An original story by
Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.
Bhaalor's crash-landing on the surface of Hell had set off nearly every one of the mines in his battlefields, rocking the realm with thunderous rolling waves of land. As the impact rippled across Hell, it scattered a set of chess pieces in the private chambers of the castle at its innermost sphere.
Lilith looked up in alarm, but was pacified by the studied calm of her husband. He leaned over and gathered the fallen chess pieces, holding up the lone broken one for study. Lilith rose from the bed and sauntered over to him, slipping her arm around his neck in an affectionate embrace. She looked at the board.
The pieces were red and black. The red ones were kinged by a small figurine of Seraph Darkfell, and queened by one of Harteriel Serafina. She recognized one of the knights, as well, to be the form of the dishy detective from the NYPD. There were only a few others, and Lilith only recognized a couple of them. But, despite the fact not all the pieces were on the board, there had been no pieces captured, Lilith noted. They just weren't in the game yet.
The black side was even more interesting. There was Mephie, and a few angels, and a few humans. The broken piece was only stout hooves and a tail, but Lilith saw the broken torso of Bhaalor on the floor, lying beside his crumbled horns.
"Poor Bhaalor," Lucifer intoned. "I think he's gotten too much exorcize."
He chuckled wryly at his own joke, then stood up, casting Lilith's arms from about his neck. He stepped over to the darkening time-space rift that was forming in the room, and stood before it.
"It's time to go deal with our errant minions, my dear," he said, not turning. "Come along."
Lilith slowly approached him, her eyes narrowing into nimbuses of frustration. He'd ignored her until this very moment, and then expected her to just come to his beck and call. That he'd sounded extremely bored by even condescending to this little mention agitated her even more. Nevertheless she took his proffered arm and stepped into the continuum with him.
When they arrived at the throne room, three very perplexed demons were standing on the seal. Mephistopheles was in a sitting position, the look of pain on his face showing that before he'd been abruptly brought here, he'd been lounging in a chair. Bhaalor was flat on his back, still, stunned by the impact of his descent and shocked to find himself in still another location. Frost, however, wore an expression that mixed surprise with relief. She'd tried for several hours to reach the palace on the lake, but couldn't find a road that led to it. She looked around to see Bhaalor and Mephie, then smiled broadly, her eyes glued to the Lord of Hell.
"Well, well," Lucifer began, drifting gracefully into his throne. "Whatever have you two been up to?" The glare he gave the two demon lords left no doubt who he was speaking to.
Bhaalor sat up and rubbed the back of his head, glaring derisively at Mephie, who returned the favor. Neither of them spoke, and Frost kept her face carefully forward, not daring to have either lord in even her peripheral vision.
"Bhaalor, why did you disobey a direct order?" Lucifer turned all his attention to the Warlord.
"Seraph Darkfell killed my troops!" Bhaalor cried incredulously. Surely, the Lord of Hell would understand
"Seraph Darkfell is easily worth more than all the troops you have thus far lost, Bhaalor," Lucifer said condescendingly. "She is worth more even now to Hell than most of your division."
As Bhaalor started to protest, a deep rumbling resounded from beneath the seal. Both demon lords hastily stepped off the iron disk, their faces twin masks of horror and panic.
"Baal is hungry, Bhaalor," Lucifer rose an eyebrow at the massive demon. "Do not toy with me."
"But, your Satanicness!" Bhaalor began to plead.
The seal before him disappeared to reveal a hole, so black even the light from the room did not penetrate it; so deep, none of those present knew where it ended. The rumbling became a growling, a sickening hiss. A foul stench arose from the hole, so rank even Lucifer's face crumpled in disgust.
"As I said, Bhaalor," he nevertheless continued. "Baal is hungry. Would you be his dinner? Would you disobey me again?"
Bhaalor, his voice lost, shook his head in fright. Frost took a few steps back, mindful of the hole, until she was behind Bhaalor, off to his left. Lucifer spared her a momentary glance and then turned his attention back to the two demon lords.
"Mephistopheles," he began. "I am especially disappointed in you—"
He was cut off by Bhaalor's shout and piercing cry.
