An original story by
Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.
Day Three: Temptation
The sun woke from its nighttime slumber, and Heart woke with it, still unused to sleeping. It had been nearly twenty centuries since she had last needed to sleep and she had gotten out of the habit. She lay in the first dim rays of its blazing glory, basking in the afterglow of the night before. As she rose to close the curtains and keep the new dawn from waking her lover, Seraph's eyes popped open.
"Beloved?" she said, alarmed.
"It's alright, my wonderful Beloved." Heart leaned down and kissed the sleepy succubus. "I'm getting up to watch the sun rise. Go back to sleep."
"S'okay," Seraph mumbled sleepily, a smile on her face. She snuggled against her pillow with a happy "mmmmmm," and a contented "I love you."
"I love you too," Heart replied softly. She smiled as she drew the sheet up and tucked it under Seraph's arm, then watched for awhile as her beloved slept, thinking about their ecstatic night. "Poor Seraph," she whispered softly. "I kept you up way too late last night…"
She busied herself with tidying the room, picking up the dresses, panties, stockings, and other assorted articles of clothing that had been strewn about in the aftermath of Seraph's dance. She smiled at the memories the various pieces evoked, then examined them carefully for clues as to how to clean them. She finally found a small tag in Seraph's dress that said "Dry Clean Only."
"Oh," she exclaimed. "Of course. Something as fine as this shouldn't just be dunked in water. But how do I dry clean?"
A quick search of the room offered no clues, so she settled on her own method, figuring she'd ask Seraph about it later. She muttered a phrase in Angelic and passed her hands over the clothes. The spell wasn't, strictly speaking, one for cleaning clothes, but it would probably do what she wanted.
A sound like a heavenly chorus could be heard faintly as a beam of bright light poured over the clothes. Heart worried for a second the light would wake Seraph, but it was gone in instants, leaving the clothes in perfect condition.
She put the clothes on their various hangers and smiled. "Seraph will be so proud of me…"
But what to do next?
She decided to try television again. Surely all the disasters she'd witnessed yesterday could not be repeating themselves…
She watched, transfixed as one station showed earthquakes, bombings, diseases, and general human misery, always boldly showing its logo. Heart decided it stood for Catastrophes Normal Nightly, since the events seemed to take place at night in New York, even though it was daytime where they were.
Unsatisfied, she scanned forward a few channels.
She stopped when she heard someone saying a very important name. The man who spoke it was dressed in a fine suit, with gold cufflinks and a silk tie. He stood at a podium, and beside him was a woman with a little toy poodle as carefully groomed as she was.
"Jeeeesus! Ya-es, He's within us all, within us all, if only we have the strength, if only we have the desire, the guts to believe!" the man said in an auctioneer's tone and a country twang. "He died for our sins, yes he did, and look at how we're repaying him: By sinnin' and drinkin' and gamblin' and cheatin'! But for just a small donation, you can start on the road to repentance! That's right! Start on the road to redemption with a prayer, a prayer spoken right here on nationally syndicated television! That's right, I said a prayer, a prayer for you, from me, Reverend Wallace Gibson, your direct line to the Lord! Are you having a problem with a loved one? A problem with your job? Or a problem with your health? Then just send a small donation, I said a small donation to Wallace Gibson Ministries, just like this young lady, who writes 'Dear Wallace; My son is six years old. Recently he was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver. God has kept him in a coma for an agonizing two months now, and I was praying that you would ask the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, to bring him back to me and smite the evil man who struck him down. Sincerely, Darlene Martin.' Well Darlene, I hope you are watching, I hope you are watching, because if you are, I want you to put your hand up to your TV screen, yes, put your hand up to your TV screen and receive the Blessing of the Lord!" He held up his hand, and the camera zoomed in, careful not to obscure his face as he began to pray. "Blessed Lord, shine your light and your mercy, yes, your mercy upon the son of Darlene Martin. Bring this suffering child the peace of your glory… and for the mother who's out there, you know who you are, the mother who's doing her best to raise four children, I said four children on minimum wage, help her, oh Lord… And for the man who's suffering the effects of alcoholism, I won't speak your name, but deliver him, oh Lord, to your providence… Sith-bla Nok-na… For the elderly lady out there, whose family has neglected her, show her family the light, oh Lord… Nee-wah Nok Nama-shaybah…"
Heart watched in disbelief, as the televangelist continued his garbled ramblings. Is he trying to speak in tongues?
She couldn't help it. She burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the man's posturings. It was hearty and felt good, but Seraph stirred.
"Beloved?" she asked sleepily.
"It's alright, Love," Heart said, quickly changing the channel before it evoked another round of giggles. "I just saw something funny on television. Go back to sleep."
Seraph made a happy noise and mumbled as she fell back asleep, "I love hearing you laugh…"
"I'm so glad, Beloved," Heart replied softly. In her sleep, Seraph smiled.
Heart returned to changing channels, mindful to flip quickly through the one that had showed the movie about the angel who fell. She stumbled on a most curious thing.
That's the best way she could describe it. Figures drawn, not made of flesh and blood, but of pen and ink, talking and acting and doing things normal humans couldn't do, interacting with creatures that were from myth, lore, and science fiction as if they always, or suddenly, existed on the mortal plane. She watched, utterly mesmerized as a group of super-humans called mutants battled the forces of evil. Another one featured the adventures of a man who did not seem to be a mutant, but was in excellent physical condition, fighting evil in a costume similar to those on the first show, yet distinctly different. The third show was a comedy, little short acts performed by talking rabbits, mice, ducks, and other assorted creatures. Then one came on about a group of girls fighting evil in the name of love and justice by getting dressed up in sassy clothes. She particularly liked that one, even though the drawings were in a different style. Somehow, it made the characters a little more realistic. More importantly, they performed magick similar to hers, but unfortunately they seemed limited to certain powers.
Heart felt a bond with them. Her life in Heaven, though idyllic, had been fairly lonely. Even as a Love angel, she'd been a bit of a dreamer, as well as a hopeless romantic. She had mostly kept to herself, venturing only to the library to borrow books. Until the printing press popularized reading and writing, however, most of the texts had been on magick, and in Heaven, the majority of them had been specially written for angels. Many of them were from back in the days before the Great War with Lucifer, and Heart had studied many of the combat spells that had since become disused. Then later on, as she had become more specialized as an Angel of Love, she had continued to read about magick and love. Watching the young girls learning about their powers and friendship, and using magick so similar to what she knew made her smile, and she quickly decided the show was one of her favorites. It ended far too quickly for her liking.
Following that show, there were no more moving drawings, only lots of shows featuring groups of people sitting around talking. On one of them an enormously fat woman stood and pointed furiously at a bewildered man sitting next to her. She began shrieking at another robust woman sitting on the other side of the man.
"You see this man? Do you see this man? Bitch, this is my man! You do not touch him, you do not look at him, you do not—" the TV emitted a short high pitched beep, "—with him! You leave him alone, you dirty—" this time the beep was much longer.
