Tuesday, 05 December 2023 01:00

Wedding of the Century

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Heaven and Hell

Wedding of the Century

By E. E. Nalley

 

Despite what anyone might tell you, learning Martial Arts isn’t any kind of fun. Oh, in the movies, everybody and their brother knows some kind of obscure tradition that supposedly takes half a life time to master. Of course it never took them half a life time to do that, and the movies always kind of gloss over all the bumps and bruises between ‘Hey, I wanna kick some ass!’ and ‘Watch it, homes, I know fill in the blank here.’

I’d give anything to be painting a fence or waxing a couple of cars.

As I slid to a stop at the base of a tree in the rather nice forest glade that was evidently the domain of the Arch Angel Michael, General of the Heavenly Hosts, Guardian of Honorable Warfare, Patron of Righteous Soldiers and all around buff dude, we both gave a ragged sigh of disappointment.

I never would have thought Heaven could involve so much pain. “You’re not keeping your focus,” he told me finally as he entered my line of vision as I contemplated the canopy of the magnificent Redwood I was at the base of.

“I’m a lover, not a fighter!” I complained as he helped me to my feet. “Can’t I just get a body guard or something?” The six foot six, blonde, tanned and extremely fit Arch Angel favored me with one of his dazzling smiles before taking advantage of his hold on my hand to flip me across the glade onto my back again.

“No,” he said as I came to a stop once more. “Everyone is in the Army up here, Rebecca, to include our Diplomatic Corps as it were. You may need to defend yourself and its high time you figured out how.”

I scrambled to my feet and tried to keep my distance. “Since when is the after life about going to school?” I demanded as he circled me, working his way closer.

“Where is it written you stop learning when you die?” he wanted to know. “I’m surprised Lilith let you out with no training. Your sisters are formidable fighters. You’ll more than likely run into them and Truce or no, someone might be looking for some pay back.”

“It was my first feeding,” I told him, back peddling and drifting left to counter his slow spiral towards me. “I’d only been dead a week!”

“Yes, I read the report,” he told me as he feinted in one direction and lunged in the other. With a terrified squeak, I leapt skyward, my bat wings pulling me aloft as he passed under me. Once over his head, I planted my feet on his dreamy shoulders and kicked out while my tail, ever one to have a mind of its own, wrapped itself around his leg.

There was a crash behind me as I pirouetted in mid air. Michael was getting up from the ruins of the weapons table I’d just shoved him into, scattering everything from clubs to machine guns across the glade.

Oh dear.

But my worry was unfounded as he was laughing as he got up. “Good!” he complimented me. “Now you’re getting the hang of it. I’m obviously a better fighter than you so you should be looking for a chance to evade and withdraw.”

“Um, I really just panicked and ran,” I told him.

“I said that,” he replied with a chuckle. “Only my way sounds better.” I made a T of my hands as I drifted back to the ground.

“Time out, coach. Can I get a drink of water or something?”

He waved to a bright orange dispenser of the sports drink of champions that had been on one side of the table. I filled the paper cup and drank gratefully. Then, surprised at the wonderfulness of the flavor, refilled it and drank more, savoring the flavor. “Wow! What is this?”

“Water of life,” he replied. “I’m glad you enjoy it.”

That brought a pause to me as I looked up at him. “Um, Michael?”

He wiped at his face with a towel as some of his lieutenants put the table right and began re-organizing the weapons on it. “You can call me Mike, Rebecca. We’re on the same side now.” I felt a blush at his familiarity and a small smile to my face.

“Why am I thirsty? Aren’t I…?”

“Dead? Yes. And for a good while until you really get used to that, you’ll find you keep a lot of your old habits. When you’ve just done something strenuous, you’ll be tired and want to sleep. It’s ok. It’ll pass in a hundred years or so.” He collected up a handgun of some type from the table and removed its magazine before snatching it open and presenting it to me. “Ready for something a little different?”

Sigh. “I guess. I didn’t think you guys would be into guns.”

“Firearms, like any other weapon, are a tool,” he told me. “No one thinks of a screwdriver as evil, do they?” I shook my head. “I can think of a half dozen ways to kill someone with a screwdriver. The tool is merely that, a tool. How it’s used determines its effect. Now, this is a fairly standard semiautomatic pistol. Ever handle something like this?”

“My papa is a banker,” I said with a quiet moment of remorse at the thought of my doubtlessly grieving parents. “He had a Taurus in 9mm and .45 showed me how to use both. It was our father son thing.”

That brought Michael a fair bit of pleasure. “Good, then I shouldn’t have to go over safety, right?”

“Muzzle in a safe direction always, finger out of the trigger guard until I intend to fire, ditto for the safety.” He nodded and presented me with the magazine. A group of targets appeared down the glade away from us.

“Let’s see how you do.”

The first shot brought back some happy memories of days at the range with my papa and brought a smile to my face. But the subsequent shots, while right where I wanted them, had a very strange effect on me. My lips were tingling and my crotch was getting damp. I removed the magazine, which evidently had an endless supply of bullets and placed it on the table. “Mike, something’s wrong!” I gasped.

“No, that’s about what I expected to happen,” he told me.

“Me getting horny?” I demanded to his chuckle.

“It’s a proven fact that firing a pistol, or any fire arm for that matter, generates the same hormonal response in your body as getting kissed. Now, given your rather heightened sense of arousal, I figured that would be your reaction.”

“Now you tell me!”

“I think that will be enough for today,” he said, picking up a complicated holster system from the table and putting the pistol with its two magazines in it. “This will do until we can get you better trained in hand to hand. I don’t want you relying only on this so don’t slouch on your practice exercises. Now, these magazines are mundane bullets and the other are Orachalim. Use them sparingly, they’ll hurt any supernatural creature, but they’re a pain to make. This holster will alter itself to what ever design you might want, and I guarantee no one will figure out you’re carrying concealed when you wear it.”

I gave him a hung as I accepted the gifts, more than a little over awed by this level of generosity. But, being that close to such a hunk of Arch Angel made my present condition a bit worse. He kissed my forehead. “Hit the showers kiddo, and make it a cold one. You’ve got other appointments today.”

“Yes sir!” I teased him, snapping off a salute.

Yeah, a cold shower was just what I needed.

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Once I was presentable once more, Marc’s frighteningly efficient secretary informed me the CEO of Fair Trade was holding court on Earth today. So I hopped a ray of light back down stairs, still more than a little disturbed at my ability to come and go that way to a medium sized building in the business district of Williamsburg. That struck me as an odd place for something as large as Fair Trade to work out of, but I wasn’t going to complain.

George lived in Williamsburg.

Getting to see my, well, truth be told I wasn’t entirely sure what our relationship was per se. But, getting to see my favorite Theology Student was worth the trip all by itself I strolled through the lobby invisible to the Lady’s room where I whipped myself up a nice conservative skirt suit in an eye catching white that off set my dusky skin and ebony hair quite well.

Now that I had a context to be seen in, I let myself become solid and made my way back through the lobby to a bank of elevators. As we weren’t in Heaven any more, I had to wait for one and did so with a bit of a smile on my face at being on Earth once more.

A familiar voice drew my eyes to the security desk in the center of the lobby where I received a pleasant surprise. “I’m here to see a Mr. Marc Angels?” said a somewhat confused George who was dressed in a nice, if slightly out of date off the rack from Sears suit that his new and improved physique was giving him fits over.

I briskly strode over, waving to the guard who was all smiles. “George!” I greeted with a big hug and grin. “It’s alright, Sam, he’s with me.”

“Ok, Miss Estabon. You take him up stairs.”

“Wow,” smiled George as he pulled away from our hug with as much reluctance as I did. “Rebecca, you look great! After I’d seen you last, I was worried.”

I linked my arm in his as I guided him back over to the elevators. “Oh, I got my bell rung for me, but I’m doing alright now. Sorry to have worried you.”

“Would, this be the same Marc who was there?” he asked in a subdued voice. I nodded as I ushered him into the elevator which had arrived.

“It would,” I said, hitting the button for the top floor. “You can speak fairly freely. Most of the people here know who they work for. But, most are also mortal, just like you. Be mindful of anybody in a visitor badge, and you’ll be fine.”

“So, I’m guessing your new job thing went off with out a hitch?” My rear burned a bit in remembered bruising.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but yes I’m officially on the same side as you, now. Which would be why you’re here, my friend. I think the boss has a job offer for you.”

“Have a job,” he responded. “Got one lined up for after school, too. Been accepted as a provisional Priest to, well, I don’t guess the denomination matters, does it?”

I batted my eyelashes at him and was rewarded by the feeling of his heat rate picking up. “Oh? Congratulations. Isn’t there anything that could change your mind?”

The door opening cut off his stuttered attempts at reply as I led him to a nice outer office where Kimiko, Marc’s secretary, was all smiles as she fielded about four calls at once. It was rather disturbing, not only was I not entirely sure just how many hands she actually had, but I’d just left her at Marc’s headquarters in Heaven. I blinked. “You get around, Kimiko.”

“Where ever the boss needs me, Rebecca. Mr. Conner, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Marc is expecting you, so go right in.” I gave George a grin and let him into the inner office which was rather like Marc’s in heaven. Just lavish enough, just restrained enough and while it wasn’t dominated by the painting of Christ and the money changers like his heavenly office was; it wasn’t exactly secular either.

He rose and circled his desk, extending his hand as he did so. “Reverend Conner, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m guessing you already know our Rebecca?”

“The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Angels,” replied George with some weight. “And it’s not Reverend just yet.”

“Of course, and my name is Marc. Won’t you sit down?” There were a few minutes of chit chat to get out of the way before the real business of the meeting could get under way.

During which, I learned that George, with Marc’s help, had gotten Cutter, who was now Cathy officially recognized as his little sister, of whom he was legal guardian I was touched by the stories of how he had thrown himself at the demons who had attacked me outside Neutral Grounds, having to be restrained by Michael himself. I didn’t think I’d made that kind of impression. “So,” drawled Marc now that the recap was over with and he could politely get to the meat of the meeting. “Michael was very impressed by how you handled yourself, George. He tells me he hasn’t had that kind of difficulty holding onto someone in the better part of a thousand years.”

“He’s very generous to say that,” laughed George. “As I recall, he said sit and I asked ‘where?’.”

“Well, the particulars don’t matter, but if our Mike sees real talent of a Soldier of God in someone, well, I defer to the experts. We were wondering if you’d be interested in a position of a bit more responsibility with in the firm as it were?”

George squirmed in his seat a bit. “I swore a number of years ago to be and do what the Master had need of, Marc. My position there hasn’t changed. I do however feel that I can best serve our collective Boss by just spreading the Gospel to every ear who will listen.”

“A man should know his limitations,” agreed Marc. “See, it’s just this, we prefer to work as closely as possibly with something of a Veil of Secrecy down here. Your knowledge of the Truth of things puts us in a rather awkward situation. I understand that you experienced some changes after being, ahem, intimate with Rebecca?”

“That’s right, I seemed to be significantly stronger after Rebecca and I made love, you’re correct.” Marc beamed.

“Glad to hear Rafe’s efforts in reclaiming our dominion there is going well.”

“Sir?” asked George quizzically, but Marc just waved off the point as unimportant.

“George, my friend, I want you to understand you have Free Will. You can tell me no to what I’m about to offer, but before you make your mind up, I would like you to consider things rather carefully. Will you promise me that?”

The Preacher considered a long moment before nodding thoughtfully. “Alright.”

I could see the tendril of his word float between the two, binding promise to keeper. It’s amazing the things you learn when you switch sides. Marc cleared his throat carefully. “George, what you experienced with Rebecca is somewhat unprecedented. When a succubus makes the transition to Bright Lilim…”

“I’m sorry, what?” interrupted George. Marc was all smiles.

“Rebecca is now what is considered a Bright Lilim. That’s a rather adroit way of saying a Redeemed Succubus. But, we don’t have a lot of experience as to what happens when this takes place. In all of history, Rebecca is only the third Bright Lilim. And the other two occurred during the Active Phase of the War. I’m afraid they didn’t last very long.”

That gave me a moment of pause. Maybe this job wouldn’t be all sweetness and light after all. I was sure there were more than Ursula and Lilith whose feathers I’d ruffled.

“We don’t honestly know why you were strengthened by allowing her to feed off of you,” continued Marc. “But, we do know what it is she fed on.”

“You don’t know?” asked a rather amused George.

