An original story by
Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.
Day Five: Roots
Sunrise and television.
It was another morning for Heart. She had slept a little longer this time, but sleep was still more an indulgence than a need. She flipped channels idly as Seraph slept, searching for something that wasn't violent or depressing. The television wasn't being cooperative.
She scanned around the room, noting the lingering scent of jasmine and the tattered remnants of Seraph's dress, and reflected on Aphrodite's visit last night. It had been centuries since the last time she had thought of her life before becoming an angel, that brief span of time as a mortal.
She had been born in Rome to a Celtic mother and a Greek father, slaves to a wealthy patrician. Her mother had given her the flaming red hair and the beauty that had caught the eyes of the priestesses at Venus's temple, and her father had been overjoyed when they had approached her master. Her mother had been dubious at first; worried she would be a sacrifice, but had been reassured by her father's descriptions of the life of comfort she would lead as a temple maid of Venus.
Indeed, for much of her young life, she had led a life of comfort, learning the ways of Venus, preparing for the day she would become a full priestess. But she had always been a curious child, given more to study or exploring the city of Rome than indulging in the luxuries of the temple.
It had been on one of her forays she'd stopped to listen to a charismatic speaker, a wandering speaker who taught about a Jew named Jesus. She'd been touched by his words, his teachings, and had found herself swept along in the wake of his passage. He had a gift for words, a way of inspiring people that Heart had never seen, and his story of the sacrifice of Christ had made her examine the future she would have as a priestess, a life of indulgence and luxury regardless of Venus's messages of love, and had she had been ashamed.
Her life as a Christian had been harder than her life as a priestess would have been, but she had counted it a fair trade for the sins she had been convinced her earlier life had been. She had helped and aided the poor and her fellow Christians for the few months she had left as a human until she had died, a victim of a riot that culminated in the burning of Rome. She had never even felt the blade that had killed her.
An announcer's comment about "The Gladiators of Rome" caught her ear and brought her out of the reverie. She stayed as the show went to commercials, curious as to what the program was about. Her memories of the past were so remote, and she couldn't even remember her death. She'd simply tried to get out of the street into an alley, and had found herself on the long golden stair. She'd never even felt sad about it, too fascinated with the new world she had found herself in.
The show came back on and she found herself watching a documentary on the NFL, which was apparently an organization of athletes who played a game called football. She was fascinated with the parallels to her memories of the Coliseum, the huge stadiums, the bright banners, the roars of the crowd; it all brought back the memories of the times she had been part of that crowd, watching the entertainments and contests. She had never developed a taste for watching the gladiators, and was glad to see that football didn't seem to be lethal.
"I've always felt that they lost the point when they took away their swords," came a sleepy mumble from the bed.
Heart turned to look at the yawning succubus. "I was never really all that interested in the fighting, Beloved. I always went to see the spectacles, the animals, the shows. I didn't like the bloodshed. I don't even like it when I've had to defend myself." She smiled as she rose and went to sit on the edge of the bed. "I was just reminiscing. I was only about 14 when I died. I never really went to many of the circuses."
Seraph stretched, arching her back seductively as her tail wrapped around the angel. "I was never into it either. It's a comment on the pointlessness of the sport." Seraph grinned at Heart's appreciative gaze. "I've just never been much for sports, dear." She gave Heart a seductive look. "At least, anything other than bedroom Olympics."
Heart giggled. "I don't know, beloved. I'll have to watch this 'football' and see what I think."
Seraph yawned hugely, her wings vibrating as she stretched. "Just so long as you don't turn me into a football widow in favor of the Superbowl." She grinned as she finished the stretch.
Heart tweaked her. "I'd never do that." She smiled at Seraph's purr of pleasure. "I was waiting for you to order breakfast."
Seraph nodded and rolled out of the bed, her wings shrinking to fit in the room. "Yeah, we need to find a new place. Hopefully, one with plenty of headroom." She winced as she placed her weight on her wrapped leg.
"Are you okay?" Heart asked, concerned.
"Yeah. Your spell did wonders, Beloved. It's just a dull ache. I'll survive."
"I'm sorry I didn't warn you in time," Heart said contritely.
Seraph blinked. "Beloved… You had no way of knowing he was going to strike like that. I'm sorry I let you get clobbered by Vrock."
Heart rubbed the back of her head. "I'm okay, Beloved. Not even a bruise anymore. Are you hungry?"
Breakfast went quickly as they looked over the paper. Page after page of apartments were listed. Seraph was soon rubbing her eyes as Heart gazed serenely through the ads. "How can you stand to read such small print?" she asked the angel.
"Try going through page after page of tiny script. This is easy." Heart smiled. "Especially with my glasses. You can't imagine how happy I was when they were developed."
Seraph quirked her head. "I had wondered about them. Aren't angels supposed to be perfect?"
Heart sighed. "Maybe the original ones. There aren't too many of those in heaven anymore. Mostly raised souls like me. I was nearly blind when I died, and that stayed with me." She gave Seraph a dazzling smile. "Besides, you said they made me look incredibly cute."
"I did?" Seraph raised an eyebrow. "They do, but I don't remember saying that to you."
"It was behind the stage at Woodstock. When we were comparing notes. You said, and I quote, 'you may look incredibly cute in those glasses, but I think the rose tint is getting to you'."
Seraph giggled. "Dear, I was talking about you claiming credit for the five we both hit. The ones we ended up saying were draws. I was grousing!"
Heart sniffed. "You still said it. And I take it as a compliment."
Seraph smiled. "And you wonder why I love you so much?"
Heart smiled as she continued reading, then excitedly pointed to an ad. "Oh, Beloved! I think this looks perfect."
Seraph peered over Heart's shoulder. "’Lover's Nest?’" She looked over the jumble of letters following the title. "Not bad. Two bedroom, two bath penthouse." She looked at the address. Right in the heart of the village, where Aphrodite had suggested. She looked at Heart. "Looks good to me. What about you?"
Heart smiled. "I have a good feeling about it."
The building was several stories high, and looked out over the Hudson like a sage old woman in a rocking chair. The front it showed the street was mostly plate glass store-front, trimmed in hunter's green, but above that, a stone facade gazed down on the angel and the demon with all the sobriety and authority of a Norman keep. Tall, stylized windows reminiscent of arrow slits rose in intervals up the side, carved rampant lions supporting them in stone paws. Carved stone battlements graced the top, and Seraph shuddered as she saw the winged figures that glared out from their places on the crenellations.
"Gargoyles," she said nervously, shivering again.
Heart looked at them too, patting Seraph's hand. "It'll be alright, Love. I'm sure if we can show them that you love me, like we did Thor."
"They still won't like me," Seraph frowned. She turned and made as if to walk back to the car. Heart did a little pirouette and grabbed her around the waist, facing her back at the building.
"We won't know if we don't try," Heart told her. "And I told you I had a good feeling about this place…" She trailed off as they approached the storefront and she got her first look at the shop.
The windows were filled with a huge jumble of books, candles, statues, and sundry other objects. Dried flowers wreathed around a small silver-hilted dagger carved into the shape of a dragon, and several tarot cards showed their faces next to it.
Seraph grinned. "An occult shop. You're right, Beloved. It can't be all that bad."
Heart swallowed hard. "Witches," she whispered. Then she shook her head and seemed to resolve herself. "They're only humans who know magic. That's all, right?" She looked at Seraph for reassurance.
"Some of them," Seraph teased. She relented when Heart blanched. "Most of them don't have the faith to do real magic, Love, and you said you had a good feeling, right? And I liked the ad."
Heart nodded, a little more confidently. "Let's try it," she said, reassuring herself with another glance up at the gargoyles.
Seraph noted the look and hesitantly reached out to touch the door, sighing in relief at the lack of screams. More confidently, she pushed the door open and followed Heart inside.
A wall of patchouli-saturated air greeted her first step inside, immediately sending Seraph into a fit of sneezing. This elicited a glance from the clerk, a tall, slender woman with an unruly mop of curly light brown hair. She rose an eyebrow at the pair before returning to her task of rearranging semi-precious stones. Her studious disregard shielded her obvious curiosity, aided by a pair of huge owl-rimmed glasses of a type preferred by animated canine historians.
After her sneezing fit, Seraph and Heart looked around. Before them was a veritable library filled with books whose spines had never been cracked. Titles like The Goddess and You and Wicca: Ancient Religion of Ireland abounded, making Heart nearly burst out laughing. She would have, but in between the neo-pagan bibles and love-spell books were the occasional tomes of actual wisdom.
