An original story by
Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.
Day Six: Storm Signs
Dawn came and found Heart once more awake, standing on the balcony watching the sunrise. She thrilled to the unobstructed view she had from the penthouse, and reveled in the way the sun reflected off the glass and steel of the buildings. Light poured over the city from the east, lighting the river into a strip of golden fire, and giving the whole city the appearance of being made from gold. The illusion faded quickly, but for those few moments, it resembled Heaven.
As the sunrise faded, she went back into the apartment and smiled for a few moments at Seraph sleeping peacefully in the bed. The succubus had held her most of the night, and the comfort of having her so close had kept Heart from agonizing over the fight with the angels last night. She retrieved her halo from the curtain hook and slipped quietly into the bathroom, glad Seraph had been there for her.
She filled the huge tub with frothy bubbles and luxuriated in a long bath, contemplating the fight the night before. It hadn't been right. Angels weren't supposed to kill humans anymore. The new covenant of Christ was about salvation through grace and accountability, not retribution. All her existence as an angel had been about choice and acceptance of grace. Angels killing a human, for whatever reason, wasn't supposed to happen anymore. They were supposed to have a free choice to accept salvation or not as they chose. Yet those angels had acted as if killing humans was not only routine, but a duty they liked.
It was very disturbing, and she wondered what other nasty secrets lurked under the golden light of Heaven.
She finished her bath and was wondering what she could find to do when the door bell rang. She opened the door to find a couple of delivery men with the first of the items Seraph had arranged to have delivered when they were shopping yesterday. She was directing them where to set the large screen TV when a sleepy "Beloved?" from the bedroom door prompted her attention.
She looked over to where the bleary-eyed succubus stood and smiled. "It's okay, love. It's just the people with the TV."
Seraph nodded and turned back to the bedroom as Heart turned back to the two workmen. They were staring at the bedroom door with looks of appreciation. "Whoa. Natural color," one of them said. The other gave him a sharp jab in the ribs. Heart blinked, then realized Seraph hadn't put anything on before coming to the door. She blushed.
"Sorry, ma'am," apologized the one worker who'd jabbed his partner. "My buddy here's not used to such classy digs. I'm sorry if he offended you."
Heart nodded. "It's okay. I'm so used to her I didn't realize she wasn't dressed. But don't worry about it. She dances at Club Dante, so I'm not offended."
The worker nodded and punched his buddy in the arm and nodded at the TV. They finished setting the TV up for Heart and showed her how to use the remote. She gave them a twenty, Seraph having explained to her what the different pictures and numbers meant. She then sat down Indian-style before the TV.
She flipped through channel after channel until she found one showing those moving paintings she liked so much and happily watched the animated adventures of a young man who could control electricity. She liked the show because it showed all different types of people trying to cope with special abilities, without regard to race or gender.
The show was almost done when another set of delivery men showed up, this time with a couch. She had closed the door to the bedroom, so they didn't wake Seraph this time.
From that point on, the morning was a mix of cartoons and deliveries. She watched mutants saving the earth while arranging the dining room, a nice mechanical man who just wanted to be allowed to live in peace while getting dishes put away, and the adventures of a Chinese archeologist trying to save the world from a mean demon who reminded her of Bhaalor while she found a place to put up book shelves. She especially enjoyed a show about a group of teenagers who got chased a lot by monsters before revealing they were actually people committing crimes. The big dog that was their pet was incredibly funny.
Another show she liked was one about a young boy who traveled around catching small creatures. A pair of comedic criminals who kept trying to steal the boys pet made her laugh through the entire show.
Finally, the cartoons ended and she flipped through channels again, eventually finding a channel that seemed to be nothing but the animated shows. She watched several shows in a row that she was rather disappointed in, the animation very poorly done and the stories almost more mindless than the shows during the weekday afternoons, before the show she liked with the young magical schoolgirls came on. She enjoyed watching them fight a woman with green hair who was incredibly vain.
She really liked the animations. For one thing, they were full of happiness and humor and laughter, even when they dealt with serious subjects. She found them wonderfully refreshing after the doom and gloom of the rest of television.
Seraph finally woke just as Heart was trying her hand at making another recipe, using the groceries she had brought from the hotel. Seraph followed the aroma from the bedroom to the kitchen, sniffing appreciatively at the aroma. She looked at the pan of noodles and meat and smiled. "Whatcha making?"
Heart stirred the pan with a spoon as she answered. "The box said it was 'Three Cheese,' but I couldn't find any real cheese in it, just a powder. I made it like the box said, but I put a chunk of cheddar into it too."
Seraph nodded. "Smells really good."
She wandered around the apartment while Heart finished cooking, moving a few the items Heart hadn't had an idea where to place. She smiled at Heart as she looked down at the cast iron and glass table Heart had had the workers put next to the oak dining room table. "Beloved, I got this for the balcony."
Heart smiled back. "That's wonderful. I wasn't sure where to place it."
They had lunch on the balcony after Seraph had moved the table and chairs, enjoying the view as they discussed what else they needed for the apartment, but finally, the conversation turned to the fight the previous night.
"I wish I knew why those angels came to kill the detective," Heart said as she licked the last of the cheese sauce from her fork. "It makes no sense. Angels are supposed to guide and protect humans, not kill them."
"I don't know, dear. The Bible is filled with stories of angels sent to slay humans."
"That's all old testament, Seraph. The old covenant. Jesus created a new covenant when he came. We're supposed to follow that now. They reduced the Host of Angels of War to a fraction of what they once were shortly before I went to Heaven. Before Christ, back when the Great Rift occurred, there were several million War angels, now there's just a few hundred thousand. They weren't needed anymore, because of the new covenant. There wasn't a need for angels to enforce the covenant, because it was supposed to be free choice."
"I'd say not all of the Angels of War stopped killing humans, then." Seraph grimaced. "This wasn't the first angelic hit squad I've seen, love. And they're always black-winged."
Heart nodded. "Black wings are normal for Angels of War. But the only ones I've normally seen in suits are in administration. The clerk at the Exiles' Gate was almost identical to the group last night." She shook her head. "I don't know who they were working for, Beloved. War Angels' swords are similar to mine. The swords they were using weren't familiar.
Seraph frowned. "They were made to be concealed. Like a secret service for Heaven."
Heart sighed. "I wish I could refute you. Heaven's not supposed to be like that." She looked up at Seraph sadly. "I don't know what's going on, but I feel like I've been lied to about so much. Theliel being Eros, the other gods being real, and now assassin angels. It's all wrong."
Seraph patted her hand. "I know. It's hard realizing Paradise isn't."
Thor sat in a chair in Lipton's living room reading a book of Norse myths and chuckling. It was amazing how many of the facts had been distorted over time. He didn't need the belt and glove to use Mjolnir; they were just useful when he had a major battle to fight.
A shadow passing over the window made him look up in time to see a figure with dark grey wings land on the fire escape of Lipton's apartment. The figure's identity surprised him.
"Well, well. How's it hanging, Mary?" he asked cordially as the Virgin entered.
"Odinson? What the hell are you doing here?" Mary asked with a raised eyebrow. "I felt a strong power in here and thought Bruce might be in trouble. Didn't figure I'd find you. Aphrodite maybe, but not you."
"Dite? Lipton's played with 'Dite? Got to admire the man. She's got more stamina than—"
"I don't really want to know, Thor," Mary interrupted. "Again — why are you here?"
"I brought the boy home last night. Put him to bed. Why are you here?"
"I have my reasons," Mary said.
"Cagey as always. Why are you always so uptight?" Thor grumbled.
Mary ignored him, looking into the room where Lipton was still passed out. Thor hummed knowingly. Mary gave him a hard look. "What?"
"Got the hots for the young stud, huh? Want me to try getting that bikini off again? I got my belt."
"No, Thor. I don't have the 'hots' for Bruce. We’re just friends."
"Mary, you ain't fooling me. I'm wayyy too old to fall for that line."
"Whatever. Besides, I'm married."
"Uh huh. And the last time Metatron showed was when? Before J.C. was born?"
Mary gave him an evil eye. "So how did you meet Bruce anyway?" she asked, kicking her feet up on the table as she slumped into the couch. Her bladed heels cut long gouges in the cheap Formica.
"He came to the club. Gave Mike and Gabe a hard time. Impressed me," Thor answered. "You?"
"Found him in the old apartment of a succubus I'm hunting. He thought he was saving me from a demon."
Thor shook his head. "You're reckless, Mary. You get too cocky when you fight."
"It was just one of Bhaalor's six packs. No big deal."
"So why you hunting succubae, anyway? Ain't they below your league?"
"This one has defiled an angel."
Thor gave her a hearty laugh. "Naw. I'd say Miss Heart is far from defiled. Plucky girl for one of your sort. She's grown on me."
Mary jumped up. "You know where she is!" One of her guns appeared in her hand. Thor's big hand closed over it and took it away.
"Settle down, Mary. I ain't gonna let you hurt Miss Serafina. Or Miss Darkfell. They're a cute couple. Besides, she's my boss."
"WHAT!" Mary screeched. "That damned slut is defiling an angel and you're defending her?"
"Mary, Heart and Seraph are harmless. And in love. Reminds me of me and Sif before—" He broke off. "Anyway, they're friends. Leave 'em alone. I ain't gonna let you hurt them any more than I'm gonna let him." He jerked a thumb at Lipton's room. "Or Gabe or Mike, or even the G.O.D.'s hit squads." He tossed the halos he had collected after the fight on the table. "That group tried to take out the hunter last night, along with the boss lady and Miss Heart. You see where it got them. I don't want to be forced to fight you, hon."
Mary grumbled inaudibly, reaching out to pick up one of the halos. She studied it for a moment, frowning. "Angels of War. But not the regulars. Boys in Black." She gave Thor a hard look. "You said they were after Bruce?"
"Yeah. Claimed they were there to kill him for not killing Miss Darkfell."
Mary shook her head. "Well, I was upset he wouldn't tell me where she was. But that's no reason to kill a human. My son's covenant doesn't allow it." She looked back at Thor. "You said he had a run-in with Gabriel and Michael?"
"Yeah. They were down at my club watching Miss Darkfell dance. I almost had to teach them why I'm a God of War again."
"And they arranged to get me kicked off my homicide case, too," a new voice chimed in. They both looked up to see Lipton leaning on the door frame to his room. "Anyone get the number of the elephant that kicked me in the head?"
