“It is good to see that your claims did not turn out to be false.” Jordan looked at Valen, who immediately knelt, deferentially, setting one of his knees on the ground. A rather peculiar gesture for this day and age, even if the person in question was the son of the President of the United States of America.
I had never realized Others felt so strongly towards human public figures.
Not knowing exactly what to say, I closed the door behind me, and approached. Valen was slightly raising his head to look at me, a little smug smile in his face. “Mr. Smith-Rhys, I presume?” I said tentatively.
He gave me an evaluating glance, with a hint of a sneer behind it, and started to walk towards me, throwing back his hair, stylishly cut in a fashionable ‘I just got out of bed’ unkempt style.
“I wouldn’t believe it from looking at her. They’re making them younger and younger at each passing decade, aren’t they?” Jordan again shifted his gaze to Valen, while circling me. “But you have fulfilled your goal. It is her, and congratulations to you for beating all of your brethren. Rise, Lord Valen.”
Valen had gotten a promotion? He was now a full-fledged demon lord and he was bound to me?!
The blonde boy seemed to be capable of reading my expression quite well, and I was seeing the evilly amused grin he was treating me with. What did that meant now? That I’d serve him? That he owned my soul? But I had made no bargain; he had willed himself to me. I confess that, with my mind being fuzzy from the compulsion, plus the fact that I was still quivering from the nerves and adrenaline, I wasn’t being particularly fast on the uptake. But by then, I had already begun putting two and two together, and realize that if there was someone capable of making Valen bow like that, and then name him a “lord”, it had to be someone big on the scale down below. “I thank you, my Prince.”
Holy crap. The son’s president was a high-ranking Daemon?
I found him staring at me attentively, his eyes glowing with unnatural light, and it was then I started to feel very uncomfortable and, may I dare say it, fearful. Even while Valen was nothing but a minor incubus, barely more than an evil spirit with a handful of magical tricks, a human body and a beautiful smile, I didn’t feel that right around him, but I could at least fool myself into believing I could control him easily or dispatch him should I need to do so. But now? Now he was a full demon. With a title.
The only demon I had ever faced had nearly killed me, and only a literal miracle had saved me. And he had been a Marshall at most. I could but hope that whatever oath had bound him to me had not weakened with his promotion – and that his promotion brought no freebies other than a fancy title. Maybe the power was an age thing, not a perk from the job.
Jordan Smith-Rhys seemed to sense my discomfort, and enjoy it mightily. Despite everything, of whatever mission he had to fulfil there, he was what he was, and this sort of thing were what kept him fed and happy. I felt a gentle, at first, but very forceful presence pressing itself against the barriers in my mind. I’m not sure what happened afterwards, I vaguely remember whimpering, before the pain stabbed me. I felt the shields in my mind straining, shields set in place by the mightiest of our order, and I felt them start to give in. I knew what would happen if they quaked – my mind would be destroyed. To ensure that our secrets were never lost, we didn’t bear mere protections. Those could be shattered and rendered useless. So, our mind was turned into the literal vault of our thoughts and memories, and to breach it meant to destroy it whole. Very few things could manage to overpower our reinforced mental defences, but it seemed I had found one. I fought with all I had, sending hectic thoughts, forcing them to shift as fast as I could, even resorting to listing mentally as many animals as I remembered, but he just wouldn’t budge. The pain had driven me to my knees, but my pride be damned, I just didn’t care. Blocking the pain as best as I could, I focused on keeping him out, and it stopped in a stalemate. That seemed to both intrigue him and miff him, and I could see he was no longer playing games and was about to force himself into my mind.
It was then I felt soft arms around my shoulders, and had realized that Valen, with glowing slit eyes locking on mine, was trying to shift my weight into him, so I wouldn’t be crouching, but rather on his lap. My larger frame, however, made it all rather awkward, and, like a wounded animal, I escaped his grasp. I heard him make a huffing noise, and suddenly yank me off my feet with far more strength than I could think him capable of. As he cradled me in his arms, forcing me to look at him, I realized he was changing. His entire body was shifting to one of an adult, a more powerful host, one that could overpower me. His youthful angelic face became handsome, almost unbearably so, and his blonde hair now reached his shoulders, framing his face like a golden halo. How could something so evil be so beautiful?
