constantine decreed everyone in the Holy Roman Empire had to become Christian or die, so he joined Hades in Hell." Thor shrugged. "They offered me the job, but I hate horses." He twirled the hammer between his fingers. "But that doesn't mean I'm not always looking for a good fight."
"Who the hell is that guy?" Seraph demanded of Tony as they watched the exchange.
"Thor? He's the bouncer."
"Thor? As in Thor Odinson? The bouncer?"
Tony shrugged, gazing at the item in Heart's hand incredulously. "Yeah. Best one we ever had, even if he is obsessed with using a hammer. She ain't gonna scare him off with that nail file."
"Yeah," Seraph replied. "So good he's threatening my girlfriend." She straightened her skirt and stalked across the floor, allowing her shape shift to lapse. She marched up to the two glaring opponents, tail lashing.
"Excuse me!" she announced loudly to Thor. "But would you mind telling me why it is you were about to try and hurt my girlfriend?"
Thor glanced at her irritatedly, then did a double take as his jaw dropped.
"This… this is…?"
"Uh-huh," Seraph nodded.
"But she's… but she's—" He pointed dumbly at Heart's halo.
"I know what she is, Mr. Odinson. And what a shock that must be. But I would appreciate it if you would stop threatening her. Immediately," Seraph said menacingly.
Her tone overcoming his shock, Thor demanded. "Yeah, well who the hell are you to be telling me what to do?"
Tony stepped up. "Thor, I'd like you to meet Miss Darkfell, the owner of Club Dante."
Thor gave Seraph a look-over, from wingtips to hooves. "I should have guessed." He turned to Heart. "My apologies, Miss Heart. Like I said, it's not like you types to lie. I hope there's no hard feelings, it's just business." He replaced his hammer and scratched his head as he looked at Seraph. "She's your what?"
Heart beamed as she latched onto Seraph's arm and held it.
"Girlfriend," Seraph repeated firmly.
Thor looked from one to the other, then shook his head. "Never would have figured." He stuck out his hand. "My apologies to you too, Miss Seraph. Just trying to keep the Club safe."
Tony looked at the diminutive form of Heart. "From her?"
Thor gave Tony the evil eye. "Yeah, from her. She's more than you'd think, Tony. I ain't a hundred percent sure I'd have succeeded in taking her. Ninety nine maybe, but not a hundred." He looked back at Seraph, still holding out his hand. "Or you either."
Seraph finally took Thor's hand. "Well… umm… I suppose I'll consider that flattery."
Thor grinned. "Naw. If I was flattering you, I'd say you could take Sif." He laughed and turned to exit. Heart watched him vanish through the curtain again before dropping her sword into her purse and turning to Seraph.
"Wow, what a big mean guy."
"Beloved, whatever started that?" Seraph asked, looking at the ceiling, afraid of the answer.
"Umm. Well, he thought I must be here to cause trouble because… well…" She looked up at her halo.
Seraph sighed. "That's what I was afraid of. Well… at least he knows the truth now."
"So… let me get this straight…" Tony said looking eagerly at the two girls. "You two are lesbians?"
Heart only looked puzzled, but Seraph said, "Yes. Passionately."
Tony rubbed his hands together. "Well… that could be interesting. A lesbian dance act! The two of you up there, dancing together. The men wanting both of you… 'cuz everyone knows all men want two women at once…"
"Umm… I don't dance sir. At least… not like that," Heart said demurely.
"Oh, come on." Tony cajoled. "It's not that hard after the first few times. At least, that's what the girls say…"
"No sir, thank you," Heart looked a little uncomfortable.
"But it's good money…"
Seraph's hand gripped Tony's shoulder and bones creaked. "She doesn't dance."
Tony gasped in pain and cried, "Ok, ok… She doesn't dance!" He looked relieved as Seraph's hand released.
"Of course—" Seraph added. "—I do."
"Yes, of course."
"You saw the deed?"
"No, but I don't have to. Uncle Monty told me you'd be the only one with a key to that lockbox, and would know the combination to the safe. Don't worry, Miss Darkfell, he told me to treat you like you was the Don, himself."
"I'm flattered, but just now, I need a place to work. I'm just here to dance."
"You…" Tony stopped. "You just wanna dance?" He looked around. "You're not here to take the place back over?"
Seraph laughed. "Why do you think I hired your uncle in the first place?" she asked. "The business end of the club bores me to tears, Tony. No, I'll check things out of course, but so long as you've been doing a good job of managing, you can keep it." She looked around. "But some of this decor has got to go." She looked back at Tony. "I will not dance in a tacky club."
Tony looked mildly offended, but only nodded.
"Umm… Excuse me," a rather despondent voice interrupted.
Seraph and Tony turned to see the bartender, who was looking down at his feet.
"What's up, Guido?" Tony asked.
"Well… I guess I need to tender my resignation," he said sourly.
"What?" Tony looked shocked.