To the left was a long glass counter, laden with diadems, jewelry heavy with assorted stones and symbols, and small pewter figurines of fairies and unicorns. The clerk and the cash register sat at the far end. Three doors led out of the shop, one right behind the clerk leading into an office from which came the sounds of someone bustling about. The second door was to the left of the clerk and it was closed, as was the door leading deeper into the building, its green exit sign glowing brightly.
"Who do we talk to?" Seraph wondered.
"Someone called Mama." Heart looked at the cashier dubiously. "Do you think she's Mama?"
Seraph shook her head. "Not her. Someone named Mama is going to look a lot older than that. But we can ask her."
Before Heart could protest — not that she had planned to anyway — Seraph had strode purposefully up to the clerk, her tail narrowly dodging collisions with the various displays as her hooves clicked on the tile.
The woman dropped her guise of adjusting stones and greeted the succubus with a wry grin.
"You're not fooling me with those clothes," she said before Seraph had a chance to speak. Her large brown eyes didn't have to rise far to meet Seraph's after a cursory inspection of the black mini and halter. "Any psychic can see how undeveloped your orange chakra is. You're looking for a love spell, aren't you?"
"Well, actually—" Seraph began before she was overrun by the overzealous woman.
"You shouldn't worry about finding love with an aura as pure as yours," she continued as she started pulling jars off the shelves behind the counter. Seraph could smell them even over the pervasive patchouli. The woman placed them on the counter as she kept talking. "Still, I think we can make a great potion for you. Let's see — some mugwort, Balm of Gilead, High John the Conqueror—"
"That's not why we're here," Seraph attempted again.
"We?" The woman's gaze locked onto Heart. "Oh, yes, of course. A new initiate in the craft!" She leaned conspiratorially towards Seraph. "We seasoned elders need to take them all under our wings. She'll need careful guidance. I sense such darkness hovering around her."
Seraph rose an eyebrow, but before she could say anything, Heart interrupted.
"We're looking for someone named Mama."
The clerk's face fell as an air of resignation set in. She turned to the open door and called out, "Mama!"
The door opened fully and an older woman stepped out, surrounded by a cloud of smoke that had Seraph sniffing with glee. In all appearances, she looked like a gypsy grandmother with her brightly colored skirt and creamy poet's shirt. The diklo on her head was as wildly colored as her skirt and covered a wild shock of curly ebony hair with silver streaks playing through it. A thick necklace of semi-precious stones hung to the crest of an ample bosom due more to her corpulence than a generous puberty. Hundreds of thin bangles chimed at her thick wrists, while her well-muscled hands glittered with rings. Large gold hoops dangled from her ears to tangle in her unruly hair. Despite her obvious age, she still showed the traces of the vamp she had to have been in her youth.
She fixed the clerk with a gaze of resigned amusement, her dark eyes glittering like opals.
"Honey, are you scaring the wicclets again?" she asked in an accent that was pure Bronx.
"No," Honey replied defensively. She gestured to Heart and Seraph as she said sullenly, "There's some people here to see you."
Mama looked at the pair appraisingly for a long moment, her expression one of resignation mixed with wonder.
"So, you've come to see the apartment," she said with certainty. "At long last. Come."
She walked towards the door with the "exit" sign, gesturing for the pair to follow. Seraph and Heart gave each other a puzzled glance before Seraph shrugged and headed for the door, Heart's arm through hers.
The door led to a hallway that made an L turn towards the back of the building. Mailboxes were set into the walls on either side of a large elevator. Mama bustled down to the elevator, her press of the button garnering an almost instant opening of the conveyance.
The inside of the elevator featured a dark red wallpaper and a large gold framed mirror on the back wall. Mama waited till they had entered, Seraph nodding in approval at the high ceiling and door, then pressed the top button on the control panel.
After a nearly noiseless ascent, they exited to a richly paneled hall with matching double doors on opposite sides. A thick plush carpet ran down the center of the marble tiled hall. "The original owner of this building was a playboy in the twenties," Mama explained as she led them to the door on the left. "He went broke in the Crash, and it went to the bank. It's been through a string of owners until I inherited it in a card game. Last owner swore it was cursed with bad luck. Can't say I've found cause to agree with him."
As she paused to unlock the door, the opposite one opened, and a man with short auburn hair and wire-rimmed glasses stepped out.
"Mama—" he started, then stopped dead as his gaze encountered Seraph's cleavage directly in front his eyes. Slowly, his gaze rose to her face, the look of lustful amazement changing to one of bewilderment. His hand rose to cover his mouth from the top of his mustache to the bottom of his goatee.
"Yes, Doug?" Mama asked, smiling and giving the man a pointed glance.
Doug focused on her, the confusion strong in his eyes. He took an involuntary step back and looked at Seraph again, then took off his glasses and cleaned them before looking at her a third time in disbelief.
Heart and Seraph looked at each other, concern in their eyes. Doug noted the look and turned to look at her. The glasses came off again as he rubbed his eyes. Replacing them, he gave Heart a long look, then Seraph, and shook his head.
"I clearly haven't had enough coffee yet. I'm seeing things." He turned on his heel and entered the door he had come through, the dead bolt locking with an audible click.
"Coffee," Mama snorted. "That's funny."
"What's his problem?" Seraph asked, looking after the departed man.
Mama opened the door to the apartment. "His problem is that he doesn't believe his own eyes. Don't worry about him, he's harmless, and he'll get used to you eventually."
Seraph hung back as Mama entered the apartment, grabbing Heart's elbow. "Can he see us as we are, do you think?"
Heart shrugged. "I don't know. I've run into a few cases where my assignment could see me, but they're usually people of strong faith and belief. Demetrius, my harp maker, could see me, so could Caravaggio, but they were exceptions, and very strong in their faith. I've always been told that anyone who claims to be able to see us, but who doesn't follow the faith, was insane." She gave a rueful grin. "Then again, they told me the Greek and Norse Gods were a myth too."
"Hmm." Seraph looked at the closed door thoughtfully, then gave a little shimmy as she shape-shifted to full human form. Heart nodded and cast a light glamour on herself to hide her halo and aura. She wasn't worried that many humans would actually try to hurt her, but there was no sense to advertise who she was to someone who might just be aligned with Hell and maybe alert someone like Bhaalor to her presence.
They entered the apartment, Seraph's heels clicking woodenly instead of the musical chime of her hooves. They walked a few feet into the interior of the main room and stopped, looking around in wonder. They were both struck with memories of Versailles in its heyday. The high ceilings arched far overhead, and the ornate decorations continued down the walls to the polished marble floor. Light poured down from a decorative chandelier and from the huge glass doors that led onto a wide balcony. They stared in wonder for several long minutes before they both realized that the room was far too large to fit into a building the size of the one they had seen from outside.
"This is a great neighborhood," Mama said from beside the French doors. "In all the years I've lived here, this building has never had a break-in or robbery, nor attacks or assaults. It's like a safe haven." She smiled at them. "This apartment is perfect for a couple, too. Cozy enough to be home, but wide enough to spread your wings." She did a pirouette that swirled her skirt before proceeding to one of the glass doors and throwing it wide. She stepped out to the balcony and called back to them, "From here, there are a lot of low buildings, so you can see almost all of the best parts of the skyline." She stole a wistful glance south before returning to the room and heading for a room off to the side. Almost to herself, she added, "Almost all of them."
"You must see the bedroom," she called out as she vanished through the door. "Lots of closet space, and the bathroom comes equipped with a Roman bath."
Heart and Seraph were too busy examining the spacious living room and the well-equipped kitchenette to pay much heed to what Mama was saying, but Heart's ears perked up at the word "Roman". She stole barely a glance at the cavernous master bedroom as she headed straight for the doorway that presumably led to the bathroom. Sure enough, surrounded by a toilet, bidet, sink and shower, was a huge bathtub set into the floor and surrounded by tile decorated in a Greco-Roman key design.
"The best part is," Mama said from her shoulder, "Is that it has jets and can double as a Jacuzzi."
Heart had no idea what that was, but she smiled happily anyway.
Seraph, meanwhile, had wandered into the sliding doors that concealed a pair of walk-in closets. She smiled in delight at the shoe racks and the wrap-around clothes bars. She could envision their wardrobes filling the closets already.
Stepping back out into the bedroom, she laid a hand on the doorframe and sighed. She was going to have to address the practical aspect of rent. Heart had no concept of it, and the paper hadn't listed it. She looked around the place and estimated the likely cost. She was well off with what she brought in from the club, both dancing and with her yearly profits, but this might be a stretch even for her. Her resources weren't as nearly limitless as they had been.