“Don’t resist him. He will hurt you.” He murmured, almost tenderly. I tried to free myself, but he held me effortlessly, shifting his grip, so he was pinning me on the floor, holding my wrists above my head with one of his large hands. “Sssh… let him see that you are the real thing. That you are not a trick. Open yourself to him.”
I wanted to scream at him that nothing could get in there without destroying it; and that I would not let a demon would get inside my mind. Not now, not ever again. I wanted to call him a traitor, a betrayer, but I couldn’t because his soothing words, even though they enraged me, were distracting me. He ran his free hand over my scalp, closed his eyes, and I felt my thoughts leaving me.
How could I have missed it?
By bounding himself willingly to me, he was mine, my possession, mine to do as I saw fit. Except sending him away. And I nurtured him. The stronger I was, the stronger he’d become. Our minds were one.
He was my familiar.
I had failed to notice that because it was not a common practice – usually smaller, barely intelligent creatures were conned into serving with offers of food and a warm house. I hadn’t even considered this possibility because it would be unheard of. Familiars were a smaller life form, of weak intellect. Not a minor Earthside demon.
Certainly not a Daemon Lord.
Using our connection, he opened my mind to whoever was there wearing the president’s son face, and let him drunk deeply in the knowledge and thoughts and beliefs and fears that made me into who I was. And I was powerless to stop them.
I don’t ever think I could remember feeling so sick before in my life. I had ignored my instincts – I had let Valen’s pretty face and tenderness fool me. I had let myself grow comfortable around him and forget what he was – an Other. Ruthless, cruel, uncaring. He had sacrificed his free will to me, knowing I would not abuse him because I still have a modicum of decency. And in exchange – They now had access to my mind, my thoughts, my most intimate secrets. I didn’t know what for, but they had it.
I remember vaguely screaming with a voice that was too hoarse to be mine, as I struggled to stop the torrent of memories, and I remember Valen’s tender strength pinning me under him, keeping me from hurting myself, as my mind was engulfed by the memories I had fought to supress.
“Why, child,” it says “I am whatever you fear most.”
Those eyes, those damned evil red eyes devour me.
For a moment, I wondered why hotel security wasn’t rushing into the room, because I knew I was howling like a wounded animal.
I scream and I scream and I scream.
The blinding light engulfs me, and I think I am dying. This can’t be heaven, however. There is too much pain.
Tears stung my eyes and I could feel the unbearably soft touch of Valen’s hand, wiping them away, as he murmurs sweet nothings, promises all will be alright, if I just let “him” see it. But I didn’t want him to see it. Those were memories that had left me scarred and almost comatose for weeks. Memories of a loss too great for me to handle, no matter how many years have gone by.
And the blood. So much blood.
My mother is dead.
And I am not.
This is my ultimate betrayal. She dies for my sins, and I have to live on knowing she sacrificed herself for me.
I fought not to let old ghosts scare me. I fought to think that that was the past, and that I had been the innocent victim of a foul trap, who would have had claimed my life if my mother hadn’t bought me enough time to craft a crudely drawn circle, and summon a Host protector, through the despair of the innocent, fuelled by the dying breath of a mother protecting her cub.
But my logical thoughts were like feathers in the midst of hurricane-force winds. Certain wounds run deep, and those cut me deep, to my very core.
And I just couldn’t stop the memories.
I lay very still, hoping that it would end faster that way.
Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium…
No. No! NO!
I screamed inside my mind and, abruptly, it was over. I shivered, expecting another attack, another invasion, but it never came. I realized I was trembling, and the more I found myself alone in the deep recesses of my mind, the more I recovered my self-control, and after a few more pitiful whimpers, I exhaled forcibly and tensed my jaw so much I could feel it creaking. Then I opened my eyes, and said very calmly. “Get off me, Valen.” My voice didn’t even crack. I was so proud of my little victory.
Surprisingly, he did so, but didn’t allow me to stray from his embrace. I didn’t even react, as I was feeling cold as ice, barren and emotionally exhausted, too tired to care. The son of the president was crouched in front of me, watching me calmly, unashamed or unfazed by his actions. He pulled an envelope from inside his pocket, handing it to me. I didn’t take it.