“Well, of course He does, but, He’s been content to take something of a hands off view of things for a while. He can afford to. In any event, what Rebecca fed on was the Temptations that you probably weren’t even aware you’d been carrying around.”

“That would make sense,” agreed George. “Being an agent of Temptation, Rebecca would have a unique understanding of where they were and how they work.”

“They taste good, too,” I couldn’t help but interject with a grin.

Marc’s smile was indulgent. “The odd thing is, we’ve done some experimenting and the process hasn’t been repeated. While that’s a good thing, we wouldn’t want to have to adjust reality to explain a sudden up turn in fitness down here, it does make you unique. It wasn’t just your body that was strengthened, George; your soul became stronger as well. That makes you a valuable commodity.”

George was thoughtful and more than a tad guarded. “Yes, I can see how the Other Side would desire to try to turn me.”

“Oh, don’t worry there,” I told him, holding up my left hand which glowed softly with my Mark, causing the corresponding sigil of my ownership, for lack of a better word, on his ring finger to glow a bit more brightly. “They can’t turn you so long as you wear my sigil.”

“But they can kill you,” concluded Marc. “We’re worried about that, George. We’d like for you to consider coming a bit deeper into the fold, acting as one of our Field Agents here on Earth. That would allow us to be a bit more direct in aiding you, as well as some training that, unfortunately, you’re probably going to need.”

“And you’ll get to work closely with me,” I intimated to him, shamelessly making him aware of the assets of such an arraignment.

“You and Rebecca do seem to work well together,” agreed Marc. “And you can accomplish considerably more good to everyone this way. If you’ll agree?”

George sighed softly. “I will consider it. Is there a time constraint here?”

Marc spread his hands in a helpless gesture. “Sooner is always better I’m afraid. I know this is a big decision and you two have a plane to catch and a wedding to attend. Can I expect your answer after?”

George nodded thoughtfully before he turned back to me. “You have a place to stay before we leave?” My grin let him know my answer.

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I could see how grateful George was to be free of the building as the tie to his suit was gone before we reached his car, a tired, but well loved Honda Accord. “So, you work for him?” he asked as we walked, pulling off the jacket as well, taking care to hang both up on a hanger he had with him in the back seat.

“I work with him,” I answered with a slight emphasis. “Like he said, there hasn’t been one of me in a while. They’re not entirely sure what to do with me.” He opened my door for me with a kiss of my hand as he helped me in.

“How very un-imaginative of them,” he chuckled as I got my skirt settled and let him shut the door. As he clamored in on his side he paused in the buckling of seat belts and preparing to start the car. “He seems like an alright sort.”

“He is an Arch Angel, dear,” I supplied.

The Accord started on the second try with much coughing and sputtering. “Do you know what kind of ‘Field Work’ he’s talking about?” George asked finally as he backed out of the space and got us headed to his apartment.

“Well, like he said, there is a Truce, but there is some fighting. Probably we’d be working most directly with Michael. I’m training under him now.”

He winced. “Yes, you did seem to need a pointer or two there. Funny, I’d always thought of Succubae as being, pardon the pun, hellacious fighters.”

“I’m learning,” I chuckled in my own defense. “I’m still very new at this.”

“That makes two of us.”

We rode in silence for a few minutes as he maneuvered the car onto the Interstate to head back to his side of town. Once he’d done that he spared me a glance as I enjoyed the sunshine and the feeling of being sort of alive again. “I’m really glad you’re alright.” I favored him with one of my soon to be patented heart melting smiles.

“Thank you.”

“At the risk of pressing my luck, I wonder if I might impose on you for something of a favor?” I felt a smirk pull at the corner of my bee stung lips, but didn’t answer. Feeling his way over the thin ice he continued. “Well, Cathy has been something of a handful. The language thing has cleared up, but, she seems to be having trouble adjusting to her new situation. I caught her smoking the other day. Lord knows where she got the cigarettes, let alone the lighter. I was hoping that, perhaps you could…”

He trailed off uncertainly as I let the chuckle that had been worming its way up my throat escape. “Put the fear of God into her?”

“Well, maybe not that extreme, but something. I have to be gone most of the day and I guess I worry by nature.”

“Seeing as how I saddled you with her, I suppose that’s the least I can do. I was hoping that just going through this would set her straight, but maybe Baal had his hooks into her stronger than I thought. I do have an idea, though. I’ll need to get some help; can I meet you at your place?”

“Sure,” he agreed. “Any help would be a blessing and you’re always welcome.”

That brought a very pleased smile to my face as I kissed his cheek and let my context for the world drop. The Honda passed through me as I winged my way Heaven word once more.

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I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the commotion of what appears to be a succubus arriving in Heaven, halo or no. The pointing and the whispering is ok, you learn to ignore it, but the shrinking away as if I’m here for Hell’s due does take it’s toll.

At least Saint Peter could always be counted on for a smile and wave of welcome. “Rebecca, back so soon?” The soul he had been dealing with shrank away a bit. I counted to five before flashing him what I hoped was a friendly smile.

“Relax mi amigo; I’m not here for you. I work here.” The relief on the soul’s face was palpable.

“So,” asked Peter with a smile. “What can I do for my favorite Bright Lilim?”

“How many Bright Lilim do you know?” I asked.

“You make three.”

Ah. “Well, I’m looking for Blandine. You seen her? Or should I just head over to the March of Dreams?” The Saint considered this for a moment.

“Actually, it’s good you stopped, I just saw her not too long ago with Michael. I think they were headed to the Hall of Justice.”

I felt an involuntary shudder pass through me the concept of going to Dominique’s headquarters. Nice enough lady, but scary. I think it had to do with her and the unblinking Eyes of Justice thing. I forced a smile of thanks as Peter got back to work sorting out the arriving souls as I winged over to the stronghold of the Inquisition.

Despite the corny name, (and yes this place had been around a long time before the cartoon), the Hall of Justice wasn’t done up in some kind of Post Modern anything. It was a classic stone and mortar fortress, complete with the draw bridge and moat. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, everyone here can fly.

The central tower of the place was evidently Dominique’s office so I stopped at the base of it to the general un-amusement of the two Elohim that were standing guard there. Clang went there spears over the door in fine B Movie fashion. “What is your business here, Succubus?” demanded the leader.

Sigh. In every organization there’s always somebody who doesn’t get the memo.

“I’m here looking for Blandine, Arch Angel of Dreams for two and I’m not a Succubus for one.” I pointed at the halo over my head. “See? This isn’t exactly a party favor.” The two traded glances but the spears didn’t move. “Aw, come on, guys, it’s not like I can lie to you, with out you noticing anyways.”

“Wait, I’ll call for the Chief of the Watch,” ordered the first, an ok looking type really in that swarthy, Mediterranean boy becoming a man way, right down to the thick curly hair. I was going to settle in to wait, but, as it is want to do, my subconscious reached out and grabbed the two of them by their lower brains.

Realizing what I was doing I gave a mental shrug. Hey, it beat waiting for the Chief of the Watch. “Come on, boys, I’m in a terrible hurry. There’s a memo circulating about me, I swear,” which I annunciated with a flick of my tail that did interesting things to my rear. “Cut a girl a break, won’t you?”

“Well…” drawled out the leader, even as the spears sort of drifted apart.

“Not keeping a very good watch, are we?” demanded the stern intonations of Mike as he rounded the corner with Dominique and the very angel I needed, Blandine.

The Elohim snapped to stiff attention, the lesser pointing his spear at me. Mike waved them off as I gave him a hug. “Bit late for that. Really Dom, you’re slipping. I thought everybody got that memo.”

The Arch Angel of Justice’s unblinking eyes stared down Mike. “Got? Yes. Am I responsible for making them read it too?” she demanded, a bit crossly. “And you, young lady,” she said, turning that stare on me. “Just why were you trying to wiggle your way past my guards?”

“Well, actually, I was looking for Blandine,” I said, truthfully. Blandine, a tall, winnowy Angel with hair and skin that seemed more than a touch gray, favored me with an amused expression. “I need a favor if I could?”

“Did I give you the misunderstanding we were finished?” asked Dominique. I let out a squeak and hid a bit behind Mike. “Why are you looking for Blandine and do you think that in any way let’s you off the hook for trying to striptease your way into my headquarters?”

“I’m still fully clothed!” I protested.

“Pity,” she commented to a choked exclamation from my more than human shield.

“Dom!” he exclaimed in shock. “Was that a joke?”

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As I came into solidity once more in the World of Men, a felt a goofy grin pull at my mouth. The door to George’s apartment was before me and rather than the intense feeling of Go Away I’d felt on my first visit, the place seemed to be begging for me to come in. “I’m here,” I whispered to the sigil on my hand, knowing he would hear me no matter where we were.

I did a lot more smiling on this side, I realized. Guess that made this the right choice. From beyond the door I heard his voice ask Cathy, former Pimp who had gone by the street handle of Cutter, to open the door. It swung aside as the curiosity on her face settled into annoyed displeasure. “What are you doing here?” she demanded angrily.

I crossed the threshold, much to her surprised dismay. “I’m here to see a great friend and ally of my Masters,” I told her darkly. I let my wings and tail loose from their confinement with a sigh of relaxation.

“G…get lost!” she stammered. “You don’t own me!”

“Oh?” I asked, tracing the faded lines of Baal’s mark on her forehead with my finger. “Is that a fact? I haven’t heard anything about a new name being added to the Book of Life upstairs. I don’t recall any of the Arch Angels going on and on about a young soldier of God living here. Other than George that is.”

Her lips began to tremble in that little girl about to explode into tears way that really tugged at my heart. Or, what I labeled my heart anyway. Come to think of it, I did wonder how the mechanics of this new Glorified body of mine worked. Never the less, I steeled my resolve; this was what Tough Love was all about.

“George!” she squalled, bursting into tears and fleeing to hide behind him. My mind recalled by own use of Mike for the same purpose not too long ago. I shut the door and draped my wings, cape like, over my shoulders.

“Rebecca!” said George with sufficient put on surprise that I don’t think Cathy picked up on it. “I didn’t expect you, like this…?”

I shrugged. “Would it help if I appeared in a ball of fire and sulfurous smoke?”

“No, the smell would take forever to get out and probably set off the fire alarm.” He sighed with put on resolve. “Are you here for her, then?”

“In the morning,” I told him. “You don’t mind if I hang around till then, do you?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

He considered this, before turning to Cathy. “Well, what would you like for your last meal?” Cathy’s cries became a torrent as she fled to her bedroom and slammed the door. I hastily built a ward around the windows, making sure she couldn’t run, but she didn’t intend on running. She’d thrown herself on her bed and was crying her eyes out.

George went to go and comfort her but stopped when I tugged at my sigil. Looking at me, I shook my head. “It’s called tough love for a reason.” He sighed and shook his head. “It’ll be over soon. And if this doesn’t work, George, I dunno what will.”

“Here’s hoping.”

I whispered a song of sleep I let weave it’s way around Cathy’s form and felt her nearly instantly drift away to the March of Dreams. The rest was in Blandine’s hands.

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The night passed with supernatural speed to Cathy. It seemed like she’d barely let her eye lids droop shut before a tall, gray lady with gray feathered wings was lifting her from her bed, and she was there, looking hungry and terrible. “Come, Cathy,” the gray lady told her. “It’s time.”

Cathy turned to flee, to find herself face to face with her body, lying on the bed. “Noooo!” she wailed.

“It’s too late for that now,” the Demoness growled in her inhuman voice. “You had your chance to change.”

“But….but…” she stammered.

“But what?” asked the Gray Angel softly. “Did you give a moments thought of repentance after the grace you received? Did you at all dwell on the waste you life has been?”

“I was going to!” cried Cathy.

“This is why we’ll win,” chuckled the Demoness. “They’re so lazy.”

“I won’t go with you!” Cathy shouted as she tried to grab a hold of the gray angel. To her dismay, her hands passed through her, even as a smoky leash snaked its way from the Demoness to her throat. A vicious yank pulled her to the succubus’ side.

“You don’t get a choice any more,” she hissed. “Maybe I’ll hand you over to Lilith and you can get a taste of what being a whore is really like?” The ground didn’t want to support her anymore and they were sinking through it down and down as it became hotter and more oppressive by the second before they arrived an archway that seemed to be made of human skulls.

Abandon all hope, O ye who enter here.