"Glad to see you're still feisty," Thor said.
"Mostly. The ladder fell and when I tried to get out of the way the bastard sucker-punched me."
"Don't worry. He got a cranium full of hammer before he could do anything else."
Lipton nodded. "I still want to talk to Seraph."
"No can do, Detective. She don't want to speak to you."
Lipton gave him the eye as he sat down heavily by Mary. "And I take it you're the enforcer of said seclusion?"
Thor spread his hands in a "what can I do" gesture. "Orders."
"Great. I've got six dead demons who have officially been explained as a mob hit because of that bastard Archangel, a priest telling me a succubus is almost as dangerous as a Demon Lord, and a Norse God telling me she doesn't want to talk to me." He turned to Mary. "What's next? You telling me you're going to kill me for defending myself from a pack of rabid angels?"
Mary gave him a level look. "I hadn't planned on it. I don't have much sympathy for the group you ran into."
"What are they? The angelic Gestapo?"
A pained look crossed Mary's eyes. "I'd prefer it if you used a different term for them."
"Same mentality though?" Lipton pressed.
Mary nodded, her jaw set.
"Great. So on top of everything else, I might have to fight occasional angel hit squads. My life is fucking wonderful!"
"You're alive. Don't bitch," Mary growled.
Lipton stood. "I don't even know why I got out of bed. I'm going back there for a few hours before I go to have a chat with a friend. Feel free to see yourselves out." The bedroom door slammed behind him.
Thor grinned at the door. "I definitely like him."
Mary was still frowning. "I don't like what he said about Gabriel closing his case. My son's up to something."
Thor put the book on the table. "I'm game for going down to see what it is."
Mary stood. "Yeah. I think it's time I had a little chat with J.C."
Peter could not have been more shocked than to see the boy angel standing before his desk. What was more shocking was Uziel's request.
"In six hundred years, you have never wanted to see the Book of Life," the CEO of the Pearly Gates Complex said, rising. "Why now?"
"I am Lord of Purgatory, Saint Peter," Uziel replied, raising an eyebrow. "I have every right to view the Book."
Peter chuckled as he stepped around his desk. "Of course. I simply find the timing of your request strange. What with the quiet uproar going on and all."
Uziel paused for a moment, evaluating Peter's comment. The general populace of Heaven was unaware of anything out of the ordinary going on, and he was unaware of the Council having issued any information on any of the current projects. Peter had to know he was here over the exile. It was the only conclusion that made sense.
He studied Peter for a second, considering. Though they served similar roles, he'd never spoken to the saint before. Until now, it had never occurred to him that Peter, the Rock of Christ's Church, might have his own agendas. What did he know? And where did he stand? In the myriad of alliances and counter-alliances that was Heaven, what was his role?
And what was he digging for? Was revealing his knowledge a ploy to gain Uziel's confidence? Or a slip?
Either way, it meant he would need to guard himself.
"I wish to check on some individuals who have been brought to my attention recently. I seek to ascertain the truth of the information. If what I suspect is fact, there exists a possibility that Purgatory may experience an influx of new souls."
Peter nodded. Uziel was being cagey. He studied the youthful-looking angel carefully. The seeming child had a shady past as far as the G.O.D. was concerned, but his intelligence was far too valuable an asset to exclude him from the Council. Peter knew he had been reprimanded for tinkering with the faith, causing mass disarray. The effects of his tinkering had still not been corrected in Ireland, nor had all of the chaos he had caused during the Reformation. The G.O.D.'s iron control of humanity had been destabilized in the process and most of the higher angels had been busy with damage control for centuries.
The end result of that chaos had been the creation of Purgatory, a vast extension of Limbo populated by those souls who were undamned, yet had not lived to the strictest of the G.O.D.'s laws. Uziel's governance of Purgatory had supposedly been his punishment for his role in its creation, but after looking the boy angel over, Peter severely doubted Uziel had ever viewed it as banishment.
"I take it, then, you expect fallout on the mortal realm from the exiling of Harteriel Serafina?"
Uziel raised his eyebrow. "Perhaps."
Peter gave him a half smile. "Clever. I know you're not lying, yet I also know that as Purgatory fills, you become more of a Power in Heaven. What are you really after?"
"I work merely for the good of your fellow man," Uziel countered, enjoying the verbal game of chess.
Peter's eyes narrowed. "You know that's all I've ever believed in," he said in irritation. "The good of my fellow man."
Uziel smiled. Check and mate. "Yes, you did," he agreed. "And you did what you thought was best, too. But can you truly say you did what your master would have seen done?"
Peter glared at him in annoyance. "Uziel, this is not the best way to introduce yourself."
"Right again," Uziel replied. "But truth is seldom pleasant."
"Do not overlook the fact that I was granted Sainthood," Peter responded. "I must have done something right."
"Indeed. But you are still a man, Peter." Uziel raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you approved Harteriel's Exile? Because she was made an angel while you weren't?"
"I never approved her exile," Peter growled, eyes blazing.
Uziel had never dealt with a saint before, and had been unaware they possessed powers of their own. Yet all of Peter's faith and holy strength came blazing into a corona of golden light that blazed around his head like a miniature sun. But far more shocking was the information Peter had imparted.
"You didn't?" Uziel queried, trying to hide his surprise at the saint's sudden glow.
"No. My signature was forged."
"How interesting. By whom?"
"An angel. My staff is investigating to discover who."
l bet I know. Uziel thought.
"Very well. Quid pro quo then," the angel said aloud. "I'm seeking to look up information on a person who has seemed to have caught the interest of some of the Council. So much so that an attempt on his life was made. I need to understand why."
Peter appeared nonplussed at the sudden confession. "What would a human have to do with Heart?"
"He's a member of the law enforcement in the city of her Exile. A detective. He has been investigating some of the battles our Exile and her lover have been having. He is aware of both of their natures. An angelic hit squad was dispatched to eliminate him."
"Why? I thought the Policy of Grace made such reprisals unnecessary. Did they succeed?"
"I do not know yet. Temporiel and Theliel were behind it. Or rather, Temporiel convinced Theliel to aid her in it."
Uziel gave him a hard look. He didn't think Peter was working for anyone on the Council, and if he was working for who he suspected, then he needed the information as well.
"I don't know for certain. I can tell you this. The Detective has True Sight, and has made the acquaintance of The Warwalker and The Virgin."
"Mary and Thor? How in the name of the Inferno did this human come to the Renegade's attentions?"
"The Warwalker is employed by the exile's lover, and The Virgin has been hunting her."
"This gets more twisted by the second. What in Home's name is going on?"
"That is what I hope to ascertain."
Peter nodded. "Very well." He waved towards one wall of his office and a pair of panel doors swung open to reveal a massive monitor taking up most of the wall. A pattern of sparkling gold lights danced across the screen. Below the screen several panels of blinking lights gave status readouts of various parts of the Complex, letting Peter know at a glance if anything was wrong.
"Uziel, meet Abraham."
Uziel walked over to the computer, impressed. He raised an eyebrow at the name, though.
"You named it Abraham?"
"After my predecessor." Peter shrugged. "It seemed fitting."
"Why did you do this?"
Peter gave him a surprised look. "Have you noticed how huge the human population is these days? This division employs over one-fifth of Heaven's population alone. There was no way scribes could keep up. This was the most efficient solution."
"So what should I do?"
"Well, you have to set up a user account."
"Say hello," Peter said, in a tone that implied an idiot should have known that.
"Uh… Hello, Abraham."
"Voiceprint not on file. Please identify yourself."
"Abe, Peter here. Accept voiceprint for Archangel Uziel, Lord of Purgatory, Seraphim First Class."
The room echoed with clicks and whirs for several seconds before fading into silence. It was almost as if the whole room held its breath in anticipation.
"Voiceprint verified. Your user account has been activated, Lord Uziel," Abraham finally responded.
"Um… Thanks," The Master of Purgatory stammered.
"You are quite welcome," the computer replied. Uziel looked to Peter nervously.
"Now what do I do?"
"Ask him a question," Peter replied with a grin.
"Him?" Uziel raised an eyebrow at the screen.
"He grows on you," the saint confided.
Uziel's eyebrow remained fixed as he skeptically asked the computer, "What information do you have on Detective Bruce Lipton?"
The angel barely had time to blink before an image of Detective Lipton was displayed in three dimensions, as though he were standing in full flesh before the computer. Statistics, reports and other data filled various windows on the screen. In the largest was a report of the previous evening and details of this morning, but nothing beyond the present moment.
"I think your computer has bugs," Uziel observed.
Peter raised an eyebrow. "No. He's been blessed to perfection. Abraham, where is the rest of Lipton's file?"
"File complete, Saint Peter."
Peter blinked. "Display file of the last person Lipton encountered."
The computer blinked for a second before displaying the file on Father Alphonse Lorenzo, the young priest's Roman nose belying his lineage. The final report detailed the events of his life right up to the day of his death.
Uziel looked at Peter in confusion, to see the saint nod in satisfaction.
"It's all there. His whole file." He pointed to a secondary readout. "His whole destiny to plus or minus five percent accuracy."
"Plus or minus?" Uziel queried.
"The Creator allowed free will, Uziel, thus allowing randomness into his creation." He switched back to Lipton's readout. "I suspect your Detective is a random element. That's why Abraham doesn't have a file on him beyond his immediate present."
"A person who has no destiny. There's usually a dozen or so on Earth at any given time. I believe they're the Creator's way of ensuring stagnation doesn't occur. Most of them have no effect, but every now and then, one will change the course of history. Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Attila, Gandhi, even a certain child who led a crusade of children. This Lipton must be one."
Uziel ignored the barb as he looked at the face of the detective on the screen. "I see now why Temporiel fears him. She has always hated randomness almost as much as she hates sex."
Peter was reading the final report. "She has cause. According to this, he not only survived the angelic attack, he managed to wound a couple, and was saved by Thor."
"The Warwalker saved him?"
"Yes. In fact, it appears Thor met Mary in his apartment a little over an hour ago, and they both left together." Peter looked at Uziel. "Any theories?"
Uziel shook his head. "No. Too may players and not enough information." He considered the implications of Thor and Mary aiding the detective. And whether he should inform the Old Man.
Peter shot him a wry grin. "I know. Angels killing humans, demons killing demons… What is the planet coming to?"