"Miss Darkfell said I was fired. I figure I'll save her the trouble. Besides, it'll look better when I'm looking for a new job."
Tony looked at Seraph, but it was the big-eyed gaze Heart gave her that made her swallow.
"Beloved?" Heart asked.
Seraph looked down at her hooves. "You're not fired. You didn't know who I was. I for-for-for—" She strangled on the word.
"You're forgiven, for whatever it was," Heart finished for her, poking her head from under Seraph's arm. Seraph nodded fiercely.
Guido looked at the pair of them for a minute, then shrugged. "Thanks, boss." He turned and went back to the bar.
"You're so wonderful, Beloved," Heart said, beaming.
Tony had raised an eyebrow at the exchange, but kept silent. Seraph blushed at the praise.
Heart was looking around at the club. "So this is a strip joint? Aren't the mirrors kinda tacky?"
Seraph sighed. "It used to have murals, Love." She turned to Tony. "Please tell me whoever had those awful mirrors put up didn't paint over the walls?"
Tony looked defensive. "No… I just had them mounted over so the customers could see the dancers better."
"No… You mean so that no matter where you looked you could see them. Please don't try to hide the fact you like looking at the girls, Tony… I like the fact you like looking at the girls… it means you'll make sure the girls that work here are worth looking at. But the mirrors have to go. I had to go through Hell to get Waterhouse to paint those murals, and had to delay the grand opening a year while he painted them." She looked down at Heart. "They had better not be too damaged. You have no idea how hard it was to get the pictures he worked from. Charon had to make me waste a good fifteen plates being a ham, and it took forever to talk Cerberus into allowing me to enter with the camera. Then, trying to get everyone organized properly for the orgy was just hell. They all wanted to make sure I got their best sides and Helen and Paris insisted that they had to be the centerpiece, which of course started an argument with Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. I swear… If they hadn't all already been dead, I'd have killed the lot of them!"
Heart was lost in giggles. Tony was just giving her a look that said, Oh, god… I work for a madwoman. Seraph rolled her eyes.
"Oh! Never mind… just please get someone in here to remove the mirrors. Carefully!"
Reassured she was at least functional, Tony nodded. "I'll call my brother. He's got a business that restores old houses."
"I'm sure. And he'll split the bonus for finding him the job with you. Tell him I'll triple it if he can get it done by tomorrow night. And double that if he can get a painter to restore the murals exactly."
"Don't worry, Tony. I'll cover the bonus personally, but the restoration had better be perfect."
Tony nodded. "I'll tell him Miss Darkfell."
"Oh, fer Chrissakes! Call me Seraph."
"Of course, Seraph,"
There was the beginning of respect in Tony's eyes that hadn't been there before. He'd looked at her as a sex toy, then a nuisance that was going to cost him his job, then as a sucker to be fleeced, but now he was beginning to respect her as his boss. Seraph wasn't too worried about him. Monty wouldn't have placed him as manager if he wasn't a damn sight more than competent. He might be an obscene, vulgar little man, but he'd get the job done… and make a profit doing it.
Heart had recovered from her giggling fit. Seraph smiled at her.
"I still have to put away some papers, love, then we're finished here."
"I take it that everything went well?" she asked brightly.
"Well enough. I'm going to start tomorrow night." She looked at Tony. "Right?"
Tony looked up from the small notepad where he was jotting down Seraph's orders on his to-do list, not minding in the least that he was addressing Seraph's oversized breast instead of her face. "Absolutely."
Seraph took Heart's hand and led her to the manager's office.
"Oh! Pictures!" Heart exclaimed on their entry. She plucked them from the desk and began going through them. Seraph froze, worried. Most of those were… well… explicit.
"Beloved?" she asked nervously.
Heart didn't notice, too absorbed in looking at the pictures. She'd examine each one for long moments, then go to the next. The silence grew longer as Seraph's heart sank.
Finally Heart reached the last photo.
"Beloved?" Seraph whispered.
Heart looked up at her. "Hmmm?"
"I-I—" Seraph couldn't think of anything to say.
"Beloved? Are you okay?" Heart asked worriedly, her face immediately concerned.
Seraph blinked. "Huh?"
"What's wrong, Love?" Heart asked.
"I-I thought…" She gestured at the pictures.
Sudden understanding hit Heart. "Did you think I would be upset by those pictures?"
Seraph nodded, looking downcast.
Heart reached up and cupped her face as she drew her down for a kiss. "Now, why," she asked, "would I be upset at pictures of my Beloved, who just happens to be a succubus, being herself?" She kissed Seraph again. "I like looking at you Seraph, and I like looking at pictures of you too. I was a little worried myself, but now that I've seen them, I can't be jealous. You look so happy in them. But you know something?"
"You don't look anywhere near as happy as you do when you're with me." She gave Seraph a stunning smile, then reached down to pull one particular picture out of the pile. "Besides, I kind of like this one. Can I keep it?" She held the photo out for Seraph to see.
