Heaven and Hell: Lilith's Ransom
A Heaven and Hell Story
By Maggie Finson
Authors Note If you haven't yet done so, please read Bek D. Corvin's 'Third Party Hardy' and 'Joy to the World', along with E.E. Nalley's 'Rebecca's Tale' and 'Wedding of The Century' before reading this one. It isn't really necessary to enjoy this offering, but those stories do introduce characters and situations that show up in here. Also, they are entertaining tales in their own right.
Otherwise, please enjoy.
Graphic courtesy of MJ Designs and Rion Vernon, with my thanks.
You know, some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Like today, for example. Here I am, Lorilei, the hot shot newbie in Hell, confirmed leader of a full sub-clan that includes roughly twenty-five Succubae (that number fluctuates as more are added, or one is seconded to another assignment.) Hey, us Succubae, or Lillith’s Daughters, are very much in demand by just about every Lord in Hell, and a few from Heaven off and on. (though we don’t talk about that, the Big Guy Upstairs doesn’t like it.) A constantly changing number of unattached souls, nominal control of the sub-clan Hell’s Valkyries, one Mischievous Imp, and a Hellhound.
And what do I spend most of my time doing? Paperwork! Umpteen forms in triplicate that all have to be signed by yours truly, then forwarded to Mother Lillith’s offices. Sheesh! That doesn’t count having them taken to the damned notary to verify that I’m the one who signed them!
Then I have to verify the verification. Let me tell you paperwork is hell. Literally. Who do you think invented red tape in the first place? Some idiot demon who thought keeping track of how many beans some poor condemned soul had to snort up his or her nose was a wonderful idea, that’s who.
I was sitting in my office -- yes office. Now that I was head of a sub-Clan, I had one of those. With all the attendant details that involved. Like the stack of junk mail I was glaring at without scaring it one bit.
I could swear the stuff, that bogged down the already slow, and unreliable postal system in Hell, was laughing at me while sticking out a long sticky tongue in derision. I couldn’t even make it go away without at least handling the stuff once. Epatder, the Arch Demon of red tape made certain of that. Anyone messing with his/her program was DOOMED, and in Hell that was saying a lot. Imagine needing to fill out thirty three forms in triplicate just to use the bathroom. That was the kind of thing that happened to people stupid enough to balk Epatder. Which I sure wasn’t.
After giving that pile it’s perfunctory glance and tossing the things in the hole leading to the furnace, I sat for a moment and glared at the computer on my now cleared desk. I was just getting ready to fire it up and deal with the figurative ton of spam I knew was waiting for me when an obviously agitated imp charged into the office. “Boss! You gotta get to the central courtyard now!”
“What? What’s going on, Dimona?”
The cute little imp danced from one foot to the other like the little girl she resembled waiting for a chance at the bathroom. “Lillith got canned upstairs!”
“Canned?” I started to get out of my chair while asking. “Upstairs?”
“At Neutral Grounds!” The imp answered, actually grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the door. “She went after that new kid, Reba, or whatever her name is, the one who fouled up that big plan, and did something Jade didn’t like!”
“Uh oh.” Closing my eyes I felt a real headache coming on. With Mother Lillith in a jar on Jade’s Shelf of Shame, things were going to go to -- ummm-- Hell in a heartbeat -- in Home.
“Yeah!” Dimona yanked me towards the door, which opened with its usual accommodating efficiency as I neared it. “And Salome and Sheba are making take-over noises, lining up against each other, and MAMA is PISSED!”
I almost wished for a quiet morning of fighting spam to get my e-mail. “All right, let’s go.”
“GET YOUR LITTLE TAIL MOVING BEFORE I DO SOMETHING THOSE TWO IDIOTS ARE GOING TO REGRET.” Mama helpfully added in my head with enough force to make me wince.
“Okay, okay! I’m going already!” I grumbled. Like I needed this grief. But maybe I had it coming since I was the one who had pointed out to Lord Lucifer just what far ranging repercussions tainting the Merovingian line would have for all of us. Messing around with the blood of the savior would surely have been an extreme violation of the Truce, and especially since we were just recovering from Baal and Mab’s abortive rebellion we really weren’t ready to resume full hostilities with Heaven. Fortunately, he’d listened to reason. Then sent my poor butt upstairs to talk with, of all people, Dominic, or in this case Dominique, the Arch Angel in charge of Heaven’s court system and overall security.
I’d had to wait outside the Pearly gates until someone could find Dominique and get her out to talk with me. Hey! I may be on reasonably good terms with some of the Angels and other staff upstairs, but I’m still part of the opposition. No way could I have just waltzed through, or over those gates to say ‘Hello, I’m here to see Dominique.’? Not without getting zapped but good. As it was just standing close to the entrance to Heaven was an uncomfortable thing for yours truly. It pulled at me while it repelled me. Odd feeling, and not a happy one. I knew I might be ready to try those gates in time, if I managed to get my act cleaned up enough to be considered worthy of redemption, but the time wasn’t then. If it would ever come for me.
Anyway, I got the heads up passed along to The Powers That BE upstairs, then hightailed it home. It seemed that the bloodline of Christ was going to be safe from this particular scheme, in part thanks to a newly made Succubus named Rebecca. And to me for convincing Lucifer of the folly such a plan really was.
Go figure. Here I am a minion of Hell, warning Heaven about a plot to ruin one of their most cherished plans just when it was getting close to fruition, and another one of us actually protecting the Heirs of that one whose name still burns my tongue. I suppose screwier things have happened. But I’m really hard pressed to find what that might be.
You know, the chaos I found when I did reach the central courtyard was almost a relief it felt so normal.
Things were, as expected, in a real mess there. I heard voices raised in argument before I even got close enough to see who was arguing. Giving Dimona a weary look, I ordered. “Go find Helga, and Angelique.”
Going to make a play of your own, boss?” The Imp questioned with a hopeful little gleam in her eyes.
“If that’s what it takes to calm things down around here.” I answered, then gave her a significant glower that had her rushing off to do what I’d told her. As she vanished into the distance (Imps can really move fast with the proper incentive.) I muttered. “I don’t need this crap today.”
The scene when I did reach the central courtyard was nearly comical. An incredibly (even for around here) beautiful black gal was going at it in the center of the place with a voluptuous (okay, okay, we’re all that way down here, I know.) Persian Princess looking female. They were clawing, biting, whipping each other with tails and wings, and throwing all sorts of magic around. Which was playing literal -- ahem -- Hell with Mama’s beloved Acacia trees.
The black gal was Sheba (YES that Sheba) and the Persian was the perennially pissed off Salome. (Hey, is it our fault some idiot bureaucrat didn’t know the difference between Levantine and Persian when the specs for her were filled out? According to Salome it was everyone’s fault.)
I have to admit that I was really tempted to just stand there and watch those two of my older sisters more or less duke it out. Until an errant bolt of Hellfire nearly took my head off, and did cause the tree I was leaning against to explode in flame.
“WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING TO STOP THIS?” Mama, or Inanna’s voice reached me almost plaintively. “I JUST GOT THOSE TREES REPLANTED. AND THOSE TWO DON’T WANT ME COMING OUT TO SPANK THEM.”
“All right, Mama, all right. I’m on it!” I answered back and was responded to with something like a sigh of relief.
“STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!” I screamed while using a new spell to project and amplify my voice that Mama had shown me a few days earlier. To say the results were more than a bit stunning would kind of be like comparing a garden hose to Niagara Falls. I not only stopped the fight, but the force of my magically aided projection actually blew out some of the fires that had started on the other side of the place. (Sheesh, I have got to learn to test these things out somewhere before I actually use them.)
Two disheveled and more than a little worse for wear Succubae glared at me from the center of the courtyard. But at least they’d stopped fighting.
“Stay out of this, upstart.” Sheba warned while working to intensify her evil glare.
“You have no place in this discussion.” Salome added, putting her own brand of nastiness into the look she was giving me.
I shrugged both off and gave them my own, nice but aggravated grin. “Well, most discussions around here don’t end up destroying property, now do they? You two are acting like you belong to Baal, not Lillith.”
“Lillith is gone!” Sheba hissed, but refrained from trying anything else on me.
“So I heard.” I nodded with a shrug. “Doesn’t mean she won’t be back though, does it?”
“The Strange One has HER in a jar for display in that wretched establishment that imposes rules on us.” Salome added with a small, satisfied smile. “And none of us really believe that one will turn loose of such a coup for a long, long time.”
“Well, time will tell on that one.” I answered, while carefully moving towards the center of the yard. “Jade can be reasonable about things most of the time.”
“Someone needs to rule here until that unlikely event occurs.” Sheba spat out.
“Ah, so is that what this is all about?” I questioned with my very best ingenuous grin and expression. “So who gets to do that?”
“We were deciding the matter when you rudely interrupted us.” Sheba answered with scorn in her voice and showing on her perfect, ebony face.
“Well, if it wasn’t for the simple little fact that Neither of you is fit for the job, I’d say go ahead and fight it out.”
“Are you presuming to step into this thing against your betters?” Salome asked in a dangerously quiet voice.
“Nope.” I grinned at her, then at Sheba. “I’m doing it, not presuming anything here.”
“Fool of an upstart!” Sheba grated out. “Mother Lillith is not here to protect you now.” And threw a rather nasty spell at me that would have literally shredded me. If it had managed to get anywhere. I threw a globe of containment around her and watched in chill amusement as the dark skinned beauty danced around inside of it dodging her own spell until she managed to dispel it.
“You got something you’d like to try right now?” I blandly asked Salome.
“No you un-hellish freak!” That one spat out, meaning to insult me at least.
“Then why don’t you go plot and scheme somewhere else?” I mildly suggested. “You’re cluttering up my throne room here.”
“Your throne room?” She sputtered in outrage as Sheba finally managed to extricate herself from my globe.
“Well didn’t you say someone needs to take over here until Mother Lillith gets back and can take over again?” I asked sweetly.
“And you think that someone is going to be you?” Sheba questioned with a dangerous note in her voice while her followers lined up behind her.
“I think all of you nice ladies should maybe rethink your positions in regards to Lor, here.” I glanced behind me to see Angelique, Victoria, several interested Hell Maids, Helga the Hell Hound, and a nervously dancing Dimona ranged in a crescent behind me. All of them, incidentally, armed and looking as if they’d really enjoy a fight.
“Listen everyone,” I put in with a tired, but firmly certain voice. “Let’s all just give up on the posturing and threatening, can we? Now the thing here for you two is simple. One on one, or the both of you. Do you think you could take me?”
They both gaped at me as if I’d just sprouted a halo in front of them. I let my voice take on the really, really pissed off tone that anyone knowing me was aware meant trouble on the way. “If so, go ahead and try me. My companions won’t interfere so long as yours don’t.”
Both of them checked behind them, then behind me, and backed away very carefully. Sheba hissed in frustrated rage. “This isn’t over, upstart.”
“Yes it is.” I answered almost cheerfully. Then seated myself on Lillith’s throne. It didn’t feel right, either physically or emotionally, but it proved my point. “Unless either of you, or someone else, wishes to contest my claim right now?”
“Oh yeah!” Another voice jumped in at that one. “Just go ahead and let the Low and Mighty Golden Girl get her way without a fight!”
Ursula, the Succubus who had been detailed with the abortive try at Edvaard, the Merovingian heir limped forward, anger plain in her posture and expression. “Sure! Let her have it easy like she’s had everything since she came here!”
“I am not in the mood for this.” I muttered as she pointed straight at me.
“You never had a problem with Mother Lillith, did you? She always let you have your way without so much as a slap on the hand. Well most of us here never had that luxury! We had to toe the line or else. You get away with anything you want to do! She even made you head of a sub-clan, for crying out loud. Why do you think that qualifies you to take over here?”
“Your problems with Mother Lillith aren’t mine.” I pointed out carefully.