"Well, look at some of the things that happen on the planet," Uziel replied. "I mean, how do you think your master would have reacted to some of the things that happen these days? Like that teen idol with the skimpy clothes?"
Peter chuckled nostalgically. "As Yesua, he would have just said she's human, and loved her as much as any of the rest."
Uziel nodded, wondering to himself what two millennia of being an actively-worshipped deity had done to Peter's master. He also wondered if Peter knew the answer to that one or not.
The silence lagged for a little too long, so Uziel turned back to Abraham's screen and asked, "What about the human before that?"
As the clicks and whirs began anew, Peter said asked, "What are you doing?"
"There's got to be a hint. Some clue that will tell us what he's got to do with all this," Uziel replied as data flashed across the screen.
The image changed to a tall woman with a mess of wild blond curls. Uziel raised an eyebrow at the skinny woman's hippie clothing and huge owl glasses.
"Honeydew Stevens," Peter noted. "Last person Lipton actually talked to. Abraham skipped over about a hundred 'bump in the street' encounters. Hmm. Not too impressive. Works at some paranormal novelty shop. Appears she tried to vamp him."
Uziel looked her over carefully and read some of the screens Abraham was displaying.
"Great. Yet another wannabe 'psychic' distorting faith for her own ends." His lip curled in distaste. "Who was before that?"
In the center of the floor where the previous images had been standing, a new image appeared. Uziel stopped in mid-pace, staring at the young girl with the short blonde hair. He gasped in awe, changing his direction from back and forth to circles around the image.
"By all of Heaven, who is this?" he breathed.
Raising an eyebrow and feeling a bit disturbed by what seemed to be transpiring, Peter informed him, "Her name seems to be… er… that is, Moonbunny. Moonbunny Stevens."
"An angel who walks the Earth," Uziel said, leaving Peter unsure that he had even paid attention. "No creation of mortal man, this kind of beauty takes divine power to create. She can only be a child of angels or gods."
"Or demons, perhaps," Peter frowned. "Weren't you here for something else?"
"Never would a beauty such as this be by unholy hands. No, this is divine beauty. This is something the Creator put there to remind humans that there is still such thing as beauty."
"Uziel, you're acting like a child with a crush." Peter finally ran out of patience with this display. "She's mortal. You're an angel. There are repercussions, you know."
"I don't care!" Uziel cried. "Theliel may as well have struck me with one of his arrows. I am smitten."
"Well, please, go be smitten somewhere else," Peter grumbled. It was one thing to deal with the Lord of Purgatory, but this was too much!
"Fine. Is there a paper file I can take on this detective of the Council's?" Uziel shot Peter a petulant look that had all the airs of his apparent age.
"Yes," Abraham replied before Peter could say a word. This was followed by the harmonious chords of a soft choir and a quick flash on the computer's console. A stack of papers several inches thick replaced the flash, the top sheet reading Bruce Lipton, 19__ to Unk. The Lord of Purgatory picked them up.
"Can I get at least the picture of Moonbunny?" Uziel asked with hope in his eyes.
"No!" Peter barked back. "We're done here, Abraham. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Saint Peter." Abraham winked out amiably.
"What's the matter with you?" Uziel asked.
"It's the Book of Life, not a matchmaking catalogue," Peter replied flippantly.
Uziel shrugged, then pointed to the computer with his thumb.
"Can I get hooked into this somehow?"
Peter's brow wrinkled. "I think so. I'll have to get someone in here to do the job."
Uziel grinned. "It's a wonder the Complex didn't institute this years ago."
It was Peter's turn to shrug. "The Powers that Be—" He rolled his eyes. "—don't like this stuff much. Fortunately, they leave me alone to my own devices. No pun intended."
"Of course not," Uziel shot him a wry grin as he headed for the door. When he got there, a thought struck him, and he turned.
"What ever happened to Abraham, anyway?"
"Hmm?" Peter had returned to his desk and was leafing through papers, but now looked up at the angel. "Oh, Abraham? I think when he retired from the Complex, he moved to a condo in Fort Lauderdale."
Purgatory was a grey place filled with mist, much like the English moors. It wasn't foreboding, or filled with fiendish tortures; there were no Heavenly choirs to be found here. Uziel had ruled here for over half a millennium, and here was home, to him. He had built it into what it was, and he had long ago decided that he was as proud of his fledgling afterlife kingdom as a parent would be of a genius child.
Other than the swirling mist everywhere, Purgatory looked a lot like Earth. Through the mist, the occasional skyscraper could be seen, and closer proximity revealed other fairly mundane human dwellings and business places. The humans here wandered about, doing their tasks as they had always done on Earth, but with a different air to them.
Uziel got to a corner and hailed a cab. The yellow taxi drove up and the balding little driver looked back at him.
"Lord Uziel!" he exclaimed in pure Brooklyn accent. "What an honor. Where to?"
"Hello, Mr. Horowitz," Uziel said amiably as he got in. "How are you today?"
"Oh, menza-menza," Mr. Horowitz replied. "My feet hurt, I'm sick of driving, and my bones are shouting like yentas in temple."
Uziel smiled. "Sounds like you're having a wonderful day, Mr. Horowitz," he said.
"Yeah, I guess I am," Mr. Horowitz admitted.
Without being told, the driver was heading for the outskirts of the bustling town. The buildings became fewer and further between, and more and more children could be seen playing in their yards.
"Pull over for a moment, Mr. Horowitz," Uziel told the driver when he saw a particularly familiar child. He hopped out of the cab and approached the boy, who was tinkering with the chain on his bicycle. He was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, like any child on a suburban summer day, with two exceptions. The first was the thick mist that was even denser out here; the second was the mangled wreck the child's left leg was. Uziel smiled benevolently as the child looked up.
"Lord Uziel!" he hopped up on his good leg and bowed precariously. Uziel put a balancing hand on his shoulder.
"Jason, why aren't you using your leg?"
Jason grinned sheepishly. "I'm still not used to it yet. I can ride my bike again, though!" A cloud came over the child's face as he glanced at his oil-smeared hands and shirt. "Except I can't get it fixed."
"Well, let's see what we can do about that," Uziel said as he knelt. He pulled the chain out with two fingers, and dropped it into place. Laying his hands over Jason's soiled shirt, he muttered in Angelic. Both shirt and hands came clean, and Uziel's fingers were spotless.
"Practice on your bike," he said to the boy as he turned to leave. "But practice walking, too. You'll get it, I promise."
The boy nodded before getting on his bike and riding away. Both his legs worked very well.
Uziel smiled as he got back in the cab. Mr. Horowitz nodded appreciatively.
"That's the new kid, ain't it? Jason something. He's doing great."
"Yes," Uziel nodded as they continued to their destination. Considering the car accident that had taken Jason's leg, and eventually his life, Jason was doing great. When he'd arrived, he'd had no leg. Of course, if he had gone to Heaven, he would have had his leg back as though it had never been gone, but his parents had not wanted to force any one religion on him, and so had never had him baptized. Thus he was here, enjoying his afterlife and getting to experience all that he had missed.
Uziel looked back and saw him riding around with a young black child who'd met a similar fate. That's another triumph of this place, he thought as an older Hispanic girl rode out to join them as well.
Ahead was a huge hill, atop of which was his manor, the home these people had tributed him with for giving them such an agreeable fate. Purgatory lay just beyond the Pearly Gates Complex on the edge of Heaven, and every so often, one of its citizens was called down the short path that led between the two realms. However, the majority of the population remained and grew, forming into a utopian city that knew all of the more wholesome pleasures of Earth, but few of its hardships. No one ever got sick or hurt, broccoli tasted like chocolate to the children, and there was no crime. The people did their jobs and went home to live their peaceful, simple lives. Most people did the jobs they had enjoyed or wanted to do on Earth; a large portion of the population had also been entertainers on Earth. The majority of the toil and hardship was actually focused on the entertainment industry.
Purgatory was filled with sports arenas, theaters, and concert halls. This was because there was no need for money, and this negated many of the customary jobs of human existence. They also didn't need food, and so merely ate out of habit. The population was kept by the Book — Database, Uziel corrected mentally — of Life, and there were no laws to enforce, because these people led moral lives, if not always religious ones.
These are the people the Creator loves, but the G.O.D. hates, Uziel added to himself. If they're good enough for Him, they're good enough for me.
The manor was the consequence of all he had created here. They imagined him living in a huge brick dwelling with white Roman columns, bursts of color being supplied by myriads of flowering bushes all over the landscaping. The drive was lit by elegant black posts, their lamps seeming to contain small flames, like candles, yet much brighter. This led up to a main entrance every bit as grand as the Americans' White House, but instead done up in elegant red brick with white trim. Graceful Doric columns held the grand eave, which shaded a small iron-lattice table and a grouping of matching chairs.
The inside was no less grand, the sweeping white ceilings overseeing the tastefully decorated rooms. The walls and floors were done in rich wooden paneling and furnished with some of the finest trappings Earth had to offer.
Pity none of it's real, Uziel mused as he strode toward his study. It was all in the imagination of the dwellers of Purgatory.
For a while it had been a Norman keep, because that was the most grandiose dwelling the majority of the populace could conjure. Eventually this gave way to more homely wooden and brick dwellings, but so far this Monticello-meets-Buckingham Palace combination was one of his favorites. It was spacious, and for once, he could fly through it instead of pacing around.
Sometimes, though, pacing felt good.
Like now, for instance. He worried the carpet in his study, eyeing Lipton's file on the desk, his mind not really on Bruce Lipton. He'd sensed Peter's irritation with him earlier, and could empathize. He was beginning to annoy himself.
"Focus!" he cried out, glaring at his reflection in the glass of a nineteenth-century breakfront.
The name was emblazoned on his mind. So was the face, the body, the soft blonde hair. The green cat's eyes. The round face, the pert nose, the soft, full lips.
"I am going insane," Uziel said aloud to the empty room. He strode purposefully to the desk and started furiously reading Lipton's file, not absorbing a word of it.
"Now, what are you trying so hard to avoid?" a young, feminine, and very coquettish voice asked of him.
"Not now, Lolita," Uziel growled at the new distraction to enter the room.
Strolling in under a wild disarray of streaked bronze and platinum hair was a young rebel dressed in a leather jacket and a black mini-skirt. Her almond-shaped eyes and pert nose gave her an almost elfin look, but the small red horns revealed her true lineage. Her skin, artfully revealed in the bodice of her tank top and seconded through her torn fishnet stockings, was a pure alabaster white, and the violet hue to her eyes was a stark contrast to all of it.