She turned to look for Mama, only to find her standing and waiting for her.
"You want to know how much?" she said before Seraph could say a word. Seraph nodded.
Mama pulled a small pad and pencil from somewhere within the folds of her dress and wrote down a figure. Seraph looked at it and blinked in shock. It was maybe half of what she made a night. Twenty five hundred? she thought in disbelief. For an apartment in the Village? This was less than average for this area, where jobs made more money but everyone else charged more, too.
Mama was looking at her expectantly, a confident smile on her face. She knew her price was low, and was expecting Seraph to jump for it. Her natural demonic paranoia kicked in. "What's the catch?"
The look of utter and sincere astonishment on the old woman's face made her ashamed of her suspicion, and her shift to offended pride drove the guilt home. She suddenly seemed nearly as tall as Seraph in her anger.
"I own the building, dearie, and I have six other floors of apartments and the shop as well. I could give this apartment to you for free if I wanted and not feel it. The catch is I'm a bored old lady, and want new neighbors I can nose in on, and I can afford to give you a break because I'm a sappy romantic and young love brings out the best in me. Now do you take the apartment, or shall we call it a day?"
Heart caught Seraph's eyes over Mama's shoulder and the raised eyebrow and amused smile decided her. She wrote down another figure down and handed it back to Mama. "That should cover us for awhile."
Mama tucked the pad away without even looking at it. "I'll go draw up the lease papers. Here's the keys."
"I want a pro-rated refund if we decide to leave," Seraph stated as she took the pair of key rings with small heart charms.
"Of course. But you won't." Mama grinned. She turned and vanished through the door. Heart bounced out of the bathroom door and grabbed Seraph's hand.
"Oh, Beloved, is it really ours?" she gushed.
Seraph did a slow turn, looking around the apartment. "It looks like it, Love." Her form shimmered as her shapeshift vanished and her wings spread wide in a stretch. She looked at Heart and smiled. "You know, you're right, I'm sharing your good feeling about this place, too."
Lipton raised an eyebrow at the metaphysical shop before him, wondering what had brought an angel to a place like this.
He'd waited outside the hotel all night, napping in the car and keeping an eye out for the pair leaving. He'd debated about trying to bluff his way in with his badge, but the place was upscale enough they'd want a warrant before allowing him to disturb their guests. A bribe to the doorman had gotten him a wave when the pair were about to leave, and he'd followed them on foot to the village, and this store.
He couldn't figure out why Heart would have come here, though it wouldn't surprise him if Seraph had occult connections. Still, it was unusual. Most occultists who dabbled in demonology did so to control them, and Seraph didn't seem like the sort of demon whom the average occultist could control. In fact, he'd be hard-pressed to name any demon he'd ever encountered who seemed to possess the aura of enormous power Seraph did.
Curious, but not wanting to dive headfirst into a complete unknown, he decided to scope the place out, but quickly, as he didn't want to miss the pair coming out again.
The building had an alleyway down one side and he ducked down it, the narrow space shutting out much of the noise of the street. It was typical of most any alley in New York, filled with the requisite dumpsters, a loading pad and a month's worth of old newspaper. The sole exception to normalcy was an inconspicuous door with a small green pentagram on it. Lipton looked at it and shook his head.
"Ritual Room," he muttered. "Wiccan."
:::Tee hee hee.:::
Lipton stopped, wondering if he'd actually heard that. Out of the corner of his eye, something flitted through his vision and disappeared around the back of the building. Lipton wasn't sure he'd actually seen it, but he was sure enough that something was up to follow warily.
Drawing his pistol, he swung around the corner vigilantly, ready for an attack. He wound up frozen, gazing into huge innocent green eyes. They set perched atop a pert nose, and small heart-shaped lips, surrounded by high cheekbones and sun-kissed strawberry blond hair. For some reason, Lipton was reminded of Galadriel.
Her lithe body did little to dispel this image, even dressed as she was in a tight halter top over a blue thermal shirt, cut-off Daisy Dukes over black tights and beat-up Doc Martins. She looked about fifteen.
The faerie on her shoulder, peeking out from under the girl's golden locks, was the clincher, though. At least, he assumed it was a faerie. He estimated it was about six inches tall, though it was impossible to say for certain, hidden as she was in the young girl's hair.
The girl was giving Lipton's gun an amused look. "I don't think you need that thing," she said, turning her back to him and walking away.
Lipton holstered his weapon, feeling sheepish and a bit shocked.
"Angels and demons, then Nordic deities, and now faeries. I really must be going nuts," he muttered, exasperated. "What the hell is next?"
::: He can see me!:::
"Ha!" he shouted at thin air. "I know I heard you that time!"
The girl stopped to look at him impatiently.
"Unless you're deaf, anyway," she said. "Are you coming?"
Beyond her, in the direction she was gesturing, was a garden, huge by Manhattan standards. Several tiered stone bowls held herbs, spilling over their sides in falls of fragrance and beauty. Flowers grew in neat rows around the edge of the courtyard and vines grew up the sides of the surrounding buildings. Lipton stared in amazement.
"And how did this little slice of nature come to be?" he asked the girl as she waved him towards one of the dozen or so patio chairs scattered around the garden.
The girl jerked an absent thumb at a grass- and flower-covered mound in the center of the garden. "They like it here, and they like it like this."
Lipton looked around. "They? You mean faeries?"
The girl gave him a curious look. "Who else would I mean?"
::: You have a problem with that? ::: the faerie had poked out further from the girl's hair, allowing Lipton to see she had a long, wild shock of hair colored every shade of Kool-aid.
Lipton rubbed his temples. "Why me?"
The girl smiled. "Because you're an angel's child."
Lipton stared at her in shock. "What'd you say?"
The girl blinked. "That's what Mama says. You can see faeries because you're an angel's child. Like me, and Mama. Mom's not though. Mama says it can skip generations."
Lipton shook his head. "Where the hell did you get that explanation from?"
"Ask Mama." The girl shrugged.
"And who's Mama?"
"My grandmother. She owns the place. This is our garden… Well… It's the faeries', but Mama owns the land."
::: She's nice to us, and we like her. ::: the faerie added. She finally came out of the girl's hair, and Lipton saw she was dressed in a tiny punked-out version of the girl’s clothes. The small spiked belt and wrist bands with the wild hair reminded Lipton of the Eighties' punk scene. The faerie walked down the girl's arm to give Lipton a hard look. ::: You ain't here to cause her trouble are you? ::: she asked belligerently, her brightly-colored wings fluttering.
Lipton nearly laughed at the attitude the little faerie displayed, but caught himself at the last moment with memories of the "jokes" faeries played on mortals in the stories his grandmother used to tell him.
"I've never heard of her before, so I'm not here about her," Lipton said matter-of-factly.
"So why are you here? Mama said she was expecting someone. Are you him?" the girl queried.
Lipton shrugged. "I don't think so. I had no idea I was coming here, so how could she?"
::: Mama knows. She reads Tarot. She told us to stay outside today. No faeries in the building till she says so. :::
"Izzy! He doesn't need to know that," the girl said. "You know what Mama said about talking to strangers! How do you know he's not a magic-user looking for faerie parts?"
::: Because he doesn't have any magic. Just cold iron and holy ammunition. ::: the faerie retorted. ::: Really, Moon, if you think I didn't check him out before he came back here, you're crazy. :::
"Aren't you supposed to be in school today, anyway?" Lipton asked, interrupting the imminent shouting match.
The girl gave the faerie a stuck-out tongue, then turned to Lipton. "Izzy got me suspended this week."
::: I just taught that jerk not to pick on you! ::: the faerie harrumphed.
"By graffiti all over his locker! The principal wouldn't believe I didn't do it!" the girl protested.
::: At least I didn't turn his head into a donkey's. Puck would have! :::
"You're not Puck! You've just read too much Shakespeare!"
"Okay! Okay! I didn't ask any of that!" Lipton said over the argument. "Look, I'm just wanting some information. Please?"
The girl gave him a once over. "You're a cop. Why would you be interested in faeries?"
"I'm a detective, and I'm not interested in faeries. I'm just surprised to see one. I'm more used to angels or demons."
"Oh." The girl gave him a pitying look. "I know how bad it is seeing them. Mama says I just have to ignore them, because if they realize I can see them, they might hurt me. Mom talks about seeing them all the time, but I don't think she really does, or she wouldn't be so casual about them. I usually cross to the other side of the street if I see them soon enough, and Mama's gargoyles keep evil away from here." She said the word almost cautiously.