She blushed right down to her hooves. It was a full nude of her in one of her more athletic poses, in full succubus form — not that many mortals would have been able to see that — but it was particularly explicit.
Heart kissed her again. "Thank you, Beloved!" She looked at the picture again and gave Seraph a sidelong look over her glasses. "However, you will have to demonstrate that particular use for your tail to me sometime."
Seraph blushed more brightly. "I must be rubbing off on you, Love."
Heart giggled. "Why, love, of course you are. I love you, and as much as I love you, I also lust for you. And I noticed I'm rubbing off on you too. I was very proud of you for forgiving Guido like that, even if you do still have a hard time saying it to anyone but me."
Seraph rolled her eyes. "I can't help that, Love."
Heart smiled. "I know. But you tried."
"Don't rub it in," Seraph grumped, but her face said she was far from displeased. She sat behind the desk and sorted through the paperwork in the folder. Heart peered over her shoulder, then reached out to grab one that caught her eye.
"Wow," she said, looking at the deed. "You own this place?"
"Yeah, why do you think I was ordering Tony to take down the mirrors?"
"I figured you had charmed him or maybe had a history with him or something," Heart admitted. "I mean… well… You are a succubus, love. It would be reasonable."
Seraph smiled. "Yeah… but in this case, I actually do own it. I had this place built back in 1916. It took almost four years to track down an architect I liked to design it, get the permits, grease palms, and find craftsmen who met my standards. I wanted something that was mine, totally mine, from start to finish. I didn't get any help from Mephie, or any other agencies in Hell. I was given the seed money for the place by John Jacob Astor, a gentleman I had an affair with when I was on a vacation. We met on the Titanic and he treated me like a real lady. He listened to my ideas and respected my opinions and gave me pointers on how to accomplish what I wanted, then when the ship went down, he gave me a bank draft in apology for not being able to keep his promise to help me in person. I decided to keep the club very high class and upscale because of him. Building the place took another four years, and when I finally had it finished, Prohibition was in full swing, so I had to make it a speakeasy at first. That meant dealing with the Mafia."
She leaned back in the chair and pointed to a picture on the wall. "I took the easy way out and found a local boss, a guy named Vito Scorciano. He had a knack for managing the books and looking legitimate, and he stayed low-key. The mob got its cut and a discrete place to launder money, so long as they kept their profile low. They kept it that way because Dante's attracted some very high profile clients, and they knew a good deal when they heard one.
"Then World War I broke out and I was sent overseas by Mephie to entertain
the generals. I sent Vito some acts I found in Paris and Berlin, and after
the war, I hung out in Berlin for awhile, until Hitler came along and I had
to go back to work. After that war, I came back to the States to find Vito
had been killed in a mob war and that his son Monty had taken over the place.
Monty was better at managing than Vito was, so I hung around for a few years
and relaxed. Then
Heart nodded, eyes shining. "That's when we got assigned to neutralizing each other and started our duel." She smiled. "Remember Woodstock? The beginning of the most wonderful time in my life?"
"How could I forget? We had just decided that killing one another was something neither of us had in us, and we'd decided to settle things by you trying to prove to me that your virtue was more important than my vice, and vice versa. We tied that time. Five casual affairs to five true love matches."
"And those were the five pairs we both hit," Heart reminded.
"How could I forget? They were the ones that made us wonder if we should even be fighting. We've discussed them how many times these last thirty years?" Seraph laughed. "And how many more did we both work on since?"
Heart snuggled against Seraph. "I lost count, Love, but the most important result of it all is our love. And you."
Seraph looked up into her angel's green eyes. "You really think I'm a wonderful part of your life, Beloved?"
"I'm an angel, Seraph. I can't lie."
"You are so very wonderful though."
"But, Beloved, you forgave me for all those pictures!"
"There was nothing to forgive. Besides, you were the one to save me from Bhaalors troops, and – " She raised a finger triumphantly. " – Thor!"
"Well… He was threatening you."
"Yes. And you stopped him. That makes you wonderful."
"But what about you?" Seraph asked plaintively.
"I must be wonderful," Heart kissed her neck. "Because, after all, you love me, no?"
Seraph smiled. "With all my heart, Heart." She let herself get lost in the tiny angel's embrace for a small eternity.
Finally, Heart looked over to the desk. "Let's get this stuff put away, Love." She started putting pictures back in the lock box. "I want to get away from here for now. It'll take me a bit to get used to this place, and your manager unnerved me a little with the way he was trying to get me to dance."
"Don't worry about him, love. He'll behave himself around you from now on. I'll see to it."
"And what did he mean by calling us lesbians?"
Seraph stopped and looked to where Heart was still sorting pictures. She had asked that so matter-of-factly.
"Um… Beloved? Do you know what a lesbian is?"