She pouted. "Why not now? You never want to play." She edged over the desk to look at his papers, adding, "What'cha looking at?"
Uziel jerked them back sharply. "Nothing of interest."
"Yeah, right," Lolita relented with a sigh. "So boring you're hiding them from me."
Uziel returned her sigh with one of his own. "I'm just busy right now," he said.
"Everyone's 'just busy' right now," Lolita complained. "The other demons are off on missions, Mom is being her nosy bitch self, and Dad has been sitting around playing chess ever since he woke up."
"You're father's awake?" Uziel jerked his head up sharply.
"Yes," Lolita retorted, her voice snide. "And he's the only smart one! He just wants them to be left alone."
"I don't know, it's my dad," Lolita shrugged, then started playing with the pens on Uziel's desk. "I just thought you would be doing something interesting, and I wanted to see if I could help."
"Please," Uziel scoffed. "The last time you 'helped,' an entire commune killed themselves with Icy-Aide."
"Well, they did it in the name of the Creator, so you should be proud,"
"Yeah, that's a real accomplishment," Uziel said sarcastically.
"Well, you dismembered the entire Catholic faith," Lolita shot back. "And now they're outnumbered by their Protestant brethren. So there."
"The Catholic faith is still around," Uziel shook his head. "And nobody died."
Lolita leaned forward. "And what if death were the only way to solve the problem?" she demanded. "What if there was no other way but for the death of an individual or a group of them, or even a race of them! Would it bother you so much then?"
"It didn't bother me much when I led thousands of children to fight the infidels, did it?" Uziel shot back.
"So when it's His work, it's all right to kill, but when it's my father's work, it's wrong?" Lolita shook her head. "Please."
"You know how much I enjoy these little philosophical conversations, Lolita, but I really don't have time right now," Uziel said, trying to go back to looking at his papers.
"Which brings me to my original question." The young demoness hopped up on the desk. "What's so important?"
"Nothing that would interest you," Uziel said, glaring.
"Everything interests me. Why wouldn't a human detective? What's so great about him that you're so busy?"
"If you would let me read this report, I would know," Uziel grumbled.
"Well, I could help you," Lolita countered.
"Well, so far you've been rather a detriment." The Lord of Purgatory met her gaze evenly.
"I could be an asset if you would just talk to me," she replied, narrowing her eyes.
"I work better alone," Uziel pronounced. "Feel free to stay, but at least have some respect for that."
Lolita stood, the look on her face one of pure disgust. "Whatever," she said, striding out. In a mutter, she added, "I wonder why I even bother with you."
"I've wondered that for centuries, darling," Uziel replied.
Lolita narrowed her eyes even harder at him, as though it would give them the power to annihilate the angel. It didn't, but they did well up with tears of frustration as she stormed out.
Uziel sighed. He hadn't meant to make her cry. She was the only demon who ever wandered this area, despite the fact Hell was entitled to an emissary. Despite her demonic origins, Uziel really did find their discussions exciting and enlightening.
She was a pest, though, and right now, she was too much of one.
He flinched as the door was slammed hard. Settling down, he set to reading about the life and experiences of NYPD Detective Bruce Lipton.
Theliel, Lord of Love, Office of the Cupid, hurled a goblet of the wine of his beloved birthplace at one of the many mirrors in his apartments. He then concealed his eyes from himself, which only served to send him into violent physical fits of his own self-loathing. His mind was filled with the blackest despair he had ever imagined, blacker than the pits of Tartarus or even the Fires of Gehennah, a black monstrous beast that he couldn't name, but that pushed him, teased him even further. It was as though a demon had gotten into his head, whispering advice that brought his ego into a crumbling wreck, a darkness which threatened to engulf the light of his very soul.
He cried out in agony, not caring if anyone heard, for only then would his humiliation be complete.
They knew. The bitch in the angel squadron had announced his name, said it for both angel and succubus to hear, named him as a link to their attack. And with that minor betrayal, he knew that both of them would be after him. They would probably not rest until they found him; at least, he believed this of the demoness. The angel, if she followed, would do so only out of fervor for her lover. Or to correct her outrage that the squadron had been sent for the human detective.
He had seen it, had seen the halo upon her, the angelic aura flaring; he'd seen it all. She was still holy, and despite the direct influence of the succubus! Which meant that her wrath the evening before had been righteous, not sinful…
…which meant he, Theliel, had broken the Code. The human detective was ignorant, and Theliel had been fooled into believing a fool's tale. He'd believed Temporiel, Spin-Doctor of Heaven, and she had outwitted him. Not with a lie, even, but with an embellishment — she'd managed to keep her own purity while sacrificing his. This was more abusive to Theliel than the secure knowledge that Heart's enduring wholesomeness had been proven; that the love she and the succubus shared was real.
And so he curled up on the floor of his apartments, shards of the goblet on the carpet well away from him, and sank further into the blackness that his existence had become.
They would try him, and probably execute him. They certainly wouldn't allow him to reincarnate as a human. He was thoroughly doomed.
With sudden clarity through the gloom, he realized there was a way; he could run. His fate was wholly undeserved; he'd been merely the pawn of a greater power, that one power which diametrically opposed his own. If he could get away, he could hide and have time to plan a strategy that would reveal Temporiel's wickedness to the Old Man. But it made him wonder what her design was. With him removed from the Office of the Cupid, who would move to take his place? Would it be Temporiel herself? Snorting, he realized it wouldn't surprise him.
He jumped up, grabbing his satchel and shoving everything he could find inside. Vases, mirrors, busts; all items of memorabilia went into the bag, until the whole of his apartments were clean. He glanced around, trying to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, when an idea struck him.
His penthouse was the top floor but one in the Cupid Building (where Heart had previously lived, only two floors below). The very top floor was probably the most important room in the entire building, for in it were the tools of his Office. Realizing that if he removed the tools, he would prevent anyone else from truly fulfilling the duties of it, he raced up the stairs that led directly from his apartments to that shrine.
The shrine room was in the shape of a giant heart, the smooth walls made of a rare pink marble only found in Jordan. All stairs to the room led to the point. The left curve contained a Doric pedestal, upon which rested The Bow, and the right curve had a similar pedestal with The Arrow resting on a pink cushion.
Theliel, though, could only stare in shock at the third pedestal in the center of the room. Upon it rested another pink cushion, but the only trace of the third item of office was the indent in its plush.
"Where is it!" he cried, frantically searching around the room. There wasn't that much to check; the room was otherwise empty. He sank against one of the walls and began to sob again, because now he was convinced all hope was truly lost.
It wasn't until a great clamor sounded from the floor below that he was moved to action. He could hear the shouts of what would surely be Angels in Black, coming to arrest him, as they overturned everything they could find. He hastily darted from The Bow to The Arrow, shoving both into his satchel.
As he flew away, he could hear from below someone yelling, "Check upstairs!"
He didn't look back, but flew as fast as he could to the Back Stair, and departed Heaven for what he hoped wouldn't be the last time.
If he had looked back, he would have seen as the foretold squadron of seven angels all came barreling up the stairs. They looked around, one shouting, "He took The Bow!"
The commander of the group held up his hand to all further report.
"He's taken it all," he said, scowling. "The Bow, The Arrow, and The Flaming Heart."
At the top of the Fisher Enterprises building, Mr. J.C. Fish had Gabriel and Michael in a meeting. The slender, airy monitors that often opened windows to updates on his projects were present, protruding from his desk, and retreating silently as he finished perusing the reports. Gabriel and Michael shifted uncomfortably in their seats under his penetrating gaze.
"Has it really gotten this bad?" he asked them, his face grim and gloomy. "My covenant has been openly broken by the forces of Heaven?" At the nods of the two Archangels, Mr. Fish's head drooped. "I've seen what has become of my word here on Earth. I had hoped it was not yet so in Heaven."
"Um, Mr. Fish?" The tinny voice of the receptionist sounded meek over the speaker. In the background, a loud banging could be heard; all the more poignantly because the noise was on the other side of the entry to Mr. Fish's office.
"I see my mother is here, Maggie," he sighed.
Suddenly, an earth-shaking clap of thunder rolled through the office, and sparks of electricity flew about the room as all three divine beings ducked for cover. The doorway collapsed inward, falling from its hinges with a loud, dull ring.
"A-and she's not alone," Maggie stammered as quickly as she could.
"Oh, great," Mr. Fish muttered derisively under his breath.
"I heard that," Mary stalked in angrily, her eyes twin lasers of anger.
"Hello, Mother," J.C. sighed, rising. Glancing at her gargantuan counterpart, he added, "Welcome, Warwalker."
As they pushed themselves from the floor, Gabriel and Michael exchanged a glance consisting mostly of rolled eyes. They flanked around their master protectively, although they were confronted with two of the most powerful forces on Earth, and reasonably sure one of them meant him no harm.
"What are you trying to pull, you menchka?" Mary opened by demanding. She planted her fists on his desk and tried to meet his eyes. J.C. looked down; the power of a mother's love is a terrible thing at times. "Was that bait last night? Some kind of test? Do you think the angel has already been sullied, or are you just a homicidal maniac?"
Narrowing his eyes, J.C. met the accusations of both before him. He could tell by Thor's glare, as well as the manner in which he stroked his hammer, that a wrong answer would result in him being pummeled by that sacred artifact. It probably wouldn't kill him, but he did not want the millennial headache he would probably wind up with as a result.
Licking his lips, he said, "You are referring to the War Angels that last night attacked the Cupidite and her lover," he said.
Drawing his hammer, which resulted in the drawing of the Archangels' swords, Thor growled, "They attacked me and a human, too. Now answer the lady."
J.C. motioned for the angels to sheathe their swords, and then grasped the sparking head of Thor's hammer. Two holy lights filled the room — a soft golden one emanated from J.C.'s hands, and an electrical blue one sparked happily from the hammer. Thor drew in his breath sharply; Mary only frowned petulantly and crossed her arms.
"Warwalker, we are opposites, you and I. I am a lord of Peace and Love, and you are a lord of War. But you are not a bringer of Hate to this place, so come, sheathe your hammer and let us talk."
With a grumbled, "Jeezus," Thor put his hammer away; J.C. raised an eyebrow at the epithet, but said nothing.