“Oh, that’s for sure!” Ursula was building up a head of steam and I needed to derail it before I really lost my temper. (Which I was hanging on to by its slippery little tail as things were already. Barely.) “You could maybe get away with NOT following her orders? Well I sure couldn’t do that.”
“Orders.” I nodded, then asked. “Like the one you were following to corrupt the Merovingian heir?”
“Yes, like that one.” She answered. “I would have done it too, if it hadn’t been for that blasted new girl and her interference.”
“True enough.” I agreed with a small smile that only showed off the tips of my fangs. “And where did these orders originate, if you don’t mind me asking.
“Baal passed them on when Mother Lillith went to retrieve the new kid.”
“Baal.” I repeated the name with no small amount of distaste.
“I didn’t want to take the new kid on the mission. Lillith ordered me too!”
“But you did take her along, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did! Mother Lillith ordered me to do it.”
“I see.” Tapping my nails on the arm of the throne, I went on. “And if SHE had told you to jump off the bridge over the river of fire, I suppose you would have done that without thinking, too?”
“That depends on what the alternative was.” Ursula said quietly, then got louder. “I sure didn’t want to end up being given to Baal and his cronies. Would you like that idea?”
“No.” I answered quite honestly, then had to chuckle at the thought. “But I don’t really think Lord Baal would enjoy my company.”
“That’s what I mean here!” Ursula was livid with her self -- urk, what a word to use where we lived -- righteous anger. “You’ve don’t have to put up with that kind of thing at all.”
“Neither do you.” I pointed out. “And did either one of you, either you or Mother Lillith think to check with the Big Guy down here to verify those orders?”
“Now you’re casting doubt on HER! Why would we have done that? They were passed along by a Prince!”
“A Prince who just lost in a rebellion attempt against Lord Lucifer.” I pointed out. “Who is also sitting in a ruined iron citadel that one of us blew up. “Now didn’t you even think for a moment that those orders would really screw up the Truce, even violate it enough that Heaven would have felt compelled to renew the war just to keep a corrupted Merovingian from getting loose on David’s throne?”
“What did you want me to do?” Ursula almost wailed. “Question the orders of Two demon Princes, or one and a Princess?”
“No, I would have expected you to think.” I shot back. “As for putting up with crap from others down here… We’re considered to be the elite down here for a reason you know. We have magic that no one else does, and can fight with whatever comes to hand if needed. So why should you, or any of us, take the kind of garbage Baal heaped on Rebecca? We don’t need to. We‘ve already proven that we can kick the asses off anyone Baal could send against us.”
“I was just following my orders.” Ursula weakly responded.
“Right.” This was beginning to get annoyingly circular. “We’ve been through that one already. We’re trained to think things through, Ursula, so we can use our abilities to their best advantage. Didn’t you even have a clue about how patently false those orders from Lord Baal were? It was a setup to get us blamed for shattering the Truce!”
“How can you be so sure of that, you smug little bitch?”
“Because I did what you and Mother Lillith should have.” Giving her an almost gentle smile, I went on. “I asked Lord Lucifer about them.”
“Oh sure!” Ursula raged on despite the rather neat logic (at least I thought it was neat) I kept throwing at her. “You’re the Golden Girl down here and can do no wrong! If you think things are that easy, you take over and see how well you do!”
“I realize this is asking you to think, which doesn’t seem to be a strong point with you, Ursula.” I put in rather mildly then quietly asked. “But where am I sitting right now?”
“Right.” I nodded. “I have done that.”
“So what do you want me to do now?” She questioned.
“Now you’re thinking again, dear.” I gave her an approving smile. “Nice try, but I know you’re on convalescent leave just now. So how about you just sit down and try being quiet for a while? Please?”
“NOW THIS HAS BEEN ENTERTAINING, DEAR ONE.” Mama’s voice entered my mind with a note of satisfaction in it. “THANK YOU FOR SETTLING THINGS DOWN. IF I’D SHOWN UP AS INANNA, THINGS WOULD HAVE REALLY GOTTEN MESSY.”
“Uh, no problem, Mama.” I returned. “Besides, it seemed like about the only way I was ever going to get some peace and quiet around here.”
Her only answer was a rumbling chuckle.
“Now, for the rest of you.” I glared at Sheba and Salome, then swept that across the others gathered in the courtyard. “Go get some rest. I think you’re going to need it pretty soon. Just do it quietly.”
No one, much to my relief, argued with me at all that time.
“Well, that went not too terribly.” I commented to no one in particular, then shook my head. “Now what do I do?”
Word does travel fast in Hell lately. I’d no sooner gotten settled back in my office and was preparing a report (Paperwork has got to be an invention from down here, too) than a messenger arrived and very politely handed me a sealed vellum envelope. The wax seal, old fashioned, but still in vogue down here carried Lucifer’s personal seal.
Once I’d swallowed -- several times while wondering if I’d be able to do that by directly pouring things down my throat since my head may well end up somewhere else for a while -- I carefully broke the seal and pulled the message it contained out as if it might attack me physically to the amusement of the messenger.
I unfolded the parchment, and read the following:
Nice work, my Lady, in your handling of the situation there in Home and getting things settled down. Do make certain they remain settled.
Also, go talk with Jade and find what she would want in exchange for the contents of a certain jar.
With more than a little relief, I looked up at the still waiting messenger, an Imp in Lucifer’s livery. “Tell Lord Lucifer that I will on both. And That I’ll get back to him once I’ve spoken with Jade.”
“Very good, Lady.” The imp bowed so low I feared for either his forehead or my carpet, grinned at me, then turned to leave.
Watching the door for a few seconds, I turned to give the spam overflowing from the screen of my desktop the benefit of my stuck out tongue and a quiet raspberry. That actually felt pretty good, you know. The spam, of course, returned the sentiment rather gleefully.
“Well.” Ignoring the noises emanating from my computer screen, and the cries of disappointment as I shut the thing down, I sat back for a moment’s rest that I had the sinking feeling might be the last I got for a while. “Now at least I know what I’m going to do next.”
The alley I landed in that time was a bit less nasty than I was used to finding when I reappeared on Earth. I glanced at the smog filled sky of the city and mouthed a silent ’thank you’. A slightly amused sense of an unvoiced ’You’re welcome’ answered that. Hey! I’ll take small concessions where I can get them. The simple fact that I’d probably done the people upstairs a huge favor was still something I was getting used to. Turning a bunch of surly Angels loose because I couldn’t figure out where to keep them was one thing, but sounding a warning that actually saved one of their most cherished plans had been more than a small shock to my system. They are, after all, supposed to be the enemy. On the other side of that, though, blowing the whistle had preserved The Truce, and I knew all too well that Lord Lucifer’s forces were not up to a renewal of hostilities at the moment.
So, I suppose both sides benefited. Still, the good feeling I got when I thought about that was more than a bit disturbing in a lot of ways.
Oh well, stranger things have happened, and trust me, I can personally vouch for that.
I took on the seeming of a willowy (Hey, variety is the spice that makes life worth the trouble, even when you’re dead!) young low level executive in a simple green dress and black jacket combo. Can I help it if the skirt was kind of snug -- and, okay, okay -- short? Or that the white silk blouse was cut low enough to scandalize a stripper? There are rules, then there are RULES. The latter made sure that my manifestations were always sexy and more than a little suggestive. Oh, well. Each of us has our own little travails to get past, right?
I’ll admit that my mind was on things other than my surroundings just then, but that’s simply making excuses in retrospect to be honest. I just wasn’t paying attention.
The bolt, from a crossbow not the magical type, hit me squarely between the shoulders before I was even aware there was trouble waiting for me as I emerged from the alley.
Normally, that would have been no more than annoying, something to get in the way of my wings and not much else. Unfortunately, this situation wasn’t normal, not even for me. The searing agony I felt as the thing hit was like nothing I’d ever experienced in either of my lives, and it literally knocked me to my knees. Its positioning was well thought out, too, since I wasn’t able to reach around and simply pull the thing out. But I tried to, anyway.
“Well, well,” I heard a gravelly voice that had to go with the set of heavy hooves that moved into my line of vision. “The Golden Girl is finally on her knees for something more than entertainment. A good place for you, Bitch.”
I looked up to see the grinning visage of Re’lenth, one of Baal’s lieutenants staring down at me. Calling up my magic didn’t work. The attempt only intensified the agony I felt slowly spreading from between my shoulders.
“What? No smart assed quips, or lashing out with your much feared Magics?” He gloated as my eyes literally teared with the effort I put into just one magical thrust to obliterate his ugly face. “A lot of people don’t want Lillith back, you know, or you in charge while she’s gone. Chaos in Home is something more than a few of us have been waiting to see for a real long time. And we’re going to take full advantage of that in times to come, believe me. But for now, I’m just enjoying seeing The Golden Girl herself on her knees in front of me. Me’n the boys would take some time to really enjoy you, but to be honest, you don’t have enough time left for fun and games.”
I couldn’t even scream at him in defiance or for that agony that was tearing me apart as it spread.
I briefly wondered what The Real Death would hold for someone like me, then blacked out.
I awakened to even more pain, this time a wrenching that felt as if what I used for a heart was being pulled out of my chest from the back. That time I did scream.
“How is she?” I came back to something like consciousness to notice that I was on my side instead of my knees, and that the feet around me didn’t end in hooves.
“She’s alive.” Another voice answered with something close to disapproval in it.
Once my vision cleared enough for me to see more than just feet, I gasped in astonishment, then wondered if had died The True Death after all. Angels! All around me, standing over me, and obviously not working to kill me or all that willing to let me die.
Someone reached under my still tender shoulders and gently lifted me into a semi reclining position and I noted that Ariel’s face was looking into mine from an angle that I thought was way too close to be comfortable for either one of us. “Hey, you back with us now?”
I managed to nod weakly, still amazed by the gathering, and that the agony that had incapacitated me was blissfully gone.
“Someone really didn’t want you to reach Jade, hon.” Ariel, the first Angel I’d ever really met shook his head. “They went to the trouble of making a specific mage slayer meant for you, then had the thing blessed on top of that.”
“Couldn’t fight them.” I nodded again weakly, but aware of what he was telling me, and the implications there.
“It used your own power against you is why.” Ariel answered. “Those things are difficult to make, and expensive. Especially those meant for a specific target like that one that got you.”
“Baal.” I managed to get out, then tried moving to check the surroundings.
“Probably so.” He agreed, then let out a small chuckle. “Don’t worry, the bad guys are gone. We drove them off.”
“Why? You’re Angels, and I’m a, well, you know.”
“That would be for me to answer, little lady.” A more than a bit imposing female walked forward and I recognized Dominique, surrounded by a bunch of protective and not all that happy, Malachites. With a wave, she dispersed the escort, then gave Ariel a very significant look until he gently let go of me and joined the Malachites well out of earshot, but still in view.
“Rescued from other Demons by Angels.” I muttered. “I’m never going to live this one down.”
“There was a reason for our intervention, Lorilei.” Dominique told me with a surprisingly warm smile. “It seems that you’ve suddenly become a very important someone in The Boss’ Plan. HE sent me down here to help you out.”
“HE did that?” I questioned in frank disbelief, then gave her a halfway suspicious look. “What plan?”
“Not a plan, dear. THE PLAN, the really big one that He’s been working on since creation.” Dominique grinned at my obvious shock. “Evidently you’ve got some things to do yet, some pretty important ones. More than that I can’t tell you, though. You might ask your Boss. He’s in on it, too, after all. Who knows? He might even tell you a few things.”
“Hush now.” Her hand gently, almost lovingly covered my mouth before I could say anything else and she actually, really, smiled at me. “You need healing, and I’m afraid that we just aren’t equipped to give that to you.”
I noticed, now that my poor spinning head was starting to clear, that every Angel there with the exception of Ariel, was female. Dominique waved that one forward to join us. “You still want to do this, Ariel?”
“Yes.” Was his answer, as he gave me a fond look. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“All right then.” Dominique nodded and waved to her escort. “We’ll clean up the mess and make sure that you two aren’t bothered for a while. Have fun.”
