Authors: Debra Dunbar
Tags: #demons, #angels, #fantasy, #hell
Table of Contents
Copyright 2016, All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
To Dr. Hadley Tremaine (1939-2001), Chairman of the Department of
English, Hood College, Frederick, Maryland, who taught me that there is
great treasure to be found in what others consign to Hell.
nce again I found myself trapped in an elven net, only this time it was in my own backyard.
“Little help here?”
Nyalla giggled and I felt the net shift enough to free one hand. “No cheating,” she scolded.
I was an imp. Cheating was practically my middle name. But this time Nyalla was right. I needed to figure out how to wiggle my way free of the elven net without my usual slash-and-explode methodology. The last time I’d used my Iblis sword to get out of a net, I’d killed a young elf. Yes, he’d been trying to kill me first, but I still felt sick every time I remembered his lifeless body. There had to be a better way to get out of these things beyond stabbing blindly with my very lethal sword.
I had a premonition I’d need to be escaping quite a few of these very soon, in addition to dodging fireballs and paralyzing arrows. I might not have Gregory’s semi-omnipotence, but the elves were coming and these were among their weapons of choice when it came to demons.
Elves. I thought giving them the smackdown in Hel would solve my problems, but it seemed to have just delayed them. Now the pointy-eared bastards were about to bring the fight here in a crazy bid to take over this world and enslave the humans.
Oh, no—that was “help” the humans. And just as I knew the elves were coming, I knew how bad things would go in the Ruling Council meeting if I asked for angelic assistance in repelling them. But I needed help. Gregory and his crew were busy closing down wild gates and sending trespassers back to their rightful homes, in addition to their regular duties. Most of my best demons were busy helping them. I couldn’t take care of a mass invasion of elven assholes solo, and as game as Nyalla and Nils were, we were only three. I’d thought about asking the werewolves for assistance, but I didn’t want to risk endangering them so soon after their outing to the angels.
So my brilliant idea was to ask for the Ruling Council to send additional angelic staff to the Grigori to help with a demon problem—demons masquerading as elves. It was brilliant. It was so brilliant that I’d kept the idea from Gregory.
Yeah. It wasn’t so brilliant, but it was the best I could come up with.
“Sam, stop flailing around. Just shove your arm through farther and push the net back.”
It sounded so easy when Nyalla said it. It wasn’t. The net was disorienting. My hand on the outside of it felt completely detached from my body, like it was about to crawl off on its own and grab a snack or something. Meanwhile the remainder of my body was lost in the dark tangles of elven magic, my mind unable to focus on the slightest thing. Not that my mind was normally able to focus.
Oh fuck it. “Get me out of here.” I had to attend a Ruling Council meeting, like now, and was tired of squirming around on my back patio. Normally I would have ripped the net apart in frustration, but we only had so many and we needed them. Nyalla in particular needed them. With some modification, elven nets were just as good at restraining elves as they were demons. I worried that if my house was overrun by them, Nyalla would need everything she could lay her hands on to defend herself. It’s not like I could be here 24/7, and it’s not like Nyalla would go hide in the basement if the elves attacked. She fancied herself some kind of supernatural warrior—one without magical abilities.
But it wasn’t just the elves I worried about. The nets also worked on angels. I had few friends in Aaru and with the conflict heating up in the heavenly homeland, the day would come when a few would probably try to take me down. That day was most likely coming sooner rather than later. It had happened before. Nyalla had managed to nab and restrain one of them in a very admirable manner, but I couldn’t count on the girl’s luck holding out.
Although, come to think of it, Nyalla was a very, very lucky girl. No doubt the fates felt they owed her quite a bit after allowing her to be snatched from her cradle and spend the first eighteen years of her life as an elven slave.
Which made me realize it probably wasn’t
I needed to worry about. She had an eighteen year grudge. That was a whole lot of vengeance. Maybe I should hide the kitchen knives and warn the elves.
I was free, blinking up at the sun haloing a young woman with dark-blond hair and a broad grin. My girl. Mine. I didn’t care whose child or sister she was, she was mine. And if the elves disputed my claim, I had the receipts to prove it.
“You’re late,” she reminded me.
I was. Not that the angels weren’t used to it by now. Although if I delayed much longer, Gregory would come and get me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make my case before the Ruling Council with an elven net dangling from my hips. So I kicked the thing off and transported myself to the Marriott conference room where the angels insisted on holding the meetings.
“Nice bikini!” Rafael winked at me.
The others scowled at my attire. They were dressed as if it were a casual Friday at the office—neatly pressed dark jeans or khaki pants with polo shirts, buttoned to the top. I had on a skimpy string bikini—white covered with bright red kissy marks. It was pretty cute, if I did say so myself, and if I jumped up and down a bit it was liable to fall off my body. I’d been naked at a Ruling Council meeting before. The angels didn’t seem to care, but I was willing to give it another try. Anything to liven up the dull agenda that generally kept us cooped up in the conference room until past nightfall.