Heart looked up. "Yes. It's a mortal slang term for two women who have sexual relations. But why would that apply to – " She stopped and then looked down at herself. "Oh. I never thought of that." She blushed. "I've been an angel so long I'd stopped thinking about the fact that I prefer feminine form. It's not something angels think about." She sat down. "I mean, I was female when I was a Mortal, but that was over two thousand years ago." She looked at Seraph. "Do you think that was why Theliel was so mad at me for falling in love with you? Just because I prefer a feminine physical form?"
Seraph put the folder back into the lockbox and closed the lid. She looked at Heart worriedly.
"That's one thing I never really understood," Heart continued.
"It's such an arbitrary rule and has nothing to do with the concept of Love. Love is Sacred, and the Soul is Sacred. The physical body is only a shell. The Soul has no gender beyond that of its own self image, and Love is above the restrictions of the physical. By all the definitions of Heaven, the body doesn't matter, and two souls can love one another regardless of the physical shell, so why does that aspect matter? Why does the Code condemn it among mortals?"
Seraph had no answer. She shrugged.
Heart sighed. "I've always been bothered by that. Theliel has forced me several times to break up matches that involved same-gendered couples, and make new matches that weren't. In a very few of the cases, it produced a true love match, but in most cases, it didn't and the new couples were never as happy or as compatible as the ones Theliel had me break. I always thought I must have failed somehow." She looked up at Seraph. "But did I? Or did Theliel?"
Seraph stood and put the iron lockbox back in the safe and closed the picture over it. "I don't know, Love. Do you think our love is unholy?" She couldn't meet Heart's eyes.
But Heart's immediate response relieved her. "No, Beloved. I know our love is holy because our love is true. True love can never be unholy, because it is a gift from the Creator and our own hearts." She stepped behind Seraph and laid against her back. "He designed us to love, to be complete only with our soul's mate. Too often, we search for eternity and never find that one soul which will make us complete, but once we find them, there is no doubt. You complete me Seraph, make me feel whole… I could never think our love is anything but meant to be. No, the problem isn't with us, Beloved. It's with Theliel." She sighed. "Exactly what his problem is though, I guess we'll never know."
"All the more reason for you to go back to making matches, Love," Seraph said. "You can finally set things right."
Heart smiled and hugged her tighter. "See? You're being wonderful again."
Seraph blushed as she turned and returned the hug. "Are you ready to go?"
Heart stepped up on tiptoe, and still had to pull Seraph's head down for the long passionate kiss. "Now I am."
They exited to the main room to find Tony waiting. "My brother will have a crew here tonight at closing to remove the mirrors. We'll have 'em down by opening tomorrow. He also knows a guy who restores Waterhouses for the Museum." He checked his notes. "That was the artist you named, right?"
"Yes. Thank you, Tony. That was fast work." Seraph was impressed. Monty had trained him well.
"Anything else?" he asked.
Seraph looked at the stage. "Yes. Get someone in to look at the gas lines. I want to use the jets tomorrow, if I can do so without blowing the place up."
She led him over to the stage and showed him the concealed gas jets. "They put a border of flame around the stage."
Tony looked nervous. "I ain't never seen 'em used,"
"Have them checked. If it's too dangerous as is, get them replaced as soon as you can."
"Right." He jotted the note down.
Seraph linked hands with Heart and they walked towards the curtains. Right at the threshold, she paused. "Oh, Tony? One last thing."
"Yes, Miss Seraph?" She winced, but she'd break him of it eventually.
"If you aren't using the office, could you have it cleaned for me?"
They nodded at Thor as they made their way outside to Seraph's Corvette. As Heart got in, Seraph pulled something out from under the windshield wiper.
"Damn. Another ticket." She leaned over, opened the glove box, and added the pink slip of paper to a stack of similar ones over an inch thick.
"Beloved?" Heart asked. "Aren't you supposed to pay those?"
Seraph looked at her and smiled. "I am a demon, Beloved."
Heart laughed as they pulled out and away from the club.
Mephistopheles stormed into the huge main room of his castle, fuming. It wasn't bad enough Bhaalor wanted his former best agent dead, now Mary was chasing Seraph too! He had to do something before he lost the opportunity to teach that bitch angel and that ungrateful whore who the true Master of Lust was!
He kicked aside one of the lesser succubae decorating the throne room with her naked form and stomped to his throne. Another succubus lounged on a pillow at the foot of the throne, on a duplicate of Lilith's place by Lucifer's. She gave him a raised eyebrow as she shifted, her long golden hair cascading down across the sheer see-through imitation of an angel's robe, while golden horns glittered under a silver hoop on a wire atop her head. He ignored her as he sat down heavily on his throne.
"Faust! Get out here!" he yelled, his head slumping to rest on
his hand, his elbow propped up by the ornate throne's armrest. He stared sullenly
at the many large screen televisions around the room, not seeing the mindless
drivel on most of them. Only the blonde was watching anything besides soaps,
her TV instead set to a documentary on ancient
"You bellowed, oh, Master?" he asked, his voice honeyed condescension.