"Gargoyles?" Lipton looked up at the carved figures on several levels of the building.
"They scream when evil comes close. None of it can enter the building or come down the alley. Just like a church."
Lipton shook his head. "I don't think they work like that, kid. I watched a demon enter not to long ago."
::: Only those who bear no intent of harm may pass the gargoyles unmolested. Their scream will drive all others away and summon the fae warriors to defend the mound. ::: the faerie insisted. ::: It would take a Demon Lord to drive his minions into a building guarded by gargoyles and fae. The Seelie do not treat demons kindly. :::
"I see," Lipton said. "So the gargoyles would warn you if any, say, demon entered?" He tried to make the question look casual.
::: Yes. Unless their master told them not to. :::
Lipton was prevented from asking any other questions by a door opening in the back wall. A tall woman with a mop of curly blonde hair and huge owl glasses poked her head out.
"Moonbunny! Mama said you could come back in now. I need you to watch the store while I check in the delivery."
"But mom! I'm busy! Izzy and I were explaining about gargoyles to this cop!"
"Now, Moonbunny." The woman waited till the girl and the faerie had gone back inside then turned to Lipton. "I'm so sorry she bothered you, officer. She tries hard, but she's young and her knowledge of the Craft is limited. I try, but it's so hard to get her to study real lore." She gave Lipton a appraising look, like she was sizing up a steak. "If you are truly interested in learning about magick, I would be happy to discuss it with you over… Dinner?"
Lipton had seen that look on far to many women to miss it. He debated about setting a date for all of three seconds before deciding no. As overeager as she was, there was no telling how many other "boyfriends" she had dangling.
"Actually, I'm afraid I have to go. I was just curious about the gargoyles and your daughter was kind enough to tell me about them."
"That's very kind of you. Still, if you'd like to know more, I'd be more than happy to answer your every desire." Her voice had dropped slightly into a sultry tone. Lipton stepped back.
"Thank you, I'll keep that in mind." He turned to the alleyway and headed off. He could feel the woman's eyes burning into his back the entire way.
Safely back in the alley, Lipton mused about what the girl had said about angel children and gargoyles. He snorted at the idea he was a child of an angel. His parents had been entirely too pedestrian for any such flights of fancy. Besides, what self-respecting angel would be caught dead in Jersey?
The gargoyles were something else. He'd heard about that before, though he'd never seen it happen. Then again he'd never seen a demon within a block of a church either.
But he'd seen Seraph enter the building with nary a peep from the watchful stone figures.
A demon who intended no harm, or else someone ordered the gargoyles not to sound an alarm. I wish I knew which it was.
Still, he had confirmed his quarry couldn't sneak out a back way, so he found a place where he could watch the building and waited. It was just a waiting game until he had more information. Sooner or later he'd get to the bottom of the mystery of Seraph Darkfell.
The name rode the crest of Theliel's thoughts, eroding his other concerns. He sat at one of the massive tables in the Great Library, surrounded by a myriad of texts. Presently, he was leafing through a text on succubae, but finally slammed it shut when he realized it was a waste of time. Nowhere could he find any information on the greater demons, save those who had Fallen during the Great War. He had found page after page on those who had sided with Lucifer, but nothing on the deities and other creatures who had been demonized as the G.O.D.s influence had expanded, not even her, and if she wasn't there, Darkfell wouldn't be either.
The sound of the heavy book slamming shut cast a thunderous echo around the library. The echoes faded, leaving behind the clicking of sandals on tile. Theliel looked up in surprise that quickly turned to impatience as he drew another book from the pile on the desk.
"Whatever is the matter, Theliel?" Temporiel asked from beneath her birka. Her eyes flashed in the shadows, narrowing at the handsome Cupid. "Feeling a little… jealous?"
Theliel gave her a raised eyebrow. "Why should I be jealous?" he asked, waving her question off as he calmly continued his search.
"This Seraph Darkfell has been a thorn in your side for quite some time, has she not? Stealing first your mother's affections, then Harteriel's? And was she not the demon who took Valentiniel's life at the end of that little fiasco?"
Theliel kept his face neutral as he shrugged. "No one knows the details of that. She might have, she might not have. I don't know."
Temporiel trailed her fingers across his shoulders as she stepped around him. "Yet you want her so badly, this succubus who continually steals your prizes." She leaned over the table, her dark robes casting a shadow over the book. "One would think she would be dangerous prey. Yet you continue to try and win her to our cause?"
"A powerful enemy can also be a powerful ally," Theliel quipped.
"Indeed." Temporiel thumbed through one of the books Theliel had discarded. "Yet since you have not found what you seek, I would surmise that she is a demi-demon. How do you plan to win a demi-demon, Theliel, or even capture her alive?"
"Demi-demons are just older," Theliel said dismissively. "It doesn't make them untouchable. My mother learned that, no?"
"Older than you, Theliel, old and powerful. One of the First." Temporiel met his eyes. "Older than even the Old Man, perhaps."
"And why is it that you, of all people, are speaking of such things, eh?" Theliel leaned back and crossed his arms, giving Temporiel a wry grin. "Your department has always taken such pains to eradicate accurate knowledge of what came before the Son. Why such an interest now?"
Temporiel paused for a long second. "There is a human seeking the demon," she finally said. "He has the Sight. He can see the Old Ones."
Theliel laughed. "A human?" he exclaimed. "You tart. Humans assume they've gone mad if they see anything we say isn't there. A sample of your handiwork, no?"
Temporiel slammed the book closed. "This human is different, Cupid!" she exclaimed angrily. "He has met the War-Walker! Seen and spoken to him. He has battled demons! He does not accept our explanations, and my spies have told me he has met with the Hornblower!"
"Gabriel?" Theliel looked at her in disbelief. At her nod, he leaned forward over the table, propping his chin on his hands. "Gabriel has not been seen since—"
"Since the Son left Heaven," Temporiel finished for him. "If the human discovers that, we may find our grip on humankind weakened. The Old Man would not be pleased."
Theliel sat back again and placed his hands behind his head. "So why are you telling me this?"
"As I said, he seeks the demon. He must not be allowed to join her. He knows too much already that is dangerous. If he were to meet with an 'unfortunate accident', he would not be able to share such dangerous knowledge." Even behind her veil, the wicked grin was discernable. "And while we are overseeing this, we would be able to monitor the angel and her—" Temporiel choked over the word, "—lover."
"And I'm supposed to believe you don't have any ulterior motive?" Theliel shook his head. "Not today, Temporiel."
"Ulterior motive?" Temporiel queried, giving Theliel an even look.
"Yes. I know you oppose Heart's redemption. I wouldn't put it past you to be planning more than just the human's death."
Temporiel laughed. "The Old Man would have my wings ripped off and hand me to demons dared I go against his word. He has said they are not to be harmed till he has decided their fate on the seventh day. I cannot go against the word. Yet if this human shares what he knows with the renegade, all our work may be in jeopardy. He may reveal that which we would not have them know, and all chance of their redemption will be lost. You will lose your prizes, and centuries of my guidance may be undone. The Faith rests in part on the cornerstones of Chastity and Love. This human threatens both. Yet in death he may serve our cause far more. His hatred for demons and his strength of will could make him a formidable agent in Heaven's ranks."
"And you're willing to share the credit, no questions asked?" Theliel stroked his chin. "I don't trust you, Temporiel. Not one iota."
"Which is why I wish your alliance. You will be my witness, come what may."
Their eyes met for a long moment, both gazes calm and steady. Finally, Theliel spoke.
"Very well. You of all of us are least capable of lying, Angel of Chastity. That's the only reason I will go along with this." With those words, the Angel of Love rose and stalked off, leaving his books behind.
Temporiel watched as he disappeared, a smile hidden beneath her veil. "Yes," she said to herself under her breath. "And you'll be able to vouch to the Old Man that it was the human, not I, who killed Seraph Darkfell."
Uziel waited until Temporiel had turned to go before stepping out of the adjoining aisle. That had been rather interesting. He watched her receding back as he set down at the table and looked over the books Theliel had been reading. Picking one at random, he leafed idly through it as he let his mind work.
"This makes no sense," he said, thinking aloud. "Why is Theliel looking up information on the Old Ones? And why is he so obsessed with Darkfell?" He looked through a volume on the Fallen Host, reading as fast as he turned pages. "Curious," he noted. "Darkfell isn't listed among the Fallen, yet she is clearly a super. Theliel's report made that clear, even though he left out that she had been responsible for Valentiniel's death after she had been sentenced to Hell." He read through the other books in short order. "Even more curious. She's not listed anywhere in the ancient texts, nor any text before the departure of the Son, yet she is attributed with Valentiniel's destruction. Very curious."