"Now," J.C. said, sitting and glaring at his mother. "Perhaps you had better start from the beginning. Tell me why you've been looking for Miss Darkfell and Miss Serafina."
Mary sat hard in her chair, but only glared defiantly. Neither her stance nor her demeanor changed otherwise.
"And you, Lord Thor," J.C. surprised him by offering a benevolent smile. "You are protecting your mistress, and that is to be commended. It also speaks well of you that you refuse to abandon your friendship with the human detective, despite your mistress's orders. I have never personally questioned the morality of your followers, though I wish you weren't such a necessary part of humanity."
"I'm not even that anymore," Thor sighed. Then, regaining himself, he added, "Hey, it's because of your followers, too!"
"Not my followers," J.C. replied sadly, and both Thor and Mary were surprised by this reaction.
"But, first order of business." Abruptly, he turned to face Mary, "Mother, please stop stalking the lovers. They have enough on their plate, and you're just making my job harder." Mary looked at him with a sudden flash of rage crossing her face.
"What?" she demanded. "But—"
"But you must trust me, Mother. I have my reasons for preserving them. The angel works for me, now, and soon the succubus will too."
The other four divine beings in the room all elicited a gasp at once.
"But, Master," Michael protested. "We don't know yet whose side she's on!"
"She's on Miss Serafina's side," Gabriel added. "But Miss Serafina is already working for you?"
"You're going to employ the slut succubus?" Mary screamed.
The others' comments were overshadowed by Thor's booming laugh.
"What is so amusing, Thor?" J.C. asked.
"I doubt she'd work for you," Thor chuckled. "She's not up for the feathered wing crap, no offense to present company."
"She wouldn't have to change at all. In fact, she and the angel are perfect the way they are."
"But she's a demon!" Mary cried.
"Hey! That's my boss you're talking about," Thor interrupted her. "And don't think I missed that slut remark."
"If she were not a demon, she would not have that element of impurity that makes their love divine, Mother. I hope you see that soon, because I see my words do little to assuage you."
"You know, I brought you into this world! I sacrificed, and toiled, and all this knowing you were going to die! And this is what I raised you for?" the Virgin retorted.
"You were doing your divine duty, and you know that as well as I do." J.C. held up a hand in peace. "Just as I did, two millennia ago, on a cross outside Jerusalem. And as I knew I was doing when I left Heaven and the corruption I saw brewing there." He sighed. "Heaven is no longer my domain, and I have no desire to be the terrible tyrant they seem to crave."
Mary's eyes widened. "When did all of this happen?" she asked.
"Centuries ago, mother," J.C. chuckled. "You had already taken to visiting Earth to protect my name, even as you are now. I chose to follow your path, and I have seen my name used to promote many hurtful causes, even wars — no offense to present company." He offered a weak grin to Thor before continuing.
"A few of my more loyal friends followed me here — well, to Europe — and since then, I've been working to promote my real word to mankind. You know, the one about love and peace and not judging other people? And Mother, I learned something. I am not the only son of Yhwh." He spoke the Holy Name of the Creator, and its weight echoed around the room.
Mary looked at him with confusion and despair in her eyes. "Not the only—"
"No, mother, don't be sad!" He rose and embraced her tenderly, adding, "You are the only Mother of one of the Creator's children. The others came in different ways. I am the youngest but one. So I am not alone in my work."
"Everything I knew to be true—"
"Is still true, mother," J.C. gazed down at her. "Just bigger than previously thought. It is only the past hundred years or so I've gained this knowledge myself, and we think we have a plan to save humanity."
"From what?" Thor queried.
"Itself," Michael informed Thor coldly, the memory of a few nights before still fresh in his mind.
"What my comrade means is, humanity is full of hatred and prejudice. We have yet to identify any demons that have caused this, although we have identified many that have resulted from it. We think these are human vices, separate from the powers of either Heaven or Hades," Gabriel explained.
"Well, Heaven has certainly been wielding it as their primary weapon," Thor observed.
"We'd noticed that, too," J.C. said wryly. "They seem to be most displeased because they can't truly cause Miss Serafina's fall. Now that she's under my protection, they will never touch her, not directly."
"Yeah, boss, fill us in on that one," Michael said. "When did she come to us?"
"Not two days ago," J.C. grinned; he loved nice surprises. The shock and delight of the recipients of a nice surprise always filled him with glee. "She responded to one of many probes I put out to her, including the two of you." He said this last with a pointed glance at the Archangels.
"And you didn't send one of these 'probes' to attack them — and my buddy Lipton — last night?" Thor asked, but he knew the answer.
"That was not me," J.C. replied solemnly. "I seem to recall I made a covenant against that. I seem to recall my father made a Commandment against it as well. I am sorry about your friend, but I had gathered he fared rather well, and that an Angelic War sword named Hasen has a new wielder."
"You are well-informed," Thor smirked, looking at Gabriel and Michael.
"Despite all of this, his life is in danger, and he is too valuable to my cause to risk in this potential conflict. I would beg that you do your best to keep him out of harm's way."
Michael snorted, and slowly Jesus turned to face him raising an eyebrow.
"Bruce Lipton is the most headstrong, stubborn fool that ever walked this planet," Michael exclaimed under his master's scrutiny. He could have sworn Thor muttered "Boy, is he," in response, but he could only be sure of Mary's eye-roll of agreement. "We've warned him and warned him, but he refuses to listen to reason. He insists on pursuing the case our Justice Cooperation Force has closed. Miss Darkfell's handiwork, to be precise."
"Well, perhaps with someone like the Warwalker at his side, he will be less likely to die in one of these confrontations," J.C. responded. "I am aware of the detective's stubborn nature; it's only a natural instinct of his job, and his greatest asset. I would think that you of all would find this arrangement satisfactory, since it frees you of responsibility of him for now."
"Well, I like him," Gabriel informed his master. "For exactly the reasons you stated. He's a good man with a good heart and a heavy burden. But he does try to do the right thing, the just thing. I think he pursues Miss Darkfell out of his own curiosity at this point, because he seems to have acquitted her, in his mind, of her alleged 'crime'."
"I would agree with that," Thor added. "Someone more convinced of your — er, Heaven's righteousness would have killed her last night when the angels demanded it."
"Mother, anything to add about Lipton? You seem to know him quite well," J.C. said.
"And what do you find so amusing about that?" Mary responded to his tone, blushing and sounding a bit defensive. "Our young friend is a gentleman and a scholar. He is well-schooled in all sorts of things from art to, apparently, fencing. He's no slouch in the demonology department, either. Only your Father knows how much he knows about angels."
"I suppose you are already aware of his Sight?" Thor added suddenly.
J.C. nodded. "A most intriguing aspect of his dossier. He possesses an enormous power, and makes his own fate. I will be observing him for quite some time. He is an exceptional man."
"Well, that's good to hear," Thor grinned.
"Do you have any objections to my proposal that you guard him? I could pay you for your services; name your price," J.C. offered.
"Nah, I couldn't take money from you, Mr. Fish," Thor refused. "Seeing as you were so courteous to me, and all. Especially after I broke your door." He made a sheepish glance behind him.
"Yes, weren't you concerned for the innocent lives that might be broken or lost as a result of that action?" J.C. queried, brow wrinkled.
"Nah. I figured, what the heck? We're all immortals here," Thor grinned. "I'll help you fix it. I know some gnomes that do really great metalwork—"
"We'll attend to that detail some other time, Thor Odinson," J.C. waved him off, rising and offering him a hand. "You are not the god I expected you to be. Walk always with the wisdom and honor you have displayed to me today."
Rising to his full godly height and literally glowing with happy blue sparks at the compliment, Thor took his hand and shook. "You're not what I expected, either, Yesua ben Yusef, son of Mary. May this herald the beginnings of peace between our two houses."
As he and Mary rose and began to depart, J.C. noticed his mother's sullen and quiet temperament.
"Leave the succubus alone, mother," he said to her back. She merely shrugged and continued walking.
When they were gone, Gabriel and Michael looked at one another, then at their pensive Lord.
"Why did that look like a human UN meeting?" Michael asked, numbed by all that had transpired.
"Because it was like one, Michael," J.C. replied, losing his formality for a moment. Regaining himself, he added, "Go follow my mother. Make sure she stays with her new friend."
"You really mean for her to work for you, Mr. Fish?" Gabriel asked gently. Michael scowled.
"No, I intend for her to work with Miss Serafina," J.C. responded. "Love is lacking among humanity, gentlemen, and I think these two are my Father's next hope to save humanity, as the rest of us have done such a dismal job of it."
The Archangels hesitated, not sure what to say or do, and J.C. finally waved them off on their errand. A few minutes later, Maggie poked her head in.
"Jesus, who's going to fix this door?" she asked him.
"I have a friend who has some friends." He rose and went to her, gently taking her in his arms and escorting her to her coat. "Come. I have a mind to escape from my worries a bit. Let us go enjoy some fine mortal cuisine and a movie."
"Is it really that bad?" she said pityingly, stroking his face, mindful of the scars on his forehead.
"My mother was here, doesn't that tell you anything?" he told her as they stepped out of the office.
Mephistopheles stood on the tower overlooking Bhaalor's battlefield and frowned. He hated the smell of blood and gunpowder that always hung around the Warlord's castle, but it behooved him to accede to Bhaalor's demand to see him, since he still wanted the angel delivered to him.
"You have to remember what Seraph was, Bhaalor. She's been my best agent for centuries. Your run-of-the-mill troops aren't going to be able to take her out. I still wish you'd just subdue her and deliver her along with Heart."
"She's slain my troops. I'm not letting her get off easy after that, regardless of your wants. She has to die, or I lose face," the big demon rumbled.
Like losing to her twice already looks good? Mephistopheles thought. He flexed his wings as he spread his hands. "So why did you ask me to meet with you? Our deal is still the same. I've shared everything I know about Seraph and where she is; now you have to bring me the angel."
The Warlord gave him a sidelong look. "I'm not sure I'm not going to be forced to kill her too. She's the one who slew Vrock."
Mephistopheles gave him a hard look. "Bhaalor, you know that would not be a good idea. I have no power over you killing Seraph, since she did slay your troops, but you made a deal. That has the binding of a soul contract."
Bhaalor gave him an evil eye. "Lucifer has forbidden you to chase the angel, Mephistopheles. Attempting to bring me before him for judgment would ensure he becomes aware of your actions."