All of the frustration of his stubbornness and overplayed aggression worked inside Frost, and she tasted it with pleasure. She called it all up within her, gritting her teeth and using its power to propel her forward. She rushed forward toward the Warlord of Hell, and shoved him as hard as she could. He teetered on the edge of the hole for a moment, but all that mass that had kept him so sturdily grounded in a fight now was working against him. He fell, his scream echoing throughout the chamber, piercing to the ears of all present.
From within the hole came a contented growl, which suddenly choked off Bhaalor's shout. In sudden twin pillars of black evil, the monster Baal rose, its slimy form hovering about fifty feet in the air. Its twin heads, their maws dripping with brownish sludge, pulled and tugged at Bhaalor's body, the corpse twitching spastically with the effort. There was no end in sight to Baal's necks, but the rumblings inside the hole gave notice of a huge body contorting in struggle between the two heads.
In a shower of black blood, the two antagonists finally split their meal, and each satisfied head slid back down into the pool of darkness, awaiting their next repast.
Hastily, Lucifer replaced the seal. His countenance was one of his usual studied calm, but what would have passed for his heart was pounding loudly in his ears.
"Well, Frost," he told the ex-goddess. "You have initiative. What has Bhaalor ever done to you? Was he not a good master?"
"He tried to trade me — to him," Frost said, pointing with repugnance at Mephistopheles.
"Oh he did, did he?" Lucifer replied, amused. Settling back in his chair with a wry smile on his face, he asked, "And what were the terms of this trade?"
He glared at Mephie as Frost explained, "I was Mephistopheles' consolation prize if Bhaalor failed to bring him the angel."
"Well, Mephie," Lucifer turned his full attention to the Lord of Corruptions. "Every demon in Hell reports their surface activities to you, except one officer. That officer was lately Bhaalor, but, in light of recent changes, I'm giving the job to Frost, for her initiative and her motivation to succeed. Perhaps, with her as Warmistress, you will learn to temper your lusts and channel them for Hell's good, and not your own."
"But Lucifer!" Mephie cried out, intending to argue.
Lucifer had risen, but now he held up a hand, silencing the demon.
"I was going to feed you to Baal, not Bhaalor," Lucifer said. "Frost offered a more savory solution. If you want, I could just go ahead with my original plan, to feed you to Baal and give Frost your job."
"No, this arrangement is fine," Mephie said through gritted teeth, with a glare at Frost.
"Excellent." Lucifer clapped his hands together and turned away again, pausing only to add, "Begone, both of you."
Lilith lingered for just a moment, studying Frost. Her husband had given her a new, very interesting diversion. With this firmly in mind, she turned and accompanied Lucifer into the floating shadow that was the rift back up to the bedchamber.
The Old Man once again took the head of the table, but the number of Angelic officers that attended him was rapidly dwindling. He frowned at Cherubiel, Barakiel, and Temporiel as he sat down.
Temporiel was a mask of rage. Her birka, humanity's current symbol for the chastity and temperance she represented, today hid the anger of her countenance, the deep frown that blemished her face. If anyone had seen beneath her heavy veil, they would have known the Old Man's next words to be false.
"Temporiel, you should be quite satisfied," he said. "I would like to commend you for uncovering what is now an obvious conspiracy between Theliel and Uziel. Which one of them warned the detective that we were after the angel?"
"I'm not quite sure, sir," she replied, keeping her voice mousy and studious. "I would bet it was Uziel, because he was present when we laid out the plan, and disappeared soon after."
Barakiel and Cherubiel exchanged a puzzled glance, but said nothing.
"Hm." The Old Man nodded. "That does make sense. Well, today is a sad day for Heaven's hosts. We have lost three of our valued allies, who shall henceforth be declared renegade from our cause. Spread the word to the Heavenly Hosts — any angel who sees one or all of these three has my permission to eradicate them."
Barakiel and Cherubiel exchanged another glance, this one far more sinister. Excited leers played across their faces as they absorbed the news. Temporiel relaxed within her birka, relieved that neither of the two meatheads had blown her story. She didn't know what she was really going to do with Uziel, but at least none suspected her involvement in the affair. She would deal with the angel-child at her leisure. He was going nowhere.
After the Old Man departed the room, Cherubiel looked at her. Barakiel leaned back in his chair, picking his nails with his knife.
"What gives, Temp?" the Charioteer asked. "We know Uziel didn't tell no detective nothin'. What happened back there?"