He looked back up at the spot where Temporiel had vanished long before. "Theliel's obsession is marginally explainable. He has had several potential conquests usurped by the succubus. His ego will not rest until he has claimed her as his, but Temporiel's hatred seems excessive, and directed specifically at Darkfell as opposed to succubae in general. Some of this is understandable, as Temporiel's hatred of sex, and indeed her own self-hatred as a woman, has been expressed in every religion influenced by the G.O.D. through commandments of chastity and lower status for females. Her office's further duties as keeper of dogmatic law also would suggest she would harbor equal dislike of any of Hell's minions, yet this seems personal. It does not make coherent sense."
"Officially, the Old Man has authorized a clean-up of the records surrounding Harteriel's exile, and Temporiel is the angel in charge of that task, as she has been in the past. She is also overly concerned with the human and whatever knowledge he possesses. From this I must surmise she fears exposure, and therefore, such an action is justified, yet her present actions show she wishes to carry out this action clandestinely. This does not indicate official action. There is something therefore she does not wish the Old Man to be aware of. Something she is hiding. Something not relating to her present task."
He thought for a moment, idly flipping through the books Theliel had left, then stopped on an illustration in the bottom book of the pile, the first book Theliel had looked through and rejected.
It was a plate illustrating an angel bound in chains. Dark violet eyes blazed from under midnight black bangs as ivory white wings strained to break the cold steel links that held her naked form in a mockery of a bow. The look on her face made it obvious that while her body might be kneeling, she had not surrendered.
It was a disturbing picture, Uziel thought. He had not been Master of Purgatory during Valentiniel's trial. Like the rest of Heaven, he had accepted that the unfortunate Virtue had gone insane, unable to accept a life of peace after so long as a warrior. There was no hint of madness in those eyes, caught so exactingly by the illustrator, but what was there was far more disturbing. The picture showed Valentiniel's trial and sentencing, the Archangels presiding over the case. Valentiniel's eyes were locked on Theliel, and there was no mistaking the implacable rage and betrayal in them.
Uziel steepled his fingers as he thought. "And once again, there is a link to Valentiniel. What connection does it have beyond her death at Seraph's hands—" He caught himself, "—rather, claimed to be at Seraph's hands? Temporiel was awarded the role of keeper less than a century later, following the Son's departure. This will bear further investigation.
"Yet for all of that, it does not explain Temporiel's current fixation on this human who has been investigating the succubus." He thought for a moment, finally rising as an idea occurred to him. "To the Book of Life, then. This detective's entry may make for interesting reading."
As he hung up the phone, Father Alphonse Lorenzo breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, oh Lord, for granting me the information that will aid in delivering my friend Bruce from evil. May its use aid in the works he does for you."
He picked up the sheaf of papers from the fax and set them as far from him on the desk as possible. He rose, running a nervous hand through short dark hair as he began pacing his small office, waiting for Bruce.
It was times like these that he wondered why he had become a priest, let alone a Jesuit. Despite his insatiable curiosity and scientific bent, he had discovered there were things he didn't want to know, and the contents of those papers had been one of those things. He feared he wouldn't be able to convince his friend of the danger he was in. He owed Lipton from way back, from the days when the young, self-assured loner had defended him from bullies "just because." They had slowly grown into friendship, the thin, geeky Al helping Bruce with his schoolwork in exchange for "protection"; and in a real sense, Al felt their relationship was still much the same, though these days, it was his knowledge of protections and blessings that protected Bruce.
Then Bruce has to go and get involved way over his head. He shook his head as he glanced at the papers once again.
One thing about being a member of an Italian family was enormous numbers of relatives all over the world… even in Rome. Ever since the inception of the Lorenzo surname, at least one son from every branch of the family had found his way into the priesthood. Some had done good, some had done evil, some had done hardly anything at all. All Al Lorenzo had wanted to do was find a niche where he would be free to study his interests to his heart's content, and do a little good, but Bruce's run-in with Scoth had made his research a matter of practical necessity, and had driven him more than once to call on the family's network for aid.
The papers on the desk had been sent to him from a cousin who-knew-how-many-times-removed named Giuseppe, who served in such a menial capacity in the Vatican Library that he was generally beneath notice, and as such, had managed to get information for Al from various sources with little difficulty. The latest had been in response to his query on Darkfell. Reading them as they had rolled off the fax had prompted his call to Bruce demanding he hurry to the rectory.
Over an hour of nervous pacing passed before the Detective was shown into his office by an altar boy. Lorenzo sighed in relief as his friend came in and gave him an irritated look.
"This had better be important, Al. I had to drop a stakeout to come down here."
Lorenzo licked his lips. "It was. I'm sorry, but I have to warn you to leave this case alone, Bruce. Darkfell is too dangerous."
Bruce dropped into a chair before Lorenzo's desk. "What is this? Everybody and their brother is warning me to drop this case. What's so special about a goddamned succubus?"
Lorenzo winced, but ignored the profanity. "She's not an ordinary succubus, Bruce. She's something much worse." Al picked up the sheaf of paper and sat down at his desk and started reading them to Bruce.
Al looked up from reading the letter at Bruce. "There's nearly fifty more pages of accounts from various sources describing fights, attempted exorcisms, and reports of her activities. This demon is dangerous like you've never dealt with before, Bruce. She's seduced priests, nuns, even a Bishop, and most of the blessings and charms I can give you will be ineffective against her. She's one step below a Demon Lord, Bruce. You don't stand a chance."
Lipton looked at Al over his joined hands. "I don't know if I buy all that, Al. She just doesn't seem to be acting like that."
Lorenzo sighed. "That's her specialty, Bruce. She's a rabid wolf in sheep's clothing. And if what you told me is true, she's good enough to deceive an angel. An angel, Bruce! For all God has granted you the Sight, you're still human. You can't let her weave her lies and deceptions around you! Let her go."
Lipton shook his head. "I can't, Al. There are too many questions this case has raised. I have to find the answers."
"You can't save the world single-handedly, Bruce. You're not the Savior. You're my friend, and I don't want to be the one burying you."
Lipton stood. "You won't, Al. Look, all I can promise is I'll be careful. I need to get to the bottom of this before I go mad."
Lorenzo sighed as he stood and gazed at Bruce sadly. "Then I will pray for your deliverance from this evil, my friend."
Lipton gave him a half-smile as he left. "Hey, it can't be that bad. When you called me, she and the angel were shopping for furniture. I doubt she's looking for a fight."
Al watched him go sadly, wishing he had found something stronger to present to Lipton, to show him how much danger he was in. With a sigh, he turned back to his desk and started typing an e-mail to Giuseppe. Surely, there had to be something in the Vatican Library that would be effective against Seraph Darkfell…
"This is the thirteenth store we've been to, Beloved," Seraph complained. "My hooves are killing me."
"But we haven't found a bed yet!" Heart replied. "We can't sleep in our new home without a bed."
Seraph raised an eyebrow. "Beloved, you barely sleep. Why are you so concerned about a bed?"
Heart blushed. "Well… um… Beloved, it's our new home. I want our first night to be special."
Seraph gave her a understanding smile. "Oh. I see."
The store was an antique shop several blocks from the apartment building, one specializing in Louis XIV-era antiques. Seraph had to admit that the items the store carried came closer to matching the apartment's decor that any of the other places they had been to that day, but she sighed mentally at the prices listed on most of the items. If Heart outfitted the entire apartment from here, they'd be living on their day-to-day wages until the end-of-year settlement from the club.
It was a small price to pay to see Heart so happy.
They had finished the paperwork about an hour after Mama had shown them the apartment, Seraph paying the first year up-front. Moving all of their stuff from the hotel had taken another hour, and Seraph had been happy to find out that Mama had a deal with a parking garage behind the building so she had a place to park the 'Vette. Mama had also sent them out armed with a list of places they could get furniture that seemed to cover every place within ten blocks of the apartment, and a simple statement of "Mama sent us" had been a passport to welcoming service and treatment like they were old friends.
She sat down on a loveseat as Heart wandered the store, exclaiming in delight over various items. The clerk was more than happy to show the redheaded angel anything that caught her fancy, and it was several minutes before she had gotten around to telling the clerk she was interested in beds. The clerk gave her an appraising look, a sparkle in her eye, then motioned her towards the back. Seraph climbed back up on her hooves and followed the two to a curtained doorway.