"Have you found Seraph yet?"
"No. You know this. If I had found her, you would know that, too. Any other obvious things I can enlighten you on?"
"You do realize I could have you tortured in so many ways, right?" the Demon Lord asked acidly.
"In which case I simply go to work for someone else. Now which other Demon Lord would pay the most to learn all of your secrets, hmm?" The amusement in the man's eyes was obvious.
Mephistopheles sighed. "Find her. Before Bhaalor does. I have a plan to tempt the angel. I can't do that if she's dead."
The blonde succubus gave him the eye. He ignored it. She was only Seraph's replacement by default. She frowned and turned back to her TV in a huff.
Faust gave him a shake of the head. "One hopes this plan will prove better than the last. This has turned into quite the little fiasco."
Lipton sat on the pew looking at the statue of Mary and tried hard not to laugh. The young Jesuit priest finishing midnight mass just wouldn't have appreciated the joke.
As he waited, he reflected on his conversation with The Virgin, and debated whether he should tell the priest the woman he was praising as a paragon of virtue had spent most of the conversation coming on to him like a succubus in heat. He doubted Al Lorenzo would believe him. He'd always been particularly prejudiced in that department. He never doubted Lipton's descriptions of the demons he'd met, but he'd never listen to a single criticism about the side he served, no matter how many of his preconceptions Lipton had discovered were wrong.
He watched the young priest drone on and considered the little bit of new information he had gotten out of Mary, but no matter how he looked at it, she had just raised new questions. He'd discovered that succubae worked for Hell's Department of Corruptions, a rather amusing bit of information, and that the D.O.C. was run by a Demon Lord called Mephistopheles, a name he was familiar with from the writings of Christopher Marlowe. But none of this helped him figure out who Seraph Darkfell really was. All Mary had been willing to tell him was that she had heard that an angel was being held captive by a succubus.
As for the six demons they had slain in the apartment, Mary had told him that they had been low-level grunts from Hell's armies, which were commanded by a Demon Lord named Bhaalor. From the fact that she had told him they usually came in six-packs, he suspected the six demons in the alley had been Bhaalor's troops too.
It was interesting information to be sure, but not what he had been looking for. Most of the rest of the information he had tried to get out of the Queen of Heaven had been met with a pat reply of "Maybe I'll tell you later…" For all she had been willing to rant on how much she hated being whined at by the Church, or how lurid her tales of demon slaying had been, she'd been rather closed-mouthed about the actual details of the Otherworld.
Still, he didn't think he'd seen the last of her, and she'd even given him a gift. The 9mm semi-auto held ten rounds and he had a full dozen clips, all personally blessed by Mary. It was a comforting weight in his coat pocket.
The priest finally finished saying mass to the almost empty sanctuary and stepped down from the pulpit. Lipton waited till the few people who requested blessings were done, then stepped forward himself.
"Bruce," the young man said as he approached. "Where have you been all week?"
"Busy, Al. Holidays always cause an upswing in crime. Valentine's Day is no different."
"Ah," the priest said sadly. "That really is a shame. It is supposed to be a day of love."
"Yeah, but we both know people aren't always like that." He shrugged. "Anyway, I got a case."
"Yes? Is there anything I can do to help?" Lorenzo looked around to make sure no one was observing them, then motioned Lipton back towards the offices. "Within the bounds of reason, of course. I still can't give you a copy of the rites of exorcism."
"Actually, this time, I need information of a different sort."
"Does the Church keep records of the activities of particular demons?"
Father Lorenzo stopped and gave Lipton a hard look. "Sometimes."
"I need to know if they've ever documented anything on a succubus by the name of Seraph Darkfell… and anything you can find on a pair of Demon Lords named – "
"Don't say them," the priest interrupted. "Not in the Sanctuary." He motioned Lipton through a door into a small office.
After they had seated themselves, he looked at Lipton. "Bruce… how do you get yourself involved in these messes? Two Demon Lords?"
Lipton shrugged. "What can I say Al? The case I'm working on seems to involve the minions of both of them and I'm trying to find out what the motives might be."
"The Lord of Temptation and Lust."
"The Lord of War and Anger." Lorenzo shook his head. "Why am I not surprised?" he sighed. "Well, I can tell you right off the top of my head that you don't want to try and go up against either of them directly. All the charms I could put on any amount of ammo won't even phase them."
"I'm not looking to fight them, like I said, this involves their minions."
"May I know what's going on?"
"Yeah. Basically, it seems that an angel fell yesterday, and six of Bhaalor's troops tried to grab her and rape her."
"An angel?" The priest was horrified. "Are you sure?"
"Yep. I saw her halo."
"What color was it?"
Lorenzo nodded. "That would mean she's a lower-level Angel. Against six of Bhaalor's minions, she wouldn't have had much chance." He crossed himself.
"Hmm… interesting detail… I didn't know that. Anyway, these six demons were interrupted before they could do anything by a new arrival."