The other woman jumped up to scream back, but most of it was obliterated by the whining beep. Heart got the gist of it though, and watching the man was more interesting. He had his head covered in fear and was peeking at the two women from beneath his arms. Clearly, he cared little about the outcome.
Heart watched these unloved wretches fight over nothing with pity. She wondered where their hearts really were, what true loves they had, and why they were there, fighting on the TV instead of pursuing those loves. The thought began to creep through her mind: I could help these people…
After the talk shows, another type of show started. The plots were almost identical to those on the talk shows, but it was different seeing them acted out. The despair, the loneliness, it was all portrayed, from the publicly happy, but inwardly insecure couple on one show, to the conniving young girl trying to steal the heart of another girl's love on another.
Heart watched all of it with just as much fascination as she had the cartoons. Even those had had some romance in them, with misguided characters on zany adventures whose end results was a union of souls.
It was amazing the value humans placed on love, even the illusion of it. Just the thought that someone desired them was strong enough to motivate them to do anything, no matter how ludicrous. Humans craved it, worked for it, and planned their lives around it. It was the pulse that kept their hearts beating, the thought that kept their minds running. Every hero had a lady love; every conniving villain lost one…
The commercials made that fact even more plainly. All the so-called psychic hotlines offered to tell when it was coming and where to find it. Most of the other commercials reflected the desire for it in their contexts; you'll get the girl if you have this car; you'll attract love to you if you wear this cologne. And there was one that played over and over through the day for a dating service.
By mid-afternoon, Heart had made her decision. Seraph was right, the humans needed her. She may not be working for Heaven anymore, but she was still an Angel of Love. She could still show people how to find their loves; she could still share the love the Creator had given her…
Excited by the prospect, she hopped up to look at the paper from yesterday, to see if there were any dating services.
She stopped as the first page advertising them because there, in the center of the page, was an ad for the very service she had seen so often on the TV. It was called "Heavenly Hearts" and in big, bold letters under the logo it said, "EXPERIENCED MATCHMAKERS WANTED! Call and ask for Yoshi!"
I could get a job like that easily, she thought to herself as she picked up the phone and dialed.
"Heavenly Hearts. Yoshi speak," came the nearly instant response.
"Um… Hi. My name is Harteriel Serafina, and I was calling about the ad you have in the paper?"
"Yes. It says you need experienced matchmakers?"
"You experienced matchmaker?"
"Good. Be interview. Tomorrow? Can come?"
"Yes!" Heart replied excitedly.
"Ok. Tomorrow. Any time!"
"I'll see you then!" Heart couldn't contain her excitement any longer. As she hung up the phone, she let out a triumphant yelp.
Seraph sat bolt upright in the bed. "Beloved?" she called looking desperately around for Heart.
Heart was horrified.
"I'm so sorry, Beloved! I didn't mean to wake you."
Seraph's panicked face relaxed when she saw her angel was safe. "No, that's okay." She reached out a hand. "What's the matter?"
Heart knee-dropped onto the bed, bouncing a few times in her excitement.
"I have an interview with a dating service!"
"Yay!" Seraph gave her a small cheer and hugged her. "Congratulations. Which one?"
"Heavenly Hearts! They're looking for experienced matchmakers, like me!"
Seraph smiled. "Cool! I'm so glad, Beloved." She curled around Heart, still a little sleepy. "It hurt so much seeing you lack faith in yourself, when I have so much faith in you. I know you'll do great."
"We'll see," Heart replied. She tried to make her voice project hope, but she still had doubts. "But we should celebrate. How about dinner?"
"Oh, Beloved. I have to work tonight. There won't be any restaurants open by the time the club closes."
"Yes, there will. Chez Heart! I can cook for us."
"Really? You'll cook for me?"
"I'll try to, anyway." Heart frowned. "I can't even remember the last time I cooked. I never needed to as an angel. I hope I remember how. But I haven't seen any gardens. Where am I supposed to get herbs and vegetables?"
Seraph giggled. "Beloved, I'll have to tell you a few things about modern life…"
Lipton hated morgues. They had an odor about them that just set his teeth on edge. But Terry had called him down to give him the results from the C.S.I. of the alley, and she'd offered coffee.
He entered the cold room of the main lab and nodded to Terry. "Don't you ever get tired of this mausoleum? My office is much warmer."
"And have to deal with trying to find a seat under all the paperwork you let pile up? Really Bruce, it's safer here."
Lipton gave the tables with their sheet covered burdens a glance. "If you say so. So what's the story? Why'd you drag me down here this time?"
Terry gave him a grin. "Why else? More mysteries."
Lipton shook his head. "You do this every time I get a weird case."
Terry pouted. "Well, if you'd just stop having weird cases I wouldn't have to, would I?"
Lipton spread his hands. "Like I have any control of that."
Terry laughed, then directed his attention to the monitor behind her. "This case is weirder than your normal ones, Bruce. You're not going to be able to explain it away so easily this time."
"Terry, I keep telling you. There's nothing strange about most of my cases."
"Umm hmm. And I suppose those plaster casts I had made for you are just everyday occurrences?"
"They've been dismissed, Terry. You know that. Someone's idea of a joke," he grumbled. He wished he didn't have to play this game all the time, that he could tell her the truth, but she wasn't like Barnes or Davis. She was a city official, and he couldn't afford to have her think he was crazy. And there was no way she'd believe him.
"I saw those casts, Bruce. No one I know outside of Hollywood could have done that hand in the asphalt. Why's a special effects person doing that to an alley?"
"Maybe it was left over from an old shoot. They do make movies in this city, you know."
"And how about the high heels?"
"Probably same shoot."
"Right." Terry nodded, sarcasm heavy in her voice. "There's more, you know."
"Oh, like what?" Lipton crossed his arms. Terry noted the defensive pose. She looked at him archly.
"Like the cuts on our victims. Tres strange. Instant cauterization of tissue, but it didn't cause any blood coagulation. No weapon I know would do that, not even a surgical laser. I examined the bones under a microscope, Bruce. There's not a single scratch or abrasion of the surface. There's not even any cellular debris! It's a smooth separation between cells!"
"And that means what?" Lipton asked with a raised eyebrow.
"It means I can't identify what kind of weapon did the damage! No weapon I've ever seen will do that. I even had them bring in that section of wall that got gouged. The lab found nothing. It's absolutely smooth, too. Nothing cuts like that."
Lipton shrugged. "Don't know. Maybe it's something military. Davis was telling me something the other day about super-sharp knives. Something about carbon."
Terry frowned. "Monomolecular edges using carbon nanotubes. Yeah, there was an article on them a little while ago." She gave Lipton an evil eye. "I'm not saying I believe your pal's paranoid theory, but I've got nothing else to go on. Either way, you're still dodging."
"What can I say, Terry? You're the genius. I went straight from high school to the academy."
"Don't give me that, Bruce. There's more going on here then you're telling me. You know something."