Mephistopheles shrugged. "I don't have to take anyone before Lucifer, Bhaalor. All I have to do is let it been known discreetly that you broke a deal. No one in Heaven or Hell would ever take your word again. Generals must have the trust of those they lead, no?"
Bhaalor attempted to stare him down, but in the end looked away. "Fine, I'll deliver the angel if I can, and if she gets killed in the fight I'll give you Frost as payment, okay? She's been getting too uppity lately. But the bitch succubus is going to suffer for any damage the angel does. I have a spit heating in my throne room just for her. I'm going to roast her slowly." He grinned at Mephistopheles’ shudder.
"What a waste of a prime sextoy," the Lord of Temptation sighed. "She really has been an outstanding agent. Pity she had to forget she was a demon and let the angel lead her astray."
"Yeah, well, don't worry, Mephistopheles. I plan to give her one last hard hot shaft." The Lord of Battles grinned at his own bad joke.
Frost glared from a shadowed doorway as Bhaalor turned to stomp back into the castle, leaving Mephistopheles to fade in a teleport. That had been a rather revealing conversation. So Lucifer had forbidden Mephistopheles to pursue the angel. And the way Bhaalor had threatened Mephistopheles with telling Lucifer of the deal's details would indicate that Lucifer had probably not told Bhaalor to kill the succubus either. She smiled in the darkness, glad she had hidden herself when seeing the two lords meeting.
This had even better possibilities for advancement than attempting to seduce Thor. Perhaps Lucifer should learn of exactly what the pair had planned. It would definitely be a start on paying back Bhaalor for offering her to Mephistopheles if he didn't deliver the angel.
"What do you mean, Bhaalor knows where they are?" Aphrodite yelled. "I warned them to move!"
"I mean exactly what I said. Nothing more and nothing less. Mephistopheles took the information to him personally," Faust said testily. "I know where you arranged for them to go. It would be proof against any demon intending harm, but it won't stop Bhaalor himself, or any demons he takes with him."
"Great. I knew Thor seeing Frost was a bad omen," the ex-goddess grumbled.
"Actually, from what my spies tell me, she never said a word about you. Nor did she tell him that she went to see your occasional boy-toy."
Aphrodite frowned. "Thor's been a friend for ages."
"Doubtlessly much closer since your descent," Faust said.
"Watch it, Faust, or you'll never get any playtime either."
"As if you could stop yourself. Really, Aphrodite, that's a very empty threat."
The blonde succubus pouted. "I'm just worried about them, Faust."
The tall man raised an eyebrow at her. "Concern? From the Mistress of the Non-Stop Party? How droll."
"I just don't want Seraph dead."
Faust shrugged. "It's out of our hands. I've done everything for her I can."
Aphrodite sighed. It was down to a waiting game…
As the two Archangels winged away to follow the Iron Virgin, Gabriel was given to notice that his partner was in a disgruntling state of aggravation. He puzzled over this and the meeting they'd just left as they flew over the tall metal-and-glass towers of the city below. Their sights were always on Mary; though she traveled by ground, the Archangels were gifted with such vision as to allow them to single her out from amongst the ant-sized humans thousands of feet below them. Her trek through the city suddenly slowed, then halted, and the two Archangels alit atop a low building on the same street. They watched her glamour her trench coat into rags, and observed as she set herself up, alms-cup in hand, scowling at the passersby that paid her only either ignorance or contempt.
Gabriel knew full well the cause of Michael's distress, and would have brought it up himself, but Michael soon saved him the trouble.
He sighed, looking around the neighborhood, and observed with annoyance, "All roads lead to Detective Lipton, it seems."
Indeed, they were right across the street from Lipton's building, and Mary herself was sitting with her back against it, right below the detective's apartment.
"Why should that trouble you?" Gabriel ventured.
"Because of all the humans I've ever spoken to personally, he's the nosiest and the most overbearing," Michael grumbled back. "He would follow us straight into Hades if he thought it would solve his case."
"I should think that would be to his credit," Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "He is a human law-enforcer. I would think he would be your proudest accomplishment."
Michael glanced up sharply. "What do you mean?" he demanded.
"Whoa. Peace, friend!" Gabriel held up a hand. "I meant that he is the human epitome of all you stand for. What did you think I meant?"
Michael's gaze was lost across the street as he answered, "Nothing. I just wasn't sure that was a compliment at first."
Gabriel shook his head. "You are a terrible liar. Why do you hate him so?"
"I don't hate him," Michael snorted in frustration. "It is my job to protect humans, and that asshole is going out of his way to make my job hard."
"Only because until recently we've had to chase him all over the city," Gabriel laughed. "We have not fought anyone over him, and we haven't had to rescue him from anyone, either, unless you count her." He gestured to Mary, which elicited a laugh from the Angel of Righteousness.
"Still," Michael said when all mirth was done. "This case could last forever. And even if it doesn't, what happens next time he gets involved in a shit-storm like this one?"
Gabriel eyed the building across the street, and said uncertainly, "What makes you think we'll see him again after this case is closed?" He knew the answer, but was willing to be an optimist, if only for Michael's sake.
"You heard the Boss," Michael retorted. "He considers the detective valuable. You know what happens when Mr. Fish considers a human valuable." He gestured down to Mary. "It's all angelic visits and messages from The Savior from there. Count me out. I am not annunciating Lipton."
Gabriel's face wrinkled with mock anger. "Hold your tongue! I'm the one who does annunciations, or had you forgotten my post? It was I that announced The Word to Mary, not you, and it is I who has done it since. Besides, not everyone the master considers important is annunciated; look at Mother Teresa. I never visited her, and the master espoused her importance for half a human century."
"It doesn't matter," Michael said. "I'm just not up to annunciating this guy. It's too dangerous."
"For him, or for us?" Gabriel wondered aloud.
"Both," Michael answered.
"Well, we do not yet know that this is what Mr. Fish intends for Detective Lipton."
"I just hope it isn't," Michael said. He set to sulking, and Gabriel said nothing more on the subject. The latter was, however, given to wonder why Michael was so adamantly opposed to the human, and it was this that occupied his mind for the rest of the stakeout.
While the afternoon on the Surface was coming and going, the Heavenly Council sat around their conference table once again in an emergency meeting. The Old Man's head hung low. The other members of the G.O.D. Council were waiting with great agitation for what he had to say. Such surprise meetings were unheard of. Temporiel and Barakiel were very angry, the feminine angel's eye's blazing from the slits in her ever-present veil; the Angel of War had his sword laid out on the table. Even Cherubiel, the Charioteer, had his token eagle on his shoulder and ready to let sound the cry of battle.
"I see you are all prepared for war," the Old Man said. "This assignment will not be quite so drastic as that."
"But Harteriel Serafina must die!" Barakiel cried, gripping the hilt of his sword in anger. "She has slain angels."
"There are circumstances," the Old Man growled. "Those angels were sent by one of our own, one who has chosen not to stand up for his own crime."
"The Charioteers are prepared to search all the Realms for Theliel, my Lord," Cherubiel announced.
"In time, we shall seek out the Cupid. For the moment, it is his errant agent who concerns me most."
"I would hope that under the circumstances, she will face justice as well," Uziel said quietly. He eyed Temporiel carefully, recalling the incident in the library. What had they been arguing about? Had Temporiel figured out Theliel was a traitor, or was she herself a snake in their Garden of Eden?
Before anyone had a chance to react to Uziel's comment, the Old Man gave him a hard glance and said, "I intend to, Uziel. I intend to bring her back here to face Judgment."
With the exception of Uziel and Temporiel, the rest of the table gasped.
"The last angel to be judged was—"
"Valentiniel," Uziel supplied. "How ironic."
"In this way we can ensure her Fall," the Old Man said. "Then let Hell have her. We have no use for slayers of angels here."
"No! I demand death for her!" Barakiel seized the hilt of his sword and slammed it into the table.
"If that is what is judged, then so it shall be," the Old Man replied. "If a deeper traitor had not been in our midst, the circumstance might never have taken place. Let the Seraphim decide what shall become of her, and let us worry about more important things."
"I thought we had already determined she was important," Temporiel hissed.
The Old Man narrowed his eyes at her. "She won't be when we are through. Cherubiel, I want you to take your seven best Charioteers and Barakiel's seven best warriors—"
"Certainly not!" Barakiel stood, facing down Cherubiel. "I shall lead them!"
"We are escorting her, not assassinating her, Barakiel, and so Cherubiel will lead the host," the Old Man said firmly. "The only reason for such protection is Seraph Darkfell. If it were just the angel, I would not send so many. But the succubus is a force to be reckoned with, as we have seen. Your assignment is to bring her back alive, for judgment.
"I would also advise no contact with the Warwalker or his human friend," he added.
Uziel didn't miss Temporiel's sharp glance down. Barakiel's eyes widened.
"I received the report from last night's… adventure," the Old Man explained. "No one believes in the Warwalker anymore. Lend him no credence. It is the blatant attempt on that human detective's life that concerns me. If I ever hear of a dark operation that fails so miserably and so publicly again, I will see you all judged."
With that, he rose and stormed out with a blast of holy righteousness. The angels were left to gaze at one another in confusion. Uziel sat back and enjoyed the show that was sure to follow.
"There was apparently a human detective caught in the crossfire last night," Temporiel explained. "He has Hasen."
Barakiel sat back, his dark eyes smoldering with rage. Cherubiel's face hardened.
"And we were just ordered not to kill him," he spat. "A human who kills angels is as bad as a demon."
"Why would the Old Man let such a human live?"
"We must bide our time," Temporiel cautioned. "This human is very meddlesome. He may just meet with an… accident. In fact, I can almost guarantee his presence when you retrieve the angel. If he is caught in the crossfire of the fight you are sure to have with the succubus, I would not complain."
"Nor I," Barakiel added. "Would that the angel would meet with such a fate."
"Oh, yes, that would be pleasant," Temporiel rose. "But the Old Man said we couldn't touch her." She departed airily, a stark contrast to her previous mood. Uziel started to rise as well when a large hand clapped him on the shoulder. Uziel looked up to see Cherubiel leering down at him. Barakiel's head appeared from under the table as he knotted the bottom of Uziel's robe.
"You were awfully quiet this time, runt," Cherubiel observed. "But you're the smartest guy in this place. Smarter, maybe, than the Old Man. So what's up with that?"