"No… As best I can figure from the witness's testimony and my own investigation, it was Seraph Darkfell, the succubus I asked you to research. She killed the other demons and rescued the angel."
"Yeah. Blew my mind too," Lipton admitted.
Lorenzo looked disturbed. "I don't like it. Why would a succubus save an angel?" He thought for a second. "I don't know. It's unnatural."
Lipton shook his head. "No, what's unnatural is the witness's story. She said they were acting like young lovers."
"Blasphemy!" Lorenzo exclaimed. "Never!"
"Hey, I'm only telling you what she said. All I saw was they seemed to be getting along fine. I saw them getting into a car together and it didn't look like the angel was protesting."
Lorenzo crossed himself. "Such a thing would be the most unholy of acts. I can only suspect you must have either seen a demonic agent masquerading as an angel, or that the angel must be under some evil enchantment."
"Well I don't know about the enchantment part, but I have it on good authority that the angel is indeed an angel."
"You wouldn't believe me if I did tell you."
"The Virgin Mary. I ran into her in the succubus's apartment. She's hunting her."
Lorenzo stared, then shook his head. "I will never understand you, Bruce. The Lord has given you the Sight, yet you still reject his faith. The Holy Madonna would not be hunting succubae, Bruce. She is above such things."
"Not from what I saw. Matter of fact, I'd say she rather enjoyed killing demons. She killed five of them before I took out the last one."
Lorenzo held up his hand. "Enough. I know we've been friends since school, Bruce, but please don't mock the Virgin like that. If for nothing else but the aid I've given you, show the faith at least a little respect."
"Okay, okay. I won't say anything else on the subject. But can you get me any info?"
The priest sighed. "I'll see if the library has anything on Seraph, but I can't make any promises. The Church records rarely deal with more than the Lords and their Lieutenants and high level minions."
"I'll call you if I find anything. And, Bruce?"
"You really should come to confession sometime. It would be good for your soul."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. You tell me that every time. My answer's still the same. You really don't want to know what I've seen…"
The Priest looked after him sadly as he exited the office. Such a pity.
"Go with God, my friend."
Lilith lay in Lucifer's bed in the castle and sighed. She'd tired of Bhaalor rather quickly. There were, after all, only so many times one could listen to boasts, battle strategies, nefarious plots, and ranting about incompetent minions before even the Queen of Hell got bored. Bhaalor was rash, overconfident, and completely reckless with the lives of his troops, a perfect general for Hell's armies, but he was so… so… thickheaded. She'd wasted a good hour fucking him only to find out his big plan for dealing with Seraph was to simply send in more minions until she was killed.
And the biggest waste was that Lucifer probably wouldn't even notice she had been unfaithful. Her infidelity games couldn't even get him aroused anymore. She thought back to the wildly passionate sex they'd once enjoyed after she'd seduced another person, how he'd enjoyed the signs of another's spent passion upon her, all lost to her now. He'd not touched her more than casually for centuries, and now, all his attention was drawn by the angel and the succubus.
She sighed yet again and rose to look over the balcony, contemplating how to win back her Lord's passion. Her eyes fell upon the stone set below the balcony on the bridge, and she thought fondly of her rape by all the Lords of Hell as she lay bound to that stone, being 'punished' for Lucifer's rage over some trifle. She'd rekindled his passion for almost three years with that little display. He'd taken her on the stone himself, following the last Lord who'd raped her, showing her less mercy and brutalizing her worse than any of them, as befitted the Master of Hell.
Now, nothing worked. Men, women, animals, toys, fetishes… nothing she'd tried interested him anymore. They'd done it all before. No matter how depraved, or violent, or painful, it just had no effect, and being an ignored wife was the most painful thing of all…
Inevitably, her thoughts returned to Seraph and Heart, and the love-making she had witnessed the night before. There had been… something… special about that. Something she just couldn't put her finger on about that magical blending of demonic and angelic auras…
With a small inrush of air, she returned to the mortal plane, arriving in her dimensional pocket just as Seraph and Heart returned from a night out.
The happy couple was dressed for a play, Seraph in a black satin dress that clung to the curves of her full bosom, but had no back, the top of the skirt beginning below the top of the cleft of her derriere. A long slit dropped down her left leg from mid-hip, revealing sheer black hose and the stiletto-heeled platforms she wore in human form to maintain her height. Her long white hair contrasted with the black satin, but it lent her an elegant look, despite her imposing height.
Heart was in a more business-like outfit that still displayed her voluptuous form, her white princess-cut top displaying her shapely cleavage. A short slit revealed the top of her white silk stockings, and the low-heeled pumps she wore had small gold ribbons that matched her belt. Her red hair was tied back with a gold bow at the nape of her neck.
So elegantly opposite, Lilith noted. As different as night and day, yet to look at them, you can see they compliment each other so well.
The pair entered the room singing and Heart executed a few neat dance steps as Seraph closed the door, the final twirl leaving her sprawled gracefully on the bed.