Lipton gave her a sour look. "Like what, Terry? I get enough of being called The Ghoul from the precinct boys. You think I want you calling me that, too? You want me to say a demon did it? Okay, I know, how's this? An angel was about to be gang-raped by this group and a female demon showed up and killed all of them, and took the angel off to shack up with her. That what you want to hear?"
Terry gave him a hurt look. "There's no need to get sarcastic, Bruce."
Lipton rubbed his temples. "Sorry. I just don't have the answers yet as to what's going on."
"Yeah. One. I got a license plate of a car seen leaving the scene that matches the witness's description. It was ticketed at a club I'm going to check out later. Maybe I'll find a better witness than an old lady with a religious vision."
Terry smiled. "Best of luck."
Lipton gave her a wry grin. "Thanks. The way the rest of this case going, I'll need it."
"Mr. Horne, I think you might want to see this," Mr. Wright said. "My guys from the NYPD delivered it a little while ago."
He held up a manila folder for Mr. Horne to take. Mr. Horne opened it curiously.
It contained a photocopy of a parking ticket and a few sheets of information. The ticket showed the address of a club on Eighth Street, where a black Corvette had received the ticket for parking in a loading zone. The second page was readout from the DMV showing that the car was registered to one Seraph Darkfell, which, while it raised Mr. Horne's eyebrow, was not the most interesting information the folder held. The next page showed a record of a query by a Detective Bruce Lipton of the NYPD for the same records that Mr. Horne held.
"Hmm… It would seem we are not the only ones interested in Miss Darkfell," he said. "Do we have any information on who this Detective Lipton is?"
"Seems to be a loner," Mr. Wright answered. "Never married, doesn't socialize, doesn't even own a dog." He paused, as though debating about saying something else.
"We seem to have a lot of intelligence on Mr. Lipton. Why?" Mr. Horne prompted.
"Detective Lipton is also a demon hunter. Early in his career, he had an encounter with a serial killer by the name of Robert Allen Mitchell," Mr. Wright explained. "Mr. Mitchell left messages praising the prophecies of Scoth, prophecies of death, blood, and eternal damnation." He looked at Mr. Horne expectantly, his lips tugged into a slight frown. He twiddled his thumbs furiously.
"Ah. A serial cult killer," Mr. Horne nodded, and Mr. Wright sighed. "Scoth is one of Astaroth's, yes?"
"Absolutely," Mr. Wright acknowledged eagerly. "And call it arrogance or what you will, when Mr. Lipton and his partner stumbled onto Mr. Mitchell's lair, Scoth killed his partner himself, and revealed himself to Mr. Lipton."
"And he is still alive? How did he manage to survive?"
"Dunno. Mr. Lipton claims he shot Scoth, but human weapons have no effect on demons. Perhaps Scoth was using Mr. Mitchell as an anchor. All's we know is that Mr. Mitchell was found dead, covered in Mr. Lipton's partner's blood, and with five bullet wounds that matched Mr. Lipton's weapon. Mr. Lipton was in shock when found and spent nearly four weeks recovering. He then covertly started a career covering the cases the NYPD was investigating that dealt with the supernatural. He has, to date, been responsible for nearly thirty demonic deaths… and is presently assigned to investigating the multiple homicides caused by Seraph."
"Interesting," Mr. Horne closed his eyes. "And he received the same information on the ticket?"
"Do we have anyone watching the club?"
"Yes, and apparently Miss Darkfell is scheduled to perform tonight."
"It's a 'gentleman's club.'" Mr. Wright held up his fingers to indicate quotes.
"Ah… Euphemisms. Still, it would be a superb opportunity to observe her and see if she is feeding."
"A succubus's lair," Mr. Wright said sourly. "I could think of much more interesting ways to pass an evening."
"Perhaps Mr. Lipton will enliven the night. It will be interesting to see his reaction to Seraph."
"Huh? Yeah," Mr. Wright replied, not really hearing his partner.
"Yes. Then tonight at Club Dante?"
Mr. Wright nodded, a grim smile on his face.
Lipton double-checked the address against the record of the parking ticket. It was correct, just surprising. Most succubae hung out on street corners or in clubs that were cathouses in all but name. Dante's was way too upscale for that. It reeked of money… and Old Money at that.
So what the hell does she want here? he thought. Then recalling the limits on those canceled cards, Ah… spoiled for the rich life. He looked over the classical gothic exterior of the imposing three-story building, the small bronze plaque by the door proclaiming "Dante's" the only hint to the building's occupation. If Seraph was hoping to hook a rich sugar daddy, this was the place.
As he waited for the lights to change, he thought about lack of information any of his contacts had managed to dig up for him. Beyond the parking ticket, Barnes and Davis had so far come up dry, but they were still working through a maze of holding companies. Lorenzo hadn't called yet, and even Terry had dredged nothing helpful from the corpses. He had no evidence yet to even try and get a search warrant. Coming down here had been his only idea for trying to dig up a little info. If he could avoid anyone figuring out he was a cop, that is. Last thing he needed was someone thinking he was Vice. He'd dressed in his one and only suit for this little outing, and as he started across the street, he loosened his much-hated tie.
He eyed the trident-carved doors, and stopped. Mrs. L. had described something very similar to him as the weapon the succubus had used. He pulled out the small mini camera from his pocket and snapped a quick photo before stepping inside.
His immediate impression was one of stifling heat and dim ruddy red light. His eyes caught the two doorways with their shimmering curtains as his ears were assaulted by the loud rock-and-roll pouring out from the interior. He smiled at the effect. Cute, you walk through the fire to enter. A little diabolic humor, anyone? No wonder she came here, must remind her of home.
Then his eyes caught the huge shadowy figure of the man behind the cash drawer and he stepped back.
It wasn't that the guy was over seven feet tall — Lipton had fought bigger demons — nor was it his hugely-muscled frame — most of those demons had been brawnier — but something about the blond giant reached deep into him and evoked primal responses. He couldn't put a finger on it, but something about the man scared him like no demon ever had.
"What the fuck are you?" Lipton whispered.
The giant stood and stepped forward, revealing a huge hammer on his belt. Lipton stared. The hammer was iron, a square head bound to a haft of iron by studded iron straps. Well-worn leather was braided around the haft to make a comfortable grip. An aura of immense age clung to it, and like its wielder, it gave Lipton the impression that it could argue right-of-way with a Mack truck and win.
The man bent over Lipton with a look that begged for an excuse to flex those muscles. "Thor," he answered to Lipton's question. "The bouncer."
Lipton drew a deep breath. "Uh, yeah. If you say so…" He edged around the man's bulk. "I'll just be going inside now." He tried to walk casually around the man to the curtains.
A huge hand met his chest and propelled him back in front of the giant. "Not without paying first. Twenty buck cover."
Lipton swallowed and dug out his wallet. As he handed the giant the bill, Thor grinned. "Hand over the cannon too."
Lipton decided he didn't want to argue. He unhooked the holster and handed it to Thor.