Saying that, Dominique sauntered off wearing what I would have sworn was a prurient little grin on her face leaving Ariel and me alone.
“Have fun?” I asked.
“You know, like you normally do.” Ariel answered, then leaned forward to place a far from chaste kiss on my open mouth. “Been wanting to do that for a long time now.”
I was weak, but that one really kicked me in the figurative ass while I tried catching my breath. Damn but he tasted good, and not in the usual sense of taste for me. “What?”
“Ariel, I can’t.” I hesitated, fought down my desire -- for a male, not a meal -- and went on. “I can’t do this to you. You know how I feed, and how badly I need to do that right now. I’ll ruin you.”
“I have friends who can fix anything you might break by accident, love.” His imperturbable response had me in absolute confusion. “So take what you need. I want you to.”
“In front of Dominique?” I questioned incredulously. “With her being the head honcho of Heavenly security?”
“It was her idea.” His hands were doing some really interesting things to my breasts and I gasped again, only not in pain that time. “So to answer your question, yes. In front of Dom, The Big Guy, and everybody else. Now quit arguing and let’s get started. You need this.”
I am not going to describe that coupling to you. Some things are private, even with a Demon made for sex and who gets her nourishment from it. Just let me say that the experience was incredible, and I could almost swear that I heard a choir in the background that my kind never got near.
They moved off, after Dominique gave me a rather stern lecture about leaving home without a bodyguard, preferably lots of them, in the future.
Once I was more or less alone, it dawned on me just what Ariel had called me earlier. Love. I closed my eyes to give that one some more thought and decided that it wasn’t such a bad thing at all in one respect. Shaking my head and making sure my appearance was presentable before walking the half block to Neutral Grounds, I muttered. “Wonderful. More complications.”
One more of those showed up when I felt something in the side pocket of my suit jacket. It was a note from Dominique.
Just thought you might want to know that The Hall of Mages crafted that bolt meant to kill you.
“Damn!” I muttered in real irritation. “Can’t that bunch of idiots stay out of anything?”
Finally reaching the door to Neutral Grounds was a real relief. Actually getting inside the place even more of one.
“Well, looks like you had an interesting day.” Jade greeted me from behind the counter, then added. “You’re late.”
I didn’t even bother asking how she knew I was on the way to talk with her. Just happily found an empty seat and settled into it with a huge sigh of relief. “You don’t even know the half of it, Jade. What ‘s on special today?”
“For you, everything.” Jade grinned. “But I do have a really nice essence of rapist I could mix into your coffee.”
“Sounds good to me.” I responded.
She brought the fragrant coffee over and set the steaming -- all right -- scalding brew in front of me. “Drink up, then we’ll talk.”
“Fine with me.” I answered, lifting the cup and taking a slow sip of it’s contents. “Ahh, now that’s good.”
“Glad you like it.” sliding into the booth opposite me, she gave me a long looking over and grinned again. “I’d say that someone at this table has just been well fucked, and is still a little euphoric.”
“Hmmm?” I returned my attention to her and nodded in real satisfaction. “Oh yeah.”
“You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.”
“Yeah, once I get my own head around it.” I promised, then winced at an insistent, and impatient jab from somewhere on the shelf in the back of the room.
‘Will you quit fooling around and get me out of here?!!!’
“Okay, okay! I’m working on it Mother.”
“I gather my newest display is getting a bit rowdy here?” Jade chuckled.
“You could say that.” I rubbed at my temple and winced again. “She sure can Yell really well from in there, can’t she?”
“Only to those connected with her in some way.” Jade shook her head and turned to glare at the shelf. “Now listen up here! If you ever plan on getting out of that jar you’d better stop distracting Lor here and let us start negotiations. Got it?”
I received an almost contrite sense of barely restrained impatience, then turned my attention back to Jade. “Ok, so what do you want from us to turn her loose?”
“Oh, just a few little concessions, in the great scheme of things, is all.”
Uh oh. Whenever THE GREAT SCHEME OF THINGS came up it usually meant real trouble. And was never simple.
“Oh?” I asked while taking a sip of the brew in front of me to try hiding my unease. “And what would those be?”
“I want to expand.” Jade answered with a nonchalance that I just knew boded ill for the upcoming negotiations.
“Expand.” I nodded. “Just how much -- ummm -- expansion are we talking here?”
“Oh, just a little thing really.” My companion shrugged, and I knew I was in deep doo-doo. “I want to extend my neutral sphere over the whole financial district here.”
I almost choked on my coffee, and did manage to spray myself pretty good.
“You should clean that up.” Jade told me in concern masking amusement as she looked at the stains on my nice linen suit. “It’ll really stain if you don’t get it right away.”
“I will.” With a wave I cleaned the stuff off myself, then thoughtfully took care of the collateral spraying Jade had taken.
“No problem.” I distractedly answered while wondering just how I was going to pitch this one both downstairs and up. “Umm. You’re sure that’s what you want?”
“No more, no less.” She agreed pleasantly.
“All right.” I let out a long suffering sigh, this diplomat business was a LOT tougher than just wading in and blasting things. “I’ll have to kick this downstairs and figure out how to present it upstairs.”
“I’m sure you’re up to the task, dear.” Jade got up and gave me, then the shelf a significant look. “I’ll look forward to hearing back from you.”
“Oh, I’ll bet.” I grumbled. “Now this is going to be fun.”
I didn’t know how much. As I was getting out of the booth, a sudden sense of motion let me know that I’d be somewhere else when the smoke, mist, or whatever cleared.
You know? One of these days when I have time for a little recreation I’m going to search out that idiot Chinaman who curses people to live in interesting times. And gleefully make him eat each and every curse he ever threw at people. Then…. Well, never mind, you get the idea, right?
The place I ended up in was a large hall in the kind of shambles yours truly generally gets blamed for leaving behind. The furniture had been blasted, the walls were singed, and the magical residue was a stench that just about made me sneeze.
That there were people actually standing and appearing unharmed in the place took me by surprise. All of them female, too, by the way.
Well, maybe not.
One of those was a succubus with, of all things, a halo! Another was a human peering almost fearfully from the shelter of the succubus who on reflection had to be the Rebecca who had caused such chaos lately.
The third person, though. I managed to do a rather hurried curtsey with what little skirt I had to do it with, and answered a greeting from the one facing Rebecca and the other woman.
When asked if I’d gotten what I wanted from Jade I managed a choked off ‘Yes, My Lady.”
Then projected. ‘Lady Lucifer, there’s a -- ummm -- small problem with that.’
‘We’ll deal with it later, dear.’ She answered in kind. ‘This is more important.’
More important than springing Mother Lillith from Jade’s grasp? This day was just getting more and more interesting as it went. I found myself looking vainly for a hand basket to take me home as Lady L. explained the situation to me.
The Hall of Mages again? Those guys needed a good hard kick in the teeth, which got to the point of my being there. I was supposed to help Rebecca and Elisabeth -- the human who was tightly holding to a sword that growled menacingly at me -- go retrieve the kidnapped menfolk. Which included the Angel Laurence, Heaven’s Own General, Elisabeth‘s fiancée, plus Rebecca‘s main squeeze. Sheesh. Why couldn’t at least one thing I was supposed to do be easy today?
‘Umm, Lady?’ I projected again. ‘Baal just tried to assassinate me, with a Mage Slayer crafted by The Hall.’
‘I’ll look into it, dear.’ She answered calmly. ‘Now let me call up your second in this little soiree.’
A dumbfounded Angelique, soaking wet and naked as a plucked jaybird landed in the room with us spewing curses until she caught sight of Lady L.
Well, at least someone else was going to share in at least some of fun I was having that day.
Introductions were exchanged, while Rebecca and I warily sized each other up. It took some real mental gymnastics for me not to close my eyes and shake my head in disbelief at sight of a succubus with a halo, let me tell you.
The human female, Elisabeth something, something (Hey! I was still getting my head around the idea of someone like me wearing a halo, okay?) and other, was still nervous, but also determined for such a little thing. For once, I was actually taller than someone else in the same room who wasn’t a child.
Lady L. had considerately left us a map. One that showed not only the Mage’s Hall (Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all, I did have a really recent bone to pick with that bunch.) but the building we were currently plotting and scheming in, and little X’s with initials that moved around. People obviously.
“Uh, those golden lines there?” I interrupted Angelique’s almost blissful description of an all out frontal assault on the place. “I really hate to ruin your fun, sis, but those are magical wards and alarms. If we get within a hundred yards of them they’ll raise more of a ruckus than your new little sister did right after she woke up.”
“Oh, that reminds me.” Angelique grinned. “Victoria is really, really pissed that she has to stay home and keep the kids in line on this one.”
“Seniority, you know.” I shrugged. “Sucks, doesn’t it? But she’ll get over it eventually.”
“Yeah, especially if she gets to break a few heads while we’re gone.” The Hell’s Valkyrie giggled.
“Umm, aaa, ladies?” Rebecca broke up that conversation with a small grin. “We have something to do here. Remember?”
“Well, yeah.” I nodded. “But tell me something here. Just how do you expect us to get in there without waking up all of creation when those alarms go off?”
“Easy.” Rebecca gave me one of those beatific smiles those guys from upstairs must practice in front of a mirror for days to get right. “We’re going to use him.”
I noticed her tapping an R that was in one room by itself. “He’s asleep. We’ll just slide in through the Dream Marches.”
Oh what fun. The Dream Marches were right next door to Heaven. I could just picture two demons, a human, and one Angel trooping through there without attracting attention. Riiiight.
“You got a better idea, Lor?” Rebecca innocently questioned. How in the name of -- well you know -- had she managed innocent already?!
“Umm, now that you ask…” I trailed off, drew in a breath, and shook my head. “No.”
“Good, then we can get on with the planning, right?”
“You know, you’re already taking to this Angel-in-command stuff like you’ve been doing it all your -- umm -- afterlife.” I grumbled, but shot her a sly little grin that she returned in kind. I was beginning to like Rebecca. I hesitate to term it kindred spirits under the circumstances, but you get what I mean there, right?
The plan wasn’t really a bad one. We’d sneak in through this geek’s dreams, bag him, then send Angie and Liz to retrieve the mortal boys. Which left the really fun (read hard, dangerous, exciting, hazardous to a cute little succubus’ health, and all that kind of thing.) stuff to Rebecca and myself. Oh yeah. Guess who got to be the target again? I promised myself that next time I’d be the one coming up with the brilliant plan -- without the target part for yours truly.
Actually the trip through the Dream Marches wasn’t that bad. We only had to dodge two groups of homicidal Malachites on the way.
So, I pointed out the dream we wanted. Boy, let me tell you that an evil Mage’s wet dream is no fun at all, and Rebecca and I put a couple of holes in it and dragged our companions in after us.
Angelique just couldn’t resist lopping off the head of that chapter of ’Mages for Mayhem’s’ main baddy, Rasputin the mad monk. Oh, had I forgotten to mention that he was there? A major player in the Hall of Mages, all around nasty guy, and the one who actually managed to start World War One with his messing around. All to get at the Czarina. Got to admire his persistence, though.
Oh yeah. Back to the story here. Angelique gleefully whacked the big baddie’s head off right in the middle of him passing out a huge reward for Ronald’s help in their take over of the Three Realms. (Heaven, Hell, and Earth) Once the dream Rasputin got such an extreme haircut from my little sister, the jerk started to wake up. Let me tell you, it was a scramble getting all four of us out of his disappearing dream and into his room.
But we made it. Angelique put a rapid stop to his nascent protests at finding four ladies in his room. Can you imagine any guy pissed off at waking to find four delectable damsels in his room? The guy deserved to get hit. I silently cheered her on as she gave him a pretty decent pummeling, then tied him up and shoved his head into a bag.
Angelique spotted another letter on the map approaching our position and got an all too familiar gleam in her eyes. Uh oh, that did not mean anything good for whoever was coming.