“Here we are, Cutter, home sweet home.” She walked forward, dragging her by the leash past the line of souls being whipped through it by nightmares given form. “Don’t worry, after a hundred years or so, you’ll get used to the wails of agony.”

“Pp…please,” begged Cathy, “Can’t I…”

She wheeled on her with inhuman fury. “What? Have another chance?” she shrieked. “I gave you another chance! You wasted it, just like everything else in your life. You want to know what your boss, Baal, is like? He’s a load of laughs. He can play a symphony with a knife and a human body. Each cut causing just the right squeal of pain. You should have seen what he did to me. I spent a week getting gang raped by him and his men. Oh, too bad you missed that, huh? Probably the first piece of ass they got in a couple of thousand years.”

“I’ll change! I swear!” sobbed Cathy. “Don’t make me stay here!”

“I don’t make you stay here,” the Demoness snarled. “You do. I’m not even here any more. I work upstairs. Bringing you is just doing the Boss a favor. What does He care about a pimp who beat his girls?

“Bring me my prey,” intoned the horrific sight of Baal as the ground itself shook as he walked up.

“No! No! NOOOOO!”

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I watched her snap awake, terrified as I floated above her. Remind me to never tick you off, Blandine, I thought to her, shuddering in remembrance of my week with Baal.

I will, she thought back to me. For now, I had a scared little girl to comfort, while making sure she got the message. She saw me as I settled to the ground, shrinking away in terror. “Yeah, THAT was a dream. YOU can wake up. But there are millions who CANT."

The tearful floodgates opened. “Why won’t you freaks leave me alone?” she balled. I gathered her into a hug of both my arms and wings, letting the comfort of the Divine flow through me into her. She’s seen the stick. Now was the time for some carrot.

“Because we love you, Cathy. And we’re afraid for you. That awful place exists and if you keep going like you’re doing now you’ll see it! And it won’t be a dream then. And you won’t wake up from it.”

She cried for a long time into my breast and I felt a strange sensation come over me. A mixture of this must be what motherhood is like added with a very generous helping of you won’t ever feel it. My tail fetched me the box of tissue from her night stand and offered her one. She blew with a strength that would have made Mike proud.

“Is it all true?” she asked finally, looking up in my face. “Did they…?”

“Yes. Constantly. There’s no sleep there, no passing out because you can’t take it any more. Do you know why? Do you wantto know why I was given to them?” She considered this for a moment and then forced a nod. “The Princess of Hell that owned me is named Lilith. I didn’t call her mother with the proper respect and speed she wanted. Now, if something as trivial as that rates what happened to me, think about what happens when you reallymake them mad.”

“But, you’re not…” I shook my head.

“Nope, I redeemed myself.” I kicked the halo back a bit on my head like a hat. “Apprentice Angel First Class Rebecca, at your service. I’ve got an ID somewhere.” We shared a girlish giggle for a moment. “That’s what I’m trying to do for you, Cathy. Get your act together. Listen to George and mind what he tells you. You couldn’t ask for a better guardian. I can see his soul so I can say that with some authority.”

She sighed. “I’ll try…”

I cranked up my best green Muppet impersonation. “Try not! Do! Or Do not. There is no try.”

“Well, if they let you in,” she told me playfully. I creamed her with a pillow and it just got sloppy from there.

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Once I’d gotten Cathy asleep once more, with a heartfelt thanks to Blandine who assured me she’d have some pleasant dreams for the rest of the night, I walked out to find George waiting anxiously for me. I favored him with a tired grin that made him sweep me into his arms and that felt heavenly. “Well?” asked as we broke from our kiss. “How did it go?”

“I think she got the message,” I told him hesitantly. “The rest is up to her.” He reached down and literally swept me off my feet. “Why, Mr. Conner!” I exclaimed with a grin, even as my tail wrapped around him. “What ever could be on your mind?”

“Oh, I don’t know, how about a quiet evening of Bible Study and heartfelt prayer?”

“How about I introduce you to the joys of one of the Greatest Gifts of Heaven; Sex?” He grinned.

“That works too.”

It took him a bit longer than I to return to how he’d been created, but then I have a perk or two there. With a thought I was nude as he struggled to match me. Our first coupling didn’t give us a lot of time for foreplay. I’d missed the preacher terribly, and he’d been worried out of his mind over me. So as he had his way with me, I let myself into his soul, seeing what I could snack on while enjoying his ministrations immensely.

There, I found a couple of small Temptations, nothing major; not that I expected there to be any. What did surprise me was a little shadow of Baal whispering to him that what Cathy needed was a couple of swift lessons of the Rod of Correctness. It have me great pleasure to devour the little shadow and free his soul from that particular torment.

Beyond him I found a couple of fleeting worries that by enjoying the intimacy with me he was somehow opening himself to a life of depraved lust. They added to my snack even as I let the Joy of the Gift reassure him that the physical display of Love was a Gift from on high.

The thought of pleasing both me and his Master brought on his first orgasm as I was satisfied that was the limit of what I could snack on from him. That just left enjoying the act of how I’d done my snooping.

Not to give the impression that George had been less than wonderful in our first encounter, but now, able to compare the old, mousy George and this new, improved, bigger model, I have to say I’ll pick this. I guess size really does matter.

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I awoke to the muted strains of Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus and the wonderful smell of bacon and eggs drifting from the kitchen. While George wasn’t in the bed as I sat up and stretched, I had hardly woken alone. The feeling of the Boss was everywhere in the room. I could finally get what he had said in our last conversation here and it was a very comfortable feeling. I gathered up the jeans and the College of William and Mary Theology School sweatshirt I’d last worn here he’d left out and pulled them on.

A glance at the bed and it made itself as my gift to him. My hair was in a fashion that could only be called, rode hard, put away wet and just woke up. I didn’t fix it as there wasn’t any sense in rubbing Cathy’s nose in the perks of the job. I followed my nose out to the dinette of the apartment, content to go through the motions of breakfast to keep them company.

“Morning, sleepy head,” teased George from his labors in the kitchen. “Were you going to sleep the day away?” I yawned as I accepted a mug of coffee from Cathy with a smile.

“Nope, just enjoying the quiet,” I told him before turning back to Cathy. “Better dreams last night?” She nodded with a grave expression beyond the years of her tiny body.

“How do I make up for what I’ve done?” she asked quietly.

“I have a good friend coming who might be able to help you with that,” I replied pausing to take a sip and was surprised at the mix of flavors and energy within the coffee.

“What?” asked George. “Is it bad?”

I nearly choked shaking my head. “No! It’s great! I’m just surprised is all.”

He shrugged as he brought over mine and Cathy’s plates before going back to fetch his own. “Well, that doesn’t surprise me too much. Seems like we went over a Cabbalistic text a semester or two ago that mentioned something about that. The Damned can only feed on what ever specific aspect of purity they seek to pervert. But, Angels, being created by and of God can enjoy the entire works of His creation. I’d have to dig to get the exact quote.”

I waved him off as I salted my eggs from habit. “That’s close enough for me. This smells so good, George!”

“Who is this friend of yours that’s coming?” she interrupted hesitantly.

“Raphael, Arch Angel of Mercy,” I told her. “Technically, I suppose she would be my boss. She’s in charge of the other Angel I work with, Joy, so I’ll probably end up working for her. She agreed to baby sit you while we were away at the wedding.”

Just a hint of the old Cutter came out in her frown of displeasure. “I’m not a baby and I don’t need a sitter.”

“You’re also legally ten and George can go to jail for neglecting you,” I reminded her. “You want to take your chances as a ward of the State?” She shook her head vigorously. “Good. Besides, you’ll like Rafe. Everybodylikes her.”

“I went to get my passport,” said George as he returned to the table and I was enjoying his eggs with gusto. “But the people told me there was no way I could get one in time.”

“Look in my purse,” I told him around a most unladylike mouthful. He turned and dug into the black leather shoulder bag that was hanging on the back of his chair, removing a Passport, round trip 1stClass tickets and the other documents of our travel. “Courtesy of Marc,” I managed around a sip of coffee. “Working for us doeshave its perks.”

“So I’m learning,” he said with a grin. He opened the passport to find a very flattering portrait of himself staring out at him. Finally he closed it and caught my eye.

“This isn’t illegal, is it?” I nearly snorted coffee through my nose.

“Are you really asking that question?” I asked in a laugh. “No, it’s not illegal, just miraculous. Marc has his way bureaucracies.” The doorbell rang interrupting further discussion of the technical aspects of the modern miracle. Being closest, I got the door to find Raphael, resplendent in her loud silk sarong and a travel bag tucked over one shoulder. “Hey boss,” I greeted as I stood aside so she could enter. “Thanks for picking up this on short notice.”

Her eyes took in my hair as she worked her fingers through it, making very little real difference in its appearance. “Have we been putting in overtime, Rebecca?” she asked with a smile.

“Some; can’t help being a workaholic in this job,” I agreed with a smile. George had stood and presented his hand that she batted aside to sweep him into one of her overpowering full body hugs. “None of that formal pish posh, George,” she chided as he got his breath back. “And you must be Cathy,” she said turning to the little girl torn between glee and fear of the new comer. “Think nothing of it, Rebecca,” Raphael told me as she worked her way back to the beginning of the conversation. “I haven’t had a real vacation in a long time and I hear Disney is lovely this time of year.”

Cathy’s smile was guarded. “I…I’ve always wanted to go there, but that’s for kids.”

“You are a kid, dear,” assured Raphael. “Time you learned to enjoy the perks of starting over. I think you’ve had enough of the punishments of it, yes?” Cathy nodded vigorously. Rafe’s eyes sought me making mine seek my toes. “Giving bad dreams to little girls, what were you thinking, Rebecca?”

“It…seemed like a good idea at the time…” I stammered.

Rafe said nothing out loud, but her mind told me, It was dear, just showing Cathy whose side I’m on.

Yes ma’am.

“Now,” she declared with a wave at the table which instantly cleaned itself. “You two have a plane to catch, if I’m not mistaken. But you won’t go anywhere looking like that my girl.” I looked down to see the stylish and flirty sundress she’d dressed me in and knew both hair and make up matched it. George’s jeans had been replaced by some comfy looking Dockers and a polo shirt of forest green that played up that magnificent chest of his. “Shoo!” she ordered. “Time for the grown ups to get going! We children are going to have some fun.” George and I were swept out of his apartment with bags that were suddenly packed and ready before the door was rather firmly closed in our collective face.

His low laugh brought my eyes to him. “Is she always that forceful?

“Oh no,” I told him. “Usually it’s much worse.”

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A twelve hour flight is a twelve hour flight. Feel free to include whatever details you need to. And, yes, George is a new member of the Mile High Club.

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Edinburgh International Airport was having a rare day. The crowds were light, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to be in Scotland. Doubtless, the post card photographers were working overtime gathering a new crop of images for the next batch of their trade. Our bags were collected with less than the usual fuss and a Driver was waiting for us with quiet patience holding a placard with our names on it. “I’m George Conner,” he greeted the driver somewhat uncertainly. He tipped his cap and answered in a pleasant baritone of the local burr.

“Yes sir, Miss Plantard-Saint Clair and Mr. Stewart send their greetings. If you’ll follow me, I’ll conduct you to them.”

I nodded to the Elohim who was guarding the driver invisibly who returned my greeting and followed us to the waiting limousine. There, a contingent of his brothers and sisters in arms were standing about, one for each of the security detail The driver held the door for us as we slid in to the amused expression of Laurence, General of the Heavenly host. “Fine afternoon, isn’t it?” he greeted as we got ourselves comfortable in the back. A touch of the control brought the partition up between us and the driver.

“Is..this normal?” asked George after a moment.

“Not usually, but this is something of a big deal.” The Arch Angel extended his hand. “Lawrence, CEO of Elohim Security Specialists. Among other titles.”

“So the guards out there?” I asked as the limo pulled off the curb and began to cruise.

“Are mostly aware of their Heavenly Partners. Better safe than sorry. After a certain someone made us aware of how sensitive this particular point of History was, we decided to step things up a notch or two.”

“Well, I can certainly say I’m impressed,” replied George. “All this for a simple, mundane marriage?” Lawrence spread his hands in a ‘what can you do?’ gesture. “I suppose I should feel safer then.”

“Well, I wouldn’t worry, but I don’t think I’d relax either. No telling if the Other Side will try some thing, despite our precautions.”