Thor took it to a door behind his drawer and placed it on a shelf inside. Lipton didn't notice which; he was too busy staring at the Angelic swords leaning just inside the door. One was crested by a small carving of a flaming sword, the other was capped by an ornate horn. Thor closed the door before he could make out more details. The giant turned to him. "Enjoy the show. Got a real treat. The boss lady's on tonight."
Lipton nodded, and started to the curtain. He paused right on the threshold to look at Thor again. "Uh… nice mallet…"
Thor gave him a measuring look as he stepped inside.
Once past the curtain, the club proved to be pleasantly cool, despite the crowd. Girls in various stages of undress wandered around, or gave customers private dances at shadowy couches. Across from the entrance, the huge three-pronged stage dominated the room. The music muted the usual drone of conversation, the heavy beat giving the illusion of privacy. He decided on a table near the circular end of the center stage, a seat that would give him a chance to watch the girls as they came off their sets and see which ones were particularly chatty.
The waitress had just brought him his drink when the DJ's announcement nearly made him choke.
"A big hand for Destiny! She'll be right down if you want a more intimate dance, just remember, our girls work for tips, so show your appreciation! And now, for the star of Club Dante. She's been out of town for a long time, but she's back! If you wondered why all our Dante's girls are so beautiful, wonder no more, because they have to live up to her standards! The owner of Club Dante presents… Herself! A big hand for… Seraph!"
Wild applause broke out across the bar as even the dancers turned to watch.
The lights around the bar died as silence fell, then with a hiss a line of flame traced the edge of the stage as a heavy guitar riff began. Lipton began to reach for his glass as a single spot lit the center of the circular stage.
The glass was left forgotten as Lipton got his first long look at Seraph. She stood outlined in the light, her hooves level with his chest, her tail wrapped around the pole behind her, and her wings artfully raised.
That one brief glimpse he'd gotten of her in human form at the crime scene hadn't prepared him for the sheer impact of her physical presence. Most of the succubae Lipton had dealt with came to his chin at best, hooves included, but Seraph stood nearly seven feet tall, and unlike the soft sexy toys most succubae resembled, Seraph possessed a dancer's sleek musculature. For all her oversized breasts and rounded hips, Seraph moved with the grace and elegance of a gymnast. Her long legs tapered down to slender ankles and an elongated foot ended in sharp hooves that were a metallic purple in color, matching her horns and the five-inch talons at the end of her fingers. Her wings rose above her, and Lipton got a close enough look to see they were shaped much like hands with extremely long fingers, and a separate talon-tipped thumb. Between those fingers stretched a thin membrane, running down the extended arm and her back nearly to her waist. The corselet she wore had been deliberately cut to dip below them. Her stockings were custom-made as well, the thin black nylon ending not in a foot like normal hose, but in a open bottom just above her ankle that had a triangular front piece that attached to a string between her split hooves. She seemingly paid no attention to the crowd watching her, mesmerized, but she played them expertly, lit by the one spotlight and the flickering flames of the stage's rim. Lipton found himself feeling sorry for the audience, unable to truly see Seraph as she was. Her wings and tail were as much a part of her dance as any other part of her body.
Then she finished her first song, having stripped from her lacy lingerie to a see-through black bra and a g-string. The music surged from the relatively slow song into a high energy dance number, and with it Seraph switched from the slow seductive steps of her first dance into a whirlwind of motion as the flames around the stage died. She flashed around the five poles of the circular stage in a routine like the parallel bars turned on their sides, her motions giving the customers tantalizing glimpses of her body. The crowd pressed against the stage, kept from climbing on the stage only by the hot brass rails. Unable to pour onto the stage, they satisfied themselves with throwing money instead.
At the crescendo of her song, Seraph did a set of turns around a pole that culminated with a mighty leap across the gap between the center stage and one of the outlying ones. As she passed overhead, Lipton noticed her wingspan was a good thirty feet. She landed on the far stage with a spin around another pole to the gasps and applause of those who had only seen her acrobatics.
Her final song started with her only in the skimpy g-string, and with it, she finally unleashed her abilities. Lipton had to fight to keep from joining the crowd thronging at her feet. He was surprised at the difference Seraph's aura had from the other succubae he'd encountered. He'd played with them once or twice, and had always felt drained afterwards, but Seraph’s aura had none of the hunger he'd learned to associate with a succubus using her powers. It enticed, entreated, and begged for him to respond, but there wasn't a hint of demand to it, he could respond or not as he chose.
And it was all the more difficult to resist for it.
Entirely too soon, the dance was over, and several girls took to the stage to collect the money Seraph hadn't deigned to pick up. At the sight of several hundreds in the take, Lipton whistled silently. She doesn't need a sugar daddy… Not with a take like that… and did the DJ say she owned Dante's?
"She's amazing, isn't she?" a feminine voice asked from right next to him. He jumped and turned to see the dancer who'd been on stage before Seraph sitting next to him. He'd never noticed her sitting down. Blankly he nodded.
"I was jealous the first set she danced. I thought that after her, no-one would make a dime, but she doesn't work the tables. She just gets 'em all worked up and leaves 'em to us. I've already made what I normally do in a night, and we still have four sets to go."
"Uh… yeah… She's… amazing." Lipton honestly couldn't think of any other way to describe what he'd seen.
"And she's pretty nice too. I mean, you'd figure the boss wanting to dance would mean she wants to show the girls up, but she's gonna teach us some of her dance moves, and she's already been giving advice on how to pick up extra tips."
"Ah… I see… So she's the boss?" So he hadn't heard the DJ wrong.
"Yeah. She's had Tony managing the place while she's been touring around the country, but now she's decided to come back permanently."
Great way to keep a low profile… wonder if she knows she's being hunted? Lipton mused. "Looks like she'll be a real money-maker."
"Oh, for sure. If she keeps pulling this kind of crowd, I'll be able to get my nose fixed in no time."
Lipton looked at her pert nose, but refrained from commenting. "Um, yeah. She looked great on the stage. You known her for long?"
"Oh, no. She's been out of town, for like, forever. I met her this afternoon when she stopped by with her girlfriend. That was kinda a bummer ya know. I mean, I got a rich boss who's, like, totally into girls, and she already has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend. And, they're, like, totally devoted to one another." The girl gave a small pout. "I mean, I wish I could find anyone half that in love with me. Who cares what sex she is?"
Lipton tried not to let his surprise show. This wasn't sounding like a typical succubus crush. The girl should have been completely jealous of anyone Seraph spent time with, and bitter that she wasn't Seraph's play toy. Instead, she sounded like she envied Seraph more than she desired her.
"So, what does the boss’s girlfriend look like?"
"Oh, she’s a totally hot redhead. She's awful short next to Miss Darkfell, but I wish I looked that good. She's, like, got a smile that just lights up her whole face and makes her look like some kinda angel or something. And when she looks at the boss lady, you can tell how much she loves her." She sighed. "She's so lucky…"
"Does she have a name?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah… Harterial or something. But she said to call her Heart."