She slammed the door open, grabbed the person, a not bad looking woman, pulled her inside, slammed the door again, then gleefully pounded the poor lady into insensibility.
“Umm, why did you hit her so much?” I questioned as Angelique wrapped the newcomer up like a mummy in rope I didn’t even know she was carrying, stuffed a gag in her mouth, then pulled another bag over her head.
“Ex wife.” Angie grinned happily. “Payback is Hell you know.”
“Ahhh.” Not to mention fun for the payer.
I took on the woman’s appearance knowing full well that a mage of Rasputin‘s power would see through it immediately but didn’t want to put a hole in Rebecca‘s confidence in her plan. We had enough problems to deal with just then without her doubting herself.
Rebecca put an invisibility spell on Angelique and Elisabeth, which set off the alarms. Would you believe those were church bells? Man, Rasputin had some major issues there.
Then I cast a mild entanglement on Rebecca, took a deep breath, then moved out of the room. Showtime! Liz and Angie headed off to rescue the mortal menfolk as we entered the main room.
You know, given where I live I thought I’d seen the ultimate in tacky. Wrong. Rasputin’s throne was the only piece of furniture in the place. Gargoyles even uglier than the real thing perched around the room next to the ceiling as if waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting, innocent demon. (All right already! I’m stretching the innocent bit a little here, but you get the idea, right?) Also the walls were literally festooned with wards, charms, and spells to keep unwanted visitors out.
Rebecca was having a really good time latching on to some of the mages in the room with her attraction, but only one of them fell for it. Oh well, and here I thought her Boss dealt regularly in miracles. Goes to show, doesn’t it?
“My Lord!” I shouted, rather pleased with the imitation of Carol’s voice (the ex wife, remember?) “Prepare a succubus blocking spell!”
One thing I had to work to avoid staring at was the four begdraggled, dispirited succubae chained to Rasputin’s throne. My blood went to a slow boil there, but I actually managed to hold that down. I was actually kind of proud of myself that no smoke escaped my nostrils or came out my ears. (Kidding!) But I was very upset at seeing sisters brought so low. (LOW, you know, as opposed to damned?)
I got another surprise then. Laurence, Heaven’s General was there, bound in enough chains to sink a self respecting battle ship, along with a goodly number of those always surly, but sometimes useful, Malachites who were also chained to strategic spots on the walls.
Rasputin noticed that Rebecca was more, or less depending on your point of view, than a succubus. He actually thanked me for delivering a Bright Lillim to his care. Then turned to me with a nasty smile and blew my seeming of Carol right through the wall behind me. Oops. At least he’d waited till he thanked me. Sheesh. But I was ready for that, anyway.
“Avon Calling!” I cheerfully shouted, the threw the most powerful non-aligned energy bolt I could muster.
He ducked. Which was fine with me since I hadn’t been aiming at him anyway that time. My bolt hit the chains holding Laurence with a very satisfying clang of broken metal and spells, incidentally freeing the bug guy. Who instantly manifested a huge flaming sword. What is it with these guys and their flaming swords, anyway?
“You missed.” Rasputin grinned at me while preparing something really nasty for yours truly, the designated target.
“No I didn’t.” I grinned and pointed behind him where a now on the loose Laurence was quite happily hacking, slashing, and gouging away at any mage unfortunate enough to be near him.
He actually looked. I can’t believe he fell for that one, even if there really was something he hadn’t expected back there. I, of course, took immediate advantage of his momentary distraction by sending him a little love tap, that normal beings would have called a hell bolt.
Okay, so I caught him in the back with it. Who says I have to fight fair?
So there I was quite happily watching the mad monk stagger under the impact of a bolt that would have shredded most people, and not so happily dodging and weaving because the other mages in the room (those not occupied with running from Larry, anyway.) were starting to throw their own spells at me.
Old Raspy was pissed. We traded spells of varying devastation along with insults for a while until Rebecca finally managed to sneak up behind him. She tapped him on the shoulder. “Yoo hooo!”
When he turned again, she took a big honking pistol, shoved it up his nose and pulled the trigger. With predictably messy results. But did that put the guy down? Noooo!
His body stood there while his shredded head started putting itself back together. I had to grudgingly admit that the guy was good.
Rebecca dove into what was left of the guy’s head, and I kind of figured she was on her own from there. I was kind of busy.
“Hey!” I shouted indignantly while ducking under a sweep of the still flaming sword Larry was using with such joyful abandon. “Watch that thing, would you? We’re on the same side here, you know!”
“Oh, right.” Giving me a sheepish little grin he shrugged. “Heat of the moment, you know. Sorry.”
“You missed, so I suppose it’s ok.” I grumbled.
“I never miss.” He gave me another of those boyish grins.
“Remind me to have long talk with you about teasing the girls when we’re done here, would you?”
“Sure.” He nodded with another grin, then looked around the chaos that the main room had suddenly become. With their leader down, and the really bad ass Angel loose and trading friendly jibes with a Succubus most of them had good reason to remember and not want to hang around with, the mages started trying to get out of the room.
It was actually kind of cute watching some of them try to squirm through the tiny little air slits. Too bad I’d sealed the room tighter than it had been before when the festivities got started. Just in case something like this came up, you know. I mean, why let any of them get away, right? I had some serious payback to deliver for that mage slayer and this seemed like as good a place to start that as any other ones that came to mind.
“What do we do now?” Larry stroked his chin and gave me a significant look.
“Follow me!” I gleefully answered, bounding off to follow one dark robed fellow who was frantically trying to worm his way under the door. While giving him incentive to try a little harder with a small tendril of Hellfire tickling his fanny.
Larry and I started into a rollicking game of ‘Chase the screaming mages’ for a while there.
We got bored with that and were trying a variation of baseball, me pitching, Larry batting, (and guess who got to be the ball?) When an almost blinding light speared down through the ceiling and landed right on Raspy’s still messed up head. It disappeared quickly, but the mad monk’s body started to kind of fold in on itself after that.
“What was that?” I interrupted a really good wind up to ask.
“The Boss took him upstairs for judgement.” Larry told me offhandedly. “Are you going to pitch or not?”
“Wow. But that wasn‘t going upstairs. That was the express elevator heading for the basement. Guess your boss decided to skip the formalities there.” I finished my windup, and really put some fire into the pitch. “Remind me not to piss your Boss off in the future.”
“I’d have thought,” Larry answered with a chuckle while putting the rolled up mage into the equivalent of the left field bleachers. “You’d have kinda figured that out by now, you know.”
“Oh, yeah, I had noticed that. Oh, I think we’ve run out of mage balls here.”
“Yeah, but it was fun while it lasted.” He grinned.
“Yup.” I agreed with a chuckle. “We’ll have to get together and do this again sometime.”
“Sure, maybe get a couple of teams up for it next time.” He laughed, then got a really serious, almost pained expression on his face as Rebecca shook herself loose from what was left of Raspy.
I was watching in bemusement as he, and about a scad of Malachites all bowed to her and actually shouted something I never thought I‘d hear outside of The Wizard of OZ after Dorothy melted the witch. Then the roof kind of exploded. Downwards.
The first thing I saw, after taking what cover I could find, of course, was another of those huge, honking swords Angels seemed to be so fond of. That was what had done the number on the ceiling. That was followed in close succession (though not necessarily in that order) by the Arch Angels Michael and Dominique, and more ready for a rumble Malachites than I’d ever seen in my worst nightmares.
Dusting myself off, and looking for a quick way to exit the place if that became necessary, I watched the newly arrived Arch Angels watching the same thing I had been with no less amazement. Until Michael had to stifle a laugh.
Dominique looked over my way, rolled her eyes, then shook her head in what appeared to be complete disbelief. Then it dawned on me. Laurence, an Arch Angel, had been captured and bound by Rasputin. Old Raspy had been beaten by Rebecca which automatically gave her what he had possessed in the way of magic. Binding of any kind involving supernatural beings had to involve True Names. Which meant that little Rebecca, an apprentice Angel, had control of an Arch Angel‘s true name. Along with the Arch Angel. Whooo! I had to stifle a giggle or two of my own there once I’d thought things through.
She also had control of the flock of Malachites who had been with good old Larry in the first place. Stifling the giggles stopped right the and there. I started laughing so hard tears were running down my cheeks. With a lot of chest thumping (How do they do that without hurting themselves?) and protestations of loyalty, the bunch was finally convinced to get off their knees and stand in a posture that was reasonably sane. Which is saying a lot for Malachites in most cases.
“Oh, this has got to be embarrassing for Laurence.” A voice beside me managed to get out between choked off giggles.
I turned to see Dominique standing next to me and having a harder time not going into hysterics than I was over the scene unfolding in front of us. I nodded then pointed out. “Yeah, but at least he’s got a cute boss.”
“It’s too bad you’re supposed to be on the other side, Lorilei.” Dominique burst into another fit of laughter. “I think you’d be good for me with those acerbic observations of yours.”
“Hey, everybody needs to laugh off and on, you know.” I shrugged, uncomfortably aware of how she had phrased that to me. “Living where I do a decent sense of humor is a survival characteristic. What’s that Larry is eating?”
“It seems that our little Rebecca has found a solution to his dilemma.” The Angel shook her head. “She wrote his true name on a piece of paper and gave it back to him.”
“Awww.” I let out a disappointed little sigh. “She could have had so much fun with that for a while.”
“Well, it’s a moot point now, isn’t it?”
“Yup, that it is.” I agreed. “Oh, man, she’s releasing all of them now.”
“What would you do with a bunch of Malachites determined to follow you around wherever you went?” Dominique questioned almost innocently.
“Point taken.” I nodded. “I turned the ones I had loose, too. But I just couldn’t figure out where to put over a dozen surly Angels. They clashed with the décor around home, you know.”
“Oh look! Now she’s offering to take the freed Succubae upstairs with her.”
“I do not believe this.” I shook my head as the four former prisoners looked at each other, and a petite, pretty one moved forward and offered herself to Rebecca. “Sheesh, first she turns loose of a load of Angels, then she starts suborning some of my sisters!”
“Yes.” Dominique answered with a chuckle. “Our little Rebecca is going to be quite an asset I think.”
“Whatever.” I grumped, then took a harder look at Rebecca. “Umm, hate to break this to you, but I don’t think ‘little’ is quite the right word for her any longer. Sheesh, how much power did she absorb from ol’ Raspy?”
“Oh, probably about as much as you siphoned off Girard a few years ago.” Dominique told me. “In other words -- a LOT.”
“Hmmm.” Well at least we didn’t feel obligated to attack each other on sight.
“Would you mind if I borrowed your new star for a little while?” I asked.
“For what?” Dominique gave me a curious, and halfway suspicious look.
“I need her help to spring Lillith from the jug she’s stuck in.” My answer came out hesitantly, but it did get out. “I won’t keep her away that long.”
“I suppose it would be all right.” The Arch Angel of Justice nodded.
“Thanks.” I moved forward, giving the three Succubae who hadn’t bolted to the other side a comforting grin and pointed to a rather disturbed at being left out of something that had resulted in so much destruction Angelique. They got the message and tiredly moved to join her.
“Hey, Rebecca!” I shouted, then grinned at her. “Come on, I need your help with something right now. Getting Lillith out of her bottle specifically.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun!” I cajoled. “We’re going gardening!”
The Garden of Eden had been pretty well hidden for a long time. Ever since Adam and Eve had gotten themselves run out of the place, actually. Finding where it was hadn’t been easy, the sucker tended to shift from one reality into another to stay hidden. Neat trick, by the way, I’ll have to make use of it one of these days.
It was a beautiful place, I found myself nearly enraptured by the simple loveliness of nature that met my eyes there. But there was a problem, which was the main reason I’d conned Rebecca into coming along.
The Arch Angel Gabriel was standing guard at the gates, looking bored, and toying with the -- you got it -- flaming sword he carried as if imagining a horde of demonic enemies trying to storm the place.