"I believe demons sensed our attack," she fudged in reply. "Apparently they had their own intentions toward the angel, or perhaps the succubus. The detective is an accomplished demon-hunter. He probably sensed them somehow himself."
"I'll bet he's a warlock," Barakiel said. This elicited another leer and a chuckle from both male demons. Temporiel was sure she would retch if they gave each other a high-five.
"So demons made it snow, and stopped our attack?" Cherubiel asked her through his mirth.
She nodded, and was thankful that they seemed to accept her explanation. As they departed the room, they joked and laughed about what they did to warlocks, leaving her alone to her thoughts.
JC Fish was lost in thoughts of his own as Michael and Gabriel entered the room. Both Archangels had their heads downcast, especially when they saw the vacant stare their boss was giving his desk. The sat down before him, both shifting uncomfortably. For long moments, they waited out the Savior's stare, until finally, he shook his head and smiled benevolently at them.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I had to deliver a package. Are the two of you all right?"
They exchanged a guilty glance, but Mr. Fish anticipated them and held up his hand.
"Aside from losing my mother, that is," he chuckled, delighting in the look of shock from the angels that accompanied the statement.
"We really didn't think she'd go so far," Gabriel hastily exclaimed, though not without reservation. He glared for a moment at Michael.
"You did exactly what I wanted you to do," JC said before Michael could add anything. "You forget, gentlemen, who my father is." He winked and explained, "My mother could not go see the succubus unaccompanied. But she had to see for herself so she could forgive them, like I wanted her to do. Now I'm free to save them both, and now, our poor beleaguered detective will have the answers he seeks."
"So you mean — the whole point was—" Michael stammered.
"For Mary to go with the detective," Gabriel finished, much more in control of his mind.
JC leaned back in his chair, his gaze drifting off to some point far beyond their physical surroundings.
"My mother admires the detective," he said. "I knew if he told her not to harm the succubus, she wouldn't, even beyond my own cautions. I also knew the detective and the succubus must meet, or this matter would never lay to rest for him. In this way, he was protected, but so was his quarry. I'm sure you know what happened to them in your absence."
"Yes, and Lipton wouldn't have been there if that no-good Warwalker had followed orders," Michael grumbled.
"Do not judge everyone, Michael, even if it is your nature," JC told him benignly. "Thor had duties at his club. I sent him there. He was talking to me even as you watched him."
Michael started, realizing the lanky man before him spoke the truth. Thor had been on the phone when he came out of the building
"He called me," JC explained. "To tell me what had happened at the club, and ask if he could go. Since I caused the water main in the club to break, I had no problem with it. He guarded Lipton for as long as he was needed, and will be back to doing so more times than I can detail for you right now."
"But what about the angels that attacked their home?" Gabriel wondered.
"That is a matter which bears some investigation," Mr. Fish nodded. "And your next assignment."
As JC Fish continued to outline their next assignment, Gabriel Horne and Michael Wright looked at one another in relief. Everything had worked out as planned.
Mama sat in her ritual room, having just awoken from a very deep sleep. She rose and peered outside at the stars which glittered across the sky over the city, stars few others nearby could see. She walked around the corner of the alley and looked at the fairy mound, and then strode over to it, a slight smile on her worn face.
When she was in the center of the small hill, she was suddenly surrounded by millions of little dots of light, like fireflies, which circled round her in a whirlwind of luminosity. To her ears, they were also accompanied with a cacophony of chatter, which she silenced by holding her hands before her and over her head.
"Everything is all right now!" she told all the fey that had gathered to see her. "The bad demons are gone, and so are those nasty angels."
The dull and tinkling prattle resumed, and Mama eased them down again.
"The snow won't hurt the mound. I chased it away."
Anyone listening would have sworn they heard the swarm of fireflies cry out Hooray! Mama only smiled and stepped out of the center, glancing once more up at the sky before going back inside. Her smile didn't leave as she shut the door leading back into her ritual room.
"Well," she sighed. "All in a day's work!"
She sat back down in the center of the room, the incense burners around her all sparking to life and filling the room with a fragrant haze, and closed her eyes, mediating on the day's events. As the day drew to a close, her mediation became a deep sleep.
Sometimes, it was tough being Mama.
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