“I cannot interfere in this matter, but it is not to our interest that things happen as they are fated to happen. And that is why we need you, Fateless One.” The envelope didn’t move.
“Who are you?” I snarled, softly but no less menacingly.
That seemed to amuse him, and he withdrew the envelope “Well, I’m currently the President’s son, it seems.”
“So he is.” He agreed. “He has been since this entire mess started.”
“He’s moving too much for a dead man. You took over his body.” I wasn’t asking a question. I knew, as I was surprisingly lucid, as if the unbearable violence had burned off all the unnecessary extras of tender humanity, leaving only behind the iron will and the coldness of fact.
“I have. I came to him as he died, and I made him mine, and kept him alive until I could meet you and give you this. ” He held the envelope to me again.
“What is this? And why are you giving it to me?” I asked, slowly. Others were experts in finding loopholes in contracts, and possessing a dying human (one who was clearly hell bound for Them to be able of doing it) to meddle indirectly in an affair that They had no dominion over, was so very like Them.
“Because I can’t interfere in this matter. But I can invite you to a ball.” His words were loaded with meaning, and I remembered Tim. They couldn’t interfere, because this was a matter concerning the inhabitants of this Realm. And he was an Other. Like Tim was a Lord – both living here, if they managed to do so, but never really able of making a difference in the long run – that was a privilege only reserved to those who called this their home. Those were the rules.
But like Tim had oriented me towards someone who could tell me the truth, or some of it (a truth he probably knew but couldn’t share), now the Daemon Prince was giving me another piece of the puzzle he could share. An invitation to something that would certainly have a role in whatever was going to happen. I carefully extricated myself from Valen, and took the paper, heavy and rich, with filigree in golden, clearly something very expensive and tasteful. I could feel Valen approaching to embrace me, and I turned abruptly, our eyes meeting. “You have fulfilled your mission. You don’t need to clutter my personal space any more. So stay the hell away from me.”
“I can’t.” he pointed out, softly. “I’m your familiar. Whether you like it or not, we’re bound now.”
“Why did you do it?” I wanted to keep emotion out of my voice, but I didn’t manage to do it that effectively.
He shrugged “We had been looking for you for a while. We needed you to be protected, and I was the first to manage to find you and effectively lure you close to me. The rest of my idiotic brethren was aiming to catch you through your libido. I was the only one—”
“— thinking of catching me through my job.” Smart Valen. I mistrusted romance. He had been the only one realizing how I lived for my work. So this had all been a gambit to get an Other close to me, so they could protect me from the mysterious stranger behind this entire affair, since I possibly could be one of the very last few threats to his nefarious plan, whatever it was.
A guardian demon. The irony was not wasted on me.
I was struggling to get my anger controlled, because I knew I had to think of the bigger picture and the greater good, but old fears had swam back to the surface, stronger than ever. Valen reached for me, but I shirked from his touch. That made him sigh “You know how we are, Camila. When orders were issued to all Earthsiders to try to come close to the Fateless, many tried to cheat in order to be promoted. It’s in our nature. Therefore, your memories had to be checked.” Damn him. As my familiar, he knew my emotions, my stronger memories and thoughts – that was basically how a Master and his familiar communicated. And I could know his, it dawned on me. It was a flimsy revenge, but I took it gladly, and I turned to him, dipping into his consciousness, willing to know his thoughts.
To my unending surprise, I was greeted with concern and tenderness.
Valen cared about me.
He looked at me, darkly, knowing fully well what I was doing but making no move to stop me. I severed our connection hastily, breathless, too stunned. “Stay Earthside for too long” he snarled “and you start becoming human too. It grows on you, like a virus.”
I was about to mutter something, an apology, an excuse, stupidly, because what they had done to me was far worse, that’s me in a nutshell, but then something heavy impacted against the room door, so strongly that I could have sworn I saw dust flying from the hinges. Startled, I instinctively reached for my gun, when I realized someone was desperately banging on the door, screaming something.
“You should let him in, Magi.” Jordan said calmly. “Before he draws too much attention. A worried man in a mission is always a dangerous thing.”