"I had nothing to say this time," Uziel said calmly, his feet trying to work the knot. He was losing valuable time, and Temporiel was getting further and further away.
"But you know everything," Barakiel scoffed. "And we all saw you talking to Theliel so secretly after this whole thing started. You know where he is, don't you?"
"I can't be bothered with such false accusations," Uziel protested as to his horror, Barakiel handed the knot to Cherubiel and he was hoisted upside-down by his robe. He then began to tie the arms of the robe while Cherubiel dangled Uziel from a meaty fist. "Really! I suspected Theliel was up to something, but I wasn't part of it!"
"Yeah, sure," Cherubiel sneered. "That's not what we've heard. You're not the only snoop in Heaven, bucko."
"Really! I swear by our Lord!" Uziel cried as he was carried out of the building and down a brightly-lit white alley.
Despite his protests of innocence, he was carried through a maze of alleys much like the first one until he was totally lost. However, when the whinnying of horses reached his ears, he realized exactly what was going to befall him next.
It was a favorite trick of these two, to take younger angels and hang them by the bottoms of their robes from the rafters of the Pegasus stable. The stable itself was a maze, and only Cherubiel and his division knew their way through it. The Charioteers were under strict orders not to disturbed the hazed angels, and none dared to break the order. Since Cherubiel and Barakiel were Angelic Lords, none of their victims spoke up.
"No! Please don't do this!" Uziel struggled as they hung him from a hook over a splendid grey steed. The other two angels only laughed and stood before the stall as they watched Uziel kick and flail for freedom. Beneath him, the flying horse reared up and kicked four of its legs against the wall of the stall, its other four legs holding it very steady for the blow. The wall echoed with a loud ringing, and Uziel saw that they were reinforced with some kind of metal.
"Yeah, you'll be hangin' around for a while," Cherubiel nodded. "We picked this one up in the wars. Don't know its name, and we've never been able to tame it. I'm the only one who comes to this stall. So you'd best tell your story, traitor, if you ever want to get out of here."
"Wait!" Uziel cried to their retreating backs. "Who'll run Purgatory?"
His question went unanswered as he hung there, watching the angry eight-legged beast beneath him kick at the walls of its imprisonment.
Temporiel signed with relief as she saw Barakiel and Cherubiel depart the stable. She headed for the back stairs, a little-known pathway between Heaven and the surface, and not nearly as bright or as beautiful as the Grand Stairway. It seemed like forever as she descended closer to the surface, so she let her thoughts drift to the pest now hanging in the stable.
She hadn't been sure until she'd noticed his inquisitive glances in the meeting, but she suspected Uziel had overheard the conversation in the library. While the bookworm had been trying to discern Theliel's thoughts, she'd glimpsed him and worried what he might know. However, the shock value of last night's attack told her he did not know much, but he still knew enough to implicate her in the deaths that were sure to come tomorrow. Even if he told anyone what the two tormenting bullies had done, Temporiel still had his own conversation with Theliel to fall back on. The pressure would be on Uziel for a while, and she could ensure it turned into mania if Uziel had a problem. He was not a very popular figure in Heaven after his transgressions of the Fifteenth Century Anno Domini anyway.
She reached the Surface, finally, and slipped around a corner into an alley. She glanced around, then sat cross-legged and began to pray.
Almost instantly, a six-pack turned up.
"Well, well," said the leader. "What is—"
"Enough of this nonsense," Temporiel said in a commanding tone. "I have business with your master."
The entire six-pack began to laugh mockingly, but were silenced by Temporiel's glare and the warmth and intensity of her golden holy light.
"One of you go. The others may guard me," she said. "If your master chooses not to return with your comrade, you may have me to do with as you wish."
The five subordinates looked at their apparent leader, who was glowering at the angel. Finally, he motioned to the others and they surrounded Temporiel, weapons drawn.
"If this is a trick," he told her, "we will turn your remains into pits of agony. Capice?"
"Understood," Temporiel grinned beneath her birka.
The demon leader disappeared in a puff of brimstone, but Temporiel made no move against them, to their surprise. They waited in silence for a few very long minutes.
Then, the earth beneath them began to tremble as a smoldering hole literally melted open before them. The hideous odor of brimstone, sulfur, excrement, and a million other rotting things flowed into the air as though a steam pipe had burst. In the midst of this malodorous cloud rose the massive form of the Demon Lord of War. His over-muscled body was glistening with the condensation from the foulness that surrounded him, and Temporiel wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"You know it's not polite to break wind in the presence of a lady, Bhaalor," she said.
"Ladies don't help me convince suicide bombers to kill five thousand people," Bhaalor scoffed in reply. "Ah, those were good times."
"I don't know, my friend," Temporiel glanced at his subordinates and said, "I'm rather fond of that holy war we kicked up in Spain all those years ago."
"Yeah, that was fun, too," Bhaalor grinned. "Torturing all those people in the name of God. I was very glad to be part of that one."
"These sheep will kill each other over lesser things than their beliefs," Temporiel said. "And as long as they keep doing it, people like you and I will remain in power."
"You didn't come to chat, though," Bhaalor gave her a piercing gaze as he dismissed his six-pack. They hesitantly disappeared in identical puffs of brimstone.
"I have a project for you, Bhaalor," Temporiel sighed. "I know you've been chasing after that slut of Mephistopheles' ranks, trying to kill her."
"She's killed a lotta good guys," Bhaalor growled. "She's meat. She's so dead she'll never reincarnate."
"Good, that's exactly the attitude I was hoping for," Temporiel was getting excited. This was too easy. "What about her lover?"
"I could care less," Bhaalor replied.
"Again, good," Temporiel said. "I want her dead."
"Yeah, whatever, I'm just your lapdog to order around as you please," Bhaalor waved her off. "As long as the demon-bitch dies, do what you want with the angel."
"Okay, then I guess I should warn Cherubiel and the other Charioteers about the Gargoyles that guard their apartment," Temporiel sing-songed.
Bhaalor made a face as though someone had just handed him a love letter. "Those creatures are nasty, and they stink! We'll never get into their apartment if it's guarded by gargoyles."
"Exactly," Temporiel said. Check and mate.
"And you can get rid of the gargoyles?"
"Absolutely. As I said, the Charioteers are going to be there."
Bhaalor narrowed his eyes. "So why can't they kill the angel?"
"Unfortunately, the Old Man doesn't see the threat she poses."
Bhaalor grinned. "That's why we're such a great team, Temp," he said. Temporiel winced at this nickname. "We do evil in the name of good. Our masters could never think like that."
"And I've taken great pains to keep it that way, Bhaalor. Don't screw it up for us by allowing that angel to live. Understand?"
Bhaalor nodded, grinning. "Sure, I gotcha. Your guys open the door to unlimited carnage; my troops go in and make it happen."
"You just make sure the angel, dies, Bhaalor, or else I'll make sure those gargoyles get you," Temporiel intoned slowly.
Bhaalor shivered. "Ugh. No, I'll make sure your angel joins her lover among the soulless. Gargoyles are—" He shuddered again.
Temporiel nodded. "I'm counting on you," she said as she began the long climb back to Heaven.
To Bhaalor, it looked as though she disappeared in a beam of golden light. He shielded his eyes from it until it disappeared. Bouncing his giant club in one massive palm, he grinned.
"You'da been a great Demon Lord, Temporiel," he said. Then, with a snort that was masked in the hiss of his own putrid gateway home, he added, "You may still get your chance."
"Oh, you have to buy this geode! Don't you hear it calling out to you?"
"Well… It's awfully pretty, but I didn't want to spend that kind of money today."
"But it's fine quality amethyst from the hills of North Carolina!"
"But my birthday's in October!"
"Put your hand in it, though. Don't you feel the tingle?"
Mama sat in the back room and rolled her eyes as she listened to Honey blurt out exactly the opposite of the truth, yet again.
"Another sucker," she sighed as she finished spreading her Tarot cards into a cross pattern on a small square table before her. Around her, incense smoke curled in tendrils from a generous pile of hers sitting on a hot coal. Mostly, they masked the smell of the suspicious cigarette that burned merrily in the ashtray as she perused her cards.
"Hmm. Lovers, new to their love," she observed, looking at three cards in the center. "But always the shadow of great conflict hangs over them." She glanced up at the ceiling as she continued. "It seems that this conflict is coming from a very domineering male figure, but there is something far more insidious going on here, the poor dears. And so soon after their courtship." She glanced at the card at the furthest left and realized, "Soon the conflict will escalate… no, this is bad." She wrinkled her brow and looked at the line of cards laid out next to the cross, sighing in relief. "Good, they will stand together, and not alone. They have built too much to risk losing. They have too much to fight for."
The skeletal face of the final card gazed coldly upon her as her own clouded. "Puzzling. There will be great change, but for who? Oh, this will not do at all!"
She rose and exited the office, slipping down the corridor to the back exit before she had to embarrass Honey in front of her customer. She looked out the back window before opening it, satisfied that Moonbunny was, as always, sitting in the fairy mound. She stepped out, taking in the strangely fresh air and strolling over to the stone bench.
"Moon, I need you to do me a favor," she said to the teen, whose back was to her as she was twirling something between her fingers.
"Yes, Mama?" Moon said, not looking up from her distraction.
"I need you to go someplace for the day tomorrow," Mama told her. This caught Moon's attention, and she turned around, leaning on the hand that enclosed the object she was fiddling with.
"Why, Mama?" she asked, urgently. "You're not going to do another skyclad ritual without me, are you?"
Mama chuckled. "No, Moon, I promised you could join in the next one. You are old enough."
Moon sighed with relief, then wrinkled her brow with worry.
"Then what's wrong? Why do I have to leave?"
"Just for the day, dear," Mama assured her. "I feel a storm coming, that's all."
Moon's silky golden hair rustled for a minute, and Mama chuckled.
"No, Izzy," she said aloud. "You and your friends need to stay in your mound. You must promise."
There was a momentary silence before Moon turned to face the little fairy, who stood defiantly on her shoulder.
"C'mon, Izzy. If Mama thinks you shouldn't be here for it, then promise."
::: Fine, ::: Izzy harrumphed, plopping down with her arms and legs crossed in an insolent huff.
Mama nodded. "Good." She arose. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm staying in my office all day."
"What about the Normals?" Moon's eyes widened in concern.