"You're in luck," the clerk said as she lifted the curtain. "We just finished restoring this yesterday and haven't gotten around to rearranging the store to display it."
Heart and Seraph entered the dark room as the clerk fumbled with the light switch. As the lights sprang on, Heart exclaimed happily as Seraph whistled.
The bed was a huge canopied affair in the Louis XIV style, its four posts elegantly carved and its rich red velvet canopy accented in gold embroidery. The headboard curved around the massive circular mattress, its dark oak panels carved into a scene of nymphs and fauns playing in a golden wood. A dozen plump pillows piled at the base of the headboard, covered in a soft red silk decorated with golden roses. The matching cover to the bed hung to just above the floor, the small gap revealing a heavy dust ruffle. Heavy velvet curtains surrounded the entire bed, the ones at the foot gathered together and tied to the posts with golden cords. Seraph estimated the bed's diameter at nearly twenty-five feet.
"We've traced this bed's origins to a craftsman in Paris before the Revolution," the clerk said proudly. "It was constructed as a special order for a Count, but never delivered. It's been sitting in one warehouse or another for over two centuries. We restored the wood and replaced the fabrics, trying to keep the original style and elegance. We did add one thing modern. The bed was originally intended to have a space underneath for bed warmers, but we added warming coils instead. The controls are under the grill in the baseboard."
Seraph nodded, admiring the megalithic piece. No worries about wing room with a bed like that!
Heart was enchanted too, running a hand lovingly over the old wood. "It was intended to be a wedding bed," she said, turning to look at the clerk. "Wasn't it?"
The clerk nodded. "The Count died in a duel before his marriage. A rival for his bride insulted her honor and he threw down the gauntlet, so to speak. The girl refused to marry the other suitor and ran away from home. No one knows what happened to her."
Heart nodded. "He loved her. He had this made to show her that. I can tell. Everything about it speaks of love."
Seraph laid a hand on Heart's shoulder. "Then it should be perfect."
Heart nodded, her eyes shining. "It's been waiting. All these years, it's been waiting, its purpose unfulfilled."
"I take it, then, we're done shopping for a bed?"
Heart laughed. "Yes, Beloved. It has to be our bed."
The price was enough to make Seraph blink, but there was no thought of not getting the magnificent bed. Seraph signed the paperwork for the clerk to bill her bank account, having nowhere near the amount in ready cash, and they prepared to take the bed to the apartment. Seraph looked at the huge antique and sighed.
"While I know I can pick it up, dear, it's going to be hard to explain how I can manage to carry a bed that large. That's not even including how we're going to manage to get it to the penthouse."
Heart smiled. "That's easy, Beloved. I was planning to put it in my purse."
Seraph gave her a doubtful look. "I know your purse has a dimensional pocket, but the mouth doesn't stretch."
Heart just smiled and started an chant in Angelic. Seraph poked her head out the curtain to make sure the clerk was busy with another customer, and when she turned back around, the bed was gone. She giggled as Heart linked up her arm with hers. "You know, she's going to go crazy wondering how we got it out of here without her seeing it."
Heart smiled back. "We'll just tell her it was magic."
Seraph laughed. "Absolutely."
Time passed as it is wont to do, and late evening found Thor standing outside the club taking a smoke break. He was reclining against one of the walls by the main doors, and watching as traffic made its crazy way through the streets. He shook his head at a near collision, contemplating the foolishness of humans.
Still, the cause of the near crash did deserve a more than casual glance. The tall woman walking up the street was worth several dozen appreciative looks at least. She was Nubian, her skin a dark chocolate, but she had white hair done up in a crest of hundreds of tiny braids threaded through small glass beads. Large disks of beaten gold adorned her ears and the shimmering pearl dress she wore appeared almost liquid. She sauntered up to the club and gave it a once over, then her eyes locked on Thor. She gave him a smile and walked over.
"Would you happen to have another one of those?" she asked, pointing to the cigarette Thor had between his fingers.
He gave her a long, appreciative look as he took out his pack and handed her one, then lit it with his silver lighter. "You here to watch?"
The woman gave the club another look. "I don't know. Debating about maybe dancing. Figured I'd at least check it out."
Thor nodded. "You'd look good on the stage. Almost as good as the boss lady. Gotta warn you though. There's a waiting list." He gave her another long look. She was muscular, and her body looked very athletic. Reminded him of Skade. Nothing at all like Sif, though. "You got a name?"
The woman's eyes sparkled. "Do you?"
Thor chuckled. "Yeah. Thor. I'm the bouncer."
"So I guessed. My name is Frost, at least in English."
"Oh? I take then you're not?"
"No. African. I won't bore you with the details of my small tribe. Suffice it to say it's too obscure to receive much notice."
"So what brought you to
"Lots of different reasons. None of them really important."
"Mystery lady, huh?" Thor stubbed out his cigarette against the wall.
"Would you find that appealing?" she smiled, her white teeth bright against the darkness of her face.
She cocked her head. "Depends? On what?"
Thor pushed away from the wall and lifted his hammer from behind his back. The huge iron head had small electrical sparks crawling over its surface. "On what you are and who you work for. This tells me you're a demon. What I do about that depends on your answer."
Frost laughed. "Bhaalor said you were canny."
"Old One-Eye?" Thor shook his head. "I've already told him I ain't going to work for Hell."
"I'm not here to ask."
Thor gave her a hard look. "You better not be here to cause trouble, either. Whatever Bhaalor's gripe is with the boss lady, he's gotta go through me to get to her. You can tell him I said that, too. He pisses me off too bad, I might just come down there and take his other eye."
Frost gave him another appraising look. "You're the one who put out his eye?"
Thor grinned, bouncing his hammer lightly from his free hand. "Gave it to my father for Yuletide," he said proudly.
"No wonder he hates you. I'm not here for Seraph, either. I came to see you. I came to see what Bhaalor is afraid of."
Thor gave her a hard grin. "Yeah? And why should I believe you?"
Frost shrugged. "Don't care if you do. He's frothing over last night anyway. I came mostly to get out of his way."
Thor laughed. "Nice imagery. Like a rabid dog."
Frost gave him a comradely grin. "Exactly."
"I like you. So how does a nice girl like you end up working for Bhaalor?"
"Whoever said I was nice? I'm a war goddess. At least I was, before slavers wiped out my tribe. It was Hell or oblivion. You've at least got enough people who believe in you to allow you a choice."
Thor put up his hammer as he leaned back against the wall. "It's more than that, girl. Doesn't matter whether humans believe in you or not, so long as you have faith in yourself. Even if no one worshipped me, I'd still be here. I'm too stubborn to give in."
Frost raised an eyebrow. "Interesting."
A heavy floral scent suffused the area suddenly. Thor sniffed then shook his head. "Hope you don't mind company."
Frost looked confused. "What?"
Motes of golden light appeared in midair, cascading down to the sidewalk and leaving behind Aphrodite. Frost gave her an evil eye. Aphrodite returned it.
"Since when have you been friendly with Bhaalor's lieutenants?" the ex-goddess asked Thor.
Thor shrugged. "She stopped by to chit-chat."
"Since when do you care what I do, slut?" Frost said icily.
Aphrodite sniffed. "Since Seraph quit and your boss decided he wanted her dead. I don't plan on letting him kill her."
"Nice sentiment. I couldn’t care less."
"Then why are you here?" Aphrodite demanded.
Frost jerked a thumb at Thor. "Like he said. I came to chit-chat." She turned to the God of Thunder. "Catch you later. It's too crowded here with her ego around." She waved and faded into the shadows.
"Now why'd you have to do that for?" Thor grumbled at Aphrodite. "I was kinda liking her. We could have had some fun."
"She works for Bhaalor! She's probably running to him right now to report!"
"You always was too suspicious, 'Dite. That's how your boy broke up you and Hephaestus, remember?"
"Yeah, well, it pays to be suspicious sometimes. I came to warn Seraph again. Don't know exactly what's up, but the rumor mill says my son's up to something."
"So? Like I told Frost to tell Bhaalor, anyone who wants Seraph has to get past me. Makes no difference to me which side it is."
"Just keep an eye out, okay? I have to get back before Mephie starts looking for me. Frost may tell him I came to warn you."
"You worry too much, 'Dite," he repeated to the falling motes. As they faded from view, he leaned back against the wall and took out another cigarette. He smiled at nobody. Life, which had been far too dull lately, was definitely looking up.