Then came the best part. I got to explain my plan to Rebecca.
“You want me to WHAT?” She nearly exploded once I had outlined it to her.
“You’re a bright lady.” I grinned. “I’m pretty sure you understood what I was asking you to do here.”
“Seduce the Arch Angel Gabriel?” She hissed with almost comical horror in her lovely eyes. “You can’t possibly be serious. He’s on duty!”
“Angels are always on duty.” I pointed out -- probably wrong there, but it helped shore up my position. “Now you’re the one who brought up seducing him, though that isn’t a bad idea. All I said was for you to distract him.”
“Uh huh.” Rebecca gave me a halfway annoyed look, then shrugged. “Well, you did help me out, and a promise is a promise…”
“Right.” I agreed cheerfully. “While you’re distracting the stalwart Gabriel in whatever manner you choose, I’ll just sneak in there, grab what I need, and get out. It shouldn’t take all that long, really.”
“What, exactly, is it that you’re after?” She questioned.
“A bargaining chip for when I approach your side about helping out with getting Lillith free.” I told her simply.
“Just what is this bargaining chip?”
“Oh, I’ll know when I see it.” I grinned at her sour expression over that one. “Don’t worry so much. I’ll find it, get out, and everything will be fine.”
“You know, with your reputation that expression ‘Everything will be fine’ kind of worries me.”
“I know.” Patting her shoulder I gave her a gentle push towards the gate. “Now go make nice with Gabe, so we can get this part over with.”
As she walked, or should I say -- no, she’s and Angel now and someone would get offended by that description -- towards the gate I almost felt guilty. Almost. Hey! At last, someone else got to play target in something I was involved in.
I cast an invisibility and aura cloaking spell, then almost literally dove head first through the gate once good ol’ Gabe got a really good look at Rebecca. Males. No matter where they come from, all of them seem to be perpetually horny.
The Garden was spectacular, I’ll give it that. Trees, shrubs, grass, all appearing well tended with no groundskeepers in sight. Flowers in abundance, and the smells. No perfume ever developed has even come close to duplicating all those lovely, heady scents.
I just had to stop for a moment to watch the antics of a lamb pouncing a lion and the resulting friendly wrestling match that ensued. Ok, so now I know where that old cliché comes from. All the other fauna in the place seemed equally laid back in disposition, too. I just can’t figure out how Adam and Eve fell for trading all that for one bite of fruit, no matter how delicious it may have been.
All the fruits on the trees and bushes were impressive too. Pure Love -- Hmm, not quite the ticket there. Unselfishness -- nice, but not something I could actually see Lillith handling all that well. Post Coital Bliss? -- That one I would file away in memory for later possibilities, but it sure wouldn’t work for what I wanted just then.
I’d had to land to check that last one out, and to be honest had been sorely tempted to grab one of the lovely bunches of multi-colored berries until good sense prevailed. I might get away with grabbing one thing and running, but two seemed like it would be pressing things for some reason.
While I was on the ground checking those out -- in the shade of large tree that spread its branches over the bushes, I heard the low growl.
Uh oh. I should have known this wasn’t going to be that easy. Turning slowly I caught sight of the biggest dog I’d ever set eyes on, and I routinely hung out with a Hell Hound. This critter was big as a horse, and had a mouth that looked huge enough to swallow about ten of me without even stopping to chew a little. Its teeth were bared in a snarl -- did I mention the teeth? Tyrannosaurus Rex would have envied that set of chompers, believe me.
As the beast slowly worked closer, I noticed that it was female, on top of everything else. So much for working any wiles I might have mustered against a male. So, I gave it a weak smile and spoke softly. “Nice Doggy?”
So why didn’t I just fly away and thumb my nose at the thing, you ask? Well, remember that tree I mentioned? It was of the conifer, or evergreen type, with closely woven branches that would have caught and held me like a net. That’s why.
Oh, the ‘nice doggy’ ploy only seemed to make it angrier. Desperate, I cast a small illusion, pointed off into the distance and shouted. “Look! Rabbit!”
It didn’t move, but did turn long enough for me to bolt towards the other side of the tree, then into clear airspace, which you better believe I took advantage of really fast. I made a mental note to check my luck quotient when I got back home. That old ‘Hey! Look at that!’ dodge had worked twice for me in the same day. I just knew my luck account had to be overdrawn.
Well, to make a rather long story short, I did thumb my nose at the critter, then arrowed straight towards the biggest tree in the place -- with my unwanted canine escort in hot pursuit.
The big yellowish fruits on that tree weren’t apples or pomegranates, like in the myths, more of a sweet smelling grapefruit, but I knew it was what I’d come for the moment I touched one. The veritable fruit of Knowledge that had managed to get Adam, Eve, and eventually the entire human race into such trouble was right there in front of me just waiting to be plucked.
So I did just that. Stuffing the thing into a small bag Angelique had especially crafted for me, I gave the monster Heavenly Hound (all right, I know it isn’t all that original, but what would you call the critter?) a cheery wave goodbye, and booked for the gate with all the speed my little wings could muster.
Then had to wait another hour for Rebecca to finish distracting Gabe. Got to hand it to that girl, she is good at what she does. And enjoys her job into the bargain there.
I started feeling a bit guilty about keeping her in the dark about what I’d just kyped from the garden while she was having so much fun with Gabe. Can you believe that? So I leaned over and whispered what I’d snatched in her shell-like ear.
Watching the expressions charge back and forth on her face like linebackers who had lost track of who had the ball was really pretty entertaining. Those started with pure and simple shock. Then moved to astonishment, which collided with outrage, then bumped into worry that promptly charged into resignation.
Seeing that made witnessing a fifty car pileup on a rush hour crowded interstate look tame in comparison.
“You didn’t!” She managed to squeak once she got control of her voice.
“I did.” That was reinforced with a nod on my part.
“Oh, they are going to be soooo mad!” The Bright Lillim closed her eyes, then dissolved into a fit of giggles. I kind of took that last as a good sign.
Once she was finished, I collected her, and we went to our separate homes. And no. I did not drop her off at the Pearly Gates.
“Here.” I handed my companion in crime an envelope. “Get this to Raphael. It should help them balance their inventory once they figure out what I got.”
“What is it?” Rebecca gingerly accepted it.
“A report on what I did in there, is all.” I grinned. “Figure you can fill in the details I wasn’t around to watch.”
She blushed. I resisted an urge to add to that, waved, and headed for Home.
After personally reporting to -- still Lady L. -- I returned to my office to check on how things were going down Home ( I know it was bad, but you don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to use that one.) and start working on an official meeting with Marc, The Arch Angel of Trade. Why Marc? Mostly because he and I seemed to be able to connect well enough, and I figured Dominique would still be a little upset over my conning Rebecca into helping me raid the Garden. Especially after I sucked her in by actually asking for her permission to borrow the ex-succubus.
A knock on my office door interrupted my wrestling with the spam on my computer. (Just as well, it was winning that time.) and I gestured for the door to open. A skinny red faced clerk (well redder in the face that usual.) entered, dragging a hand cart behind him.
“Lorilei, sub-clan leader of clan Lillim?” He asked in a wheezing drawl.
“Who else would be sitting at my desk?” I questioned.
“Well, I just had to make sure.” He shrugged, then gestured to the hand cart, which was loaded over every inch of surface with paper that was stacked at least four feet high. “Brought the forms you need to request the stuff to get the okay on your request.”
“Huh?” I gave him a long, look, then shook my head. “Never mind, just put it on the desk here.”
“Lady, I just dragged this stuff from the Infernal Affairs office to here. If you really want all of it on your desk, you can put it there. Personally, I think that would be a real bad idea.”
“Are you telling me that all of this is MINE?” I gave him a disbelieving frown.
“Yes Ma’am.” He answered with a nasty grin. “Please find someone else to deliver this back to Infernal Affairs once you get it finished, could you? I didn’t sign on down here to get hernias.”
He kind of beat feet in a real hurry there. My temper was already something the clerks in Hell knew all too well, and weren’t anxious to arouse again. Leaving me with a damned hand cart Piled with paper. That would only get me more paper once it had been approved.
It was just too much to bear. I was nearing an explosion, and even the spam noticed. The little suckers took one look at me and ran away yipping like whipped dogs.
Dimona popped in the door. “Hey Boss… Uh oh.” And popped right back out.
“Dimona, GET IN HERE. NOW!” I shouted.
“Do I haveta?” The top of her head appeared hesitantly at the edge of the doorway.
“Yes, you do.” I growled, then pointed to the hand cart. “Find somebody to haul that out of here, would you?”
“Will that improve your disposition, Boss?”
“It might.” I answered with a little sigh. “Then again, it might not.”
“I don’t like those odds much.” The Imp narrowed her eyes and watched me carefully.
“I don’t care if you do or not.” I very carefully answered. “But I do know that you really won’t like them if this stuff isn’t out of my office by the time I count to ten.”
“All right, all right! Don’t get your bra all tangled up here, I’m doing it already!” Saying that, she started pushing the cart out the door. With a lot of appropriate huffing and puffing for my benefit.
I had to laugh a little over that, especially when she made a real point of wiping her dry brow with the back of her forearm.
“Now what do I do with the stuff?” She asked a little too breathlessly.
“I don’t care, be creative.”
“Well, okay, but IA isn’t going to like this.”
“At the moment, I don’t really care what IA likes or not.” I wearily told her. It’s been a long day already if they want to argue, I’ll be happy to accommodate them.”
“Hoo!” Dimona grinned. “You are in a mood, aren’t you?”
“Yes, now please let me enjoy it in private for a bit, could you? I need to think here.”
“No problemo your honchoness.” The Imp giggled, the ducked out the door before I could throw something at her.
“Well, when in doubt…” I got up and headed for the door myself. “Go talk with the Boss.”
“So let me get this straight.” Lucifer, still in feminine guise rested her chin in her hand. “You want a way to circumvent all the red tape involved in the process of getting a meeting with Marc okayed, so you can do it officially instead of on the sly?”
“That’s about it, My Lady.” I nodded with a gulp. Put that way, it did kind of sound like I was trying to duck my Hellish responsibilities.
“You think Marc would see you if you got the thing set up?” Lucifer questioned me while staring at me with an intensity that would have made a rock uncomfortable.
“Yes, I’m pretty sure he will, Lady.”
“All right.” She answered, then began rummaging around in a rather large closet that appeared beside her throne and muttering. “I know I put the thing in here somewhere… Aha!”
At the sound of her triumph over the entropy that seems to be unbreakable law regarding just about any closet, she pulled out a black and yellow object and handed it to me with a satisfied grin.
I looked it over, and briefly thought she was finally losing it. “A chainsaw, My Lady?”
“Yes, dear.” She responded with a grin. “Guaranteed to cut through any red tape in existence. Epatder is really going to be pissed about me giving this to you, though.”
Like I’ve already mentioned, the Demon Prince of Red Tape is not someone a sane person, or one even close to that state, would want to have angry at them. I let out a sigh, hefted the thing, and asked the dreaded question. “Okay, My Lady. Might I ask how to avoid that one’s wrath? I really don’t care for the idea of applying in triplicate just to decide I need to go to the toilet, if you know what I mean.”
She chuckled at that image. “No, I don’t imagine you would. If he gives you problems, just take that in for a quick visit. If that doesn’t put the fear into him, tell him I want to talk with him. Immediately.”
“Oh, okay, My Lady.” I knew better than to point out that Epatder would doubtless find little ways to torment me for the rest of eternity, even with a caveat against that from L. herself, himself… Well whatever…
“Just to keep him honest.” Lucifer giggled, (Do you have any idea of how unnerving it is to hear the most powerful being in Hell giggle?) You can keep that little toy once you get the meeting set up.”
“Oh, now that makes me feel better.” I worked at a curtsey while still gripping the chainsaw. “My Lady.”