We rode in silence for several minutes, looking at what few sights there were to see. Edinburgh, like most European cities, was big, dirty for the most part and sprawled in the way only a town better than a thousand years old could. Still, the nicer parts of it we rode through were quite nice, in a well to do suburbia kind of way. Lawrence passed the time flipping through a magazine. Finally we pulled to a stop at a house I knew well.

The front door had been repaired, but you never forget the place where you defy Hell itself. The Plantard-St Clair Manner was bustling with activity in a quietly ordered kind of way. The driver got out and opened my door. “You’ll be staying here,” supplied Laurence. “Tradition I’m afraid. George and I will be down at Stewart Hall.”

I pouted, but there really wasn’t anything else for it. I’ll miss you, I projected to into the sigil to George. He held up his hand and kissed his ring finger.

I’ll be as close as a thought.

Then I was swept into the energetic hug of Elisabeth, the new bride to be. “You came!” she exclaimed as the Driver worked out which of the bags was mine. “I’m so glad you’re alright! We were worried sick! That wonderful Mr. Marc assured us you’d pull through, but still, we hadn’t heard.”

The smile that pulled at my lips wasn’t at all forced as I returned her hug. “I couldn’t miss this, now could I?” I asked her, nodding to the driver as he passed, having turned my things over to one of her houses staff. I couldn’t help watching the limo drive away for a moment, rather confused thoughts rumbling in my mind. Once it was out of sight, I turned once more to my hostess. “I see you’re adjusting well,” I commented.

She blushed sweetly. “Well, one does what one must for one’s country. This is actually working to our advantage, your elegant solution.”

I felt my eyebrow climb my face. “Oh?”

“Yes, Gregory is native Scott you know, of the House of the Kings of Scotland.”

“What does his linage have to do with the cosmic switcheroo that got played on you two?” I asked.

“I’m French,” she told me. My being King of Scotland would have been a hard hill to climb. Now, I’m the blushing (in more ways than one let me tell you!) bride and Greg will be the King. Much easier for the locals to swallow.” I shared a wicked wink with her as we followed her people inside.

“You’ll be swallowing a bit there too, my pet, and take it from me, that’s a good thing.”

She turned a bit queasy at the mention of her martial obligations but it only took about ten minutes of reassurances about how much better she had it for that to pass.

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Once I’d gotten settled in my rooms Elisabeth had decided she wanted to spend the afternoon riding, so we were taken to a lovely Equestrian Park on the outskirts of town. Her horse was a rather spirited Stallion who was a brilliant white that made me more than a touch nervous. They found me a nice, docile mare for my first time and we made our way out onto the trail.

Our escort, both a burly looking gentleman with plastic in his ear and several not quite natural bulges and an amused female Elohim kept their distance so we could talk, but their attention never flagged. “So,” Elisabeth started once we’d gotten free of the prying ears. “What can you tell me about it?”

“What?” I asked, a bit torn between trying to find a comfortable way to sit in an English saddle with a tail and my fear of the mare deciding to take advantage of my inexperience.

“Heaven, of course!” she told me with great enthusiasm. “To have the question answered still raises so many more! Is really just all clouds or is the sun always shining? Do you need to eat? What about sleeping? And you musttell me what He is like!”

“Whoa,” I started but the mare took that to mean I wanted her to stop and did so. It took me a second to get her going again. Elisabeth was more than a touch amused at my problems. “Well, slow down at least,” I told her once the mare was going once more. “Um, parts of it seem to be made of clouds, other parts just seem like really nice places on Earth. This park is like portions of it. You can always see the sun if you want to, but if you want to sleep it gets dark. As I understand it, you don’t need to eat or sleep, but the habit takes a while to break.”

“Amazing,” she whispered in reverent awe. “And?”

“What? Oh, well, what can I add to the existing descriptions? He’s, well, he’s great. Kind, loving of course, and he’s got a great sense of humor. He really makes me feel welcome, but I don’t get to see Him very much. I’m pretty busy training for work.”

“Training? Work?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m an Angel now. So there’s all kinds of training involved. Self Defense, diplomacy, magic, that kind of thing.”

“So, would you be myGuardian Angel?” she asked softly. I shook my head.

“Not my department. Besides, you’ve already got one. I work for Raphael, the Arch Angel of Mercy. Mostly I’m helping her reclaim sex for the One on High.”

Her face dripped disbelief. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Not only am I eminently qualified, but Sex is one of the Great Gifts you know. The Other Side made a great victory out of getting mortals thinking it’s dirty. It’s not! That is, after all, how you came to be here, you know.” We rode in silence for a few minutes before she sighed.

“I’m terrified of it,” she admitted.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, think about it! He’ll be inside me and now I’m expected to give him an heir. Rebecca, I don’t think I can!” I rolled my eyes.

“Elisabeth, I was born Ricardo Manuel Estabon. I spent a week being gang raped by demons. So I feel I can tell you this with great authority.” She nodded, interested. “Miel, you have it good. I went to Hell because I slept around without a thought of consequence or real feeling about any of the women I was with. I broke up two marriages that I know of, talked a girl into getting an abortion because it wasn’t convenient for me until I finally slept with the wrong girl and got killed for it.”

“Wow,” she whispered.

“Yeah,” I said, with more than a touch of shame. I knew I’d been forgiven, but the regret of what I’d done I don’t think I’ll ever get over. “So, let me tell you about how wonderful sex as a woman is. Well, you know how it is a man. Have you touched yourself yet?” She shook her head, more than a bit embarrassed about the directness of my question. I sighed. “When we get back I want you to go straight to you room and masturbate for an hour. Don’t come out until you have. Then maybe you’ll understand how I can enjoy my work so much.”

“But…” she started.

“No buts, mi novia. Now, on top of how spectacular it feels, you’ll get to experience what I’ll wonder about for eternity. You’ll get to be a mother, Elisabeth! You’ll create life! You can’t know how much I’ll wish I could and won’t. Enjoy this, Beth!”

“If you’re going to call me Beth, then I’m afraid I shall have to call you Becky,” she told me with a sardonic smile.

“Right you are, Elisabeth.”

We shared a giggle then a few companionable moments of silence. “So,” I started as I enjoyed the lush beauty of the park. “When do you guys get crowned?”

“Well,” she laughed. “There’s the little details of making Scotland completely independent, convincing parliament that the monarchy should be re-instated and who that person should be, but hopefully before a century or two goes by.”

“Oh.” I paused for a breath and caught the twinkle in her eye. “You...want I should talk to Marc and see who’s in charge of that sort of thing to see about getting the process speeded up?”

“Would you?”

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“No!” said Marc with great finality. “Absolutely not! Out of the question!” It wasn’t that he was angry, a bit surprised by my request, but I don’t think anger was an emotion he could really feel.

“But, Marc,” I started.

“No buts, Rebecca!” he scolded me. “Lilith, your erstwhile Mother is on a shelf because she didn’t think through the consequences of interfering down there. Free Will is something the Boss is very adamant about. We will not interfere with the self determination of what goes on down there.”

“We do that every day, Marc,” I chided him. “You employ, what? Ten, twenty thousand mortals in your organization down there? And that famine relief you orchestrated in Rwanda, how was that not interfering?”

“Convincing someone that they can make a profit and a difference has nothing to do with purposefully manipulating the destinies of not one but two countries. Do you know the kind of leverage Mammon could assert if word got out that I helped you bring about the independence of Scotland? Oh, and let’s not forget pulling sufficient strings to make sure the descendents of the Savior Himself are king and queen!”

We stared at each other a bit, neither one of us wanting to back down as I worked furiously for a way to get him to see things my way without compromising his own well entrenched ethics and morals. “It’s not like I have to go into what kind of good we could spread down there if someone so on our side were in a position of real authority down there,” I told him while subtly rearranging the hem of my skirt above my knee and re-crossing my legs.

He swallowed and shook his head, trying to clear it. “It’s also not required of me to spell out what a disaster it would be if the Truce fell apart because of something we did.”

I sent a bit of my subconscious drifting along the floor and under his desk to toy with his ankles. “Yes,” I agreed, “that would be the worst case scenario. But, surely if we were careful and made certain we didn’t do anything untoward or in express violation of the Truce, if the People of Scotland decided they really wanted to be free and have their old House of Kings restored, that’s not our fault, now is it?”

He squirmed a bit under my expert tickling of his libido. “And exactly how do we accomplish all that?” he demanded.

“Well, you have all kinds of telecommunications and broadcasting firms in your organization. What could be more newsworthy than the chance of Scotland’s Independence? And the news is always so depressing, full of the evil men inflict on each other. Here’s a nice, wholesome couple, trained from birth to take the reigns of power not as a privilege but a duty and obligation. A sacred trust of the people. Think how enriching that kind of news could be to some people with little hope or faith in their governments?” I felt a certain portion of his anatomy start to swell and backed off ever so slightly in my tendrils through him.

I didn’t want him wildly horny. Just a bit more receptive to my argument. He played with his chin for a moment. “I don’t suppose a little positive PR could be considered a violation of the Truce. Mammon is fond of that kind of thing anyway.” Feeling my oats, I ever so slightly shifted in my chair to play up my bosom from his vantage point.

“Sure! And perhaps a few firms you do business with could be made to understand how much easier certain things might be if they were based out of an Independent Scotland. Their lobbying of the Scottish Parliament would be an act of Free Will then.”

“Don’t push your luck,” he said with a chuckle. “So, if I’m going to do this, what are the blushing couple going to offer in return?” I blinked in dumbfoundedness. “Nothing is free, Rebecca,” he chided me. “They want my help to ascend to the throne? That has a price.”

“Well, what would you want?” I asked.

“The Scotts have been using their peat bogs for years as part of the filtering process of making scotch. They’re almost used up and while Scotland’s population is going up, the amount of land they have at their disposal is finite. I want their Word that, if and when they become the Monarchs of Scotland to undertake a project to revitalize the peat bogs and set aside sufficient land for them in perpetuity. The world needs good scotch and the environment could use the boost. That’s the price of my helping them.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” I said after a moment. “Do I need to take a contract or something?” Marc frowned.

“That’s the Other Side’s gig, Rebecca. Their Word is enough for me. And we have yet to cover what I want from you for bringing this to me.”

“Me? I’m just…”

“Lobbying as an advocate of a mortal. If you gave them that service for free, that’s your affair. But, if you want my help I want something in return from you for helping them bypass Kimiko.” I sighed and nodded. “There’s a banker in Scotland who has worked there for some time. Honest as the day is long, always helping the poor and needy get the cash they need to better themselves. One of my prime examples of honorable banking. But, he’s so devoted to Finance that he never got married. I want you to give him a bit of fun before he kicks up his heels and gets the big promotion.”

Freedom isn’t free, I told myself. Suppressing a nervous swallow, I asked, “How old?” His chuckle both relieved and worried me.

“I’m notpimping you out, Rebecca. There’s actually a very comely Widow who’s taken with the old goat in the office, but he thinks himself too old for such things. Perhaps you can go and rekindle some of those old fires, make him see her in a different light?”

“I’m not sure how good a matchmaker I’ll be, but I’ll give it a shot, Marc. Thanks for listening.”

I started to withdraw my tendrils from him in preparation for leaving, but felt them catch on something. “You’re welcome. Oh, and Rebecca? Just one more thing.” I couldn’t keep in a squeak as he grabbed the tendrils and gave them a firm tug. I imagine it was rather like having a pig tail in my hair and having someone pull on it. “I’m an Arch Angel. I’ve been doing this since the Boss shed some light on the subject. You, my dear, are a rookie. A nice, intelligent rookie who is a great asset to our side, but a rookie none the less. Don’t let a bad nature become a bad habit. We clear?”

“Crystal, sir,” I gulped as he released my power and it slinked back to me, for all the world feeling sheepish at being caught.

His grin smoothed over any bad feeling I might have had at being seen through so easily. “Go on. I’ve got some calls to make for a new Public Interest story. Shoo.”

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“So, he’ll help us?” exclaimed Elisabeth as I flipped through the folders Kimiko had given me on the way out of the Tower of Fair Trade.

“Mmhmm,” I muttered as I read up on one Hamish McTaggart, esquire, 74 and the President of the Bank of the Highlands, Dingwall. The poor dear hadn’t even touched himself in nearly twenty years. “So long as you don’t have any problem with the Peat Bog thing. He wants your Word, so be careful. Giving your Word to a supernatural isn’t like giving it to another human. There are consequences if you fail to keep it.”