An Angel called Heart. Harteriel… he thought, mentally correcting the girls spoken al into the el all angelic first names ended in. At least it's something to check on. He nodded. "So what's she like?"
"Oh, she's kinda shy. Tony wanted her and Miss Darkfell to do, like, a lesbo show, but that got nixed. Pity really, if she's half as good as Miss Darkfell, they'd make most of the audience cream in their pants watching."
Lipton shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
"And you know what? I mean, half the girls here would have an orgasm thinking about doing a lesbo act with Seraph, but she, like, won't dance with anyone else."
"Totally. They, like, call each other Beloved and My Love and Dear. They’re so sweet you could get cavities."
Lipton nodded and made polite noises as the girl continued to babble. It was really strange. She just didn't act like anyone he'd ever met with a succubus crush. But then, nothing else about this case made much sense either. One thing was becoming certain though. Seraph Darkfell was about as close to a normal succubus as Alpha Centauri was to Earth. Closer than anything else, but still light-years away. He eyed the dark doorway at the back of the stage, but decided he wasn't ready to try and approach the succubus yet. He still needed more information.
He politely turned down an offer for a lap dance, and followed the girl with his eyes as she swayed to another table. He was rather glad she'd gone, Seraph's dance had almost made him aroused enough to have taken her on the table. As she sauntered across the bar, a flash of gold drew his eyes. He focused on a table near the back with a pair of gentleman in Armani suits…
The swords in Thor's closet returned to his mind, and he decided maybe they should have a little talk. Two angels in a club owned by a succubus who appeared to be dating an angel seemed a little farfetched to be coincidence. No, they had to be here to watch Seraph.
And maybe, they'll have some of the answers I need… if I can pry it out of them.
He noted as he crossed the bar that people seemed to unconsciously give the pair room. Even though they were shape-shifted to not have their wings, no-one bumped into the pair, and none of the girls had approached. It seemed they were trying to be inconspicuous. If he couldn't see their halos, he'd have never noticed them. Which was probably the point. He smiled. Nothing like disturbing angels to get one's blood going.
Fueled with bravado by the succubus’s dance, he sat down without asking. Nodding, to both, he said, "Gentlemen."
They looked at him curiously. The taller of the pair spoke. "May we help you?"
Lipton nodded. "I sure as hell hope so." He ignored the wince. "Mary wouldn't tell me much, but seeing as how you two are here, maybe you will."
"I beg your pardon?" the angel asked.
"Drop the innocent act. I saw your swords up front, and I can see your halos. I got six dead demons in an alley, an angel, and a succubus. I had lunch with the Virgin, who's hunting them, and now I got two angels in the club where the succubus works. You ask me… that's just entirely too many coincidences to make me comfortable. So I gotta ask. What brings a pair of angels here?"
"Well, why are you here?" the shorter angel replied, his face an inscrutable mask.
"Fair enough. I'm the detective assigned to the homicides, and hard as it may be to believe, yon sex demon is my primary suspect. I helped Mary off six demons in her apartment yesterday, and spent an afternoon getting vamped by the horniest Madonna I never imagined, then I come here and find you two watching the succubus turn on an entire bar. Just what is wrong with this picture?"
The pair looked at one another. The taller looked back at Lipton. "I'm afraid I really don't know what you are talking about, Detective. My associate and I are consultants to a local business. My card." He slid a business card across the table.
"And mine." The other angel added.
Lipton looked at the two cards. "Gabriel Horne and Michael Wright?" He shook his head. "Great. Not only do I run into a thirteen-year-old homicidal maniac who just happens to be the Mother of God, now I have to run into a pair of Archangels with lousy puns for last names?" He rubbed his temples. "Why couldn't this be a simple case?"
"Perhaps you are working too hard, Detective," Gabriel said. "Perhaps a vacation would do you good."
"If you're telling me to drop the case, forget it. I don't give a damn what you so-called higher powers do elsewhere, but I have six bodies that NYPD is wanting explained, and I don't have the luxury of telling them that they were demons, so who gives a damn. Next week it might be angels. Again, who cares? As far as I'm concerned you all can go and fuck yourselves and leave us poor humans alone. We don't need you, you need us. Now give me a fucking answer, godammit! What the fuck is so important about this bitch succubus that it drags the Guardian of Eden and the Trumpeter of Judgment to Earth to watch her dance!"
"I do believe you've had too much to drink, Detective Lipton. I have no idea what you are talking about," Gabriel said coldly.
Lipton glared at the icy look in Gabriel's eyes, the anger in Michael's. "I haven't even touched my drink." Neither angel said anything. "Fine, if that's how you want to play it. I'm getting fed up with you fucking sons of bitches and your smug attitudes." He stood. "This isn't the end of this."
"Yes it is, Detective Lipton. Believe me, it is," Michael said.
Lipton leaned down and looked Michael in the eye. "You don't scare me, asshole. I know you bastards can be killed. I've picked up pieces of you scattered all over too many crime scenes. I will find out what the fuck is going on, and you better pray it isn't something I think needs stopping, or it might just get messy."
Gabriel's hand stopped Michael's as he was reaching for Lipton's collar. "Calm down, Michael. He's just attempting to provoke you." He turned back to Lipton. "I believe you were just leaving?"
Lipton's eyes narrowed as he met Gabriel's implacable gaze. Finally, he turned and stormed out of the bar.
"Goddamn angels." He muttered as he waited for Thor to get his gun, so furious he wasn't paying attention. "I'd like to shove those halos up their fucking asses!"
Thor grinned hugely. "Now there's a sentiment I heartily agree with." He laughed. "Come back some time and I'll buy you a drink."
Lipton stared. "Who are you?"
"Thor Odinson. God of Thunder and War, at least until their type showed up anyway." He hooked a thumb back at the bar. "Damn Christians can't stand for anyone to worship anyone but their precious Almighty."
"Uh… yeah… I suppose."
"Those two pricks tried to give me shit about surrendering their swords. I almost got to give Mjolnir a workout. I haven't collected any halos in years. It's getting depressing."
"I can imagine…" Lipton couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Still, I couldn't very well keep ‘em out, what with the boss’s girlfriend and all." He sighed. "What's the world coming to these days? When an angel is sleeping with a succubus? Give me the old days, when you could always keep the players straight."
Lipton just nodded dumbly as he re-clipped his gun. "I can sympathize, believe me…" He looked back at the curtained doorways into the bar. "All I've ever seen is the aftermath of their battles. Hard to think any angel or demon would get along, let alone…" He let the thought trail off.
"Be a couple? Believe me, they are. Miss Darkfell was rather vehement when I thought the angel was lying. Reminded me of Sif when she's mad. But Miss Darkfell and Miss Serafina certainly act like newlyweds." Thor leaned over the podium. "I kind of like them, and Miss Darkfell is my boss. I do hope you're not here to cause them trouble." He was still friendly, but menace lurked behind the pleasant tone.
