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An original story by
Jennifer Poulos

Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.

Day Four: Renaissance

Heart sat, surrounded by motionless cars with engines whining. Her stomach was in knots from anxiety. She had been debating all morning the wisdom of returning to her former vocation, swinging between the extremes of imagining both Seraph’s joy if she got the job, and her disappointment if she didn’t. She had almost decided not to go several times, but in the end, the mental image of Seraph’s rapture at her possible success won over any apprehensions. At least, until she’d gotten halfway to the Heavenly Hearts office.

She had some driving experience, but competing with midtown Manhattan traffic was leagues beyond her sphere of knowledge. The traffic also gave her plenty of time to reflect on her previous apprehension, and soon, she was twice as overwrought. The primary effect of all this was sheer terror.

Her hands were clenched around the wheel as she endured the crazy cabbies, who seemed not to care whether or not they hit someone, and the cacophony of desperately-blaring horns. Heart wondered why car companies bothered with horns. People seemed to believe they would make the traffic move, but it didn’t seem to work. Worse yet, there were those that distracted themselves by talking on those small handheld phones everyone seemed to carry. Despite what the humans perceived to be cold, many of them leaned out the windows and shouted horrifying obscenities at one another in several different languages.

"How can these people be so mad at each other?" she wondered aloud, despairingly. "This is like all that stuff on television, except real! No wonder people are so sad all the time!"

An inspiration struck her and she muttered some words in the Angelic tongue. The spell was designed to untangle knots, but a few modifications to the wording caused her to gasp in delight.

She wasnít the only one gasping. To the astonishment of every driver in a three-block radius of Rockefeller Center, cars suddenly began to move. Within moments, traffic was flowing as smoothly as the oceanís tide. All of the tension, the incessant honking, was replaced by the awed silence of cars actually moving.

It went a long way toward boosting Heart's spirits as she continued to her destination.

When finally she arrived at the tall uptown building and parked the car, she was excited. The tall building seemed to reach for the clouds above, the words "Fisher Enterprises" at its top.

"That’s strange," Heart said. "I thought this was where Heavenly Hearts was." She pulled the newspaper out of her purse and consulted the ad. "This is the right address. Maybe I should go inside."

She did so, and among the plush decorations of the bottom floor of the building, she found a directory. It told her Heavenly Hearts was among the offices on the third floor. However, the lobby was huge, and she gasped in delight.

There were trees inside the building, and despite the overcast outside, the sun shone down upon them. Acting as gateways into this beautiful garden were silver angels blowing golden trumpets, which crossed to make a delicate archway.

Above her, she could see the different floors of the building as they extended off into what looked from here to be eternity. From somewhere above, a waterfall unleashed its stream upon a moat that surrounded the garden. Various exotic birds wandered the trees and moat, and a young man stood feeding them. "Pleasant, isn’t it?" he asked without looking up.

"It’s beautiful," Heart replied, tears in her eyes.

"A slice of Heaven," the young man said. Heart made no response to this, looking wistfully at her feet to hide the tears.

"You look lost." The man turned his full attention to her, appraising her with dark eyes. "May I help you find something?"

"Oh, you work here?" Heart asked with only half-forced brightness. She was here to make Seraph proud, after all.

"Yes," the man proffered his silver name badge, which proclaimed his name to be Adam, the Landscaping Manager. "I keep the garden."

"Well, it’s very beautiful," she complimented him. "You must have worked very hard on it."

"Oh, working in this garden is like being in Paradise," Adam replied, grinning. "Except no snakes. I hate snakes." He shuddered.

"Yeah, snakes are pretty scary," Heart replied amiably, not really agreeing. "I’m going to the third floor. Can you show me where the stairs are?"

"Take the elevators." Adam pointed out some glass tubes on either side of the building. Inside, cars carried people up and down as though they were floating on air. Heart had seen elevators, but none like this.

"Thank you!" she said brightly.

She headed to the elevator and let it lift her, watching in awe as she saw more and more of the garden. The trees made a thick green line around the outside of the garden, the grass making a light green field inside it. A burst of flowers jeweled the crux of the cross-shaped garden, and also showed in colored bursts lining the trees. The moat surrounded the grass in a clear blue line, and the four terraces that made the corners of a rectangle were all visible at once. At the end of the longest leg, the angels stood, bidding welcome.

The whole site filled Heart with a warm glow, something like Heaven, but sweeter and more powerful. Now she was optimistic about the impending interview.

That lasted until she got to the Heavenly Hearts office.

She took a deep breath and entered the glass facade with its heart-shaped doorway. Strains of harp music were playing in the sunny interior of the apparently-deserted office. The light blue walls gave the illusion that the huge plush couches were clouds, and she could see no desk anywhere.

"Hello?" she asked. When she got no reply, she sat on one of the fluffy sofas. "I guess I’ll wait. Surely they’re open."

"Of course is open! Door no locked, yes no?" a voice said. Heart nearly jumped as she looked up and saw a petite, ancient Japanese woman step out from behind the door she could have sworn was not there just a second ago. "If closed, no could open door. No could come in. Must be open, yes?"

Heart blinked at the rapid fire speech she recalled from the phone yesterday. She nodded "I guess so. I-I'm here for an--"

"Yoshi know why here. Follow Yoshi." She was nodding, indicating she was Yoshi.

She turned and reentered the door without waiting for Heart's reply. Heart scurried after the small woman, noting the brisk way she walked. Heart was a little taller than she was, but she had trouble keeping up with the energetic woman. She exuded an aura of almost boundless energy. As she was led down a quiet hallway, she looked around, seeing doors leading into other offices, but no other people.

At the end of the hall, Yoshi opened the door to a large office decorated in a red heart motif. Heart was waved to a seat in a heart-backed chair in front of a large desk covered with thousands of folders bearing pictures of different people. Yoshi leaned against the desk and looked at Heart intently.

"You matchmaker, yes no?" she said after her inspection.

"Y-yes," Heart said uncertainly. Hadn't she said she knew why Heart was here?

"Then why you not apply here first? Yoshi should be first place come! Why you go other place? No have confidence in self?" The ancient woman scolded.

Heart blinked in confusion. "Well, um…"

The old woman sniffed. "Matchmakers must believe in what do."

"But I do!" Heart protested. "It's what I've dedicated my existence to!"

"Hah! Is why you look for secretary job?" Yoshi's look was scornful. "Secretary no bring people together." She reconsidered. "Well, maybe boss and secretary sometime. But real matchmaker must make matches." She tilted her head at Heart. "You make matches?"

Heart nodded. "Yes," she promised brightly.

The old woman nodded sagely. "But will make good matches? Or bad?"

Heart's face took on a slightly distressed look. "Oh, I'll do my best to make good matches, to help people find their true soulmates," she vowed.

"How you know soulmates? You in love? You have soulmate?" the little Japanese woman prodded.

"Yes. I do. She's the most wonderful person in the world," Heart said fervently. "I know what real love is, and I want to help others find it. I want to help others find the happiness I've found."

"Her? Soulmate is female?"

Heart nodded. "Yes.

Yoshi nodded again. "And you think is hokay?"

Heart gave her a surprised look. "Of course I do. The soul doesn't have a gender, why should her body's gender have anything to do with love?"

Yoshi nodded appraisingly. "Interesting. You like people?"

"I love people," Heart said brightly.

"What you like about them?" The old woman peered daggers through her.

Heart swallowed, thinking about all the keepsakes in her purse. "People have passion, and a need for beauty in their lives. But everyone sees beauty in a different way. Especially when they're in love."

"What love? Tell me what mean."

"Love is…" Heart took a deep breath, conjured Seraph's face. She tried to summon her entire being into an answer, but came up short. She finished lamely, "It's overwhelming. It is the ultimate light."

"And people need light?"

"Yes!" Heart was now warming up. "Have you seen how people treat each other? Everyone is yelling and screaming, or killing each other, or treating them badly. Humans… people… can create wonderful things from love, but it's so rare."

"You feel strong on this?"

"With all my heart."

Yoshi sat down in the chair by Heart and reached out to touch her hand. "Heavenly Hearts exist to match Soulmates. Love come first. Many, many matchmaker not make right match because blinded by notion of what right. Yoshi no need another one. Others blind to anything but! Yoshi no need either. Love not care, Yoshi not care. Yoshi just match. Welcome Heavenly Hearts."

Heart blinked again. "Does-- does that mean you want me to work for you?"

Yoshi chuckled. "No, means Yoshi disappear in puff of glitter." She looked Heart in the eye. "What think Yoshi mean? You be here Monday. Nine o'clock. Yoshi give assignments."

Heart stood and nodded happily. "Yes. Thank you. I promise I'll do my best. You won't regret this."

A twinkle dwelt in the old woman's eyes that matched her smile. "No. Yoshi think not."