“Oh, I don’t think Gregory will have any issue there. If nothing else, I’ll make it my CauseCelebes.” I glanced up to fix her with my gaze.

“The deal is both, or nothing,” I told her firmly. “I wouldn’t advise you haggling with him. He’s good at that.” Elisabeth nodded as she came over.

“What’s this?”

“This would be my price for helping you two. I have to get Hamish here set up with,” and I paused to flip open the other folder, revealing an elderly woman with a quiet, regal nature to her, rather like the Actress who played the Scottish Witch in those Boy Wizard movies. “Rosemary Gordon, widow, aged seventy.”

“Well, why?” she asked, sitting beside me on the bench.

“Hamish here is one of Marc’s favorites and he never married because he was too busy giving everybody else the square deal in the Highlands. Rose here lost her husband, um,” and there were several moments of flipping pages, “Phillip to a heart attack back in ’90 and now she has her heart set on Hamish here.”

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I didn’t mean to get you working on your vacation.” That brought a chuckle out of me.

“I don’t think I’m entitled to a vacation yet. I’ve only been on the job a week or so. Guess Hamish here is going to be my first real case. To tell you the truth, it would be easier if Marc just wanted me to give him a roll in the hay. That at least is fairly straight forward. Getting him to realize he isn’t too old for love, that’s another story.”

“I’m sure you can do it,” she told me with an encouraging rub of my shoulders. “Dinner isn’t for a few hours, yet and we’ll be headed to Gregory’s for it. What would you like to do until then?”

I closed the folders and rubbed my eyes. “I guess I should really get started on this, if that’s ok?”

She nodded. “You’ll want to leave yourself plenty of time to get dressed for supper though. It’s black tie.”

With a thought I was wearing a daring evening gown whose neckline plunged to my navel and showed a generous view of the swell of both breasts. Not to mention the slit that stopped just below my left hip. My hair was piled on my head in style I’d pulled straight off Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “How’s this?” I asked. “Too Daring?” She blinked and I was an Edwardian School Teacher, down to the bustled dress, cameo at my throat and glasses on the end of my nose. “Too conservative?”

“I hate you,” she told me with a smile as I once more was in the sundress I’d been wearing at the start of our conversation.

“Don’t hate me because I’m dead,” I told her with a giggle. “Which gives me an idea…”

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The commotion at the front of the office was a bit disturbing to Hamish McTaggart as he was going over the quarter’s profit and loss sheets. The bank was well below its projected profits for the quarter and the Board wasn’t going to be happy about that, but it couldn’t be helped. Lending the money to the Tennant Association to buy their Apartment Complex out from under that unscrupulous weasel Tarrington was the right thing to have done.

Was it his fault he’d set the Housing Authority on them after they’d muscled him out? The little hoodlum had kept the place in such a dismal state of affairs of course the Authority had complained. Threatened to condemn the entire estate if repairs weren’t made immediately. Of course he had to give them an extension on the repaying the loan so they could effect the repairs and have a place to live. Hamish sighed. He’d make the board see reason. Again.

“Rosemary?” he called in his tired voice, thick with its Highland Burr.

“Yes Mr. McTaggart?” was her immediate response. Her head was in the door, hard on the heels of her lovely voice, causing Hamish to sigh. He was too old for that sort of thing.

“What’s all this racket then?” he demanded.

“I’ll go and see for you, sir.” Hamish tried and failed several times to give his attention back to the ledgers but found his eyes constantly being pulled back to his open office door. At last Rosemary returned, a regal, extremely elderly woman walking with the aide of a cane in one hand and the shoulder of a beautiful slip of a girl on the other. Rosemary cleared her throat. “Mr. McTaggart, may I present Rebecca, Duchess of the Isle of Mann? She would like to speak with you over her final arraignments.” The Duchess made her way into the office with tired, but great dignity. She passed her cane to the girl and held out her hand.

“It’s a pleasure to be of service, your Grace,” greeted Hamish as he kissed the hand and helped her with a great sigh of relief into the chair.

“Charmed, Squire McTaggart,” she breathed in a willowy voice. It was obvious that, even given her advanced age, she had been a great beauty in her day and, indeed, still carried herself very well. “This is my great granddaughter Elisabeth. Stand up straight, girl,” she chided.

“Yes mum,” replied the girl as she dropped an elegant curtsey to the Banker. Hamish made his way back to his desk and sat down.

“Now, I understand you need assistance with your final arraignments?” he said. “Have you a solicitor we should contact?”

“He’ll be in touch, Squire. Today I wish to open a series of Trusts for my children and so on.”

“Ah, of course, ma’am. What did you have in mind?”

“I shall need fifteen educational trusts for the Great Grandchildren, in addition to thirty escrow accounts for the Inheritance funds pending their transfers, and, I should think another thirty educational trusts for the children of the Great Grandchildren. In all, deposits this afternoon of fifty million pounds.” Hamish worked hard to keep the grin off his face. This would certainly help the quarter’s numbers greatly.

“Certainly, your Grace. I can work the details of this with your solicitor. This afternoon I should just need to get the information of your executor and we can handle the deposit. This may take a bit of time, I’m afraid.”

“I have many things, Squire, but time is not one of them,” the Duchess responded. “Yet,” and she gave a tolerant smile and glance at the girl. “I cannot say my life has been a complete waste. The love of my family sustains me through these difficult final days. I’m certain your own wife helps you through your own times of need, does she not?”

Hamish blushed. “I never married your Grace.”

The Duchess was more than somewhat shocked. “It cannot be true!” she exclaimed. “A man of your obvious charms and quality. It’s obvious you were a handsome, powerful man in your youth, you set me in mind of my dearly departed husband Rupert.”

Hamish took in the faded, black and white photograph of himself, tucked into the frame of an equally faded certificate. He wore the kilt of his clan and an expression of exertion that bordered on agony as he was just preparing to throw the telephone pole he carried by its base. He had won the caber toss long ago in ’58, but that had been before the pressure of success had begun to war with the pressure of being an honest man in a dishonest profession. “Your Grace is very kind to say so.”

“Nonsense!” she declared. “I’d wager there are women in this very building who would count themselves fortunate to receive a smile from you, Squire.”

“I’m an old man, your Grace,” he started.

“I am nearly a hundred, Mr. McTaggart,” she said imperiously. “My husband and I enjoyed one another’s company nearly to the day he died. Youth may be wasted on the young, but they have not cornered the market on foolishness.”

Hamish found himself daydreaming for a bit of asking Rosemary out for a pint after work before he shook his head. There hadn’t been as much as a peep from down below….Mother of God! Hamish was embarrassed to find out down below was awakening after a long nap. As he focused his attention on his client he realized that, despite her years, there was a certain sensuality about the Duchess. Yes, here was a rare woman who had reveled in her womanhood. Pity, really…

“I’m sorry, your Grace, what were you saying?” he asked, contrite to realize she’d been speaking. She was holding out a credit card that he leapt up to collect, doing his best to hide his predicament.

“You may make the deposits from this, Squire,” she repeated evenly, either not noticing or being polite enough not to comment on his condition. The brush of her fingertips as he took the card was electric. His fingers reminded him of the times he had casually shared contact with Rosemary and down below wailed at twenty years of being ignored.

The card was a dull gold color, emblazoned with her name and quite modern for so elegant a lady. Orachalcim Express? Well, there were so many cards on the market these days as to make it impossible to keep track of them all. “I’ll just be a moment,” he told her as he left.

“Everything alright, squire?” teased Rosemary as he came out with the card. Somehow, the pressures of the coming meeting of the board didn’t seem so important any longer.

“Fine,” he assured her. “Rosemary, the Duchess will be depositing fifty million pounds from this. See to it, won’t you?” She dropped a curtsey with an impish smile. “And, Rose, would…”

“Sir?” she asked, returning to her professional face once more.

“Well, perhaps you’d care to take a pint with me after close?” he asked, his poor heart beating like a school boy. Hamish watched her face go from shock to pleasure as she touched at the back her hair, making sure it was in place.

“I’ve been know to sip a pint or two,” she admitted with a coy smile that looked right on her. One she hadn’t worn in a many a year.

“Well, I’ll see you then. The Duchess’ deposit, if you please?” Her own face set into a happy, but businesslike manner. She nodded and scurried off. As Hamish returned, the Duchess was all smiles, making him wonder if somehow she knew what had just transpired. “We’ve just the formalities of running the card, your Grace, and we can send the paperwork to your solicitor.”

“Yes, thank you, Mr. McTaggart.”

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“Mission accomplished!” I grinned at my partner in heavenly hanky panky as we strolled from the front of the bank a companionable distance, letting the passersby see the Duchess and her granddaughter drive away in a suitable limousine. Elisabeth and I walked a ways, before I let us be seen again, this time as a pair of young women out for a stroll as I looked for a secluded spot to open the gate back to her home.

“Fifty Million Pounds?” she giggled. “Marc is going to have a fit.”

“Hey, he told me to get the old goat at least interested again. I did so. The money he can use to put some needy kids through school and the rest is just earning us interest. No harm, no foul.” I hope, I added silently. Still there was a dinner to see to and the day wasn’t getting any younger.

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Elisabeth and I decided to play mirrors for the dinner party. Her gown was long, milky white and quite modest. It left her arms bare and fell to just above her ankles. Her accessories were all black and her hair was down in innocent, nearly virginal style. I opted for a daring, but not as daring as the gown I’d teased her with, cocktail dress in black that still set off my charms to nice effect. I wore my own hair up with elbow length gloves and all of my accessories were in white.

A quick glance in the mirror we shared assured us of the devastation we were going to inflect on our respective men folk. Yep, we were definitely dressed to thrill. I opened the gate to a disserted location in Stewart Hall and led us through. “I don’t suppose you could set something like up for us permanently, could you?” she asked once we’d arrived. I gave her a coy look. “Well, there’s no harm in asking, is there?”

“Once, no,” I admitted with a smile. “Just don’t pester me about it. Once I’m back on the job, you two have to ride around just like all the other mortals down here.”

She smiled and shrugged as she led the way towards the dinning hall. “I had to…eek!” she squealed. The dining room looked like something out of a Salvador Dali painting. The table was half melted and it was clear by the amount of damage some kind of major battle had taken place.

There was no one there, living or dead.

Not knowing if further combat was in the offering, I flashed us both up a pair of jeans and tee-shirts, hers’ with a bullet proof vest underneath that she squeaked in surprise as it compressed her form. My senses told me the house was empty so I let my wings and tail out of their confinement to aide me in my own maneuverability.

My hand came up to my lips, fearing the worst as I sought my lover through the link we shared. George?

Rebecca? He sounded weak and far away, giving me only the vaguest feeling of his presence before something outside it locked it down.

“Where is everyone?” whispered Elisabeth fearfully. I waved at her to keep quiet, even as I whipped up the sword she’d hurt me with so greatly from her home and handed it to her. I drew the pistol Michael had given me from it’s holster even I wasn’t aware of anymore, dropping the mundane magazine out of it to replace it with the Orachalcim bullets.

Something supernatural was afoot, that was for sure. “Oh you have no idea,” purred a voice behind me, slurred by slight English accent as she read my mind like an open book. The red headed woman strolled casually into the room with a wiggle of her rear that would have set any man to drooling. If there’d been one in the room that is.

Her dress was red silk with a neckline that stopped well south of her navel, just above a similar slit that came up the front. Only about four inches of silk kept her modesty, if she’d had any to speak of. She plucked an apple from the dish on what was left of the table with out a care to the destroyed room and polished it on her ample bosom that threatened to leap free of the dress with every stroke.

“Miss Hurley,” exclaimed Elisabeth in surprise. “I’m a great fan of your work.”

I extended a wing to shield her and growled, “Stay behind me. That’s not Elisabeth Hurley.”

“Go to the head of the class,” beamed Lucifer as the dress was swapped for another outfit in red that even the most depraved would hesitate to call school girl before offering the apple with a twinkle. “Rebecca, you’ve done wonders my girl, and in so short a period of time. Why my little Lorelei will be jealous.”

“What do you want, Lucifer?” I named her keeping the pistol more or less in her direction and wondering if it would even annoy her, Orachalcim or no before she feasted on both of us.