"Oh, Beloved! That was a wonderful play! So romantic!" She sang another verse of the aria.
Seraph smiled and stretched, letting her shapeshift go and returning to her true form. The reason for the low-cut back was readily apparent as she rubbed the base of her tail.
"I wish one day humans would figure out that their chairs are murder on those of us with tails," she muttered as she stepped to a chair and swept her skirt out of the way to sit in it backwards. "Yes, it really was very romantic," she answered Heart. "But I felt sorry for the Phantom."
Heart sniffed. "Me, too. He was so in love with Christine. Everything he did, no matter how bad, he did for her. If I'd been assigned to his case, he would have won Christine's love. She inspired all of the goodness inside him!"
"Beloved, he was insane."
"Only because he was unloved, Seraph. No one loved him because he was ugly! It's horrible!" Heart replied. "Christine loved him! You could see she did, right up until she found out what was under the mask!" Heart pounded her fist on the bed. "I could have made that love true!"
"But, Beloved, isn't that what she had with Raoul?" Seraph asked, puzzled.
"No," Heart said shortly. "He was a convenient escape route. An excuse! She was shallow and vain and gave up her true love because she blinded herself to her own heart!" Heart shook her head. "It's like that story about the Hunchback or Beauty and the Beast. Esmeralda blinded herself to love because Quasimodo was ugly, but Beauty learned to see with her heart, not her eyes. Because she did, she found her true soulmate, and happiness beyond her wildest dreams." Heart jumped up and began pacing the room. "It's like what we were talking about earlier, Beloved. The soul is what matters, not the package it's wrapped in! The body doesn't define it!"
"Are you still upset because Tony called us lesbians today?" Seraph asked concerned. Heart was rarely this agitated.
"No," Heart shook her head. "In a way, I'm glad he did. If he hadn't, I might not have noticed these things. When I think about all the lovers who have walked away from their true loves because they couldn't see beyond the surface, or were ripped away from their true loves because the Code said they couldn't be in love… of all the times I thought I was doing it in the name of Love!" She snorted. "And then I get my evaluation assignment, and I do something no other Angel of Love has ever done — I showed a demon how to love — and do I even get a pat on the back? A 'good job Heart'? No. Theliel kicks me out of Heaven for it!" She stopped in front of Seraph. "I showed you how to love, and I gave my love to you, because you needed love, and because I needed you. And for that, Theliel wants to punish me. Is it because you're a succubus? Or is it because you're a woman?" She whirled and stalked to the window.
Seraph looked at her, her heart in her eyes.
"I mean, yes, you are a succubus, and by definition, all succubae are female. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can't change it, nor do I want you to." She gave Seraph a brilliant smile. "But I could be male if I chose." She shimmered.
Seraph blinked as Heart changed. Where her beautiful angel had been stood a broad muscular man whose body could have been sculpted by Michelangelo. Heart's telltale red hair hung down his back, but where the soft curves of her full breasts had been was now hard muscle. The sheer fabric of her tortured dress defined the muscular outline of male legs and the faint outline of male genitalia.
"Theliel knows this," male-Heart added, her voice crisp and deep. "I was assigned to stop you by any means I could, to bring you to Heaven's side if possible, and I thought you would respond to me better as I was, so I stayed female."
"Um… Beloved?" Seraph interrupted.
"Yes, Beloved?" Heart replied, glancing at a Seraph who was looking rather pensive.
"Could you please change back? That dress is definitely not cut to your proportions at the moment,"
"Oh, sorry," Heart said distractedly. She shimmered back to her normally lovely self. "Anyway, we fell in love—"
"Heart?" Seraph interrupted again.
"Promise me you won't do that again,"
Heart nodded, but had a puzzled look on her face. "Why, beloved?"
Seraph looked down. "You're going to think it's terribly silly."
Heart shook her head. "I'd never think you were silly, beloved."
Seraph gave her a shy smile. "It's just, well, the female you is the woman I fell in love with. It's what I think of you as. I know you don't have a true gender, but I'm used to you as a female."
Heart had to laugh. "I like being a female, Seraph. I've been female most of my existence. It's more comfortable."
"Good. I'm glad. I like you better as a woman."
"That's my point, Seraph," Heart continued. "Theliel knew I could be either sex, that my gender had no bearing. He could have simply ordered me to stay male. He didn't have to exile me! I did my job! I admit I certainly didn't expect to fall in love with you, but that only had bearing on my assignment inasmuch as it would aid me in winning you to Heaven's cause." She looked sheepishly at Seraph. "Sorry, Beloved. I was hoping eventually to convince you to come to Heaven."
Seraph shrugged. "And I was assigned to cause your fall," she said bitterly. "Which in the end, is exactly what I did, whether I wanted to anymore or not."
"Beloved! You weren't responsible for Theliel's behavior. I certainly didn't expect it. I filed a very positive progress report telling him we were in love and that I believed that love would work a wondrous change in you—"
"Which it did," Seraph added.