Mephistopheles listened to the report of the small imp, the frown on his face growing larger and larger. Finally, he batted the small creature into the wall where it collapsed in a broken heap.


The tall man looked up from his desk to the side of the throne room, out of the way of the ongoing orgy before the throne. "Yes, oh Master of Corruption?"

"The angel told Seraph!"

"Thereby foiling your oh-so-carefully-thought-out plan? Indeed, master, did you really expect anything else? The angel's former masters do frown so on lying." Faust's amusement was plain.

Mephistopheles scowled. "There's more than one way to get the angel begging me on her hands and knees. Has Bhaalor discovered where they are yet?"

"The Master of Thud and Blunder? Please."

"Very well. Seraph is proving to be more of a problem than she's worth. Send Bhaalor a scroll with what you've learned."

"Like this one?" Faust held up the scroll he was writing. "It'll be done in a minute."

The Demon Lord stood. "Fine. I have a new batch of souls to look at. Make sure Bhaalor gets that." He strode out of the throne room, kicking aside sundry revelers.

Faust nodded and continued writing on the scroll. As he finished, a shadow fell across it. He looked up to see the golden-haired succubus standing over him.

"I want her hotel, Faust."

He shrugged. "I have to deliver the scroll. It can't just conveniently disappear."

She rolled her eyes. "I know that. But I'm not going to let her get blindsided if she thinks she has a safe bolthole."

"She's a big girl. She can take care of herself."

"Don't give me that. She's my friend. Don't make me force you to give me what I want, Faust."

"Fine. Here. But don't expect me to clean up your messes." He handed her a scrap of parchment with a address and a room number.

The blonde succubus grinned. "Like you ever have. And I wasn't the one who warned her before the Infernal Revenue descended. You don't have to wear that mask of sarcasm and indifference with me."

"Whatever. I have a scroll to deliver. Be off with you." Faust grumbled.

The succubus disappeared in a fall of golden motes. Faust looked at the spot where she had stood for several moments before he shook his head.

"The things I do to keep it interesting around here."

Lipton had barely entered his office when the intercom buzzed.

"Detective Lipton? Are you busy?" it demanded in a male voice made raspier by static.

Lipton sighed. "No, Lieutenant."

"Good. I need to meet with you. Now."

Lipton sighed again. "On my way." He sat the cup of coffee on the cabinet by the door and locked the door again.

The boss never seemed to want to meet with anyone unless it was bad news, so Lipton prepared himself for the worst. His only major case was Seraph Darkfell, the others he had were minor, domestic violence turned murder that were only 'occult' because one was a tarot reader and the other just happened to be a 'wicclet,' one of the new breed of witch wannabes. The multiple was the first real case he'd gotten this year. The precinct liked to keep him fairly free for cases like this, heinous crimes, multiple murders that, little did they know, featured the occult or demons, mages or some other supernatural creature as killers. Stuff the department didn't like to see on the front page.

So, despite the fact that he spent most of his time handling the weird cases, he had never been yanked, reprimanded, or suspended, so he'd actually only met Lieutenant Jake Goldberg once. However, when he reached the boss's office, the door was wide open and the Lieutenant was waiting for him with a grim smile.

"Bruce… That's your name right?" The Lieutenant double-checked the file on the desk in front of him.

Lipton nodded, a knot forming in the pit of his stomach. Goldberg was being nice; that didn't bode well.

"I wanted to talk to you about that multiple on Valentine's Day," Goldberg said, looking down at the file again.

Part of Lipton relaxed. "What about it?" He leaned back in his chair, faking a casualness he didn't really feel. Well, he thought, at least this isn't some kind of evaluation.

Goldberg fixed him with a long look. Finally, he simply said, "It's closed."

Lipton raised an eyebrow.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," he said in a disbelieving tone. "I need you to repeat that. I could swear I heard you say 'It's closed'. A six-victim multiple homicide, with witnesses?"

"That's what I said, Bruce." Goldberg leaned back and attempted to be more sympathetic. "It's not my decision." He sighed. "Look, it's a fucked-up case. Sure they were career criminals and we would have locked them up eventually for their own bullshit, but Oy! They were butchered like cattle and the killer walked away. Sure, I want the killer, but it's out of my hands." He spread his hands to show his helplessness.

Lipton leaned forwards. "By whose authority?" he growled through clenched teeth.

Goldberg sighed again. "That's the fun part. We've been ordered off the case by some government agency I've never heard of. The J.C.F. Stands for the Justice Cooperative Force. It's a multinational special police force. Like a green-beret version of Interpol." Goldberg lifted the folder and handed it to Lipton.

It was an investigation by the J.C.F. into the multiple homicide. It concluded with evidence that the case was a gangland slaying and part of a case against some mob boss Lipton had never heard of. All mention of Mrs. L.'s testimony had been erased, and all mention of any supernatural entities was gone. Lipton checked the credentials, noting that the references to official standing were all very vague, like anything dealing with an intelligence agency. Then he came to the investigators' signatures.

G. Horne. M. Wright.

"Those fucking sons of bitches!" Lipton swore. I'll shove their fucking halos up their asses! he added mentally.

Goldberg raised an eyebrow. "I take it you are acquainted with the investigators in question?" he asked, noting where Lipton was looking.

Lipton threw the file back on the desk. "Yeah. They were at a location where one of my suspects was going to be. They rather clearly told me to butt out. Looks like they weren't satisfied when I told them to shove it," he growled.

Goldberg smiled. "I know it's frustrating." He leaned forward, trying to project an air of friendliness that nearly made Lipton gag. "Look. Why don't you take the rest of the week off? Go out to Jones Beach; sit in the sun, watch the pretty girls go by, or whatever. It's your 'vacation'." He emphasized this last, his dark eyes boring holes into Lipton. "Come back Monday. I'm sure we'll have another case for you. This is New York, after all."

"And what if I just want to continue working?"

"You don't," Goldberg informed him. He stood and sighed as he turned to the small window of his office. "Look, you can do whatever you want for the next few days. Just… not work. You'll do that Monday.

"That's cheap." Lipton scowled. "A four day weekend -- paid, right? -- to keep me away from a case you just yanked from me. What the hell do you think this is? 'N.Y.P.D. Blue'?"

Goldberg turned and leaned over the desk to glare at Lipton. "Look, I want this case solved as much as you do! But so long as the J.C.F. has jurisdiction, it's out of our hands. We can't work on this case officially!"

The way the Lieutenant said that, with the hard emphasis on the last word, made Lipton pause. Goldberg was right. This wasn't a police problem.

But that didn't mean it wasn't a Lipton problem.

"All right," he grudgingly nodded. "See you Monday." He took the J.C.F.'s cover page from the folder and shoved it into his pocket. Goldberg didn't say a word.

He stormed down to The Pit directly from Goldberg's office. He needed answers to some of this bullshit and he needed it now, before those two Archangels screwed him over any further.

And since they knew how to find Seraph, he had to get to her first.

"Captain on the bridge," he announced as he stalked into the dimly-lit room, the pale glow of the computer monitors constantly humming.

"Are you sure you can't make it to the con this weekend, Bruce?" Barnes asked excitedly.

"Yeah, the chick who played Deanna Troi is going to be there!" Davis exclaimed, holding up a spread of photos, the top a nude.

Lipton sighed. Trust Davis to have managed to find that. "Sorry guys. I've got plans." He leaned over the back of a monitor as the pair set down again. "I need every thing you dug up on Miss Darkfell."

The pair of hackers looked at each other apprehensively. Finally Barnes said, "We got dick."

Lipton raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

Davis sighed. "We don't have anything."

Lipton stared. "You guys?" Lipton asked incredulously. "That's a new one. Just give me what you found the other day then."

Lipton's stomach sank when they exchanged another apprehensive glance. Finally Davis muttered. "We don't have that either. Everything on Miss Darkfell is gone, wiped clean, like she never existed."

"We had a shitload of stuff for you, too." Barnes sighed. "It's been wiped too. Everything we had stored, even the encrypted backups. Who ever hacked us was good." He held up a couple of pieces of paper. "This is all we have."

Davis nodded. "We printed it out because it was just too weird."

Barnes handed the papers too him. "The first is the deed to Club Dante. She owns it, lock stock and barrel. Has since it was built just before Prohibition."

Lipton raised his eyebrow. "'Prohibition?" He asked. "Are you aware of what you just said?"

Barnes nodded. "We are. That second picture is from the news archives. It's the photo taken on opening day. It made the news because a woman opening a business was unusual and the amount of money poured into Club Dante was enormous for that time. It caused quite a stir. And as you can see, it's her. That third picture is from the ‘fifties, from an article in an amateur photo magazine. That's Bettie Page with the whip. That fourth pic is from the ‘sixties, a publicity shoot for Dante's."