“Oh, we’re not still sore about that entire died and gone to Hell business, are we?” she cooed. “It’s not like I had anything to do with that. As a matter of fact, darling, I was rather instrumental in you earning that little fashion accessory you’re wearing.” She gave a vague gesture at the halo floating over my head. “Do put that toy away, dear, it’s not like you could hurtme with it, and besides,” and she wiggled her eyebrows in evil glee, “if you aren’t nice to me finding the boys you had such a hot date with will be very much harder.”

That smooth English accent she affected almost made her sound reasonable. Still, there wasn’t much else for it. I holstered the pistol even as I commended what was left of my soul to God.

“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? I’ll bet you’re just dieingto know where the boys are, aren’t you? They’re not far actually, and with my help, getting them free again should be a snap.”

“What have you done with my husband?” demanded Elisabeth from behind my wing. The Devil actually managed to appear hurt.

“I haven’t done anything to him, sweetness, and aren’t we jumping the gun a bit? The wedding isn’t for another week yet.” She slid into the one chair that was still up to the task of its purpose and took a healthy bite from the apple. “But I’m just trifling, aren’t I? You’ve walked down that isle a hundred times in your mind by now, haven’t you?”

“What is your ‘help’ going to cost us?” I asked guardedly

Her eyes shown with demonic fire. “Oh we have learned well at Marc’s knee, haven’t we? Good for you, darling, you’re coming right along. Still it’s not like your Destiny is carved in stone, is it? There’s always a place in my organization for someone as clever as you.” I watched the Temptation leave her even as it started floating towards me, in dumbstruck amazement.

She had to know I ate Temptation. That by tempting me she was making me even more powerful. I sucked in her words like a battery suddenly attached to a pure source of current, and felt the Divine in me convert that Temptation into raw power that flowed throughout me.

Wow! It was like a taste of the most wonderful steak after a life time of soy based hamburger. It enriched without making me feel over full and strengthened every part of my resolve to stay on the side I was on. And there was something very similar to the taste of her and something else tickling at the back of my mind.

“No?” she sighed with put on disappointment. “I suppose you’re determined to play Miss Goody Two Shoes.” But I saw through her now. She knew what she had done. Knowing full well not only would it not work, but make me stronger. “Anyways,” she said, cutting into my frantic ruminations on the impact of this. “I’m not responsible for this particular party being crashed. That honor belongs to the Hall of Mages, who not only have their hands on your lover, sweet cheeks, but have actually managed bag the Arch Angel Laurence, must to his future humiliation, I’m sure.”

“What would they want…?” started Elisabeth.

“Pay attention and listen, darling. It’s not like I have all day to dawdle here and play fill in the gaps for you. I have souls to wrestle into damnation. The Hall is looking to blame me for this and rekindle the war with my perpetually self-righteous adversaries. Unfortunately for the two of you, they’re well and truly prepared for any kind of rescue attempt. And they’re pulling out all the stops to see that that war does restart. The very head of the Hall, Rasputin himself is over seeing this little slumber party. So it’s not like you can just waltz in there like some silly action movie.”

Finished with the apple, she dropped it on the plate and leaned forward. “But, you can sneak in and get the boys out, if you’re really clever and have some help from my side to prove I had nothing to do with it.” She turned and called over her shoulder, “Lorelei, come here, darling.”

A succubus, one I’d seen in passing down in Home with chestnut hair and blue eyes, wings and hooves appeared with some surprise in the room. We locked eyes for a moment then she was content to drop a curtsey to her mistress. “Your Lowness,” she greeted guardedly.

“Lorelei, darling, I think you know our charming Rebecca?”

“Not…personally…” she hedged, obviously as uncertain about things as I was.

“Well, now you do,” beamed Lucifer. “Did you get what you needed from Jade?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Wonderful. I want you to help Rebecca here free her boyfriend and Miss Plantard-Saint Clair’s fiancée from the clutches of the Hall of Mages. Can you do that for me, darling?” She nodded. “Wonderful.” Lucifer gestured and a roll of velum appeared on the table. “Here’s a map to where they’re, I think the phrase I want is ‘holed up’ along with a complete list of their defenses. Play nicely with each other.”

“The Hall of Mages?” asked the newcomer guardedly.

“Oh, yes,” admitted Lucifer. “She would want to be a part of this, wouldn’t she? And that will balance things out nicely. Two of Us and Two of Them. Angelique?”

A fairly busty, blonde haired sexpot who was evidently just in the process of a shower due to her being naked, soaking wet and utterly surprised appeared. “Hey!” she exclaimed, seeking to cover herself. Lucifer’s tone was just a step above cross.

“What?”

“ummm, er, ahhh what is your command, my LADY?"

“Better,” she purred. “Lorelei, you’re to assist to the best of your ability with this task. But Rebecca is in charge.”

“Why?” she demanded, flirting for the first time with defiance.

“Simple, darling, if this fails, then it’s her fault.” Great, just what I needed. “Lorelei will fill you in on the pertinents, Angelique,” she said blithely, clothing the new comer in a rather suggestive outfit of chain mail that didn’t seem for protection so much as attraction, with a wave. “I have pressing appointments. Arrivederci!” And with that, the Princess of Lies was gone.

Oh boy.

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Lorelei and I shared a moment of guarded sizing each other up before Elisabeth cleared her throat rather loudly. “Hadn’t we be getting on with this?” she asked. “I suppose the best thing all around would be introductions. I’m Elisabeth Plantard-Saint Clair, evidently the great to a ridiculous number granddaughter of a Jewish Carpenter I think we all know.”

Lorelei laughed at that, an easy laugh that spoke of a fine sense of humor that made me like her a bit and eased the tension in the room considerably. “I’m Lorelei of Clan Lilim, Succubus, as if these killer curves couldn’t tell you that.” She gestured to the blonde. “This is Angelique, a Hell’s Valkyrie, one of Mother’s experimental Succubae; she’s a cross between a succubus and a Hell Maid.”

“I’ve got some Irish Terrier in there somewhere too,” drawled the blonde with an amused glance at the smaller Demoness. Indeed, Angelique was easily the tallest of us, probably over six feet. Head and shoulders over my normal 5’8” and Elisabeth, poor girl was the shortest of us at five nothing.

“I’m Rebecca, so I guess kind of half sisters with you guys,” I told them. “I work for Raphael now.”

Lorelei nodded. “Wow, did you luck out.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“There are some real taskmasters up there that put our best to shame.But you draw the one Angel who’ll always understand if you need a break, or are late for work? How do you rate that?” I shrugged.

“Must be my winning personality.”

Her grin was rather lurid as she walked over, the ice having been broken so to speak. “So, the boss sampled the merchandise yet?”

“No, and I don’t get the feeling she will to be honest.” Lorelei laughed again.

“Honey, Raphael isn’t a she. Raphael is an it. It is an Arch Angel who predates something as pedestrian as gender and can show whatever face to the world it wants.” That set my mind turning in an entirely new direction that I honestly hadn’t considered. “So,” she proclaimed, shaking hands with Elisabeth as that was the English thing to do. “Shall we get down to this? I don’t mean to be rude, but I still have to get a hold of Marc and start a haggle over getting my Clan Leader out of a Jar that someone here, who shall remain nameless got her in.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh sure, I gathered up my sweatshirt, forced her hands onto it and made her throw me out the window.”

“She threw you out the window?” asked Lorelei with great amusement. “No wonder Jade’s bent. You know what glass repair goes for in New York?” We shared a giggle that I must admit made me realize I liked the little bit, but I was more than a touch glad I was only just meeting her.

If I’d been sent out with her instead of Ursula, I’d probably still be Damned.

Angelique has already unrolled the vellum across what was left of the table. I don’t think anyone cared she raked the dishes onto the floor to make room. As destroyed as that room was, a little more wasn’t going to hurt. “This is a Hall of Mages Chancellery!” she exclaimed in surprise.

“Yes,” I told her. “They’re behind this. It’s one of those pertinent facts you haven’t gotten yet.” She cracked her knuckles with obvious relish at the chance to bust a few Mage heads. “Bad blood?” I asked softly.

“Long story. So, we’re here,” she said pointing at the map which not only showed Stewart Hall, but a blue print of the building with our names labeled. And the labels moved! “They are here,” she pointed and I saw a half dozen names I didn’t recognize, and another dozen clumped together that I did. But the one that worried me was in the largest room with the most names. It was labeled simply Rasputin.

“Oh shit,” breathed Angelique. “Rasputin is there. This is going to be near impossible!”

“Not as impossible as you might think,” I said, recalling what we’d learned of the Mad Monk from history class. “How are you two in the magic department?” I asked.

“I’m no slouch,” declared Angelique, but Lorelei only chuckled darkly. “Not in her league, but ok. It’s not like we can just gate in there. See these gold lines? They’re alarm wards. Not only will they pick up on our supernatural nature, but any kind of teleportation magic they’ll pick up on.”

I saw one of the names was in what appeared to be a bedroom and not moving. “Who says we have to teleport?” I asked coyly, pointing him out. “There’s our way in right there.”

“Ronald?” asked Elisabeth blankly while staring at the map. “How is he going to help us?”

“He’s asleep,” said Angelique softly with something like respect in her eyes towards me.

“The March of Dreams,” finished Lorelei.

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It wasn’t easy figuring a spell up that would allow us to take Elisabeth so close to Heaven while she was still alive. Let alone two other Demoness and there was more than one close call with a Malachite patrol, but we managed to get to Blandine’s realm intact. Elisabeth’s eyes were trying to bug out of her head as she took everything in all at once.

“Stay focused,” I told her as we flew with great speed through the March, looking for our boy. The March of Dreams was a gray landscape populated by large, mushroom like bubbles that were the dreams of mortals back on Earth. You could look into them, seeing what the dreamer was experiencing in their dream, and even enter them along with certain other creatures, good and bad who called the March their home. These creatures were responsible for particularly nice or bad dreams and there were collections of angels and demons responsible for overseeing both.

But there were other uses for these mushrooms.

“Here it is!” called Lorelei from our search. We all rushed over to it, looking in to see Ronald enjoying the accolades of his fellow partners in Armageddon and being amply rewarded by Rasputin who had set himself up as the new god.

There’s nothing more perverted than a wizards wet dream.

Lorelei and I opened a hole for ourselves, into the dream and helped the others through. We found ourselves in a throne room, Rasputin more than a touch concerned by our sudden arrival. Angelique lopped off his head with a great fountain of blood and more than a small measure of satisfaction.

The ground began to shake as Ronald fought his way back to consciousness. I quickly sang the spell that opened a hole in the sky even as the Dream Ronald hurled bolts of power that bounced harmlessly off us. Snatching up Elisabeth we raced towards the hole…

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…And appeared his room, having come out his forehead. I felt Ronald lurch to being awake, right before Angelique popped him a good one across the left cheek and sent him back to dreamland. She made short work of tying him up and tucked a pillow case over his head for good measure. “What now?” she whispered.

I pulled out the map and watched a label named Carol stroll towards, cooperating beautifully with the plan. “Here comes our pigeon now,” I whispered. “Remember!” I hissed. “No magic!”

As she drew even with us, Angelique opened the door, to Carol’s immense surprise and snatched her into the room and proceeded to throw her a beating as well. In short order, Carol was trussed up like a turkey with Ronald.

“Another part of that long story?” asked Elisabeth, seeing the absolute look of glee on Angelique’s face.

“Ex Wife,” proclaimed the Valkyrie with a grin. “Pay back’s a bitch, ain’t it dear?”

“Now,” I said, turning to Angelique. “You and Elisabeth go and get the mundanes out of here. Don’t stop for us and what ever you do, don’t get caught. Go straight back your place Elisabeth and call Marc at the number I gave you.” She nodded fearfully as I handed her the map.

“I still don’t think…” started Angelique.

“No buts,” I told her. “We all agreed this was the best way.” I turned to Lorelei. “Ready?” She nodded and took on the form of Carol as I whispered an invisibility spell around Angelique and Elisabeth to the blare of alarms.

Not really cool high tech alarms or even those low, deep, U Boat kind of alarm; no, these were church bells. Rasputin obviously had some issues to over come. Lorelei wrapped me in a loose confinement spell as we shared one last glance before pausing in the door so our invisible friends could leave first as ‘Carol’ marched me towards the main room.

A group of mages were already rushing towards us, wands in one hand, and guns in the other. “Carol?” one of them asked, quizzically.

“Look what I caught trying to sneak in,” she announced with glee. “Turn around and get out of the way before the little succubus works her charms on you.”