Lipton held up his hands. "No. I just wanted to ask her a few questions, but she seems too busy. I'll come back some other night."
Thor nodded, still pleasantly. "Sure. I'll buy you that drink then."
Sitting in his car a few minutes later, Lipton pounded his hands in frustration against the steering wheel. This case was getting more aggravating by the second. Mythological Gods now! Would it get any weirder?
At least, he had a name for the angel. Harteriel Serafina. Thor's slip would at least allow him to look her up in the directory. But he'd have to write the club off as a place to confront Seraph. Thor wasn't someone he wanted to get on the bad side of.
Still, he had more questions on top of the ones he already had. And to top it off, now that he'd calmed down from his encounter with the Archangels, he had to find some way of dealing with the effects Seraph's dancing had had on him.
Only one cure for that. Problem was, he had no girlfriend. He could never get up enough nerve to ask Terry out, and his odd hours interfered with meeting anyone. So he was alone, and horny enough to fuck anything.
Well, there was one type of hooker in New York he could count on not to give him something incurable, and there was the possibility she might even have some information on Seraph…
After all, who better to ask about a succubus than another succubus?
Faust entered the throne room, a smug smile on his face. Mephistopheles pushed the blonde succubus off him and stood as the Major Domo arrived.
"You have news?" he asked eagerly as the succubus dusted herself off and gave him a dirty look.
"I would have thought that obvious, oh Master of Perfidy. I have found where they are staying. It was rather easy once I discovered your favorite play-toy had been keeping secrets. It seems she had the intelligence and foresight to create a source of income for herself beyond what you supplied. I don't have her passcodes, but tracking the transactions was easy enough. She's staying at a hotel uptown. The angel is with her. I have her being followed right now."
Mephistopheles stepped down from his throne and smiled evilly. "Excellent. Now, I need several of my brawnier and more brainless minions. It's time for me to play savior."
Faust gave him a raised eyebrow. "Indeed. Shall I prepare a Cross for you, too?"
The Demon Lord laughed as he exited, followed by his aide. The blonde succubus sat by the throne looking after him with a small frown.
Heart hummed happily as she placed the last of the groceries in her purse. She was rather proud of herself. She'd done exactly as Seraph had told her and taken the items up to the nice clerk, and given him the green pieces of paper Seraph had told her was considered money these days, and he'd given her back her change. He had been so nice, she had given him one of the green pieces as a thank you, one that had a picture of a bald guy with glasses. Seraph would be so proud. She'd never paid attention to the little details of how mortal life had changed since she had been mortal, and the grocery store was a complete change from the bazaars she remembered. Her head was still spinning from all the advice Seraph had poured out to her on shopping alone.
Still, she had gotten everything on the list, and the instructions on the sides of most of them seemed easy enough to follow. She figured she'd have no problems making a meal for when Seraph got off work.
She was digging in her purse for the keys to the Corvette, glad Seraph had enchanted it to make it easier for her to drive, when she heard the guttural voice.
"Well, well, if it isn't the pretty little angel."
She looked up to see several shadowy figures between her and the car. She switched from searching for the keys to grip the smooth wooden hilt of her sword.
"We were sent to kill the slut, but what the hell. We'd planned on fucking her first. You'll do just as well."
The speaker stepped into the light. He wasn't trying to conceal his nature from her and he leered at her hungrily. He had a goat's head, and his muscular body rested on clawed feet. He was naked, and obviously planned to make good his threat. His member was a huge bloated organ nearly two feet long.
"Come here, sweet cheeks, and I'll show you what it's like to get fucked by a man."
"Not interested," Heart replied.
"Now, who said you had a choice?" He jumped at her.
Her sword flashed out and clove the demon in half in mid-air. She ducked under the pieces and stabbed through the head the second one rushing her. She wrenched the blade free just barely in time to block a thrust from a glowing red blade held by the third demon. She traded blows furiously for several seconds before she penetrated his guard and beheaded him. She started to turn and look for the fourth when he slammed into her back.
She landed hard, her sword skittering away as the demon tried to tear away her skirt and press his member between her legs. She reached behind her and tried shoving him off, but he was too strong. Angrily, she shouted a phrase in Angelic as she grabbed his face.
The ball of force threw the demon nearly a hundred feet before he exploded into a bloody rain. She stood and dusted herself off, muttering a charm to mend the ripped skirt. "I wasn't in shock and unarmed this time," she told the corpses as she picked up her sword. "Makes a difference."
She whirled towards the car, sword at the ready again.
"Oh please, I'm no fighter, Harteriel," the tall shadow by the 'vette said. "I came to talk. Regrettably, I had planned to get here before Bhaalor’s minions did, but…" It shrugged.
"Who are you?" Heart asked, not relaxing a bit.
The shadow stepped into the light, revealing the Lord of Corruption.
"Mephistopheles," Heart breathed. She tightened her grip on the sword.
"In the flesh, metaphorically speaking."
"What do you want?" Heart asked, glancing around quickly for other demons, but the Demon Lord was alone.
"Merely to appeal to you. As one rational being to another." He motioned to the dead demons. "Bhaalor wants your lover dead. Alas, she no longer works for me, over this whole silly misunderstanding, and I cannot protect her from the brute." He sighed. "I'd really like to correct that, and have Seraph back doing what she loves, but there's just this one small little problem."
"And that would be?" Heart asked warily.
"You, my darling Angel. Seraph was deathly afraid you'd object to living in Hell, and rather than risk your love, the short-sighted girl quit."
"That's not what she told me," Heart countered, eyes narrowing.
"Of course not. But it's true. This whole little spat is over you. Yes, there are demons in Hell who'd like nothing better then to torture an angel like you to death. Seraph was afraid to risk you, and was worried you'd be in danger if she kept working for me. She never gave me a chance to offer a solution that would grant you perfect safety — " he shook his head, " — and allow you both to live in Hell and work together doing what you both love."
Heart really wished Seraph had told her more about her abrupt departure from Hell. She had no idea if Mephistopheles was telling the truth, but it would have been like Seraph to be so quick to do what she thought would please Heart that she would overlook her own happiness. She knew Seraph had enjoyed her work for the D.O.C. Still…
"And what is this solution of yours?"
"Elegantly simple, my angel. You were Theliel’s best agent, and the idiot exiled you, all because you admired Seraph's abilities to make people happy, a skill that complimented yours, and because you loved her. You could continue to work with Seraph as you have been, you'd just both be working for me. And just as I can give Seraph my protection, I could extend my sheltering wing over you as well." His wings spread out, their shadows falling across Heart as they blocked the light from a nearby street light. "I am the Father of Succubae, Harteriel. Making you into one would involve only a few hours, and then you could freely enter Hell with Seraph, freeing both of you from this dreary Mortal plane and allowing you both to return to what you do so well." He smiled. "I certainly have no objections to your mated status. In fact, I consider it a great boon."
"And I would be a succubus, too?" Heart asked uncertainly.
"Exactly. What could be more perfect?"