Lipton flipped through the pics noting the unmistakable face and white hair of Seraph.

"How does someone live that long and go completely unnoticed?" Davis demanded. "No one's even called attention to the fact that she hasn't aged! From 1916! The government back then wasn't sophisticated enough to pull something like this. And they sure as hell didn't have the technology to keep her from aging. Who the fuck is she?"

"She's an alien, right, Bruce?" Barnes pleaded.

Lipton ignored the question. They'd never believed the truth before. "She's disappeared from everywhere?"

Barnes nodded. "Everywhere. Even the deed's missing from records. The news archive’s been altered, the credit record's vanished. All of it."

"Like she's never existed," Davis added.

Lipton's eye's narrowed. He pulled the piece of paper he'd taken from the case folder and handed it to Davis. "See what you can dig up on them."

Davis whistled. "The J.C.F? Never heard of them." His eyes lit up as he turned to the monitors.

Long minutes passed as the sounds of rapid typing filled the air. Screens flickered barely long enough to register before being replaced. Finally, Davis flung the keyboard back in frustration. "Nothing. They officially don't exist. That's all I can find. International high-level police force, made up of specialists. There's some references in the message boards. A couple of mentions in police records that cases have been turned over to them. Nothing concrete."

Lipton growled. "Shit." He searched his brain for other possible leads. "Harteriel Serafina," He said finally, spelling it for the two.

Five minutes of searching came up with two things. A Social Security number, and a driver's license.

"They're fakes, though," Barnes amended as he showed Lipton the files. "Can't be older than a few days. Good hack job. Would probably pass anything short of a CIA scrutiny if it weren't for the utter lack of any other records."

Lipton sighed. He should have figured. "Gabriel Horne."

Barnes and Davis glanced down to the abbreviated signatures on the paper and raised eyebrows at Lipton, then turned to their computers again.

"Holy shit," Davis muttered a few minutes later. Barnes whistled.

"What?" Lipton asked.

They waved him around to see the screens. "He's listed as CEO of almost three dozen businesses. They're mostly holding companies," Davis said.

"Most of them are part of larger holdings," Barnes muttered. "Part of… let's see… Fisher Enterprises."

"What do you have on them?" Lipton prompted.

Barnes whistled again a few seconds later. "It a conglomerate."

"No, it's a fucking mega-corp," Davis swore. "It's bigger than some countries."

Lipton read, wondering to himself if he should just give up and use this weekend for a vacation after all.

"They've got holdings all over the world. Industrial, biotech, green energy, even some metaphysical stuff, like holistic medicine and psychic research. It also looks like they do a lot of charity stuff too. Schools in the third world, desert farming, stuff like that," Barnes noted.

"And one law enforcement agency," Davis said triumphantly. "It's written off as a charity, but it's solely funded by Fisher Enterprises."

"Gabriel Horne and Michael Wright are listed on the Board of Directors. CEO is one M. M. Fisher," Barnes added.

"Who is also listed as V.P. of Fisher Enterprises. The CEO is one J.C. Fisher." Davis tapped a few more keys. "I can get the press kit, not much else. They're sealed up tighter than a--"

"Run the plates again," Lipton interrupted, frustration strong in his voice.

"They're gone," Barnes said as he rolled his eyes. He typed in the search again. "See? The DMV has no records."

"Wait!" Davis exclaimed. "I've got a hit in the police records. Looks like it got entered this morning."

The other two looked over his shoulder as he pulled up the details. "Looks like a phony 911 last night. Caller reported a woman being attacked by a group of teenagers. Fought them with a katana? Supposedly killed them and took off in a black 'vette matching our Seraph's. Caller gave the tag. Nothing there when the police arrived."

Lipton looked at the description of the woman and nodded. Short redhead. And apparently she did have a sword. No surprise the caller saw it as a katana. People without sight tended to see what they expected. He clapped Davis on the shoulder. "Good work."

"You ever gonna let us know what this is about?" Barnes queried. "I mean, this has shades of 'Highlander' written all over it. Immortal sword-wielding maniacs in New York City…" he laughed.

"Maybe later. I have things I need to do first."

"Fine." Davis said. "But you will tell us, right?" It really wasn't a question.

"Let me figure out what's going on myself, first," Lipton dodged. He felt their eyes on him as he left.

Finally back in his office, he looked at his cold mug of coffee and cursed. He sat and rubbed his temples. The fucking angels had screwed him but good. He stared at the cast of Seraph's hand. He was so close to figuring out what the hell was going on!

He took the iron lockbox out of the cabinet from where he had put it the other day and flipped open the Directory. He uttered an oath when he found where he'd left off. He'd been less than a dozen pages from the H's. He cursed his impatience. He could possibly have had the case solved before the two Archangels could have interfered.

He flipped to the page he wanted and fell hard into his chair. There, in full-color illumination, was Harteriel Serafina, Virtue First Class, Love.

He whistled. "That's my angel. So what's a cupid doing hanging out with a succubus?"

His intercom crackled, startling him. "Detective Lipton? Call on line six."

He caught his breath as he answered. "Yeah. Okay." Demons don't scare me and I jump at the intercom, he groused mentally.

"A phone call?" he muttered as he picked up the receiver. "I never get phone calls."

"There's a first time for everything," came the crisp, familiar voice over the receiver.

Lipton growled as he flipped the pages of the directory back to look Gabriel in the face, if not the flesh.

"Yeah. It's been a day for firsts," Lipton said bitterly. "Got my first case pulled from me. But hey, you already knew that, didn't you. I really would have thought gloating was a sin."

"I merely wished to wish you an enjoyable vacation," Gabriel replied. "Have fun, relax."

"And warn me to keep off the Darkfell case," Lipton said darkly.

"It's for your own good, Detective. This case is far beyond you. You might get hurt, and that would be a shame for a demon hunter as skilled as you."

"I'm sure."

"Sarcasm is uncalled for, Detective. You have no concept of what you are getting into."

"I have a pretty good idea," Lipton muttered.

"No, Detective, you don't. Stay away."

"Or what," Lipton exclaimed. "You'll kill me? I hunt demons, Gabriel. Angels don't scare me."

"I don't have to kill you, Detective. If you pursue this case, you'll likely die in the crossfire. No side will spare you. The stakes are too high."

"Over a cupid and a succubus? Check your halo, Gabe. I think the radiation's gotten to your brain."

"I urge you to take my advice, Mr. Lipton. I cannot restrain Michael every time, and I have no control of Hell's minions. Or Heaven's. Your death would be pointless."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. You made sure I was stuck vacationing, remember?"

"Just see to it that you do, Detective. For your sake." There was a click, and the line went dead.

Lipton put the receiver down and smiled grimly. "Thank you, Mr. Horne. That was rather enlightening." He put the Directory back in the box and tucked it into his pack, along with the casts and a couple of other books. "So this is high enough stakes you'll risk a conflict with Hell, but you don't seem to be aligned with Heaven either, like Mary. How many sides to this are there?"

He looked around the empty office, but spied only a spider in the web over the door. He gave it a cocked head. "You have any answers?"

The spider shook its head.

Lipton rubbed his eyes. "This damn case is driving me crazy. Now I'm talking to spiders." He laughed softly. "And imagining they answer. Maybe I do need a vacation."

He pulled the door shut and headed for his car.

Lilith had nearly fallen out of the web when Lipton had addressed her directly, and had tried to nod automatically, but fortunately, it had translated into a back and forth motion. She had prepared to transform and bewitch the Detective, something she wasn't sure would have worked with the Directory so close to him, and sighed with relief when she realized he thought she was just a spider.

She shimmered to her true form after he had departed and sauntered to his chair to sit. This was becoming more and more interesting. Gabriel was involved, which could only mean Mary's son was meddling in things, and if she had read his weapon's aura right, so was Mary. She gave a sidelong glance at the door. Lipton would probably appeal to the sex-starved minx as much as he did to her. Maybe she should seduce him…

She tugged absent-mindedly at one of her nipple rings as she considered what she wanted to do. She'd checked on Seraph a little while ago and the succubus was still asleep. Heart had taken off for her interview a few hours ago, and she hadn't felt like tagging along. Now Lipton was taking off…

She hadn't been this bored since Mary had talked her into posing for Michelangelo.

With a sigh and a small implosion of air, she decided to check on Bhaalor…

Bhaalor's palace was a huge medieval-style keep that had been reinforced over the ages as technology had created new weapons. A single tower rose like a knife into darkling sky of hell, surrounded by a molten lava moat from which a wall of fire howled into hot winds. The parapets of the tower were lined with ancient ballista, pots of boiling oil, and Vulcan AA cannons. Mortars stood atop the towers flanking the gates and red-hot barbed wire coiled through the walls of flame, while a pathway paved with shards of bone led down into the ranks of the army advancing on the tower.