I started throwing lines of attraction as fast as I could, actually managing to snare one of them who I let know how much it would please me if he ran with his friends and then stood stock still for the next hour. He ran like a bat out of hell.

“My lord!” announced Carol, shouting down the hall. “Prepare a charm against a succubus!” I quickly tied off the commands I had on my one mage into a knot that should hold him even as a wash of magical power snapped shut the line.

“What’s this?” cackled an old voice as I forced into a room decorated in Old World Tacky. Gargoyles peered down in deep displeasure of their confinement atop walls of mortar and stone that dripped with protection wards and charms. It appeared the Hall didn’t go in for a lot of furniture as Rasputin’s throne was the only chair in the room. Chained to it were four succubae I didn’t know who looked up at me with weary sorrow at another of their sisters being confined.

They were all nude; their wings a collection of colors that matched their hair and their eyes told me I was looking into my own face after my week with Baal. Except I had the very real feeling these girls had done far more time than a week. I felt my temper start to get away from me and grabbed it tightly. A cool head was the only thing that would get me out of here.

“A new toy for your collection,” beamed Lorelei.

“Ah,” croaked the old man. His beard was gray now and he still affected the robes of an Eastern Orthodox Monk, but those dark eyes still burned with the madness that had made him famous. “Always a pleasure to have such a lovely addition to my collection,” he purred.

I caught sight of Laurence, bound by a set of heavy looking chains and seeming to be both enraged by his own capture and a bit of relief that he wasn’t the only angel who’d fallen into this trap, and annoyance that I had too.

“But, what’s this?” asked Rasputin. “You’re not a succubus.”

“Not anymore,” I told him with a shrug.

“Well well!” he gloated, rising from the throne and coming down to get a good look at me. “A Bright Lilim! Why, there hasn’t been a Redeemed Succubus in two thousand years! And what brings you here, little angel? Is heaven so quickly seeing through my plans?”

“Yep!” I told him brightly. “There’s going to be an Army of Malachites here any second to see you get your come to Jesus meeting.”

“Hardly,” he told me with some scorn. “You are a terrible liar, my dear. No wonder you were thrown out of Hell.” I shrugged

“Everybody has their cross to bear.”

“But what most concerns me,” He said after a long moment, “is why would a Bright Lilim let her self be confined by a Succubus, pretending to be one of my advisors!” he said, waving away Lorelei’s illusion.

“Avon calling!” she sneered as threw a magical blast that I have to admit was damnedpowerful. Rasputin ducked aside, but then he wasn’t the target. Laurence was. The chains holding him captive melted as he manifested the atypical flaming sword and fell to with a will against the mages closest to him.

“I’ll feast on what’s left of your soul, Lorelei!” screamed Rasputin as he threw a bolt of black evil towards her.

“Come get some!” she sneered back as I worked my way into his blind spot. I drew my pistol and held it up before tapping him on the shoulder. He turned, coming nose to barrel with the pistol.

“Hi there!” I told him as I squeezed the trigger.

I won’t describe the mess that made. But it wasn’t as easy as all that, nor did Lorelei and I think it would be. I made myself incorporeal once more and dove into the hole I’d made to begin the single most important fight of my life.

I arrived in a wretched hollow that seemed to be a ruined church where his soul was both frantically trying to repair the damage I’d done to his body, while dealing with the chaos I’d unleashed in his realm.

“Wow,” I said as I alighted on the blasted marble floor and fixing my best avenging angel face on the soul of Rasputin. “Talk about your fixer uppers.”

“You little bitch!” he snarled at me in Russian. Not that it mattered what language he used. Understanding was one of the perks of the job. “You think you can just waltz in here and face the most powerful sorcerer in history?”

“Me?” I told him. “Goodness no. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of juice.” I let the smile of evil glee settle on his face for a moment as I took a small crucifix on a chain from under my blouse and kissed it before I let it hang free. “My boss, on the other hand? Well, He’s got more than enough juice to deal with a two bit sinner who has aspirations of His job.”

The smile faded even as I opened myself to the flow of the Divine that shone like a beacon and fell on Rasputin’s terrified form with a terrible certainty. “Welcome to Judgment Day,” I felt compelled to say as the light neatly cut Rasputin’s soul from the spells anchoring it to it to his deathless body. The soul wailed as a feeling of Judgment flowed through me as a crevasse to the very bottom of the Pit opened. Some thing reached up from it and snatched the soul down below.

The light faded to what felt like a fatherly voice saying, “Nice job,” before I was alone in the ruined sanctuary once more. A table and bookshelf that seemed to be overflowing with papers came alive and fluttered about me, whispering a chorus of True Names into my ear that I was now the Mistress of.

Not to mention a fairly beefy injection of raw magical energy I took as well, so quickly I got a bit light headed. I didn’t have time to really consider that, however, as I had a war to put a stop to.

I flew out of the dying shell of Rasputin’s body as quickly as I could. What I found was a Major Motion Picture Quality take on pandemonium. Larry and Lorelei where evidently playing a game patterned rather like baseball. I could never be sure who was pitching and who was batting, but the Mages were definitely the ball. Gathering up some of that energy that was bubbling all through me and sent it out in a wave, knocking flat the remaining mages so that Larry and Lorelei could make short work of them.

After a moment of floating, I finally got a handle on all this power flowing through me and was able to get it under control. I settled back to the ground as I felt the wards holding a criminal number of creatures against their will bound themselves to me. To include, I was aghast to learn, the True Name of the General of the Heavenly Host. They gathered around me and dropped to one knee in submission, even Larry, though I could see he was embarrassed, chagrined and some other emotion I couldn’t quite place to do it.

“Hail to Rebecca!” they chimed in unison, “Our Lady and Mistress.”

“How very Wizard of Oz,” chuckled Lorelei.

I turned to her, blushing from forehead to tip toe. “What do I do now?” I asked. I felt Larry bursting to say something, but as I’d directed the question to Lorelei, he couldn’t speak. Before she could answer me, the roof exploded away to reveal the light of the Divine, or at least Michael’s flaming sword, Dominique with some kind of glowy scales and more Malachites than you could shake a stick at.

Take that, Rasputin! Iwasn’t lying!

We stared at each other for a moment, the two Arch Angels taking in the sight of Lord only knew how many Angels, Demons and others on their knees to me, the new kid, before Dom chuckled her growing ever more natural chuckle. “How embarrassing,” she said. “Unfashionably late.”

Woof,” sputtered Mike as he sheathed that massive sword of his. “Larry?” he asked with great amusement. The Arch Angels shared a glance, Laurence still on one knee.

“Get up,” I whispered urgently. He rose and shrugged.

“I’m kind of in a True Name bind here, Mike.”

Michael’s eyebrows ascended his lean, wolf like face. “True Name? The Kid has your True Name? Do you have any idea what kind of paperwork nightmare this is going to be? Having an Arch Angel report to an Apprentice Angel?”

“Report?” demanded Larry crossly.

“Well, she has power over you,” drawled Mike. “It’s not like we can ignore that.”

“Now wait just a second here,” growled Larry.

“Um, Sir? I could…” I started before a stern glance told me silence was definitely golden just then. Dominique settled next to me a conspiratorial smile on her face.

“Let Mike have his moment of fun, dear. Laurence’s head has gotten a bit prideful of late and he’s rather needed a taste of comeuppance.” She and Lorelei shared a guarded nod before she returned her attention to me once more. “So, what are you going to do with all of these?” she asked with a gesture to take in the crowd of beings in the process of swearing fealty to me.

“Um, set them free?” I asked with a nervous bit of playing with the end of my tail. Dominique smiled indulgently.

“That might do for some,” said a Malachite with great dignity as he rose from his knee and bowed before the Arch Angel of Justice. “But my Chorus will serve you whether you free us or not, Lady. Our honor demands no less.”

“And…you are?” I asked.

“Tuckendreil,” he declared with a blow to his chest I took to be a salute. Like most of the members of his Choir I’d seen, Tuckendreil was boyishly handsome in the manner of a boy becoming a man. Dark, curly hair framing a rugged, honest face over a soldier’s lean, powerful body. “By your leave, Lady, I command a full Chorus of Malachites; captured by nefarious means by the evil you have shown great fortitude in over coming. We are yours.”

I started to say something but felt Dom’s hand on my arm which brought my eyes back to her. “There’s not any real point in arguing with him, Rebecca,” she told me. “His honor demands this for being rescued. It’s a Malachite Thing, I’m afraid.”

I nodded. “Ok, uh, Tuck. Why don’t you and yours round up the others of ours and see they get back up stairs for some R&R?”

He thumped his chest again. Memo to self, must pronounce carefully worded edict discontinuing the salute thing. “Yes Lady!” I sighed and turned back to Lorelei.

“I return all of Hell’s people to you, save any who do not wish to go,” I told her with a glance at the Succubae.

“Where else would they go?” she demanded with a curious expression. I sighed and felt Dominique’s eyes on me.

“Any who are willing to attempt to Redeem themselves may come with me.”

“I’ll take it,” called a willowy voice at once. The smallest of the Succubae crawled her way to my ankle and caught hold with all her might. “Please, Lady, I’ve suffered enough. Don’t make me return to that Place.”

“Anyone else?” I asked. There was a murmur of promises of favors owed, but no other takers. I nodded to Lorelei, feeling more than a touch disappointed. “Alright then, they’re free to go with you.”

“Lilith won’t be happy with this,” she said softly, with a glance at the succubus clutching my leg. “But I think I can persuade her to see reason,” she said with a wink. Oh yeah, I could see the little bit and I were going to be friends. “IF, a certain quite full of herself young angel will give me a hand getting her out of a certain jar…?”

My eyes sought Dominique’s who smiled and nodded at me once more. “Ok,” I sighed. “Tuck?”

Thump! “Yes lady?”

“See that, I’m sorry, you’re…?”

“Samira, Lady, born to Lilith by way of her Daughter Ursula,” she said timidly. She was barely Elisabeth’s height I discovered as I helped her to her feet. She was more than a little childlike, looking to be right on the cusp of real womanhood, somewhere around 19 or 20 with straight reddish brown hair that fell to the small of her back, with a matching colors throughout her wings and hooves. The fact that Ursula had brought her into that unholy fold was even sweeter.

“Samira, you’re welcome to stay with me, but I expect to see some changes in you. This isn’t a free ride and to be on this side is to hold yourself to a more difficult way of doing things. I won’t make you go back, but if you wantto change and stay, you’re welcome.”

“I’ve been his prisoner for fifty years,” she admitted softly. “And a slave to Mother Lilith for over three hundred. All that has gotten me is misery and slavery. If you’ll have me, Lady, I’d like the chance to change.” I shared a glance with Dominique who nodded before I turned back to Tuck.

“Tuck, take Samira upstairs and see that she’s comfortable. I’ll explain things to Raphael once she gets back from vacation.”

Thump! “Yes Lady!”

“And Tuck, she’s one of us now. See that she’s treated accordingly.” The Malachite bowed and led my new co-worker up the stairway. After a long sigh, I conjured up a slip of parchment and whispered a long and complicated song to it as I felt Laurence’s True Name depart me and inscribe itself to the parchment. That done, I quickly folded it before someone could see it and walked over to the pair of Machismo personified and their big sword contest.

Excuse me!” I said, projecting my voice as loudly as I could. The argument ground to a stop as the two Arch Angels stared at me. I presented Larry with the parchment. “I believe this is yours, Larry.”

He took it, saw what I’d done and ate it as fast as he could. “Thankque,” he mumbled with genuine relief. I smiled as I reached up to tickle his chin.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Another sigh left me before I turned back to a grinning Lorelei. “Ok, let’s get this over with.”

“Oh, it’ll be fun!” she scolded me. “We get to go gardening.

“Do I want to know?” I asked as we flew out of the ruined building to the chuckles my varied and assorted betters.

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Fun, she says. Gardening she says. Only the Garden of Eden. Well, nice place. Really.

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“I’ve already read the report Lorelei filed over that end of things,” Raphael told me as I held my breath so that the tailor could alter the dress Elisabeth had given me. Unlike a fair number of insecure women who went out of their way to make their Brides’ Maid’s dresses the ugliest thing imaginable so they could look good, Elisabeth had actually gone out of her way to find something that was not only flattering but reusable. She’d settled on a mid-calf length skirt of a sky blue over a white, peasant type blouse with billowed sleeves and a rather daring scooped neckline. It was accented by a waist cincher type corset bodice of a lovely royal blue paisley pattern.