It was then I realized there was one angel missing who, although he might not give my lack of sufficient clothing the enthusiastic response of Rafi, would have been nonplussed by it. Where was Gregory? It wasn’t like him to be late to anything, and I pouted to realize I wasn’t the last to the table.
Gabe was missing too. As much of a stickler for rules as that angel was, he should have been here half an hour early organizing chairs and ensuring the white boards were sparkling clean.
Weird. Still, I was the first to the food and coffee. The angels refused to sully their vibration patterns with such things, and I’d asked the hotel staff to step it up from their usual pastries. Knowing I was the only one who’d partake, I yanked the scalding-hot metal bin from the serving stand, hauling the entire stash of bacon over to my seat.
I might be all about sin, but letting perfectly good bacon go to waste wasn’t one I was about to indulge in.
I was making a serious dent in the contents of the tub when Gregory arrived, Gabriel by his side. Neither looked at me or said a word, taking their seats and shuffling through papers along with the other angels. I didn’t expect Gabe to pay attention to me, but Gregory never entered a room without at least a quick glance of acknowledgement in my direction. It drove the other angels nuts that he constantly reaffirmed our bond every time we met, that he clearly took my side over the others. This change bothered me. Not that I thought he felt any differently about our relationship. Instead I got the feeling that there was something else on his mind—something terribly worrisome.
I asked him through our mind-speak.
. He shuffled the papers, still not looking at me. A muscle twitched in his jaw.
We’ll talk later, after the meeting
That didn’t sound good. Gregory had been spending more time in Aaru the last few months. I’d kept my mouth shut, figuring that he was helping Gabriel with the transition of duties, but I couldn’t help but notice the tension and prickly nature of the Ruling Council meetings lately.
I missed him. This whole thing was supposed to leave more time open for me, for us. Yet we seemed to have even less time together now than we had six months ago. I pouted. No one noticed, so I ate more bacon. Then Gabe called the meeting to order with a weird roll-call and formal language that seemed like he’d gotten it out of Robert’s Rules of Order.
Pfft. He’d probably
Robert’s Rules of Order.
“First on the agenda is the matter of the sixth choir’s petition for autonomy,” Gabriel announced.
There was no explanation or apology for their tardiness, and the fact that none of the other angels took the pair to task told a story. There was something going on—well, something beyond the usual shit-storm in Aaru. I glanced over at Gregory, worried about what he would tell me later, after the meeting. How bad
things become in the angelic homeland?
“Autonomy for what?” Gregory shot back. “Choirs have a large degree of self-rule already. What additional privileges do they want?”
Sleazy shrugged. He was clearly trying to look like this was no big deal, but I wasn’t fooled. It
a big deal for a choir to swim against the stream. Even I knew that. “Some of the Ruling Council edicts aren’t in alignment with their strongly held beliefs. In order to retain and continue to improve their vibration patterns, the angels in my choir respectfully request autonomy.”
“Why don’t you petition for an ethical waiver of each ruling?” Gregory snarled. “Surely your angels understand we can’t give them permission to go against any ruling they dislike. It’s important that we remain a unified Aaru, even if we do respect slight differences between choirs.”
Wow. Prickly much? I looked over at him and raised my eyebrows, but he refused to glance my way.
“Because those petitions and decisions can take centuries.” Sleazy swallowed a few times, playing with the sugar packets in a plastic bin on the table. “I might be one of the more traditional of the members on this Council, but even
feel uncomfortable with the requests my choir elders have put forth lately. Perhaps if we shorten the time from petition to decision, or allow choirs to weigh in on matters before they become law…”
“Anarchy.” Gabriel’s voice was tired, strained. “They can’t just not comply during appeal. Every choir must follow the rule of Aaru until their petition has been heard and justly debated. A century is within reasonable time allowances. It’s not like we have the lifespan of humans. It’s just a century.”
Seemed like a fucking long time for me, but I kept my mouth shut for once. Matters that were internal to Aaru weren’t issues that I had the authority to weigh in on, even though my vote still counted. In Hel, households did their own thing. There were commonly agreed upon rules, but they had been established because of the repercussions of non-compliance. A demon and their household were always free to do their own thing—and then they’d be dead within a fortnight. Rules kept demons alive. They served as warnings rather than actual laws, though.
Still, a century was a fucking long time to make a decision on things. I know it was mostly due to my influence, but Ruling Council meetings were now occurring monthly, if not weekly. There was no reason to have something debated over the course of one thousand meetings. The thought of which made me want to puke four pounds of bacon all over the conference table.
“Expedited shit for everyone.” I waved my hands around like Oprah giving away prizes to her studio audience. “Three months max. Even the most impatient angel should be cool with that, especially because patience is a virtue you all are supposed to be cultivating here.”
Five angels turned to stare at me.
“What? Am I not a member of this Council? It’s a good idea. Let’s vote on it and move on, ’cause I’ve got something on the agenda that can’t be pushed forward to next month. Let’s hustle here, folks.”