Lilith found Bhaalor on the parapet watching as the war games commenced. In fly form, she found a convenient cranny and settled in to watch, her wings’ buzzing lost amid the roar of the flames and the crash of the mortars shelling the army. Once there, she shifted to her spider form.

Several runners advanced across the field towards the keep, and Bhaalor grinned licentiously. Explosions ripped across the field as several of the runners tripped the mine fields. Bhaalor couldn't contain his laughter as a bloody rain fell across the field.

Bhaalor's lieutenants watched the war games with him, mostly burly male demons like himself. Many wore the insignia of the armies they had served in life, or that they had been influencing recently. Nazi swastikas mixed with Taliban flags and the loose black gi of Viet Cong. A few of the more anachronistic of his lieutenants wore ornate nightmare armor, mixing and matching across centuries of blacksmiths' tortured dreams. Their armor creaked as they laughed at the poor unfortunates perishing below.

A young infantryman ran up to Bhaalor and nervously handed him a scroll, trying to bow and retreat as Bhaalor took the message. Bhaalor grabbed him by his neck with a loud snapping noise and threw the gagging footman far out over the field. He gave a choked scream as he passed through the fire wall before descending in a flaming arc into the mine field. He ended his short flight to disintegrate in a fireball as he landed on a woman trying to defuse a line of mines. The multiple explosions rocked the field.

Bhaalor grinned viciously as he opened the scroll. "I love landmines." He watched as several more explosions ripped apart the first ranks of the army. "I'm glad I took out that tart before she had a chance to disarm them."

"Yes," laughed one of his Nazi cohorts. "I love watching them explode as they try. Especially children. There is something so satisfying about watching them force their children into the fields to save themselves."

"No, expectant mothers," cried another wearing the grab of a Roman legionnaire. "The sound of the souls of the unborn screaming in their death throes…" He laughed maniacally.

"Oh please," scoffed a woman's voice. "Haven't you been watching the surface? Landmines are passé."

Various creaks and rustles arose as the group turned to the lone woman in their midst, a Nubian goddess wearing a silver breast plate and little else. Her skin glistened, its deep chocolate hue contrasting with the silver breast plate and white loincloth she wore. Her long white hair hung in thousands of tiny braids adorned with glass beads that sparkled in the light from the fiery wall, held aloft in a crest by a coil of silver. Her sword hung by her side, its long curved blade crested by a hilt carved into the shape of a roaring lion, its jaws spread wide as if to snap off the hand that dared to wield it. She fixed the others with a malicious smile, her white teeth gleaming from her dark lips.

"Biological weapons are much more effective," she continued. "Anthrax, Ebola, Influenza… You boys and your toys went out with feeding Christians to lions. The Creator gave us plenty of natural ways to kill, if you know how to use them."

"Humph," the Nazi dismissed her. "I killed two thousand in one day with my 'passé toys'." He sniffed.

The woman laughed. "Just like a man to explode and roll over. I unleashed Sarin in a subway in Japan. People are still dying from it."

"Eichmann, Frost, shut up,"Bhaalor commanded, his jovial mood gone. He was tapping the scroll against his hand.

Eichmann looked away, disgruntled, but Frost stepped up, her dark eyes on the scroll in Bhaalor's hand.

"News of the angel and the succubus from above?" she asked eagerly.

Bhaalor nodded. "It seems Miss Darkfell had a few assets on the Mortal plane she did not acquire from the Department of Corruption," he said darkly.

"I would think you would be pleased we found them," Frost replied, puzzled by his sour mood.

"Do not presume to tell me how to feel," he snapped. "There is more than just the D.O.C.'s laziness to this. Remember our old 'friend', Thor?" he asked with a grimace.

"That blasphemous traitor!" Eichmann spat. "He has mocked the glory of our cause repeatedly. Has he now dared to join with Seraph and her lover in this rebellion?"

"No," Bhaalor said in a tone that indicated his patience was exhausted. "It seems he works for her. And has for some time. Apparently, Seraph has been so busy wooing that bitch angel she didn't know until a few days ago." He glared at Eichmann for a second before continuing. "Thor was the Norse god of War. The G.O.D. may have consumed the Norse religion and destroyed his followers' faith, but Thor is still a god. He was never stripped of his powers and abilities, and he's a War deity. He may be a problem."

"The Warlord of Hell speaking caution?" Frost scoffed. She crossed her arms and took a defiant stance. "And for a god with no religious base?"

Bhaalor turned a murderous eye upon her. "Thor was Lucifer's first choice to be Horseman, Frost," he said in a venomous growl. "Long before he settled for that hothead Ares. He's an able general and was trusted with Asgard's defense by Odin. Of all the wandering gods, he is the most dangerous. Of all of us, I'm the only one who could take him."

"You mean the tyrannical G.O.D. actually let a deity of power run free?" asked one of Bhaalor's other Lieutenants, a former head of the Inquisition.

"On the contrary, Paolo," Bhaalor chuckled. "Most people think he works for us anyway. He's been approached several times, but he refuses to join either side, and it's not worth the manpower needed to force him."

"Perhaps he has simply not been approached the right way." Frost's smile gave the others a hint of what she had in mind. Several of then nodded reluctantly.

Bhaalor gave her another cold stare. "Thor's recruitment is not the issue, Frost," Bhaalor stated. "He is simply a minor obstacle, easily overcome by just avoiding him. He's not protecting the succubus. And now that we have her located, we can deal with her permanently." He turned to the Nazi, busy watching as the army tried dealing with a horde of tanks tearing through their ranks. "Eichmann, didn't Vrock have a run-in with Seraph when he was working for you in Germany? I think it's time to arrange a little reunion."

"What, you plan to pummel her with another squad of troops?" Frost asked acidly, the sarcasm heavy in her voice.

"Elite troops, Frost. Assassins. You'd do well to keep your tongue to yourself." Bhaalor's eye burned at her. "You may be the war goddess of your puny Nubian tribe, but you are nothing compared to me. I AM THE WARLORD OF HELL, I answer to no one but myself! You would do well to remember that." He turned and stomped back into the keep followed by his entourage. Eichmann gave her a gloating look as they vanished into the castle.

Frost watched, a grim smile on her face. "One day, Bhaalor," she whispered to the receding crowd, unheard by anyone but the large gray spider watching her from the shadows of a gargoyle. "One day, your back will be turned, and you'll be alone… But I'll be with you…"

With a faint tinkling of glass beads, she walked off along the parapet, leaving Lilith to ponder on what she had seen.

It had been a most pleasant diversion…

Peter looked up from his desk as the vidcom blinked. He pressed the button at the sight of his secretary. "Yes, Catherine?"

"Saint Paul and his assistant are here to see you, sir."

"Send them in."

He waved his hands at the papers and sent them scurrying to a side table as he stood and met Paul at the door. "What did you find?"

A small woman with large glasses came in and nearly bumped into Paul before noticing him in her way. She fumbled the door closed behind them as Paul steadied the pile of papers she was carrying. He grinned at Peter over the pile as he answered, "It's definitely suspicious."

"Yes, sir, very suspicious," came the woman's chirpy voice. Mary was a saint so obscure that few could remember why she was sainted, but the day she'd become Paul's assistant had proved a godsend. The girl had a knack for navigating red tape that was miraculous.

"Your signature was forged. Copied from another document by a spell. Couldn't tell by who, but it was definitely an angel." Paul confirmed. "Everything else about this case is equally suspicious. First, Heart has been exiled, and declared Fallen."

Peter raised an eyebrow. "Define declared."

"That's just it. She's been declared Fallen officially, but there is no indication of its actuality. I checked the Directory. She's still listed as a Virtue, First Class, Love. Her robes of office were taken and her golden halo, but neither her sword nor her direct halo could be removed by the Exile Clerk. The G.O.D. has declared her regardless."

"So she is still a full Angel?"

"Yes, sir!" Mary chipped in. "She's under a glamour to conceal the fact, but it doesn't appear she is aware of it. I managed to find out she is still being observed by Agents. I also discovered that Mephistopheles has made a few attempts to capture her. I even managed to snag part of one report that seems to show she was rescued by a succubus."

"A succubus?" Peter asked disbelievingly.

"Yes," Paul confirmed. "Actually, the succubus she was assigned to neutralize as her evaluation assignment. Seraph Darkfell."

"Mephistopheles' best agent. I've heard of her. Go on."

"Miss Darkfell fought her own kind to save Heart," Mary gushed. "She managed to beat six of Bhaalor's agents. I can't tell what else the report contained. I didn't get to look at it very long. Someone else came into the filing office and I had to hide. I did manage to snag a copy of Heart's last official report before the files were destroyed."

"Destroyed?" Peter asked, eyebrow raised.