Lipton had been driving around for hours, trying to decide what to do since leaving the rectory. He'd never known Al to be wrong before, but he just couldn't bring himself to believe all that Al had told him. He'd avoided meeting Seraph so far, trying to figure out what was going on, but he'd reached a brick wall.
It was almost closing time when he pulled up in back of the club, to find Thor standing outside keeping guard. He parked the car and waved at the big god.
"Well, well, if it isn't the angel-hating cop." Thor smiled as he came over to meet him. "You come by to get that drink? A little late tonight."
"No, actually I came to talk to Miss Darkfell and Miss Serafina. I have some questions I really need the answers to."
"For the record, Detective, I think this is a very bad idea," Thor told him as he walked back toward the club. "Miss Darkfell might not want to talk to you, and she might not be so nice about it."
"Thanks, Thor," Lipton replied, saluting the ancient warrior. "I think I can manage."
"Well, I can't help you," Thor warned. "You know, her being my boss and all."
Despite his air of confidence, Lipton's stomach was in knots, hard and cold. Seraph didn't seem malicious, but looks could be deceiving. He nervously looked around the alley at the back of Dante's and sat down on the hood of his car to wait. He glanced up at the still-dark morning sky, hoping Al's reports had been wrong, but preparing mentally in case they were right. A small flock of birds flew across the moon, drifting his mind toward the angel, Harteriel. What was she like? Could she, a love angel, be tricked into believing the demon loved her?
For some reason, Lipton realized he was truly hoping the reports were wrong.
Wait a minute… birds? It's February…
Lipton had his pistol out in a flash, not really paying attention to the opening door of Dante's, but trying to keep an eye on the flock of so-called birds. As they got closer, he realized they were otherworldly, but at this distance he couldn't tell which side of Christian mythos they were from. All he knew was, they were approaching fast, and headed right for them.
"What the hell…?" Thor cried out, running at Lipton. "I thought I told you to play nice!"
"We've got company," Lipton pointed, and Thor followed his finger.
"What are they?" he asked.
They flitted out of sight for just a moment, disappearing into the skyline. When they reappeared, they were right above… and dropping in.
"Holy shit — angels!" cried the tall, pale-haired bombshell at the doorway. She'd been locking the door, the angel beside her, when the sound of massive wings overtook the alley.
"Friends of yours, Miss Heart?" Thor asked, his voice shaking slightly with anticipation as his finger stroked his hammer.
Heart didn't answer. She just stood there, her face a frozen mask of terror, her arms splayed at her sides against the wall she'd backed into.
"What do you want?" she cried at the group of descending angels.
There were seven of them, their non-descript black suits and sunglasses as bland as their bureaucratic flattop haircuts and steel-black wings. Even the female one was as non-descript and anonymous as the rest.
"We're here for—" any one of them could have said for as monotonous and flat as their voices were. They all looked around, all seven pairs of eyes training on Lipton. "—him."
"Me?" Lipton pointed to himself, chagrinned. "Wait a minute, I never saw you assholes before today. What the hell do you want with me?"
The apparent spokesman answered with a quick flash of something bright and hot. He rolled over the hood of his car in an attempt to dodge it, but his trademark trench had a patch that had blazed for a moment, and was now smoldering.
"Flaming swords? You've got to be kidding," he said as he extinguished the embers.
"Hey!" roared the God of Thunder, drawing his hammer. "That guy's a friend of mine. I don't like it when people pick fights with my friends."
"Well, we don't like it much when known demon hunters harbor murderers," the seven-angel chorus said in reply. "In fact, it's quite frowned upon."
Seraph pointed in Lipton's direction, glaring at Thor.
"That guy's a demon hunter?" she demanded.
"I thought your boss wasn't gonna mess with me," Lipton stood and shook a finger at the angels. "Gabriel told me to stay out of it, but he also said he wasn't going to attack me."
In the back of his mind, though, he realized this wasn't true. Gabriel had only said that he might get killed in the crossfire.
"Gabriel's not my boss," the angel-in-black took another wide swing, giving Lipton plenty of time to dodge. Thor took another step forward, but two of the others positioned to cover him. Two more flanked their leader, and the last took defense against Heart and Seraph.
"I thought angels were the good guys," Lipton said, leaning forward on his hands.
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, detective," the angel replied, standing over him now. "But you really do have such archaic ideas. We are the good guys — by any means necessary."
"Even just killing a human," Lipton said as he positioned his legs beneath him.
"We've done it for millions of years. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah,"
Lipton looked the angel right in the dark glasses.
"So I didn't kill her on sight, and you're just going to kill me to make up for it?"
"That's right, detective," the bland angel grinned, his teeth giving the appearance that they would be more comfortable in a horse's mouth. Lipton found this amusing, but couldn't place why. "Clearly you are not yet pure enough. Maybe next lifetime."
"But I'm not ready to give up on this one," Lipton pushed off with his feet, lunging the short distance between himself and the dark angel. Caught off-guard, the angel leaped back, flapping his wings at the same time. This served to pull both angel and human about six feet into the air, before the weight became too much. Both beings crashed to the pavement in a heap, and they took with them the two that had been flanking their leader.
At this, Thor gave a mighty yell and Heart shrieked.
Thor's yell came with his hammer's crash, the immense sound enveloping all of them, paralyzing the whole group for just a moment as he cried out the hammer's name. The air smelled of sulfur, and static electricity played havoc on the alley. The mighty hammer connected with one of the angels, who jiggled in a spastic dance before exploding in a puff of golden dust and vanishing, leaving behind only a swiftly fading halo. It was then that Heart screamed.
"No!" she cried, getting into the middle of everything. Thor's remaining guard kept his eyes on him, but both the angels guarding the girls and the first angel to dissociate from Lipton's pile turned their full attention on her. This last was the female one, who glared at Heart with a look of pure contempt.
"Theliel wants to give you your job back," she spat. "But I think you should just die for what you've done."
Heart's face drew up in shock.
"But I didn't do anything! I fell in love!"
"You're demon-meat," came the cold response. "And you should be treated like demon-meat."
She held up a cross-bow with a silver-tipped bolt whose business end was aimed for a point somewhere on the love angel's forehead. She pulled the trigger and let it fly.
Heart whispered something in the angelic tongue, and the sound of a heavenly choir surrounded her in the form of a shield of golden light. It deflected the bolt easily as Heart drew her sword from her purse. However, rather than using it to fight, she put the tip of the blade to the ground and knelt.
"Heavenly creator," she whispered. "I know these are not angels the same way I am. Please forgive me."
Her temporary nemesis laughed out loud.
"Please forgive me!" she mocked. "He'll never forgive you. You walked out on His love."
The blade of Heart's sword flashed silver in the air as the female AIB's head sailed from her shoulders to the pavement, her halo flying away to clatter on the ground. The rush of silver light that came from her bleeding neck washed over the alley, causing Seraph to dive head-first into the backseat of the 'Vette. Heart stood watching the spectacle, watching the silver angel-fire wash over the other angels, the human and the bouncer.
Thor's angel, off balance to begin with, was impacted into his hammer by the force. He ducked as it exploded into another cloud of light, then stood to his full seven feet. His hair, beard, and moustache were singed, but he grinned at Heart as he twirled a halo around his finger.
"What a rush!"
Then he reached into the pile of angels to grab Lipton by the back of his collar.
Lipton was covered in mercurial silver blood, and he was grinning maniacally. In one hand, clenched in his fist, was the key to his police cruiser. In the other was an ornate silver hilt. As the lead angel rolled away from the pile, all that was left was his lieutenant. The subordinate angel's eyes where bleeding where Lipton had gouged at them.
"Demons, angels — you're still trying to kill me, and that won't fly," he said.
"What is this? I don't understand this!" Heart suddenly screeched from the other side of the alley. The four angels all turned to look at her.
Heart was extremely upset at that precise moment, her pale blue aura pulsing and glowing with righteous wrath. She held her sword down at her side as she glared at the AIBs.
"Angels don't kill humans anymore," she growled. "That's not in the Code. There's no way you're angels."
"Oh, they're angels, beloved," Seraph rejoined her, twirling her trident. "Nasty ones."
"And it's four on three," Thor said. "Not the best odds, but even against these nasty buggers, not the worst."
Lipton looked from his discarded gun to the sword hilt in his hand. Realizing blessed ammo probably wouldn't make much of a difference to these guys, he started shaking the sword, pressing all the designs on its hilt.
The four angels, though, had regrouped. The blind one had replaced his glasses and grinned through the silver ooze that dribbled down his face. He had a huge spiked lance trained on Thor.
The thunder god looked at Lipton.