It was quite fetching in a Renaissance Faire kind of way. Having one of our tailors alter it so I could fill Rafe in on the goings on during her vacation was becoming something of a pain. I could have manifested something faster than this. But, as Raphael had pointed out, speed wasn’t always the prime virtue of something. Sometimes just going through the steps of something reaffirmed the continuity between Blessed and those seeking Enlightenment.

“So,” she drawled. “After you got Lilith out of the Jar, what then?”

“Hold still please,” mumbled the Tailor.

“Well, she wasn’t happy about the conditions of her release, that’s certain,” I told her with a smile. “But she fulfilled all of them to the letter. I’ll give her that. She might be a sneaky, underhanded, conniving…”

“Don’t back bite, dear, it’s rude,” she corrected me.

“But she keeps her word,” I finished. “Mike and Larry went on a bit of a clean up operation, and I’d hazard a guess that there isn’t a Hall of Mages member on the entire Island of Great Briton.”

“Oh, you’ve rather neatly dealt a serious blow to an organization that’s given us fits for a very long time.”

“Beginners luck?” I asked with my most humble smile.

She snorted her derision of that idea. “Rebecca, why do you think we’ve worked so hard at winning the Succubae away from Lilith?”

“Well, we do seem rather powerful…” I started before she shook her head with an amused smile.

“Power comes with patience and time, Rebecca. The Succubae are dangerous because they recruit by nature. It hasn’t even been a week you’ve been redeemed and you’ve done what we couldn’t in two thousand years. Pry another Succubus away from Lilith.”

I’d never thought of it that way. I was just stumbling through this the best way I could, not really planning anything. Well, I put quite a bit of planning into our assault of the Hall, but otherwise, I was just doing what it seemed like I was supposed to be doing. Softly, I asked her, “Is Samira going to make it?”

“That would be for her Supervisor to say,” she said gravely. “She appears to have true repentance in her heart. And, like you, she wasn’t that bad to start off with.”

I looked at my toes in shame. “I was pretty bad,” I told her. I felt her rise and force my eyes up into hers.

“Rebecca, you are an Angel. No one who doesn’t deserve it gets that honor. And no one sneakspast the Boss. I can see what weighs at your heart, and while you must not forget it, you must not let it make you doubt yourself. You are where you have earned a place to be. Never forget that.” I felt a smile pull at my lips in remembrance of a kind word from the Boss. “But,” she cautioned me, “you’d best be on top of your game to keep Samira on the straight and narrow.”

“Me?” I asked.

“Who do you think her supervisor is?” she asked as the tailor turned me away from her to work a troublesome seam. I caught her eyes in the mirror. “Do you have any idea how much power you absorbed from Rasputin?”

“Well, it felt like a lot,” I admitted as the tailor deliberately stuck me with one of his pins to make me stand still. “Ouch!”

“Hold still, please,” he murmured.

“Rebecca, if it weren’t for a matter of seniority, you have enough power to be called an Arch Angel. But, there’s no way we could over promote someone that way. There’s far too much of this job you’re still learning. However, I can tell you that your title no long includes the word Apprentice. Congratulations.”

I blushed as I considered the ramifications of what she was saying. Me? As powerful as an Arch Angel? There had to be some kind of mistake. And now I was responsible for keeping Samira on the high road too? I’m not sure what kind of fair that was, but I guess I’d just have to rise to the occasion. “And,” she continued, “Your plate is going to be rather full once you get back to work my dear. I have a stack of jobs just crying out for you.”

“A stack?” I wailed in despair. “I’m still learning this. How am I going to deal with that kind of work load?”

Raphael chuckled. “Dear, the reward for a job well done is more work. Besides, it shouldn’t be any kind of trouble now that you have a staff.

Somehow, I don’t think Tuck will ever get into the spirit of reclaiming Sex for God. More to the point, it would figure Rafe would take advantage of the situation to pile on the extra work. Oh well. Such was the way of things.

“Well,” I asked her after a bit of digesting all that new information. “How was your vacation?”

“Wonderful,” she told me with a smile I caught in the mirror. “There’s nothing like spending time with a child to help you regain your innocence.”

“Yes, but you weren’t exactly with one, were you?” She waved off my worries with an easy gesture.

“Oh, Cathy is coming along wonderfully. She got to be a kid all over again and really enjoy herself in a place she always wanted to go to. We had a fabulous time. I probably bought her too many plush toys, but I’ve always been a soft touch there.” We were interrupted by a knock on the door, followed swiftly by George’s bemused voice.

“Any naked women in here I can ogle?”

“That can be arranged, love,” called Raphael with a lecherous wink in my direction. I could feel his burning embarrassment through the door.

“It’s safe,” I called to him. He entered, Cathy in tow, looking adorably cute in a dress that seemed to be nothing but lace, ruffles and petticoats. “Hello, Cathy,” I greeted her. “Raphael tells me you had a wonderful time.”

“I did until they put this on me,” she growled without real venom. “I mean, look at it. There’s not any right way to sit in it.”

“Welcome to the joys of womanhood,” Rafe told her. “Not so easy to just stand and look pretty, is it?”

“Nice dress,” complimented George as he risked the tailor’s ire to sneak me a kiss. “You two done talking shop? The rehearsal is in an hour you know.”

“She’ll be ready,” muttered the tailor as he stepped back to admire his handiwork. “In fact, done.” He turned to Raphael and bowed. I did a slow pirouette for their approval to soft applause.

“Levi, you’ve out done yourself,” complimented Raphael. “She’s radiant.”

“It’s the halo,” he said with droll humor. “But it did turn out nicely. If there’s nothing else?” Raphael shook her head and Levi returned to his time as one of the Blessed. George helped me down from the stool I’d been standing on and if his hand lingered a bit in mine, who was I to complain?

“So,” he said with a smile. “I guess we should be getting to that rehearsal, shouldn’t we? After all, a wedding party that includes angels, a succubus and whatever I am in the mix will probably take some practice.”

“Why do I have to be the flower girl?” Cathy wanted to know, her hands on her hips in a gesture that was entirely out of place on a ten year old.

“Because,” I told her with a good natured rubbing of her hair. “You’re the only one who could wear that dress in a church and get away with it.”

“I imagine Lorelei might try,” chuckled Raphael.

“I did include get away with it in the proviso, now didn’t I?”

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I’d never even been to a wedding before, let alone taken part in one and the experience was rather novel. They’d decided to hold their wedding at Scone Palace, a fortified Manner House in Perth, built on the ruins of the old Abby of Scone where the kings of Scotland of old had been crowned upon the very Stone of Destiny that made their linage so important to both sides. I’ll refrain from comment on the heavy handed symbolism there. The Stone itself was not here, having been returned to Scotland some time previous it was on display in Edinburgh Castle.

The building was wonderfully gothic as a wedding whose party included so many powers of the here after cried out for, but at the same time managing to feel close and even a trifle intimate. The guest list was only about two hundred and rather top heavy with the movers and shakers of the Scottish Independence Movement. Yet another big surprise there.

Elisabeth and Gregory had decided to have the two parties enter at the same time, with only the Groom and Bride entering alone, having the Groomsmen escort the Bridesmaids. Larry ended up escorting Lorelei, which was more than a little comical as the human face he wore towered over her petite form.

But they seemed quite chummy in a way that had me wondering about the possibilities. George, whom Greg had asked to be his Best Man, escorted me as I was playing Maid of Honor and that trip down the isle set my heart to beating and plastered a goofy grin across my face as well. To the point of Lorelei ribbing me with her elbow and a lecherous wink for Larry that seemed to put a twinkle in his toes for him too.

The new L. Gregory Stewart was next to stroll down the isle, seeming solemn and perhaps just a tad disappointed. I imagine when his name had been Lorraine she’d built up a rather heavy fantasy life about this particular moment of her life, but was carrying on beautifully at the way things must be. He did look particularly handsome in his red and black patterned kilt so he kind of got to wear a dress on his wedding day. Oops, best make sure that thought doesn’t get loose to words. Then the music changed to the stately tones of the Wedding March and all the heads turned.

Yes, Cathy was absolutely adorable in that dress, practically sashaying down the isle with a generous sprinkling of rose petals everywhere.

Elisabeth was positively stunning in a Victorian style princess gown that was a purely white as can be achieved with fabric. The bead and lace work must have cost a fortune all by themselves and I felt my mouth open in absolute awe. No wonder she could be so generous in making sure we looked good in our gowns. We were just helping her be that much more beautiful. I was so happy for her.

She took the steps one by one, and I could feel both her fear and excitement radiating from her as her father gently lead her down the isle. Gregory seemed to swell at the thought of spending his new life with the one woman who could understand him. All in all it was a lovely ceremony, very sedate and large portions of it were in Gaelic.

The only part that caused us any worry was when the priest announced, “If there be any in attendance with just cause why these two should not be joined in Holy Matrimony, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace.”

That was the longest five seconds of my life, let me tell you. But, after a week full of surprises and reversals, nothing happened. I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding in when he finally introduced the new Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Gregory Stewart.

And there was nothing chaste about the kiss Greg planted on Elisabeth.

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Scone Palace catered the reception as well, hosting it in their historic Long Gallery, somewhere between a hallway and room, perhaps thirty feet wide and Lord knew how long. It easily held the two hundred odd of us and nobody felt crowded. The room was done in a soft salmon color with red accents in the frequent curtained windows and the wonderful rug below.

I have to hand it to the Palace’s chef, not only was he a fantastic cook, but a pretty spiffy ice carver as well. His likeness of Elisabeth and Greg nearly began to move. I was sharing a glass of wine with George and Lorelei not far from the happy couple when I became aware of her presence. I’d certainly never forget it.

“What?” asked George asked, sensing both mine and Lorelei’s sudden tenseness.

“She’s here,” I said softly as I looked around frantically for her.

The confusion was plain on his face. “Who?” he asked.

“Lilith,” supplied Lorelei as she nudged me and pointed discreetly. She was back in her regal best, strolling down the Gallery as though without a care in the world, head high and proud. I had to admit, that was a killer dress. Slinky black silk that hugged her sensuous curves that managed flirty without being lurid, and suggestive without being revealing.

She looked probably the best that I’d ever seen her, and that’s saying something for a woman of her unearthly beauty. I discreetly switched places with Lorelei so I could be closer to the bride and groom while Larry was also suddenly there, on the other side, arms crossed over his powerful chest and a frown pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Believe me, nobody frowns like an angel.

“Lilith,” he greeted warily.

Her smile was a bit too perfect, too much cat eating the cream. “Hello Larry.” She purred. “I understand you got a new boss the other day. How delightful.”

Larry’s frown got deeper as I shot a glance at Lorelei who only smiled and mouthed, it was funny. “I don’t see how that’s any concern of yours,” he told her menacingly.

“It’s not,” she answered blithely. “Just commenting. But I didn’t come here to mince words with you. I have a gift to bestow to the new couple.” There was a quiet feeling of the ranks being closed as I fervently hoped this wouldn’t explode into violence. She strolled closer to Greg and Elisabeth under our tense, watchful eyes. “This cannot be allowed to go on until I have said something to both of you,” she declared, seeming to have more and more difficulty in speaking as she went.

Greg slowly got to his feet, watchful of just how he could throw himself before Elisabeth as he did so, should something happen. “And, what might that be?” he asked softly.

For a long moment Lilith said nothing as though fighting with herself. Finally she locked eyes with both of them and swallowed. “I’m sorry,” she announced as she turned on her heels and practically marched out without a backward glance.

“What was that all about?” I asked Lorelei once she was gone.

She shrugged her own ignorance. “It wasn’t one of the conditions of her release,” she said. “Who knows why she does half the stuff she does?”

“Maybe it’s just a bad case of indigestion,” suggested Raphael who had appeared suddenly with a twinkle in her eye. “Certain fruits can be known not to agree with some people.”

“Rebecca,” interjected Marc who had arrived with Raphael.

“Yes sir.”

“First, good job with Hamish. His romance with Rosemary is in something of a high gear so I consider our debt paid in full.” I beamed under his praise before he went all stern on me. “Now, about the matter of a fifty million pound charge on your Orachalcim Card…?”

Oh boy.

 

* finis *
Read 3324 times Last modified on Monday, 04 December 2023 18:43

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