"At Theliel's orders," Paul nodded. He held out a paper to Peter.

Peter read the report in amazement. He whistled and read the last lines aloud.

"I believe that the love Seraph holds for me, and that I share, will be the key to her redemption. With time, and love, she can be brought out of the darkness of Hell and the lessons she has taught me may be shared for Heaven's glory and the good of all mankind…" Peter looked at the other two. "She's in love with a succubus?"

"Apparently. Her Exile followed immediately on the heels of that report."

"Without any type of review or anything," Mary added. "By the old laws, she's done nothing to merit exile. She has attempted to neutralize her opposite using the Virtue she represents. It's unorthodox, but not punishable."

"Not even by the New Law," Paul admitted wryly. "Were she still human, it would be a sin, but she's not. She's an angel and mortal law does not bind her anymore."

"You're sure of that?" Peter probed.

Paul and Mary looked at each other and nodded. "We've reviewed all the pertinent laws," Paul confirmed. "If Heart had vowed her love to Seraph, and Seraph returns her vow, by Holy Writ, they are bound in marriage. No allowance is made in the Writ for sexual orientations, because angels are in truth, neuter. Heart legally has no gender. She may have been born female, but once she became an angel, it ceased to be a consideration." He sighed. "Believe me, I looked, Peter. I came down rather hard on same sex love, because I believed it was what God wanted. It's what the original Jewish law stated. I never considered what the Master had intended. I wanted to make sure they weren't using my 'law' as justification for this."

Mary nodded. "Heart hasn't broken any laws, or committed a sin. That's the only reason she has retained angelic status. Had she sinned, the Clerk would have been able to take her halo and sword, and she'd be listed as Fallen in the Directory."

Peter nodded. "So Theliel had no legal basis for this Exile."

"None!" Mary exclaimed. "He cited in item sixteen that Heart had exhibited poor job performance, but no specifics are named. Since she became a Virtue, Heart has had one of the best records of any Angel of Love. Only Valentiniel matches her."

"The Mad Angel?" Peter asked with a raised eyebrow.

Paul nodded. "Yes. Before she tried to murder Theliel and the other Archangels, Valentiniel had a record similar to Heart's, at least after she transferred into the Office of Love."

"Yes… She was an Angel of War before that wasn't she? That's why they say she went crazy." Peter mused. "And her record was as exemplary as Heart's? That's interesting."

Mary nodded. "I heard she killed more than a hundred of the Archangels' Guard before they overpowered her. She wounded Theliel pretty badly, too. A friend I know said they took her directly to Hell in chains. I imagine the demons tortured her to death." She shook her head sadly. "It would have been kinder to have executed her cleanly."

"Most angels exiled to earth seem to share that fate, unfortunately. Young Heart avoided it through the intervention of Miss Darkfell," Peter noted dryly. "Anyway, the gist of this is that Theliel exiled her with no concrete evidence of wrongdoing."

"Yes, sir," Paul nodded. "And the records seem to have been deliberately tampered with to hide that fact. If you hadn't questioned the Exile order, no one would have noticed. Theliel ordered the destruction of several important documents, particularly anything to deal with her evaluation assignment. Item sixteen should have a full list of all cases Heart has worked on in the last century, as well as all of her reports on her evaluation assignment. She was up for promotion to a Power, and this would have been her last normal field assignment. Had Mary not been able to snag that report, we wouldn't even have known what Heart was working on."

"'Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice,'" Peter mused. "This stinks like week-old fish. There's a definite cover-up. I don't like it. This exile should never have happened. It's too full of holes. That it did implies that the Department has been compromised." He strolled over to the bay window and gazed down at the milling masses of souls. "I want this gone over with a fine-tooth comb, along with every other case of Angelic Exile. This was a Virtue First Class; it's not like tossing Julius Caesar or Queen Victoria out for trying to screw everything in sight." He began pacing back and forth in front of the window. "Hellfire! If this has happened once, it could have happened before. Go over Abraham's records too. He may have recorded something before I took over."

They both stood and nodded. "Yes, sir."

"If you find something, let me know at once."

He turned to watch the crowds below again as they departed, leaving him alone with his frustration. Once again, someone was taking something he'd worked hard to achieve and was trying to steal it out from under him. First James with his Master's favor, then Paul with the church, and now the G.O.D.

But maybe, just maybe, this was the mistake he could use to bring them down…

Seraph pulled the 'vette to a stop in front of the club, her long white hair settling in a cloud around her horns. She smiled impishly at Heart as she got out of the car, her tail doing a merry little dance before she licked the end of it and grinned even wider. "Coming, Beloved?"

Heart struggled to catch her breath as she straightened out her skirt. She gave a Seraph a return smile. "I did. Repeatedly."

Seraph laughed. "You did ask for a demonstration."

Heart laughed. "Yes." She stepped out of the 'vette and waved to Thor before Seraph linked arms with her and they strolled up to the door. Behind them, the 'vette pulled itself off to a parking space to the side of the building.

Thor watched the car drive off with a raised eyebrow as they reached the door. "It do that often?" he queried.

Seraph looked over her shoulder. "Sometimes. It knows we're going to be here for awhile. Don't worry; it behaves itself when people are watching."

Heart blinked at the car too. "I didn't know it could drive itself."

Seraph smiled. "It doesn't usually. It's been helping you out though, because I asked it to. It likes you."

Thor shook his head. "You animated the car?"

Seraph shook her head. "Hell, no. I don't know that kind of magick. I had a friend work on it. He replaced the engine with something he made. It acts like a cross between a horse and a cat most of the time. I can tell it likes Heart because it purrs when she's in the car."

Heart giggled. "So that's what that is. I thought it was engine noise." She hugged Seraph's arm tighter as she addressed Thor. "How are you today, Mr. Odinson?"

Thor shrugged. "Not bad, I suppose. I should warn you though. There was a cop here last night interested in you two. Seemed like good people, said he just wanted to ask you a couple of questions. There was a pair of angels, too. They behaved themselves, mostly, though they seemed to have pissed the cop off. I would have told you last night, Miss Darkfell, but you hightailed it out of here before I got off the door."

Seraph blinked. "A cop and two angels? I wonder why I didn't see them."

Thor shrugged. "The cop's just human. He wouldn't have stood out, but he's got sight or something, because he saw the angels, and they were glamoured. They most likely didn't want you to see them. I'm pretty immune to glamours myself."

Seraph raised an eyebrow. "That normal around here? To have angels show up?"

Thor grinned. "Angels? Occasionally. There have also been several other succubae who've worked here off and on. I knew you were a succubus because Aphrodite knows you." He nodded at Heart. "That's why I didn't believe you two were together, Miss Serafina."

Heart smiled. "That's okay, Mr. Odinson. I know I never expected to love Seraph so much, either. And please, call me Heart."

"Then stop calling me Odinson. It's Thor."

"If either the cop or the angels show up again, could you let me know immediately?" Seraph interjected.

Thor nodded. "Yeah, I'm not stuck at the door tonight or the rest of the weekend. I'll keep an eye out."

Seraph nodded as she led the way into the club. Inside, they stopped and took in the changes. The club was brightly lit for the moment as workmen hauled the last of the mirrors out and set up the old furnishings Seraph had asked Tony replace. Elegantly erotic statues stood once more in alcoves around the room, and the massive murals were nearly finished. Heart took in the place and gasped.

"It's lovely. I can see why you were so upset about the mirrors."

Seraph nodded. "Yeah. I worked hard at making this place just the way I wanted it."

"It's… incredibly erotic." Heart blushed at the scenes painted behind the stage. "But it's… tasteful?"

Seraph beamed. "I'm so glad you think so."

Heart burrowed under Seraph's arm. "It's a reflection of you, dear. How could I not like it? It feels so much more comfortable in here than it did the other day. Like the building has relaxed." She looked around the place again. "Yes. It's happy you're here again." She looked up at the tall demoness. "You invested enough of yourself in it that it has a spirit of its own, and it knows its creator."

Seraph smiled. "I've gotten so busy over the years I'd all but forgotten this place, but it always did feel like my second home."

Heart nodded. "I've never had a chance to make someplace like this. When I wasn't working… Well, it wasn't forbidden to visit Earth, but it wasn't something you were supposed to do, either."

Seraph hugged her tight. "Don't worry about it, Beloved. We'll find a place for us to live in permanently, and we'll make it your place."

Heart smiled. "I love you."

Seraph smiled as she led the way to the office. Heart smiled at the change a good cleaning had made in this place as well. Minus the gray of dust, the room actually had a comforting atmosphere, done as it was in shades of pink and red. She sat down on a low couch as Seraph went through the shopping bags she'd had delivered earlier. She watched as Seraph pulled out a variety of skimpy outfits and hung them in a closet, then her eyes were drawn to a curtained wall opposite the desk. She rose and parted the curtains to find a large glass partition that looked out over the dressing room. Several of the dancers were preparing for the club's opening.