"I don't think you're supposed to shake it," he warned in a stage whisper. "I think you're supposed so say its name."
"Yes, please, detective," the leader angel taunted. "We need a laugh."
Lipton looked at the hilt for a moment. The spidery script up its side resolved itself in just a moment to form a word. He shook his head.
"'Hasen?' What kind of—" He leaped back, though, when the flame blade burst out of the hilt with a roar of holy fire. Readying himself, he relented, "Hasen it is, then."
"This changes nothing," the leader said before charging with his own blade. Taking their leader's cue, all of them jumped in.
Thor had a very easy time of it. Despite the loss of his eyes, the blind angel wasn't exactly blind, but he also wasn't a war god. He lunged in with his spear, but Thor grabbed it from his hands and snapped it in half.
"Nice twig," he said. "I remember when the Celts used those. Yours made a nice pingy sound when it broke." As he slammed Mjolnir over the angel's head, he added, "So did your head." He grinned savagely as he removed the halo dangling from his hammer.
Heart and Seraph found themselves back to back against a skillful staff and a lethal-looking scimitar. Seraph was meeting her foe thrust for parry, and Heart wasn't faring much better. At this rate, they would fight like this for all eternity. Something had to give.
So Heart gave it — a sparkly ball that exploded in the AIB's face and knocked him back, his eyes dazzled. A sweep from Thor's hammer blew him into a shower of light.
Seraph's angel now found himself surrounded. Considering the odds for a split second, he took off and disappeared.
"Coward!" Seraph shouted, trying to take off. The narrow alley didn't give her enough room to glide, though, and she fell to her knees, frustrated.
"It's okay, Miss Seraph," Thor put his hand on her shoulder. "That just means he was scared."
"You're still on my shit list, Thor." As quickly as she'd fallen, she was on her feet and facing him. "What the hell are you doing, bringing a demon hunter into my bar?!"
"Miss Seraph, this ain't the first time he's been here," Thor replied. "And he's okay. Follows the rules, doesn't pull any funny stuff. He's a good guy."
"Um, where is he?" Heart wondered aloud.
They all looked, but he was not to be found.
"Great!" Seraph threw her hands up in exasperation. "Now we've probably gotten the stupid human killed! I'm getting the fuck out of here."
"You go home, Miss Seraph," Thor told her. "I'll take care of him."
"Wait a minute," Heart stopped. "How does he know who we are?"
"He's a police detective," Thor replied.
"Thor, that man is not to come back into my club," Seraph ordered. "A detective? What's next, homicide?"
"Now that you mention it, I think he is homicide,"
"Good night, Thor," Seraph growled, jumping into the 'Vette. Heart very daintily slid into the passenger seat.
"Get rid of him," Seraph ordered Thor before she squealed away.
"Too bad," Thor muttered, shaking his head. "You don't make many friends in my line of work. I kinda liked him."
Lipton was actually around the corner, blade locked with the angel's. Their faces were inches from one another.
"You must realize this is futile," the angel said. "I'm an angel. You're a human. I am your superior."
"Bullshit," Lipton panted. He kicked at the angel's knee.
The angel yelped and relaxed his blade, and Lipton drew back to make a sweeping cut. The angel regained himself, however, and blocked the cut with his sword, rebounding into a cut of his own. Lipton jumped back, the heat searing his skin. Realizing he had the upper hand, the angel grinned self-assuredly. He went into an intricate dance of delicate thrusts and counter-thrusts, trying to drive Lipton back further. Lipton met his every move, and the angel growled in frustration.
"Yeah, thank god you fight with swords," the detective said. "I won trophies with swords. Made all-state fencing champion, actually."
"Was that before or after you began frightening away your peers with crazy demon stories?" the angel mocked.
"I thought you said I was a demon-slayer." Lipton narrowed his eyes.
"You know that's not what your friends think," the angel sneered. "You know what they call you behind your back. Ghoul… Psycho… Crazy."
"So? That's their opinion." Lipton rose an eyebrow. "Besides, isn't vanity a sin?"
He raced in, his sword over his head like a berserker's. The angel stood at the ready, waiting to cut the man in half at the waist.
Lipton dove, his full momentum striking the angel's shins. The angel went down, his sword flying into the air, and Lipton rose. He held his sword at the angel's throat.
"Well, it was nice to meet you, I suppose," he said, preparing to thrust, but a creak from above him made him look up.
The fire escape ladder, sheared through by the angel's lost sword, gave way and crashed down towards him. The angel took advantage of his dodge to attack.
Thor came into the alley in time to see the angel deliver a kick to Lipton's stomach that knocked him to the ground. The angel then rose and kicked him in the face. Lipton's body fell limp, and the sword flickered out. The angel dove for his sword, trying to grab it in time to face Thor, but Mjolnir's aim was true. The hammer flew through the air and struck the angel in the back of the head. He screamed as he dissipated into a cloud of silver dust, the remnants of the terrible sound echoing throughout the alley.
The hammer boomeranged back into Thor's hand as the angel's halo clattered to the ground. Thor nodded and fastened Mjolnir to his belt, grinning a bit as it gave off one last joyful little spark. He strode over to the detective and knelt over him.
"Humph, still alive! I would have loved having this human as one of my kings back when I was in power. Helluva guy."
Sighing, he picked up the limp body and folded the detective over his shoulder. As an afterthought, he bent over and slipped the sword hilt into the detective's pocket. Depositing the unconscious detective in the passenger seat of his car, Thor dug out his wallet. He noted the address, then wandered around the battlefield collecting halos and Lipton's keys before squeezing himself in to the car. A last look satisfying him that all the signs of a battle were obscured, he started the car and headed off.
"I can't believe it! What the hell was Thor thinking?" Seraph stormed as they weaved through traffic to the village. "Letting that demon hunter so close!"
"Beloved, he didn't know the detective was a demon hunter. And you've told me that we're supposed to cooperate with the police."
"That's different! That's if they come to the club looking for drugs or stuff. This is a homicide detective! The only thing he could possibly want to ask about is the demonic corpses we've been leaving around!"
"Beloved, we've had to defend ourselves. And they were demons."
"They won't look like that to NYPD. They'll look like humans."
"But is he's a demon hunter. Surely he would be able to tell?"
"Maybe, but that still means he's probably going to try and kill me. The last thing I need is to be forced to kill a cop. It's bad enough I have the Church out for my blood for the priests I've had to kill over the centuries. Cops aren't so forgiving."
"Priests? Oh, Beloved?" Heart's tone sounded disappointed.
"What was I supposed to do, Heart? They were trying to kill me. I'm a demon, remember? I've tried to avoid killing when I could, but several times I've had no choice."
Heart sighed. "I know. They left me no choice either. I truly am a renegade now, Beloved. I've killed angels."
Seraph put an arm around her shoulder. "I know, Beloved."
They pulled into the parking garage at the apartment and made their way up. Standing on the balcony overlooking the city Heart looked up at the towering Manhattan skyline. "This city is so beautiful at night."
Seraph nodded. "That's why I built Dante's here. New York is kind of a cross-section of humanity. Almost every nation, every people, every culture is here in one form or another. And the city has a 'never say die' attitude I've always found appealing."
"Like us?" Heart smiled.
Heart leaned over the balcony and looked down. "I really like our new home. It's got such a peaceful feeling."
Seraph nodded, joining her looking over the railing. Almost instantly she recoiled with an "Eeep!"
Heart looked over to the gargoyle just below the balcony where Seraph had looked over. "Beloved, if they were going to be upset, don't you think they would have started screaming long before now?"
Seraph poked her head back over the rail and looked at the gargoyle again. "I suppose."
The gargoyle winked at her.
Seraph dove behind the rail to Heart's laughter. She looked at the hiding succubus and smiled. "I think he likes you."
"I'll just stay over here, thank you. Gargoyles make me nervous."
Heart took Seraph's hand and led her back into the vast echoing emptiness of the apartment and into the bed room. The huge canopied bed sat invitingly. "I think tonight, I just want to be held," Heart murmured as she stripped of her clothes.
Seraph nodded. "I can't say that I blame you."
Heart smiled as the succubus crawled into the vast bed and set up the pillows for sleeping. Heart smiled as she reached up and took of her halo, hanging it on the hook the rope holding the curtain was attached to. Its silver light cast a soft glow over the bed as she climbed in and snuggled next to the demoness.
"You've never taken your halo off for sleeping before," Seraph noted.
Heart smiled. "Of course not. I wasn't at home before."
Seraph smiled hugely as she held the angel tight and closed her eyes…
To be continued.
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