“I’m happy that it does, dear.” Ignoring my little bit of sarcasm she waved towards the door of her throne room. “Now hadn’t you better get going with this? Lillith is already in a temper, and that will only deteriorate as time progresses with her in that bottle, you know.”
“I know, I know.” With another quick curtsey, I let myself out. A face to face with the Big L. is at best unnerving, and I had just gotten the impression that I’d probably be having a LOT more of those in the future. Oh, lucky me.
Wondering what I was going to do with the thing, I thumped the chainsaw down on top of the mound of ever present junk mail to consider my next move. To my amazement, the annoying stuff immediately scattered in an explosion of paper going out in every direction. What was left started to sizzle and smoke, letting out small screams of pain and squirming to get free.
You know, I just about felt sorry for the stuff? Fortunately, my sanity returned and I started grinning and chasing the stuff around the office with the chainsaw in hand.
“Hey, Boss! Ack!” Dimona opened the door only to be flattened by the stampede of escaping junk mail. By the time she’d picked herself up I was eyeing my computer speculatively with the chainsaw in one hand and my free one hovering over the start button. The Imp closed her eyes for a second, opened them, then closed them again while shaking her head and muttering. “I knew working for her was going to be interesting, but brother! I had no idea just how interesting.”
“What was that?” I asked while punching the on button and waiting in ambush for the spam I knew was eagerly waiting for the chance to clog my eyeballs.
“Do I want to know what you’re doing?” She questioned while straightening her hair and warily watching me standing over my computer screen. “You have this really manic expression on your face, and that kind of worries me, Boss.”
“Do I?” Grinning I pounced as the screen came on and the spam began its usual antics. The stuff halted in mid raspberry, gave me what I could have sworn was a reproachful look, and high tailed it to bother someone else. “As for what I’m doing…”
“Never mind, I noticed.” Dimona chuckled while watching the spam beat its little feet to elsewhere and gesturing at the chainsaw. “What is that?”
“A chainsaw.” I told her.
“I can see that, Boss.” She replied with a shake of her head. “But like I said, what is it?”
“Something to help me fight through red tape.” I answered, giving the thing a satisfied look. It took care of the junk mail and spam without even being started, so it has to be pretty potent.”
“Well I saw it work on the spam, and don’t usually get run over by the junk mail when I open your door.” The Imp nodded. “It might come in handy at that.”
“Lorilei.” The voice of Cerise, the succubus who was acting as my secretary came over the intercom. “There is a -- demon -- waiting to see you who says he’s from Epatder’s office.”
“Really?” I questioned then felt a slow grin fill my face and carefully set the chainsaw out of sight behind my desk. “Please show him in, Cerise.”
“This one I gotta see.” Dimona giggled, then settled herself into an unobtrusive corner.
And I thought the clerks were bad. Imagine a six foot tape worm, bright red, and wearing a formal business suit. Or at least try. I was looking at the thing and having trouble believing it.
“Madame.” It started in a deep, almost sepulchral voice. “It has come to my office’s attention that you are circumventing accepted procedure, terrorizing innocent junk mail, and teasing the spam. Such things can not be tolerated.”
“Oh?” I gave him a curious look, putting on my very best puzzled expression. “Why not?”
“Junk mail and spam serve a very real purpose here, Lady, and interfering with those is a serious violation of The Rules.”
“What purpose do they serve except to be an annoyance and slow down real communications?” I questioned with deceptive mildness that had Dimona wincing and looking for cover.
“This is Hell, M’Lady.” The demon intoned as if that were some powerful revelation.
“Yeah, I kind of noticed that already.” I answered with a sweet smile. “So what’s that got to do with junk mail and spam?”
“Hell is not supposed to be comfortable or easy.” The thing said while giving my office a distasteful looking over. “My office provides services that help see to that, and no one I repeat no one Is allowed to interfere with those. I am afraid that an example must be made here, M’Lady.”
“I see.” Nodding, I reached for the chainsaw without letting him see what I was after. “So I suppose I’m getting that honor now?”
“Yes indeed.” It chuckled opening a briefcase and standing back. What looked like bright red party streamers swarmed out of it, and began to wrap everything in the office up to and including myself and Dimona. “Just a small lesson in what happens to the people who try bypassing the accepted ways of things down here. You should be quite well tangled up for, oh about a month here. We’re being lenient since this is a first offense on your part.”
“Good of you.” I smiled, which kind of set him back. I gather most people weren’t that pleased with him by that stage of the proceedings. “But I think I’ll pass on this one, if that’s all the same to you.”
“I don’t really think you have a choice…” He trailed off in horror as I raised the chainsaw and pulled the start cord to get a very satisfying brup, brup, brup, Brrrrr. “Where did you get that?”
“Oh this little thing?” I grinned, rather maniacally, I think because the worm-in-a-suit flinched back even more as the strands of red tape fled into the safety of his briefcase. Some didn’t make it. I was really enjoying myself with that thing, laughing and giggling like some maniac in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and grinning widely when I wasn’t doing that. A blizzard of red confetti was falling in my office as I turned to Epatder’s flunky. “I got it from The Boss down here. You know him -- er -- her, don’t you? Goes by the name of Lucifer?”
“Yuh -- yes, M’Lady.” He, it, or whatever answered in a voice that rose to be heard over the buzzing and burping of the chainsaw.
“Good.” I turned the chainsaw off, and could have sworn I heard the thing give a satisfied belch as I did. “Now I’m asking nice here. Please don’t bother me, or my friends and associates again, or me and my new friend here might have to pay your office a visit. Get my meaning there, bucko?”
Worm-in-a-suit did. It left my office in a hurried huff, but the point is, it left and there was no red tape sneaking around once it had gone.
“Well, that was fun.” I turned to see Dimona staring in rapt awe at the now purring -- yes it was purring -- chainsaw. “So what do you think of my new little pet here?”
“I’m impressed.” The Imp answered, still staring at it, I just had to give it a name. Chainsaw seemed so -- prosaic. Dimona shook her head. “I’d heard of something like this but no one ever thought it really existed. Oh, I’m glad you’re the one who has to feed it.”
“Her.” I corrected while absently brushing more of the shredded red tape into range for the chainsaw to munch on. “I think I’ll call her Sweetie, how’s that sound?”
Sweetie evidently thought that was okay, because she purred a little louder and even stopped chowing down for a second to do that.
“You know.” Dimona let out a sigh. “Ya think you’ve seen it all down here, and then something like this happens.”
Needless to say, I had no trouble getting my request for an official meeting with Marc, Arch Angel of Trade through the channels. In fact, I was told that the go ahead on that was one of the fastest in history down here.
Having friends in low places does have its perks in Hell, you know.
I walked into the office building that housed Marc’s activities on Earth as if I belonged there. My appearance was that of a young, upwardly mobile executive type and the smart, but snug skirt suit I wore added to that image quite satisfactorily.
The message I’d received in response to my asking for at least a semi-official meeting was simple and direct. It told me where to be and when to be there. No ’Looking forward to seeing you’ or anything else halfway friendly was included. But I really hadn’t expected something like that through official channels. We were after all, on opposing sides.
Taking the elevator up to the proper floor, I noticed that most of the humans around gave me a pretty wide berth. I didn’t think that was because of the visitor’s pass clipped to my jacket. Someone had given them a heads up regarding me. One poor guy did get stuck in the elevator with me, and pressed himself into a corner so hard I thought he might start bonding with the paneling.
“It’s ok, Sweets.” I gave him a wide smile. “I’ve already eaten today, so you’re safe from me. In that sense anyway.”
His look of relief changed to one of comprehending horror when it dawned on him that I was flirting. Poor guy edged past me and out the door at the next floor we reached.
“Gee, try to be nice.” I said to the ceiling and shrugged. Once out of the elevator at the top floor I entered the outer office and announced myself to the lady -- actually an Angel -- who was handling calls, a word processor, and the intercom all at once. I found myself wondering if she had extra hands and arms hidden away somewhere she was working so fast.
That lady gave me a rapid once over and nodded, keying the intercom and simply saying. “She’s here.”
“He’ll see you now.” The Angel arose from her desk and led me to the door it obviously guarded. Opening it, she gestured for me to enter and waited until I’d walked past her before quietly closing it behind me.
Marc’s office was tasteful, comfortable, and obviously a place where real business was done. The Arch Angel arose from his chair behind the desk and greeted me with a smile. “Lorilei, come on and have a seat.”
I did, crossing my legs demurely and for once consciously working to not incite a male libido. Giving him a smile I nodded. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Marc.”
“Well, I have to admit that your asking for an officially sanctioned meeting took me by surprise when you have access to so many other unofficial channels. So what prompted you to do that, if I might ask.”
“This matter needs to be kept well above board.” I answered with a small smile and shrug. “It will probably need a go ahead from at least the council upstairs, if not from the big guy himself. So I didn’t really think a quick meeting at Neutral Grounds or some other neutral spot would have worked this time around.”
“I gather this has something to do with Lillith being -- umm -- confined as she is?” The Angel questioned with no expression on his handsome face.
“Well, yes.” I answered. “What it’s really about is getting her unconfined.”
“Ahh.” With a nod, he arose, went to a beautiful silver coffee service, and gave me a questioning look. At my nod, he poured two cups and brought them to the table that was between us, setting them down with a careful ease that showed much practice. “Well, we may as well enjoy our first meeting as much as possible, Lady Lorilei. I understand that you more or less took over in Home once Lillith ended up in that jar on Jade’s shelf?”
“Oh that.” I took a sip of the coffee and was pleasantly surprised at the flavor coming through so strongly. “It was about the only way I was ever going to get some peace and quiet down there until Mother Lillith is released and can take back over. This coffee is very good, by the way.”
“Interesting concept.” Marc chuckled. “Mounting a coup just to get some peace and quiet. I don’t think I’ve heard a more original reason in centuries.”
“Hey, have you ever been stuck in a place full of females having their time of the month all at the same time? It isn’t pretty, fun, or at all restful, trust me.”
“I didn’t think you ladies down there had that time of the month problem.” He grinned.
“Don’t say that too loud.” I winced. “Might give someone ideas, if you know what I mean, but no, we don’t. This was worse. They were rearranging the pecking order. And they weren’t doing it in whispers, either.”
“Well, my congratulations on the promotion, even if it is only temporary.” Marc gave me an almost evil grin, and laughed. “But let’s get back to the point of this meeting, shall we? I also know you met with Jade regarding what she would want to release Lillith.”
“Yes, I did at that, finally. Had a slight interruption on the way, but I finally got there.” My confirmation of that really meant nothing since there had been both Demons and Angels in the place when I was opening negotiations with the proprietress. “There’s one small problem with her demands, though.”
“Yeah, to meet them, I need Heaven’s help.” I let out a sigh and shook my head. “Sheesh, first I get my life saved by Angels, then find out I’ll have to ask some others for help in getting Mother Lillith free. It’s been an interesting week, let me tell you.”
“So I’ve heard.” Marc nodded. “Thanks for the help with the Merovingian thing, by the way. Saved us a whole lot of grief there.”
“So you’re grateful?” I questioned a little too hopefully.
“I think we covered that debt pretty well when Dominique rescued you from Baal’s bully boys, Lorilei.” He chuckled as I winced over that, then turned serious. “So what demands did Jade make that you need to get our approval and help on?”
“Well, she wants to expand.” I started, then shook my head.
“Good business sense there.” Marc nodded. “But it still doesn’t tell me why you need our help. Hell has plenty of real estate that she’d be more than happy to have.”
“Yeah, but it’s the particular piece of real estate she wants that creates my problem here.” I tried to think of a way to put it as gently as possible and couldn’t think of one way of doing that. “You see, she wants to extend her present neutral sphere.”
“From her present location at the font?” He began to appear a bit uncomfortable, which made me feel a little better and nervous all at the same time. “Just how much expansion are we talking about here?”
“Oh, you know, just coverage of the entire financial district in New York.” I answered and closed my eyes to await the expected explosion.