"—and that I thought you would eventually come to Heaven's side, and he accused me of failing my assignment and betraying Heaven and then he exiled me!" Heart sighed. "Seraph? Lust, or what I've learned of it, it's purely physical, right?"
Seraph nodded. "Mostly. There's a lot of complex mental stuff, and hormones and biological stuff, but most of the feeling is physical." She smiled. "What you showed me was that while lust may consume the body and mind, it will fade as the biological imperative is met. Love provides a catalyst that allows lust's passions to be maintained indefinitely, as well as providing for needs beyond the purely physical. Lust may be the lighter fluid, but love is the flame."
Heart did a triumphant little twirl. "Exactly! Love without passion is cold, remote, no matter how deep or strong. It's only when both fires are manifested that love reaches its full potential! I did not fail in my assignment! I was not corrupted! I was completed!" She stopped suddenly. "Could that be it? Was I not supposed to realize what love could be?" Her eyes implored Seraph for an answer.
"Beloved, I have no idea."
"I wish I knew," Heart said despondently as she sat back down on the bed. Seraph looked at her lover in dismay.
"I wish I knew how to cheer you up."
Heart looked up at the succubus through long sensual lashes, her rose-tinted lenses falling down her nose. "Well…" she purred. "You did promise to show me something."
"Ah." Seraph brightened. "So I did."
Lilith watched as Seraph rose. That conversation had been very interesting. She wondered what the succubus was going to do now.
Seraph twisted into a well-placed kick, and the table silently slid to the wall as she dimmed the lights. Only the chair she had been sitting in remained. The radio turned itself on and began to search through channels until it found a piano intro into a song. Seraph smiled. "Perfect. I like this version so much better than the country one. I'm glad they made a pop cut."
The music went into a lull as Seraph struck a pose, her wings framing her in the light.
Is she finally going to show the angel her true powers as a succubus? Lilith wondered. This should be interesting.
Then, the song began…
For the brief moments of the song, time ceased to exist. For both the Angel of Love, and the Queen of Hell, there was only the music…
The song was a simple ballad, the words solely praising a love so intense it was amazing, and Seraph brought the emotions of the song to a living breathing life. She started with a twirl that lifted her skirt to show her calves, the slit wrapping around to show a flash of her garters and the silky red panties she was wearing, but more than the dance was the aura Seraph exuded. She had released her abilities to evoke passion and as she danced, the subtle siren call of desire rose slowly to a fever pitch. As Seraph slowly removed articles of clothing and revealed more and more of herself, Lilith felt herself responding. No succubus she'd ever encountered had had that effect on her, and that was peripherally; the effect on Heart was even more potent.
As the last of Seraph's clothes fell to the floor, the succubus moved to the chair and used it as a brace for some of her more erotic moves, using her tail and wings to teasingly hide, then reveal various part of her body.
Heart's face flushed with desire as she watched mesmerized.
Lilith fought against her own reactions, wanting to observe Heart's reactions to Seraph's revelation of her powers, and trying to figure out why Seraph's powers were so strong. If she could learn to imitate Seraph's aura, even Lucifer would be rocked by her hot wind. There was no demand to Seraph's call, no urge for immediate reaction, no push for a response to the silent wave of passion, yet it was all the more seductive for it. Without the overwhelming drive towards sex that a succubus's aura usually invoked, Seraph seemed more alluring, more desirable. Something lurked behind that call that Lilith had never felt, something that awoke yearnings within her she had never realized were there.
As Seraph concluded her dance to stand before her lover unconcealed, the last word of the song fading slowly, Lilith gasped, her body shuddering. In amazement, she looked down at her betraying hand, now slick and wet.
She'd climaxed, and worse, she'd been heard.
Seraph whirled. "What was that?"
Heart only had eyes and ears for her lover. "What was what?" she asked.
"I thought I heard someone moan in orgasm."
Heart stood on the bed, bringing herself up to a height level with Seraph's. "That was me." She took off her glasses and drew Seraph's lips into a long passionate kiss as she guided the Succubus's hand to the zipper of her dress. "And now you're going to make me do it some more."
Seraph giggled as Heart was quickly divested of clothing, and the angel dragged the succubus down on top of her. Lilith sighed in relief, but could not bring herself to leave yet. She watched as the two made love again, their auras intertwining once more.
When it was over, Heart raised her head to look into Seraph's eyes, and smiled at the light that filled them. Lilith marveled at the ecstasy the succubus's eyes revealed. She had never seen a succubus who had ever seemed satisfied with a lover. Heart's "I love you" made Seraph stretch, looking down at the little angel. She reached down and tousled Heart's hair, mussed from their recent activity.
"I love you too."
Her tone matched the angel's. She moaned softly as Heart decided they weren't done yet, and as the passions of the pair began rising once more, Lilith pondered the angel's words…
I love you…
To be continued.
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