She wandered around the room, noting the door leading out to the dressing room, peeking into the private bathroom with its huge tub, and at the high ceilings. She nodded. "I think I know why Tony didn't use this office much. You made it for you, didn't you?"

Seraph looked up from putting on her thigh-highs. "Yeah."

Heart placed her hand against the door frame between the office and the bathroom. "The building didn't want him in here. This is your office. He must be at least marginally psychic and picked up on it."

Seraph shrugged. "I suppose." She straightened the sheer black hose and attached it to her garter belt. She lifted her leg and smoothed the open-bottomed stocking down to her ankle before pulling the triangular front piece down between her hooves. She pulled the elastic strap between her hoof halves and looped it back around the outsides. She looked at Heart with a smile. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to find someone who'll custom make stockings for someone with cloven hooves?"

Heart looked down to her own human feet. "Umm… I can't say that I do, dear. In fact, I've never worn hose before you dressed me up the other day. I'm still getting used to most of it."

Seraph grinned. "Well, you're incredibly sexy in lingerie. And one thing I can say for New York. It's got some of the best stores in the world for good lingerie." She smiled. "Also, be happy it's the third millennium. Clothes are much easier to find these days, and personally, I like the styles better." She held up a small triangle of fabric and string and gave Heart a lopsided grin. "But the fit isn't always perfectly comfortable. Thongs still give me wedgies."

Heart smiled as she sat back down on the couch. "I've been used to simple robes all my life." She straightened the high slit of her pale blue skirt, showing Seraph the tops of her stockings in the process. "But seeing the kind of effects these clothes have on you, I like them." She watched as Seraph adjusted her breasts in a tight backless teddy and smiled. "And maybe eventually, I'll even be daring enough to wear clothes like those. At least for you."

Seraph laughed as she adjusted the g-string to accommodate her tail. "Dear, it doesn't matter what you wear. I'll still find you sexy."

Heart trailed Seraph back out into the main bar area and found a secluded seat. As Seraph began demonstrating steps to some of the dancers, she pulled out a sketch pad and began drawing to pass the time.

Several hours passed as she sketched, happily occupied with a hobby she'd always had far too little time for. She'd started drawing when she'd been assigned to Caravaggio, letting his example teach her as a means of reaching him. Seraph came by between sets and watched Heart, smiling softly at the picture of her Heart was drawing. As she was nearly done, Thor sat down beside her.

"Any reason you're drawing her wings and tail?" he asked after looking at the picture.

Heart nodded. "Because she doesn't shapeshift when she dances. Haven't you noticed that?"

Thor looked to where Seraph was slowly sliding down a pole. She had stripped down to just the G-string, but her long hair teasingly concealed her breasts. Her tail wrapped around the brass as she arched her wings out behind her. Thor nodded in appreciation. "Yeah. Doesn't really matter since no one can really see her as she is."

Heart shook her head. "It does. She doesn't shapeshift because she's not dancing for them. I've been watching her all night. I was afraid I might get jealous seeing all those people lusting after her, but that really doesn't matter. She's not dancing for them. She's not even dancing for me. She's dancing for herself, because she enjoys it. That's why I'm drawing her the way she really is, because it is the real her, the Seraph I fell in love with."

Thor studied the small angel for a few minutes before shaking his head. "I think I may have misjudged you, Heart. You're so naive; I figured you weren't too bright. I'm glad to see it's just inexperience."

Heart shrugged. "We weren't encouraged to experience. Just do our duty and return for the next assignment. I've helped thousands in my existence as an angel, but I can't really say I've spent much time learning about the world at large, or even alternatives to the Code I was effectively enforcing with my manipulations. Now, I'm going to be free to be just a matchmaker, not a match breaker."

"And free to love her with all your heart, huh?" Thor smiled

Heart nodded.

Thor grunted. "I like you, girl. First angel I think I've ever said that to. You're pretty gutsy to defy the G.O.D. that way. They ain't gonna be happy."

Heart shrugged again. "I don't think I care anymore. I have Seraph's love. I don't need their approval." She reached up to adjust her halo, still shining brightly. "I think I agree with Seraph that this shows I have His. With that, I'm not worried what Theliel thinks."

Thor gave her a lopsided grin. "Good for you. Give 'em hell."

Heart smiled as she gazed at Seraph, who gave her a sultry look while teasingly hiding behind a wing. "No, I think maybe we'll just make our own heaven…"

The night passed quickly, and all too soon, yet not soon enough, Heart and Seraph found themselves alone in the club. Thor had volunteered to stay and escort them out, but Seraph had been going over the books to make sure everything was in order and had sent him home when it became apparent she'd still be another hour or so going over everything. Heart had occupied herself with exploring the various nooks and crannies of the old building. She'd come back with a big trunk she'd found in the attic as Seraph was finishing.

"I found a bunch of your outfits!" she'd exclaimed happily when Seraph had asked what was in the trunk. Seraph had smiled and given her a long kiss before putting the trunk aside to go through later. Heart had beamed.

After a final tour of the club to make sure it was locked down, they had exited the rear door and Seraph had armed the alarm.

"I'm glad that's done," she sighed. "It looks like Tony's straight with the books. I don't have to try and juggle running the club on top of dancing."

"You were very beautiful on stage tonight," Heart said as they headed for the car.

"You weren't too bored, where you?"

Heart shook her head. "No. I had fun watching you and drawing."

"I'm glad. I was worried you might--" She broke off as large figures materialized out of the dark clinging to the edges of the alleyway. They stopped as the shadows circled them.

A match flared as the face of a huge demon was revealed. He lit the end of a cigar and puffed. "Bhaalor ain't real happy with you, Seraph."

"I really don't give a damn, Vrock," Seraph answered.

"You should. I got lucky and got the order to bring you to him. Not all of you, though. Just your head." The bulky demon smiled maliciously.

"I warned you the last time we crossed that I'd kill you if you bothered me again," Seraph growled. Purple fire crawled down her hand and formed into her trident, its heads glowing softly. Heart reached into her purse as well.

The cigar puffed brightly. "You got lucky, bitch. I was drunk."

"Make all the excuses you want, Vrock. I'll still kill you if try anything."

"We'll see."

Heart screamed a warning as the demon to Seraph's right attacked without caveat. Seraph tried to dodge but the blade still caught her leg and cut a long bloody slash down her calf and hoof. She yelled in pain and anger as her trident lashed out to intercept the next strike.

Heart's sword flashed into the night, the blue fire along its blade illuminating the alley as she intercepted a sword stroke aimed at Seraph. She ducked under another sword as she spoke the words of a spell. Electric sparks danced around her target as the demon howled in agony.

Seraph's trident caught another demon in the chest and purple fire poured out of his eyes and mouth before he collapsed. She tried to turn to face another demon rushing at her, but her hoof gave way and she fell to her knee. She turned the fall into a roll and knocked the demon's feet out from under him.

Seeing Seraph in difficulty, Heart leaped over the body of the demon her spell had killed to impale her lover's attacker on her sword. Another hastily-cast spell wrapped Seraph in a shimmering aura of blue light. She narrowly dodged another attack as she yanked her sword free and parried yet another sword thrust, then she was stunned by a blow to the back of her head.

Seraph had managed to get to her feet when she saw Vrock bludgeon Heart. She screamed in rage as her own purple fire merged with the blue aura around her. She parried the sword of one of the attacking demons, shattering the glowing blade with a twist of her wrist. She buried the axe blade in the demon's skull, then wrenched it free to do a sweep that gutted the remaining demon charging her. She turned back to the last demon as Vrock stepped over the woozy angel, and gave him a savage grin.

"I'm going to enjoy killing you," she promised.

Vrock gave her his wicked grin. "I was just about to say the same thing."

Seraph leaped high, her wings sprouting from her back and growing as she sought more room. She landed with a thump on the roof of the club. Vrock laughed as he hung his huge club back on his belt and dug his claws into the brick, creating his own ladder up the side of the building. "Running away is only going to make the hunt that much more fun, Seraph."

"I wasn't running, asshole," Seraph replied, her wings once more shrinking into her shoulders to get them out of the way of her weapon. Vrock was too dangerous for her to be paying attention to her wings during the fight. Her trident spun in her hands as she waited for the other demon. He reached the edge of the roof and took in her stance.

"You should have. You were barely a match for me when I was drunk and you were in perfect health. You don't stand a chance with that wounded leg." He lifted the club and gave her an evil leer. "Though I'll give you points for leading me away from your angel. It doesn't matter, though. I'll kill you and drag her to Hell anyway."

"Over my dead body," Seraph growled.

"That's the plan," Vrock laughed, then he attacked.