None came, to my surprise. I opened them just a little and saw the shocked look on his face turn to one of grudging admiration, then he started laughing. Laughing! As if I’d just told him the funniest joke he had heard since creation.
“You’re serious here?” He questioned while wiping his eyes with a cloth napkin. “This isn’t some kind of elaborate joke you’re playing?”
“Serious as I’m dead.” I answered, then added. “And gone to Hell.”
“Language, dear lady, language, please.” Marc shook his head and leaned back in his seat. “So that audacious little schemer wants the entire financial district under her control?”
“That about covers it.” I agreed.
“Well, now I see your problem.” He shook his head. “I imagine that Mammon is having almost rabid fits about this, isn’t he?”
“Oh yeah.” I chuckled. “His aides were running for their afterlives once he’d heard the demands. Glad to see you‘re taking it a little better than he did.”
“Now that I’ve got to see.” Marc chuckled then asked. “If you don’t mind my looking in on that scene, that is?”
“Be my guest.” I told him filing the bit of information on that capability away for future use, and planning on dinging -- well as much as anyone dared ding -- Lucifer about getting something like that of my own.
His monitor seemed to fog up for a second then cleared to show a scene I recalled very well. Mammon’s own office in Hell, done in a tacky resplendence that went well with that Demon Prince’s thin, almost cadaverous form. I was standing in front of that desk (no sitting for -- ahem -- lesser sorts there.) while outlining the demands Jade had made for Lillith’s release.
You could easily spot the steam forcing itself out of his pointed ears, and his reddish complexion getting even redder as my image stood there almost calmly. His underlings, a number of which had been in the office when I presented my information, began eyeing the door, slit windows, and even vents leading to the real furnace below as the Prince’s temper cranked up.
“The Bitch wants WHAT?” He roared while pounding his desk so hard it actually cracked the marble top. Meanwhile his underlings had opted for discretion instead of valor (Read ran for all they were worth, there.) leaving poor little me to face his wrath.
“I’m pretty sure you heard me, My Lord, judging from your reaction.” My image replied with an ease that I almost found unbelievable when watching it. Then again, I’d faced worse than him, and recently, by that time, plus managed to have a really good time with several Angels without getting singed or anything. “Jade expressly told me that she would take nothing less than an expansion of her neutral zone over the entire financial district in New…”
“I heard you the first time, Succubus.” Mammon grated out. “How dare you bring such a ridiculous idea to me?”
“Well, My Lord Mammon.” My image shrugged. “Mostly because Lord Lucifer told me to?”
“Oh.” Mammon’s anger didn’t lessen, but he aimed it another target. A rather inoffensive painting, and one of the less tacky ones in the place burst into flames. “And what would our Great Lord’s orders be on this, little one?”
My image didn’t rise to the bait of being belittled, just waved a delicate hand, shrugged, and smiled. “How would I know? You’re the expert on these things, My Lord. Lucifer does not share his plans with me, after all.”
“So this gets dumped in my lap.” The Prince grumbled while almost non-chalantly sending a small tongue of flame to tickle at my tail. Which flicked out of the way, then slapped it into non-existence with the rest of my image evidently ignoring the whole thing.
“Like I said, Lord Mammon.” My image grinned without the least trace of worry about his temper. “You are the expert here. I’m simply the messenger.”
“Fine, fine.” Mammon growled, then leveled a glare at me calculated to have anyone cringing in absolute terror.
My image simply smiled, gestured to the door behind her and asked. “If that’s all for the moment, My Lord? I seem to have acquired the reins of power in Home and really should get back there to see that things are remaining settled in My Lady’s absence.”
“Go then!” He shouted. “My image gave him a cheerful smile, then regally went to the door, opened it, and stalked out. Closing it behind with a rather loud thump.
“My Great Lord Above.” Marc shook his head as the monitor closed down. “You were baiting him. In his own office!”
“Well, he is rather full of himself.” I admitted, then giggled. “I saved the shakes until I was safely back in Home.”
“You are a real piece of work, young Lady.” Marc marveled as his eyes returned to me. “No wonder you’re getting such an impressive reputation already.”
“Thanks.” I replied with a tilt of my head and warm smile. “But you still haven’t really told me why you weren’t so upset over this whole thing, you know.”
“Well, that could be because I don’t feel the least bit obligated to give anything up so Lillith can be freed.” He replied with a grin. “With you in charge down there, we know we have a friend of sorts holding the reins. Why should we cooperate to get Lillith, who has been a recurring problem for us since The Garden, free and back to working her mischief in the world?”
“Well for one thing.” I pointed out. “It would probably preserve my sanity. At least what shreds of it I have left.”
“Sorry, that’s your problem, dear lady. We have no suzerain down there.”
“I know that.” I shot back with a slightly annoyed tone in my voice, then gave him a contrite little smile. “Sorry, I’ve kinda been on edge lately.”
“Understandable, and forgiven.” Marc actually smiled at me in an almost friendly way. “But the real point here is… What in Heaven, Earth, or Hell, is there that would even come close to convincing any of us upstairs to help you in this mess? Lillith got herself into it, after all. We didn’t push her, or manipulate events to get her into her present position.”
“I could argue that point, but won’t. I’m too damned tired to argue just now.” I answered, then gave him my best winning smile. “So, I’ll just cut to the real chase here and let you mull it over for a while. How’s that?”
“Okay, we all know that Mother Lillith got booted from The Garden before she had a chance to eat from the fruit of knowledge, right?” I looked at his face to make sure he was following me, then continued. “So she never has had the slightest conception of the differences between right and wrong, good and evil, and all that stuff. She has no morals at all because she just doesn’t know any better. Right?”
“Yes, I’ll agree with that.” He frowned. “But asking us for one of those fruits, and help in getting Lillith free would be pushing way too much kaka, if you get my meaning there.”
“Clearly. Even I don‘t have a shovel big enough to do that.” I nodded, then gave him a triumphant smile as I reached into my purse and pulled out the almost grapefruit thing I’d picked from the Tree of Knowledge. “So I went ahead and got one of these in advance in case this part came up in conversation, you know.”
“Where did you get that?” He stared at first the fruit, then me, then the fruit, and shook his head.
“From the only place they grow.” I told him with a little giggle. “You know, The Garden? Neat trick you guys are using to hide it too. I like that one. Shifting realities every few minutes makes it kind of tough to track down.”
“I won’t ask how you got it.” The Arch Angel let out a long sigh. “Just what you plan on doing with it now that you have it.”
“Well, if you guys will help me out here.” I answered, waiting for a few seconds before I pounced. “I’ll make sure Mother Lillith eats this sucker as part of the conditions of her release.”
“Like the plan?” I asked sweetly while carefully placing the precious fruit back into my purse, then turned to watch his reactions.
“Lorilei, I have to hand it to you.” Marc chuckled as he watched me watching him. “This move is brilliant. I’ll have to bump the offer upstairs, but I don’t think we’d be willing to turn loose of even more in that financial district no matter how good it sounds.”
“You won’t have to.” I told him with a grin. “Neither will we. I thought you were supposed to be Mammon’s greatest adversary here. Jade’s demands were just an opening gambit to give me a little grief, then spread it around some. The lady does have legitimate beefs with both our sides, you know.”
“Oh, I understand that very well.” Marc smiled at me. “I just wanted to make sure that you did. So what do you think we should offer for a counter proposal. If I can get the others on the council to agree to this wild scheme of yours?”
“You know?” I looked directly into his eyes and admitted, much to my embarrassment. “I’ve so busy just staying alive, getting other people out of the soup recently, and moving things this far that I really hadn’t thought much about that?”
“Well, one can’t have everything.” He shrugged then gave me an almost fond look. “I have to say that this is a first meeting that I’m going to remember for a long, long time to come, Lady. It’s been a real pleasure meeting you.”
“Thanks.” I answered, then added. “If you really want to know how I got the fruit, Raphael should have a report on it from me. Oh, yeah, you guys really should feed your guard dogs in that place a little more often. The one I ran into wanted to eat me. Bad for the tourist trade, you know.”
He didn’t bother to respond to that one. Just looked at me again and shook his head, muttering. “Maybe we should spring Lillith on our own. Given a little time you’d be a bigger headache for us than she ever was.”
“Aww, that’s nice.” I chuckled, then rose from my seat. “But compliments aside, I have more things to see to right now. So will have to say bye for the time being.”
“I’ll bump this one upstairs and get back to you.”
“That’ll do.” I gave him my absolute best, brightest, and warm smile. “Thanks for seeing me.”
“It was an experience I wouldn’t have missed.” He told me while escorting me to the door, then stopped for a moment before he opened it for me. “Just do one favor for me here, would you?”
“Depends on what that would be.” I answered. “If it isn’t unreasonable I’d probably agree.”
“Please don’t tease my staff on your way out.”
“Oh, well, I suppose I could hold myself back on that one.” I pouted for a second, the laughed. “All right. Done. I’ll be a good girl, or as good as I get, on the way out.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
The next few days were, to say the least, interesting. Besides shuttling back and forth between Mammon’s office in Hell and Marc’s on Earth, I found myself holding things down and together in Home. There was still a little muttering about how I’d pre-empted those senior to me when I’d -- temporarily -- taken the throne there.
“Are you still pouting about me taking charge in here?” I softly questioned Sheba and Salome who I’d summoned to my office. Rather peremptorily, as a matter of fact, but I was just tired and cranky enough by then that I was going to let them know in no uncertain terms that I would tolerate their hanky-panky no more than Lillith would have.
“I have nothing to say to you, usurper.” Sheba lifted her chin and gave me a defiant look. Salome simply glared.
“Well I have something to say to both of you.” I purred and gave them a smile that had Dimona wincing and looking for cover again. “First, these attempts to undermine me will stop now.”
“And just how do you propose to back that command up?” Sheba sneered, not catching my growing anger, or stupidly ignoring it.
“Like this.” I answered, snaring both of them in a tight containment web and adding a little electrical shock feature just to spice things up. “Now I’m going to give you two One last Chance here. Either give it up, or I’ll second you to some of the worst duty I can find. Understand me?”
“You can’t do that!” Salome countered, then let out a small squeak of distress as her motions caused sparks to fly and give her tail a nasty shock.
“Yes I can.” With a nasty little smile, I held up the scepter that Lillith had left behind when she hared off after Rebecca. “For now at least, I just happen to be a de facto Princess of Hell. So you two had better straighten out your acts or You’ll find out just how nasty I can be. Clear?”
Both of them simply stared at me in amazement until I began to lose patience. “I’m waiting for an answer here. And rapidly losing what little patience I have left. I seem to have one intact nerve functioning just now, and you two have been stomping all over it.”
“As you will -- My Lady.” Sheba managed to get out.
“Your will is my command, Mistress.” Salome added.
“Good.” I smiled at both of them then released the entanglement that held them. “Just a point of information here, too. Don’t even think about getting even once Mother Lillith is back in charge. You don’t want me on a rampage with you as the target, even if I’m not a Princess here. Understand me?”
Both gulped and nodded in response. I pointed at the door. “Good. Now get out of here and behave yourselves.”
They got. Like all of Hell’s fury was aimed right at them. Well, it was bullying, but I sure felt better about things at Home when I was carrying messages back and forth after making my point.
Mammon continued throwing tantrums, but finally understood that I was not overawed by them. He also got it through his head that I, as de facto ruler in Home, I was at least temporarily his equal. Not that he liked the idea much, but truthfully, at that point I could have cared less what the hard headed ass liked or not. Just so long as he finally agreed on some workable counter proposal for Jade.
Marc was watching the proceedings with a lot more amusement than I really thought was necessary just then, but I was tired, cranky, and ready to take heads off with my bare hands by that time. At least he was reasonable about things.
Oh, you recall that Chinese guy I mentioned earlier? The one with the curses? I decided that instead of feeding him all his curses, I’d just beat his brains out when I did find him.