Heart shook her head, her thoughts in chaos. "I-I don't know. I'll have to think about it, talk to Seraph…" Her sword dropped as she contemplated the idea. To be with Seraph, to make her happy…
"You know if you do, she'll try to talk you out of it, sure that you'd be miserable, and not giving a thought to her own unhappiness over leaving her job," Mephistopheles cooed, stepping up to Heart and patting her on the shoulder sympathetically.
Heart nodded. That was quite likely. "I don't know. I still have to think about it. If it would make Seraph happy… I just want to be sure."
"Don't wait too long, angel. Bhaalor gets madder with every troop he loses. Sooner or later, he'll try again."
"Don't push me, Mephistopheles!" Heart said, anger flaring at this unpleasant truth.
Mephistopheles stepped back into the shadows. "I'm not, Heart. I want Seraph back where she belongs, and to do that, I need to make you happy as well as her. That's all I'm trying to do." He smiled as he faded from view. "Until later…"
Heart stood there thinking for a long time before she reached for the handle of the 'vette.
Temporiel hung up the receiver as she watched Heart start up the car and drive away, cursing the slowness of the emergency operator. The angel had recovered her wits before the police had arrived. So much for getting the angel jailed by humans. Her innocence would likely have made her a ready victim in a holding cell.
She strode out into the parking lot, looking down at the demon corpses. Heart had not recognized the type of demons who had attacked her, or she likely would not have listened to the Lord of Temptation. She scowled in hatred at the bodies of the minor lust demons as she spoke a few words of Angelic. The bodies burst into flame and vanished.
A pity. Once undeniably soiled, Harteriel would never be allowed back to Heaven, and she would be punished as befit her crime. Naive as she was, Mephistopheles would shatter her.
It would be fun to watch.
After Seraph, the succubus had turned out to be a little disappointing. Even the full exercise of her abilities to enhance orgasm had barely satisfied him, and he'd sated her before she'd been able to drain all the sexual tension Seraph had evoked. He sighed and looked down to the small brunette with small black horns. She was still slowly bobbing her head, but not trying too hard to actually stimulate him.
She nodded, then looked up, alarmed.
"Yeah, I know about your kind. You've eaten, now how about answering a few questions?"
Anger glittered in her eyes. "You're a cop."
"Yep." He brought the gun from under his pillow. "And this is blessed ammo. Don't get frisky. I'm not out to add your horns to my trophy bag."
She eyed the gun. "You're bluffing."
Lipton flipped off the safety. "Tell that to the goon I killed yesterday. Bhaalor needs to train them better."
"How do you know that name?" she asked, her eyes fixed on the black maw of the barrel. Belief was dawning in her eyes.
"The same way I know you work for Mephistopheles. The Virgin told me."
She paled. "Oh, shit," she said softly, backing out of the bed. Fear made her lose control of her shapeshift, and her wings and tail sprouted as she pressed herself against the wall.
"I'm not as psychotic as Mary. I just want information, and a good lay. I got the one, now I want the other."
Wide eyes locked onto his face as she pleaded, "Look, I don't want to die again. I've only been a succubus for a year now. I don't want to be reincarnated and maybe come back as a bug."
Lipton sat up and pointed the pistol at the ceiling. "Then answer my questions and you get to leave without a hole in your head to match the one between your legs."
The succubus glanced around the room, but obviously realized she couldn't reach the door or him before he could shoot her. She licked her lips and nodded in resignation. "What do you want to know?"
The succubus swallowed hard. Another glance around the room revealed that nothing had changed. She slumped to the floor and held her knees as she answered. "She's one of a handful of Mephistopheles’ best agents. I don't know much else. She and her kind don't hang out with us common succubae much. They all look down on us, treat us like dirt."
"So why haven't you ganged up and killed them?"
She got up enough spirit to give him an evil eye. "One, they're Mephie's pets, and two, they're just too damn powerful."
"How so?" Lipton prodded.
She shrugged. "They just are. I don't know why, or how to explain it. A succubus tries to off one of 'em, and she gets her head shoved up her twat."
"What about the other demons?"
She shook her head. "Don't know. Other than the usual stuff, most of them leave us alone. We're just sex toys. From what I've heard, though, even the other demons don't give 'em too much shit."
"And Seraph is one of these special succubae?"
"Up till a couple of days ago, she was Mephie's favorite. She was up for a promotion out of the field, then some shit storm hit the fan. Haven't seen her since she stormed out of Hell. Made quite a ruckus, though."
"Anything else you can tell me about Seraph's group?"
She started to shake her head. "Not much… well… maybe. I heard a rumor that they're the only succubae with innate weapons."
"What?" Lipton looked puzzled.
She seemed happy that her little tidbit seemed to have caught his interest. "Innate weapons. Weapons that are theirs alone. Like Bhaalor’s Morningstar, a Valkyrie's spear, or an angel's sword. A weapon that belongs just to them. In Hell, usually only the Demon Lords have them."
"I see. Any other juicy gossip?" He was going to have to remember that succubae seemed to be gossip hounds; at least once you convinced them that talking is in their own best interests.
"Not really… only other thing I can think of is that Bhaalor is real mad about something, and that Lucifer is awake for the first time in centuries."
"I see. So Hell is astir about something."
"I don't know. I don't know any more."
"Really?" Lipton lifted the gun and pointed it at her head. "Are you sure?"
She cowered into a ball. "Yes! I swear. You said you wouldn't kill me if I told you what I knew!" Her eyes pleaded with him.
Maybe it was her fear… maybe it was that he was starting to believe that not every demon had to be evil… maybe it was just that she was harmless and had been a decent lay…
Maybe it was even because he had told her he would…
He raised the gun and clicked on the safety. "Okay. I believe you. Go on and get your clothes."
He was surprised to actually see gratitude in her eyes.
The phone rang in the plush apartment and a feminine hand almost instantly picked it up.
"Maggie? We have a problem."
"An overly inquisitive detective for the NYPD. It appears he has True Sight, and has been talking to Mary. He confronted Michael and me at the club while we were observing the succubus."
Magdalene looked over at her sleeping husband. No need to wake him.
"I'll take care of it, Gabriel."
Lilith looked down at the chessboard laid out in front of her husband's throne.
"A most excellent game, no?" Lucifer said. "The excitement of something new!" He swept his hands over the board. "What happens next? As expected, our Lord of Temptations has ignored my orders and made his play. Will the angel fall to his charms and deliver herself and her Love unwittingly to Hell? Will our good detective find his answers? Or will he go mad trying? Will Mary kill Seraph and condemn the angel to an eternity of torment? Will Bhaalor? And will I think of a proper punishment for my wayward Demon Lords?" He laughed. "Oh, the joy of not knowing what happens next!"