He was twice Seraph's mass, but he moved almost too fast for her to parry. She blocked blow after blow, only her preternatural strength allowing her to deflect the deadly club, but slowly, Vrock forced her back. Realizing finally she couldn't beat him in a straight-up slugfest, she changed her tactics, blocking a blow, then leaping above his repost. She flipped in mid-air above him to strike at his back, but her wounded leg had prevented her from getting the height she had needed to twist completely. Her trident ripped along Vrock's arm instead of being buried in his pathetic excuse for a spine. She landed badly on her wounded hoof and stumbled as Vrock whirled, his club streaking towards her. She fought to raise the trident in time, the pain screaming in her leg…

Musical syllables washed over Vrock in a flood of silver fire. He was thrown backwards several steps as the stream of bright energy ripped and tore at his substance. He screamed in mortal agony as Seraph turned to the source of the fire.

A still woozy Heart stood at the edge of the roof by Vrock's makeshift ladder, her hand stretched forth as she continued the angelic chant. Silver light streamed from her hand, matched in intensity by her brightly glowing halo. She stumbled as she finished the chant and steadied herself against an air conditioner. She glared at the demon, still screaming as he was consumed by the silver fire. "I'm not going to let you hurt my love."

With a final scream of rage and agony, Vrock exploded.

From the roof of a building looking down on the club, a cloaked and veiled figure watched as Heart saved the demoness with an angelic spell, and cursed softly. It watched with hate-filled eyes as the pair hugged and made sure each other was okay, before the demoness took Heart down to the car.

Temporiel's hands clenched on the brick rail, the old mortar crumbling under the pressure. She noticed what she was doing and released her hand, brushing the brick dust from her shapely fingers.

There had to be a way to ensure she'd never have to see that… demon slut or her lover back in Heaven, whatever the Old Man had said. That bitch succubus would never defile her home!

As Heart and Seraph climbed into the 'vette, she turned and vanished into a shadow.

Lipton was returning to his car when the sound of a scream echoed from the tall buildings surrounding the club. He saw a flash of light from the roof as he threw down his cup of coffee. A second later, small chunks of the exploded demon landed in a bloody rain, none of it reaching his car. He watched Seraph wing down from the roof top to her 'vette, carrying the red-headed angel. She stumbled on landing, nearly falling, and only saved herself by propping herself up with an ornate trident. The angel shook her head as the succubus leaned against the car and dug into her small purse, pulling out a length of bandage. The succubus kept an eye out as the angel quickly wrapped up her leg.

Lipton noted the tatters of Seraph's dress and cursed himself. He'd sat here most of the night waiting to catch the two, and because he'd gone to get something to eat and coffee to keep awake, he'd missed seeing them emerge. It was obvious they'd been ambushed, and he'd missed a perfect opportunity to observe how the two had reacted in a fight.

Still, it was obvious the angel was being caring towards the succubus. He watched the angel get Seraph settled into the car and climb into the driver's seat, then he pulled out behind them and followed. The angel drove sedately, and never seemed to notice him trailing.

Mary wove her Harley through the late evening traffic behind Lipton and pondered what she should do. It was obvious he was following someone, but she couldn't tell who. She'd run across him a few blocks from the club she'd heard about, and it was obvious he'd come from that direction. Knowing him, he was probably following a lead.

She followed him across town until they drew near a hotel, and she finally caught a sense of the aura he was following. She sighed. That aura she knew too well, and it meant Lipton was chasing the wrong target. She'd hoped maybe he would lead her to the succubus Seraph. He'd found a succubus alright, but it wasn't the one he was chasing. She grumbled to herself as she turned off and sped away into the night. She should have known that the rumor of a succubus dancing at an upscale club would have been her. She'd always been a flamboyant and vain bitch. Still, she wasn't her quarry, and she was technically out of bounds, so a confrontation was pointless. She smirked. The blonde bitch would have Lipton for a snack if he tried what he'd pulled on that minor succubus with her. The slut would fuck anything… she was almost as bad as Lilith.

She gave a low chuckle as she disappeared into the night.

"Are they going to keep attacking us like that forever?" Heart asked as they exited the elevator. She rubbed the knot on the back of her head. It was still sore despite the healing chant she had used.

"I don't know," Seraph replied, still favoring her foot. "Those were higher level demons than Bhaalor has sent before. He's really going to be pissed." She stopped at the door of their room. "Heart? Did you leave the door ajar?"

Heart shook her head as she drew her sword from her purse. Seraph held off to the side, too battered from the previous battle to take the offensive. She hoped whatever it was they could deal with it quickly; she was in no shape yet for another drawn-out fight.

Heart pushed open the door with her sword, peeking into the room around the door. Soft, sultry music came from within accompanied by an overwhelming floral scent, and hundreds of flickering candles lit the room. Seraph sniffed.

"Fresh jasmine?" She sighed. "I know that scent anywhere." She stepped past Heart into the room. "Okay, Aphrodite, show yourself."

Heart closed the door behind her as a voice came from mid-air. "You're never any fun when you're hurt, Seraph."

Falling of motes of light sprang into existence by the bed and vanished, leaving behind an incredibly voluptuous figure with long blonde hair. She was nude, and the spread-legged pose she had on the bed showed that off to the extreme. Heart was immediately struck by the aura of raw sexuality the woman exuded, and she found herself fervently wishing the woman would leave so she could drag Seraph into the bed. Curious as to where the urge came from, she studied it.

Seraph, for her part, sighed. "That's probably because I am hurt." She stripped off the tatters of her dress. "So what brings you by?" she asked as she sat down and started to unwrap the bandage from her hoof.

The blonde gave Heart a long appraising look. "I just had to meet the woman who stole you away from me." The hungry smile she gave Heart left no doubt as to what she'd do to her if she was in Seraph's place. "I figured anyone who's that good in bed would definitely be worth a tumble."

Seraph gave Heart a worried glance for a second, but relaxed as Heart stepped against her and encircled her shoulders with her arms. Seraph smiled at the blonde. "I don't think she's interested."

Heart shook her head. "No. Seraph is my Beloved." She raised an eyebrow in revelation. "You're a succubus! And you're using your abilities!" She smiled. "I'm flattered, but it won't work on me. Seraph's right. I'm not interested in casual sex."

The blonde scowled, but the pressure lessened. "But casual sex is the best! No guilt, no obligation, just fun."

Heart smiled. "Not for me. Seraph is all I could ever ask for."

The blonde smiled. "Yeah, she's good. She show you what she can do with her tail yet?"

Heart blushed as Seraph called, "Aphrodite, enough."

The blonde sighed. "You're ruining all my fun."

"Yes, I am. And I'm not going to just sit by and let you tempt Heart, either. I don't work for Mephie anymore, remember?"

The blonde inhaled. "How could I forget? Mephie has had me dressing in white robes and a halo at the office ever since you left." She shimmered and her generous bust was accented in a sheer see-through version of angelic robes, while a silver hoop on a wire floated above her head. Bat wings poked through the back of the robe and small golden horns peeked through her blonde hair. "Do you have any idea how demeaning that is? I was a goddess once, and now he has me playing at being an angel. What a demotion."

Seraph shrugged. "So leave him."

"Wish I could. But you know why I'm stuck in Hell."

Seraph nodded. "Yeah." She looked between the blonde and Heart. "Oh, yeah. Heart, this is Aphrodite, my best friend."

Heart nodded. Then did a double take. "You were Aphrodite from the Greek myths?"

The blond nodded. "And once upon a time I was Venus to the Romans." The outfit vanished as she stood and sauntered over to the red head, her tail lashing slowly. "And I can remember a young acolyte at the temple of Venus in Rome who looked a lot like you."

Heart blinked, shocked at a long-forgotten memory. "Oh, no. I had forgotten that. I once worshipped you, before I turned to Christ." She stepped back. "I was so ashamed that I had spent so many years worshipping an idol, and… and…" She broke off, staring at Seraph.

Aphrodite looked over to Seraph too. "Actually, I had lots of plans for having fun with her. She was quite the devotee once,"she gloated. "Then, before she actually turned of age to become a priestess, she had to go and listen to that idiot follower of Paul." Aphrodite sidled up to Heart and purred in her ear, "Of course, we could make up for all those missed years of worship now."

"APHRODITE!" Seraph shouted. "Stop that!" She pulled Heart close. "I certainly don't care whether Heart used to worship you or not. You're not a goddess any more, and she's an angel. Stop trying to vamp her."

Aphrodite sighed. "You really are taking all the fun out of it."

Heart jumped and turned to slap at Aphrodite's tail. The ex-goddess gave her a roguish grin. "I'm a succubus now. I had to try."

Seraph finished unwrapping her hoof, revealing the long slash down her leg. "Yeah, well stop it… please? She isn't interested, and I'm not available anymore." She hissed as Heart knelt to look at the wound.