Once an agreement that was mutually palatable was finally hammered out, and Jade had given her approval, I held on to the final forms that everyone involved had signed as if they might try flying away and make me go through all that again. While breathing a silent, but fervent thanks to the Powers on both sides that it was so close to being finished. Now all that was left was getting Lillith out of her bottle.
With agreement, and the Fruit in hand, I gave Rebecca a quick call through Marc’s office. Once she showed up, I took her straight to Neutral Grounds.
“Well, well.” Jade smiled as we entered. “The last player in the game appears.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked rather grumpily.
“Look around.” Jade grinned. “I seem to have attracted quite an interesting clientele today.”
I did, and was almost stunned to see Mammon, Marc, Dominique, and a lot of other movers and shakers in Heaven and Hell sitting at tables quietly sipping their coffee and pointedly ignoring my entrance. Too pointedly.
“Wow.” Was about all I could come up with on that.
“Yes, Wow.” Jade smiled. “I take it you have come to retrieve your Princess?
“Yes.” I answered, handing her the copy of the document I‘d gone through such grief getting. “But would like to introduce you to a friend of mine first, and get some of your wonderful coffee if that would be possible.”
“Good enough.” Jade nodded, giving Rebecca a careful looking over. “Ahh, a true Bright Lillim! Welcome to my establishment dear.”
“Thank you.” Rebecca answered, taken aback a bit by Jade’s quick reading of her.
“Just remember that I do not tolerate hostilities being brought out in my establishment and we’ll get along just fine.” Jade told her with a smile.
“This is Rebecca.” I put in. “Once of Hell, now of Heaven. Interesting story there if you’re interested, but it will have to come later.”
“Pleased to meet you, Rebecca.” Jade smiled at Rebecca, then turned back to me. “What’ll you have today, Lorilei? I have a really nice essence of apostate on hand.”
“That sounds good.” I told her, then looked to Rebecca.
“Just some Blue Jamaican? Brewed strong?”
“Good, I’ll get them and be right back.” Jade nodded, then headed for the area behind the counter.
“Wow, Angels, Demons, and other sorts I can’t identify, all gathered here in relative peace.” Rebecca looked around the room and shook her head.
“Yeah.” I told her, waving to the ‘wall of shame‘. “Jade has this way of enforcing amity in her place, you know.”
“I’ve been here before.” Rebecca told me. “I just never really thought about how odd it really is, you know?”
“Oh, it is that.” I told her. “Mostly because Jade has real Power and jdoesn't hesitate to make use of it. She’s sitting on a Font here, and has absolute control of it.”
“Oh my.” Rebecca gave me a look that was almost scandalized.
“Yeah, it is kind of a shock to other beings with power to find that they can’t exercise those in here without paying for it.” I answered. “Which you found out so clearly when Lillith threw you threw you out Jade’s window.
“Yes, oh.” I answered as Jade began making her way back to our table with our orders. “Do not screw with Jade. She’ll make you regret it if you do.”
“Here you go ladies.” Jade set our coffees on the table, then settled herself into the booth with one of her own in front of her. “So. I take it this ‘final’ offer is acceptable to all concerned?”
“Oh yeah. Took some head banging, but it is.” I answered after taking the obligatory sip of my coffee. “It’s really very nice from your point of view.”
“I know.” Jade imperturbably told me, then raised her eyebrows inquisitively. “Thank you for all your work on getting it done.”
“Well, as you know, neither side was all that willing to give you control of the whole financial district here.” I started.
“I anticipated that at the start. Just wanted to see if Angels and Demons could get ulcers, you know.” Jade chuckled. “The alternative all of you came up with is quite acceptable and more in line with what I was really after to begin with.”
“I imagine you took great delight in seeing both Heaven and Hell scrambling to find this compromise.” I answered, pushing the folder holding the prospectus across the table to her. “Here‘s the formal agreement for you. Each side has a copy of it for their own records.”
“Spots in Zurich and Tokyo.” Jade pursed her lips then nodded with a pleased smile. “I like it. Which is why I signed it.”
“You don‘t know how happy that made me.” I sighed.
“I take it you had quite a time getting this one hammered out.” Jade smiled, pulling the prospectus closer to her and nodding at me with a smile. “But you Lillim are renowned for your diplomatic abilities.”
“More screaming, threatening, and pleading in my case.” I answered with a wave at nothing. “The sites are already yours.”
Jade closed her lovely dark eyes for a few moments, then opened them with a broad smile on her face. “Good enough. I’ll turn Lillith loose now.”
“Umm, not just yet.” I told her, and winced at the outraged jabs I was getting from the bottle my Clan Leader was stuck in. “There is one other condition for her release.”
“She has to eat this.” I pulled out the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and showed it to her. “Don’t ask how I got it, that would take way too long to explain. But I have to go in there with her, and make sure she does eat it. Before she’s released. Otherwise, Heaven won’t honor the deal with you.”
“I see.” Jade smiled in amusement. “That could be arranged. Is Rebecca here the insurance policy from Heaven to make sure that Lillith actually eats the fruit?”
“No.” Another voice entered the conversation as a lovely blonde with snowy white wings slid into the booth next to Jade. “I am.”
“Hello Joy.” I grinned tiredly at the Angel, then waved to Rebecca. “Have you met Rebecca yet? She’s a true Bright Lillim, escaped the clutches of Hell and everything.”
“Not until now.” Joy smiled and held out her hand to Rebecca. “Welcome to the Right Side, Rebecca.”
“Thanks.” Rebecca answered, taking the offered hand and giving it a squeeze.
“Joy is Heaven’s newest prototype Angel.” I slyly told Rebecca, then giggled. “But don’t hold that against her. She’s good people.”
“Speaking of ‘good people‘…” Joy grinned at me. “Nice work on getting this deal put through.”
“Well.” Jade interrupted the near bonding and cleared her throat. “If you two are ready?”
“As ready as I’m ever going to be.” I answered.
“Whenever you are, Jade.” Joy confirmed.
“Then here you go, ladies.” Jade waved a negligent hand and our surroundings suddenly became very different.
“It’s about time!” Lillith’s impatient greeting wasn’t much of a surprise as I took in the rather distorted view of the interior of Neutral Grounds from inside the bottle.
“But why are you two here, instead of my being out of this thing?” She demanded.
“Well, Mother.” I told her. “There is one catch to you getting out. I’m afraid Heaven insisted on it contingent on their cooperation in meeting Jade’s demands for your release.”
“What?” Lillith questioned with her hands on hips. “They want an apology for my trying to get that little bitch Rebecca back into the fold?”
“Nope.” I told her while digging in my purse and producing the Fruit. “They want you to eat this.”
“What is it?” Lillith eyed the fruit suspiciously.
“Does it really matter?” I asked carefully. “Either you eat it or stay in the bottle here.”
“It matters to me.” Lillith retorted.
“All right then.” I told her, with a very tight hold on that slippery little tail my temper had and swinging it around in the air to keep it distracted. “It’s the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.”
“I already have enough knowledge, thank you.” Lillith pouted with her chin pointed towards the top of the bottle. “Besides, Adam and Eve had no end of grief after they took one bite from it. Why should I consent to eating the whole thing?”
That was all it took. I was tired, cranky, and had worked my little butt to a nub getting things that far. I carefully gave Lillith, Mother or not, a long, smoldering look before I really lost it and let her have it with both barrels.
“Because.” I grated out, my temper getting loose and gleefully dancing all over my nerves. “If. You. Don’t. You. STAY. In. This. Damned. BOTTLE!”
“There should be other ways to get me out.” Lillith petulantly argued.
“THAT’S IT!” I actually screamed. “Do you have the least idea of what I went through to get this thing? Or to get both sides to agree on terms with Jade that would get you out of here?! Or that there are enough people in High and Low places who don’t want you back in control of Home that my afterlife has been in danger? I almost died the REAL DEATH getting this thing started! Now EAT THE DAMNED THING!”
“That is a very serious lack of respect there, Lorilei.” Lillith glowered at me.
“Like I give a shit, Mother!” I answered tartly. “I’m ruling Home right now and there a lot of people who would prefer things to stay that way. I DO NOT want that grief! Either eat the damned fruit or stay here until everyone in creation forgets who you are! I don’t care any more! I’ve worked my little tail off -- literally. Mammon actually tried burning it off when I went to him with this. So either eat the thing, or let me get back to business. I don’t have time for this!”
“You took over in Home?” Lillith asked incredulously.
“YES!” I shouted. “So it would be in one piece when you came back!”
I’d really had enough by then. I grabbed the back of Lillith’s head while her mouth was open to protest, and shoved the Fruit into it. “Shut up and eat!”
Amazingly, she did.
“Wow.” Joy observed as Lillith munched away at the Fruit. “I’d heard you were really something once you got going, but had no idea of just how impressive you can be.”
“Thanks.” I muttered, then settled to the floor to await Lillith finishing the Fruit.
My fingers were sticky after ramming the thing almost down Lillith’s throat to get her started eating and to stop arguing. So I absently licked them clean.
All of a sudden I saw a lot of things that I’ve only guessed at before. Like my real role in the tumultuous relationship between Heaven and Hell, and Lord Lucifer’s Penance. With me as His major free willed instrument for achieving that. Rehabilitating damned souls until they were ready for redemption was not really something I was quite prepared for there. But all I was supposed to do at that stage was watch for them and give subtle little pushes. I nearly fainted with that much information.
Lillith was in a real fugue state as she ate the entire Fruit, and for long moments after. She laughed, sighed, and actually burst into tears at one point during that.
Her lovely, proud features went through an interesting series of expressions. Outraged denial, anger, fear, the dawning of understanding, and the one thing I’d never have expected from her -- remorse.
“Was I that bad?” She questioned no one in particular.
“That depends on your perspective, Mother.” I softly answered, taking her in my arms for a comforting hug as the tears flowed down her sculpted cheeks. “You didn’t know any better, you see.”
“I do now.” She quietly told me, returning the hug. “Thank you, Lorilei, for everything you’ve done, but especially for this.”
“I think it was worth it, Mother.” I told her. “You’re worth loving, you know. Adam thought so.”
“It’s been so long.” She whispered. “I don’t think I can change overnight, you know. Old habits won’t let go that easily.”
“No one expects that, Mother.” I honestly told her. “It’s enough that you know that change is possible.”
And with that, we were out of the bottle and standing in the middle of Jade’s establishment.
Lillith immediately caught sight of Rebecca and hurried over to the table I’d been sharing with her and Jade only moments earlier. The bright Lillim flinched, but held her ground, waiting for whatever her former tormentor was going to hand her with commendable courage.
“Rebecca.” Lillith stood there, looking at the Bright Lillim and shaking her head as she hesitated. “I -- I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted, Mother. Happily.” Rebecca stood and gave Lillith a tight hug. “I’m glad you’re out of the bottle, by the way.”
“So am I, dear.” Lillith smiled, then turned to Jade. “Thank you for the lesson. Please accept my apologies for previous behavior.”
“Water under the bridge, darling.” Jade smiled. “Would you like a cup of Coffee?”
“Yes.” Lillith smiled. “I think I would. Thank you.”
“Wow, you really read Her the riot act in there.” Marc shook his head and grinned at me later on. “I have to tell you that everyone in the place was properly impressed by that. Your stock in Heaven, Hell, and among the Neutrals took a real sudden rise there.”
“You saw that?” I asked, actually blushing. “My temper got the best of me is all.”
“Well, it worked.” Marc nodded. “Good job there.”
“Thanks.” I grimaced, then giggled. “I think.”
“Oh it’s a compliment.” He assured me.
Well, you’ve heard about The Wedding in other places so I won’t go into that here. Except to mention that Laurence and I had a really good time after the reception.
Lillith’s apology to both Elisabeth and Gregory was kind of a shock. Especially since Mother actually did it in public in front of most of the movers and shakers in Heaven, on Earth, and in Hell. Wow.
As for what is going to happen next?
Well, that’s going to have to be another story, isn’t it?