Lilith was happy to see her husband so animated, and yet something just didn't seem right. She curled an arm around his legs and accepted his absent caress as she laid her head on his knee. Her mind kept wandering back to that first night where she had watched the angel and demon make love…
She'd been happy once, in a time so long ago she had barely any memories of it, days when she had been human and Adam's mate. Then had come her expulsion from the garden when she had demanded equality, and her subsequent marriage of convenience to Sammael. Bitterness had piled on bitterness until Lucifer's war had left him ruler of Hell, and she had become his prize. For a time he had made her feel wonderful, yet something had always been lacking, and as time had passed he had slowly lost interest in her…
She stared at the chessboard, at the figures of Heart and Seraph that stood there, and contemplated happiness lost.
Lipton stood on his fire escape, looking in the direction the succubus had winged off, trying to put all the pieces together.
"Nice view," a voice behind him said.
He started to turn, to cover himself, then recognized the voice and decided not to bother.
"I would have killed her," the voice continued.
"I'm not as psychotic on the subject as you are, Mary."
"So I see. If I wasn't in this die-cast condom, I'd be jealous." Mary emerged from the shadows to sit on the rail beside Lipton, the lights of New York reflecting from the silver of her outfit.
Lipton shrugged. "I was horny. They're safer than normal hookers. Immune to disease. Besides, she's harmless."
Mary's eyebrow raised. "Harmless? She's already broken up four homes, gotten five people killed in fights over her and made a mother of two commit suicide over guilt for their lesbian relationship!" she said in disbelief.
Lipton gave her a sidelong glance. "You always such a downer? Compared to the guys I usually hunt, she's harmless. They actually kill people."
"Demons are demons," Mary said firmly.
"I saw one tonight who's really making me wonder about that." Lipton said gazing out over the city.
"Who? Her?" Mary nodded in the direction the succubus had disappeared in. "Succubae are great actors. It's part of what makes them so effective."
Mary fixed him with a glare. "You saw her tonight?"
"Where?" There was a hard edge to her voice.
Lipton gave her a long look. "No. I don't think so. There are way too many questions that need answers yet for me to let you go off and kill her."
"Like what?" Mary's voice was dangerous.
"Like why Gabriel and Michael were there, for one thing."
"Oh, really…?" An interested tone replaced the lethal one.
"I asked them why, but they were rather closed-mouthed."
"Hmm… I wonder what my son is up to. Maybe I'll go and ask him."
Lipton gave her another long look, then shook his head as he decided he really didn't want to know. "There's another thing. The angel was with her earlier. I talked to a direct witness. I don't think she's being held against her will."
"Then why is she with the succubus?" Mary demanded.
"According to the witness, because they're in love."
"Impossible!" Mary screamed.
"Mary, my world got turned upside down eight years ago by a demon I could have sworn was impossible. The last three days have beaten a lot of the belief in the impossible that I had left out of me. I'm not sure what I believe anymore." He turned to lean against the balcony rail. "I'm not even sure I'm still sane. The Mother of God wants to fuck my brains out; the God of Thunder wants to buy me a drink; and I just pissed off the Archangels of Apocalypse and Righteousness. If I told a shrink any of that, I'd never see the outside of a padded cell again." He laughed. "After all of that, what's impossible?"
Mary's eyes bored into his, but she didn't have an answer.
Heart was subdued as Seraph drove them back to the hotel. Seraph endured the silence with a sinking heart until she finally had to ask, "Beloved? Did I do something wrong? If I did, I'm sorry." The misery in her voice was plain.
Heart looked up. "Oh, Beloved, no! I'm sorry. I-I got into a fight with some demons earlier…"
"What?" Seraph groaned. "Oh, Beloved, I'm so sorry I wasn't there."
"I'm fine, love. There were only four of them and it wasn't hard to kill them. They were more annoyances than a danger… But it seems Bhaalor is out to kill you!" Heart gave her a wide-eyed worried look.
Seraph tried to brighten. "Oh? Is that all? Well all that means is that I'll have to kill more of his troops. I'm not worried. They're incompetent."
Heart could hear the traces of false bravado. "Oh, Beloved! I don't want to lose you!"
"You won't, Beloved. I'm not alone. You're with me. And with you I can beat anything."
"I hope we can, Beloved," Heart said as she laid her hand on Seraph’s arm.
"No. I know we can, Heart. We love each other too much to fail."
Heart's eyes looked down as she looked away. "D-do you miss Hell?" she asked finally.
Seraph thought about it before answering. "Maybe a little. But you're not there. Without you…" She let the thought trail off.
"But what if I was there? What if I went with you?" Heart asked earnestly.
"No, Beloved. The other demons would try to kill you," Seraph answered firmly.
Heart hesitated before asking, "But what if I was a demon too?"
Seraph slammed on the brakes. The car skidded to a halt on the currently empty street.
"I am going to kill him," she said quietly.
"Beloved?" Heart's voice was full of worried concern.
"What did he tell you? Did he say he could make you a succubus?" Seraph's voice was tight.
Heart nodded, alarmed at the anger in Seraph's voice.
Seraph seemed to freeze at Heart's answer. "Did he tell you how?" she whispered, her voice anguished.
Heart shook her head.
Seraph collapsed on the steering wheel. "Do you think that's what I want you to become?" She whispered so softly that Heart had to strain to hear.
Heart laid her hand on Seraph's shoulder. "I don't know, Beloved. If it would make you happy…"
Seraph beat her head against the wheel. "I'm such a fool!"
"Beloved!" Heart cried. She wrapped her arms around Seraph to keep her from hitting her head again. "Beloved, please don't do that! Please tell me what's wrong!"
"I should have known he'd try this…" Seraph sobbed. "I should have warned you…"
"Oh, Beloved! I'm so sorry… I-I just want you to be happy and he… he…" Heart faded out as she started crying.
"Beloved, I quit to spare you that fate, to save you from becoming a succubus," Seraph whispered. "That's what he's had planned for you all along…"
"Would… would that truly be so bad? If I could be with you…"
"You don't understand what's involved… what he has to do to you to make you a succubus."
"Is it truly so horrible?"
Seraph nodded. "It would destroy you. All of you that I love. He would break you and rape you and make you over in his image. He would rip out your essence and intertwine it with his own… Only a very few of us had the strength to reject his essence and stay sane, stay ourselves; but we paid terrible prices for it. All that I was before is gone. The thought of that happening to you was more than I could bear, Beloved."
Heart hugged her and stroked her hair. "It won't, Beloved. Not now. He almost fooled me, but never again." She hugged Seraph tighter. "And once again you save me…"
They drove on to the hotel, where Heart got to surprise Seraph with a candlelit dinner in their room. She was thankful for room service. Seraph enjoyed it so much that Heart decided not to tell her about the ruins of her attempt at cooking.
After dinner, they made love for almost two hours before drifting towards sleep. Snuggled in Seraph's arms, Heart asked drowsily, "Do you remember your making, Beloved?"
Seraph shook her head. "No. All I remember is being a succubus when I woke up."
Heart burrowed closer against her. "I wonder what you were, before…" she murmured.
Then there were only the sounds of contented sleep.
To be continued.
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