"You need some salve, Beloved. And fresh bandages," Heart said as she started rummaging through her purse.

Aphrodite finally gave up on vamping Heart and laid down on the bed, her leg elevated to give the pair an unobstructed view as her tail caressed her thigh. "You two have really got some people pissed off, you know. Mephie's in a tizzy over Bhaalor trying to kill you."

Seraph gave her a dark look. "I really don't care what Mephie does anymore, 'Dite. If I see him again, I'll cut his prick off and fuck him with it before I gut him. And you can tell him that."

Heart looked up from ministering Seraph's wound and raised an eyebrow. Then she thought about it and shrugged. It wasn't any worse than what she would do to anyone who tried to hurt Seraph.

Aphrodite giggled. "Ohh, that would be fun to watch." She gave Heart a wicked grin. "I'm surprised you don't harbor similar sentiment towards that bastard who tries to deny he's my son. Especially since it's his jealousy that made him exile you."

Heart blinked at Aphrodite. "Hmm? I don't understand."

"Eros… The good for nothing back-stabbing brat I regret not aborting…" Aphrodite growled. "Oh… what's that idiotic name he calls himself now…. Oh, yeah. Theliel. He changed it when the G.O.D. recruited him." She rolled over to face the pair, her wings furling and unfurling above the bed in her agitation. "The little bastard spent centuries trying to prove that Lust was all that mattered and that Love was useless, then when they offer him a chance at my portfolio, he jumps at it. And I get all my worshippers stolen or killed and find myself handed to Mephie like some trophy. If I wasn't a goddess, I'd have ended up like poor Seraph here, with no memory of who I had been."

"Theliel is Eros?" Heart asked incredulously, her eyes wide in shock.

"You mean he exiled her from Heaven because he was jealous!?" Seraph growled.

Aphrodite shrugged. "Probably. He's always had a passion for redheads. And I know Heaven's got to be giving him blue balls. He could never keep his dick out of things. Male, female, animal, whatever… Hell, I can't even count the times he tried to bed me, and I'm his mother," Aphrodite giggled. "I masturbated myself to sleep countless times thinking about how frustrated he's got to be."

Heart blinked again. "Theliel's had sex with men?"

Aphrodite took in her blank stare. "Yep. And He likes bottom. And only occasionally as female." She gave the pair a lascivious look. "And he likes watching two girls have fun, too. Who do you think got Sappho started?"

Seraph hissed in pain as Heart's hand bore down too hard. Heart instantly turned her attention back to Seraph. "Oh, Beloved, I'm sorry."

Seraph patted her hand. "It's okay, Beloved. At least we know it wasn't our genders that got you kicked out. Or anything you did wrong. It was because that bastard Theliel wanted to fuck you!"

Heart sighed. "I don't know that for sure, Seraph. I mean, he was so adamant I win you to Heaven's cause."

"Yeah, probably because he wanted to fuck me too."

Aphrodite laughed. "Actually, there was a bet going around the office whether Eros would get to fuck you or Mephistopheles would get to fuck Heart."

"APHRODITE!" Seraph yelled.

The other succubus peered out from between the wings she'd ducked behind. "Hey, don't be mad at me. I bet neither of them would. I could see how much you loved her. It wasn't hard to figure she'd be the same way. I mean, you haven't played with me in over a decade. I knew you had it bad years ago. After all, if you weren't interested in this…" She wiggled her apple-cheeked bottom in the air. "You had to be in love."

Seraph looked down worriedly at Heart, afraid the angel might be upset at Aphrodite's flaunting of their previous affairs, but Heart was daubing salve along the cut.

Still, the angel seemed to read her mind. "You don't have to worry about me being jealous, Love. I know you're a succubus, and I know you've had lots of other lovers. I don't mind. And I don't care if you slept with Aphrodite." She glanced up at the succubus on the bed. "I suppose she's cute enough, if you like that sort. Besides, you forgave me for worshipping her once," she finished with a self-satisfied note.

Aphrodite sniffed and rolled her eyes. "Really… As if worshipping me was a sin."

Heart smiled. "It was."

"Do you still think so?"

Heart considered. "I-I don't really know anymore. I'm certainly not going to worship you again."

Aphrodite sighed dramatically. "And here I was hoping I could get you to kneel and pray at my altar." The suggestive wiggle left no doubt as to the innuendo. Heart blushed.

"Aphrodite," Seraph warned again.

"You're no fun at all anymore, Seraph. I'm tempted to just go away and not tell you what I came to tell you."

Seraph gave her an evil eye. "You, the gossip queen of Hell?" she asked sarcastically.

Aphrodite giggled. "Okay, you got me. Anyway, I came to tell you that you might want to watch out. This place probably won't be safe after tonight. Bhaalor's minions have it spotted."

Seraph sighed as Heart started re-wrapping her hoof. "That sucks. We definitely have to find a place of our own. Preferably someplace that can be warded." She drew in her breath again as Heart murmured a few musical syllables over the bandage. Aphrodite cringed. Heart looked up apologetically.

"I know that hurt a little, Beloved, but it's a charm to help it heal faster. All I know is angelic magick."

Seraph let out her breath. "It's okay, love. It still tickles when you do that, but that was unexpected. I was just surprised."

Aphrodite raised an eyebrow. "She just cast an angelic spell on you! Why aren't you screaming in agony?"

Heart looked at her, wide-eyed. "I love Seraph! I'd never do anything to hurt her!"

Seraph looked at the other succubus. "That's the only answer I can think of for it. Her spells tickle and give me wonderful shivers, but they've never hurt." Her tail reached out to wrap around the diminutive angel. "Maybe, it's just the love."

Heart beamed.

Aphrodite rolled her eyes again. "You two would have been perfect worshippers. The sugar-shock factor alone is enough to kill."

Heart stuck out her tongue.

Aphrodite grinned. "Don't do that unless you're serious, dear. Or I might just take you up on the offer."

Heart blushed again.

Aphrodite held up her hands at the look Seraph gave her. "Okay, okay, she's not for grabs. Sheesh, you're in a foul mood tonight."

"I ran into Vrock," Seraph muttered.

"Again? I thought you straightened him out in Germany, when he was posing as an SS officer," Aphrodite said.

"So did I. Apparently Bhaalor assigned him the task of killing me."

"I take it that it wasn't pleasant."

"Nope. Especially for him. Heart lost her temper and blew him up."

Aphrodite raised an eyebrow as she appraised Heart again. "I… see. Remind me not to aggravate you too much. I'm pretty immune to angelic magic, but it's still not fun."

Heart shook her head. "Oh no, I'd never do that to one of Seraph's friends. But he was trying to hurt my Beloved." She latched onto one of Seraph's arms and hugged tightly.

Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "I really should have brought a toothbrush." She stood. "Okay girls, I'll let you two alone to play, but don't forget to be careful. And find yourself a place to stay you can defend. Try the Village, there's a couple places down there that'd be perfect for you."

Seraph nodded. "Thanks for the warning."

"Hey, if anyone's going to bag your horns as a trophy, it'll be me, with the rest of you attached and your tongue functional," Aphrodite said with a grin. "So don't you go getting killed, or I'll never get my ménage a trois." She faded into a fall of golden motes.

Seraph sighed. "I swear, that girl has no sense of appropriate behavior, even for a succubus."

"I don't know, dear. You have your moments of playing the seductress," Heart said.

"Yeah, but Aphrodite uses her sexuality as a blunt object. She bludgeons you into it." Seraph lay down and stretched on the bed. "I swear, if it hadn't been for the fact she was so good in bed, I wouldn't have played with her so much." She gave Heart a come hither look. "Then I found you."

Heart gave her a sidelong glance. "I see. So you threw her over because I was better in bed?"

Seraph chuckled. "Nope, I threw her over because she's a lot of fun as a play-toy, but she can't hold a candle to the love you give me."

"But I am better in bed, right?" Heart's eyes showed she was teasing. Seraph laughed.

"Oh I don't know. It's been so long since we did anything I can't remember," she answered coquettishly. "How could I possibly compare you to her? I guess you'll just have to demonstrate your skills to me."

Heart gave her an appraising look. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather have her?"

Seraph raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't know. I'll let you know later." Her lascivious grin left no doubt as to whom she was desiring, though.

Heart threw a pillow at her. "Humph. I don't know if I want to, now."

Seraph stroked Heart's leg with her tail. "Really?"

Unable to hold her laughter any longer, Heart crawled onto the bed, being careful of Seraph's leg. "I really do love you."

Seraph tousled her hair. "You must. You gave up a chance at being the priestess of a goddess of love for me."

Heart kissed her. "You're all the love I need," she whispered throatily.

Then there were no more words…


To be continued.

Day 5
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