"This is far above their capacity." She smiled. "They'll be fine. Oh! I'd better go see if Doug has something to do tomorrow!"
With that, she scurried inside, leaving Moon alone in the garden with Izzy.
Moon lifted the hand she'd been leaning on as Izzy asked her excitedly, ::: What do you think is going on? :::
"I don't know, Izzy." Leaning back with her legs tucked beneath her, Moon took on a puzzled expression, gazing at the item lying in her palm. "I don't know."
In her palm, glowing with a pale blue light, was a single white feather.
"We need to talk. Now."
Father Al Lorenzo was shocked by the appearance of his friend, but was even more shocked by his friend's attitude. Lipton had grabbed his arm and was now half-guiding, half-dragging the priest to the rectory. His grip was like iron, and coursed dull black pain into the muscles of Al's arm. He remained silent, however; his past with the detective assured him that Lipton was angry, but that meant no danger to him.
Once in the rectory, Lipton threw his friend down into a chair, then proceeded to pace before him as Al rubbed his sore arm.
"You look agitated, Bruce," he said. "What's the matter?"
With vehemence, Lipton whirled upon his friend.
"I'll tell you what's the matter, my friend," he replied. "I was attacked by angels last night. What holy rules say angels can attack people?"
Lorenzo shook his head, chuckling. "The rules that govern a bad dream, Bruce. Angels don't attack people, unless they have committed great sins. They attacked Sodom and Gomorrah for their lustfulness, their unheedingness of God's natural law that man must lay with woman, not other men. But those were entire cities committing that sin, not one man. There was an angel assigned to prevent Balaam from warning the Philistines of the coming of Israel, but he did not actually attack Balaam for his transgression, because Balaam finally turned aside. There was the angel sent to kill the Firstborn of Egypt during the Ten Plagues, but he was only killing heathens. And of course there were the angels that tested Abraham and Jacob, which led to God favoring their line with his only begotten Son. But I don't think you've committed any of these sins, Bruce. Have you?"
"Oh, give me a break," Lipton retorted. "Your examples suck. What makes your God so great that he gets to kill all of Egypt's firstborn, and call them heathen? And what's wrong with a little homosexuality, Lorenzo? Your profession seems to have developed a taste for it over the years!"
"Bruce!" Lorenzo held up his hands, pained. "You cannot blame the entire calling for the indiscretions of a few! What makes you come to me like this?"
What Lipton tossed to the ground was enough to give him pause. In fact, he gasped, and he could see dark edges where the pressure of what he was seeing clouded around his line of sight. The seven silver rings that decorated the floor appeared to be flickering with holy light, when they should have been blazing, and crowning seven of God's messengers. He looked at Lipton in horror, this new revelation about his friend's behavior causing him to see Bruce in a new light, a most unholy light, sickly and blue like a bloated corpse. He shook his head.
"These can not be what I think they are," he said. "If they are, you have condemned your soul for all eternity."
"Guess what, Al." Lipton's eyes held a hint of hysterical madness. "They are. And I need to know why."
"You didn't warn the succubus of some just and worthy attack, did you?" Lorenzo suggested, his voice wavering. His heart was beating hard in his chest, and the line of his vision, now so narrowly confined, started to fade off as though he were looking through a telescope. He wished it were so; that would mean Lipton was far away.
"I didn't warn the succubus of anything! They were willing to condemn me just for not killing her!"
Lorenzo sighed. "I cannot say that I have much sympathy for you on that score. But it would seem that you have encouraged the wrath of The Lord, Bruce. I don't know what help or sanctuary I can give you. I don't even know if I should."
"You mean that despite all the other demons I've killed, 'The Lord' would hold it against me because I didn't kill just one?"
"Demons are like cockroaches, Bruce," Lorenzo said quietly, his mind churning. "Their evil spreads more quickly that you know, and just one can beget evil in many. I do admit, though, it is strange; that the goodness of your past deeds should outweigh your present circumstances. If you didn't warn her, and didn't commit any other serious sins, I can't imagine why angels would attack."
"You said something about testing people. Why would they test someone?"
"Well, Abraham and Jacob became the patriarchs of their families, which meant a lot more back then than it does today. They became men of great wealth, piousness and wisdom, and were blessed as God's chosen line. As I said before, it is from that line that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—" Lorenzo blessed himself at the mention of the name. "—was descended."
Lipton considered that for a moment, then chuckled. "No. They were definitely not testing me. So what's going on?"
Lorenzo looked at him very seriously. "You have been corrupted by the succubus, Bruce. You must cleanse, atone, and hope that God will not punish you."
"Al, I haven't even met the succubus!"
Lorenzo wrinkled his brow in confusion.
"Then she could have no influence over you. Only if you were in her presence."
"Well, I have been in her presence, but she has never spoken directly to me. And besides, I have the protection of — Oh, never mind. I have sacred protection." He said the last hurriedly, recalling the last time he'd mentioned Mary to Lorenzo.
"I would rethink your 'sacred protection', Bruce. If the woman claiming to be The Holy Mother is as you described, I would not trust that she is really the Mother of Christ. She could be a demon, too."
"She gave me these; you tell me," Lipton tossed him a clip of the blessed ammo. Lorenzo was impressed as he handled it.
"Yes, these are very sacred, and I believe you've met a very powerful angel, but not The Virgin. If you choose not to believe me, then please don't bother me any longer with uninformed suppositions." He paused before adding, "But with protections like this, why would you have been turned against? This doesn't make much sense."
"Well, I saw her again this morning, and she denies having anything to do with it. We both know angels don't lie."
"Then I can offer you no explanation."
Lipton took a step back and a deep breath. In frustration, he punched at the air, swearing under his breath.
"I tried to warn you, Bruce," Lorenzo said, finally pitying his friend.
"I know, everybody did," Lipton sighed. "But no one ever told me I'd be fighting the good guys, as well as the bad ones." He began to head for the sacristy, and the door.
Lorenzo stared after him, sighing. Then, his head awhirl with curiosity, he headed for the library, and the Internet.
He busily spent the majority of the next few hours researching every incidence of angelic attack he could think of, from the ones he'd mentioned to places throughout the Bible, and folklore. He even checked the Koran and Torah, but he couldn't find anything of the magnitude Bruce had described. Not for anything Bruce had claimed to have done.
This made him reflect on the state his friend had been in ever since he'd gotten involved with Seraph Darkfell and the fallen angel. The more he thought about Lipton's obsessive behavior, and the report Giuseppe had recently sent him, the more he realized what Lipton refused to accept — that he was under the succubus's spell.
That she had such a strong will as Lipton's under her throes was proof enough of her power. That she also had an angel enchanted gave Lorenzo pause, but he knew that there was only one thing that could be done to solve this problem, and he was the only one who knew enough to do it.
Rising, he returned to the rectory and went to a breakfront behind his desk. There, along with his chalice of office, his censor, and his robes for High Mass, in a red leather-bound book, lay the Rites of Exorcism. He gazed at the whole cabinet of holy paraphernalia for a moment, weighing his decision. He knew what he was taking on; he knew her power.
"Father," he said, crossing himself. "Protect me. Protect me against Seraph Darkfell."
Crossing himself again, he grabbed the robes, chalice, censor and book, and tucked them into a backpack. Frowning, he unlocked a drawer from his desk and removed a .45 revolver. He checked the chambers, secured the safety, and slipped this into the knapsack as well, offering a quick prayer to Jesus that he would never need it. With a sigh, he zipped the bag and set off in pursuit of his friend.
Seraph might not have been a fan of sunrises, but she was not above sharing a nice sunset with Heart as they partook of her latest attempt at cooking. Heart had been really surprised when Seraph had produced a jar of spaghetti sauce; to her, such an endeavor took hours and hours to properly prepare. When Seraph had explained it was pre-made, she'd immediately insisted on adding meatballs to the mix, noticing an extremely simple recipe on the side of the jar. Even though Heart seemed to prefer sauce made by her own hand to the stuff in the jar, the meatballs were excellent and Seraph had even found an old bottle of Chianti to liven up the meal.
They dined on the balcony, looking east at the orange clouds that hovered over New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which while it wasn't as good as a full view of the sunset, still made for a romantic setting.
"Looks like snow," Seraph observed, looking out over the river.
"Oh, goodie! Snow is so much fun," Heart clapped in excitement.
Seraph snickered. "Not around here," she replied.
Heart frowned. "Why not?" she asked.
"It's hard to drive in," Seraph explained. "You'll see. But maybe we'll go out to the mountains and play. The snow is a lot of fun out there."
"I would love to see the mountains!" Heart exclaimed. "And the beach. And the rain forest! They talk about it on TV, and they say it needs to be saved, but I don't get it, because I didn't know trees worshipped The Creator."
Seraph laughed, and it was a few moments before she regained her composure enough to fill Heart in on why the rain forest needed to be saved. Heart found it all very depressing, so Seraph turned the conversation elsewhere.
"Would you like to go shopping tomorrow, and pick up some clothes for work?" she asked the angel.
Heart cocked her head to the side, considering this.
"No, I think I'd like to use tomorrow as a day of rest," she said. Seraph knitted her brow in confusion, prompting Heart to explain, "The Creator made the world in six days, and took the seventh to rest. We made our world in six days, so we should spend tomorrow relaxing, too."
Seraph nodded. "That makes sense," she said. "And how would you like to relax?"
"I would dearly love to know what a Jacuzzi is," Heart exclaimed. "Mama made it sound so nice, and from what she said, I think it's in the bath. And I can think of no better way to relax than in a bath."
"All day?" Seraph asked doubtfully.
"I didn't say we'd spend the whole day just sitting in the tub." Heart smiled teasingly, leaving no doubt how they would fill the remainder of the time.
"That sounds wonderful." Seraph grinned back. "Are you coming to work with me tonight?"
"Well," Heart said hesitantly. "I was kind of thinking I would stay in tonight and watch some TV."
"Is everything alright?" Seraph asked, concerned.
"Oh, everything is fine!" Heart protested. "I'm just not in the mood for naked ladies and loud music."
"Ah," Seraph nodded. "If it's any consolation, I'm not in the mood for it tonight, either. But I do want to have a little spending money around the house, so I do want to go in tonight. I'll make it early, though, and I'll certainly make it clear I won't be there tomorrow."
Heart grinned as she began clearing the table.
To be continued.
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