His words would have puzzled me if I hadn’t by then recognized the voice on the other side of the door, although truth be told, I had never heard it laced with such despair.
I opened the door. “Marcus, what is—” he stumbled in, hastily pushing me behind him, facing the two Others. He was dressed for work, in black army fatigues, and bound to have drawn quite some attention if he had made his entrance thought the main door.
“Blessed Father, you’re alright! We’re leaving. Now. And do not listen to anything these liemongers tell you. I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone with him.”
“That is very rude of you…” the smile on Valen’s face was perverse in its sweetness, but I could sense the barely suppressed anger. “…brother.”
“I am not related to any of you, filthy demon scum.”
I couldn’t but help finding this exchange rather curious and intriguing. As if something was being said between the lines that I wasn’t catching.
“I’d beg to disagree, seeing some of us did come from the same place you did… Bene Ha Elohim.”
So did I.
Bene Ha Elohim.
Son of God.
“You know, until you insulted me, lowly soldier, I was content in letting you keep your secret. I knew what you were from the first time we met, but it was not my place to speak, and I’d be content to let you be. This is not about the Great Game. And apparently we were both working on the same side, so it was unimportant that she was aware of your nature.” He nodded to me, then his eyes locked on mine and he was talking to me. “You hate us for what we did? For our deception in order to protect you? Then ask the Host what they did to get close to you. To keep you on their side.”
“I don’t care.” I lied. I did care. I was confused and afraid, but this was a matter of power. If I let myself be swayed by Valen’s words, I would turn on a man I very likely loved. A trusted friend and a fellow hunter. And that I didn’t want to happen, no matter if he was Host or had lied on his resume. Because deep down inside, I hoped that, one day, I could overcome my fear of relationships, and we could stay together, because—
“No.” Valen said darkly. “He doesn’t love you.” I lost it and I jumped him, blindly, foolishly, attempting to claw his eyes out, fighting like a girl, years of training lost in face of overpowering emotions. He had been expecting it, and sidestepped me, grabbed my arm, used my momentum to make me twirl over myself and immobilizing me by wrapping my own arm around my throat. “Ask him. Address him by his ranking name and ask him for an oath of truth.”
Rage distorted Marcus’ features, but he was keeping very still, as if thinking Valen was holding me hostage. His scowl faded as he noticed me looking at him, and mouthed a ‘no’, almost as if begging me not to ask him that.
I inhaled, letting my Sight come to focus, and I could See the word that made him, his Name. So I used it to extract the truth from him.
“Do you love me, Chayyliel of the Elohim?” He was about to answer yes, but I cut his words by not letting him wiggle out with such a broad statement “Like a lover would? Or were you just ordered to come close to me?”
He pressed his lips together, and looked down.
My heart skipped a beat.
A lie. It had all been a lie. I didn’t even need to make him swear under an oath to know that Heaven and Hell were indeed very much alike. Except Heaven apparently had managed to seduce me far better than Hell had.
“So you mean all this time—”
“The Host was always far more skilled than us in seeing things to come and working in long term goals.” The demon prince said softly, somewhere behind me and Valen. “They realized you were the solution far before we did.”
The Host had predicted this entire mess and had placed their pawn in place, close to me, using whatever means they could to ensure I would keep him close. Others or Host, they were the same – ruthless, uncaring, cruel. Because despite everything, the War still went on; even if both sides were united to stop this great evil, they still fought to discredit each other, not caring what did that do to me.
They knew it was me who had to stop this entire mess, but now I had to do it filled with repressed memories and a broken heart.
“Marcus, I’m going to ask you to leave.” My voice was neutral. Grey, Dead. I couldn’t afford fear, or emotions, or grief. Or so I said myself. In truth, I just wanted the pain to be alleviated. I would need a few moments to collect myself, and then I’d do what I always did what I always did when my emotions threatened to overwhelm me. I buried myself in work. I had something bad to stop; then, I was going to go the whole nine yards and dive headfirst into it.
He shook his head. “I can’t. I need you to come with me.”
“I have other things to concern myself with. We will talk at a later time.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not trying to get you to forgive me, or trying to explain.” His words surprised me. “I need you to come with me because we need to head to Headquarters. The Red File… it was called off!”
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."
— Audrey Hepburn