by Maggie Finson
and a lot of other interesting things. She always seems to get the 'interesting' jobs.
Syl and I emerged from the gate we had used to leave the rogue angel's citadel into an unpleasantly familiar place. Wrinkling my nose at the odors of brimstone, fear, and blood along with far less agreeable scents I stared at the monstrous gates. They were that in more ways than one, believe me. Have you ever had the carvings and graffiti on The Gates of Hell described to you? Well, never mind for now. Use your imagination to conjure up the most completely disgusting panorama your twisted little id can devise, multiply that by at least ten, and you might, just might come close to the originals. But I doubt it.
"What?" I questioned my larger companion with a quick glare. "Are we returning defective merchandise today?"
"Defective merchandise?" the Hell Maid frowned, then threw back her head and actually drowned out other demonic and hopeless soul screams with her booming, tenor laugh. "Are you implying that you might be the returned merchandise, little sister?"
"The thought had crossed my mind," I grumbled, then rushed on with a nearly breathless and completely air-headed sounding voice. "I know that isn't a worthy thought all things considered, but…"
"But nothing!" Syl bellowed while delivering a resounding, companionable clap to my back. "You, little sister, are nothing short of an unqualified success that even has some of the older Angels taking notice. Wouldn't think of getting rid of you now! Besides, I've gotten kind of attached to your scrawny, soft hide."
"That's a relief," I grunted while flapping my wings for balance. "Then why are we here?"
"Now I know for a fact that you aren't stupid, Angelique," my companion snorted. "Why do already established members of Clans here in Hell usually come to The Gates?"
"Uh, Helga comes to play,"
"Other than Hell Hounds and Soul Herders."
"Oh," letting out a long sigh I turned to favor the receiving area with its extensive counters run by officiously obnoxious clerkly demons with a less than enthusiastic glance. "Well, then, let's get it over with. Who, or what, are we collecting?"
"A soul condemned here for murder," Syl replied while digging through her capacious rucksack for several moments before triumphantly brandishing a pick up order. "Here it is! We're after one Edward Hemmings, tried, judged, and executed by his peers in the Human Realms for the murder of his wife and the man he found in bed with her."
"That name sounds familiar,"
"It should," the Hell Maid began elbowing her way through the usual milling crowd around the counter area and I prudently made use of the path she was clearing. "We owe the presence of our lovely and somewhat nerve wracking Lorilei to Mr. Hemmings."
"That Ed Hemmings!" I adroitly dodged an angry kick from a sharp edged hoof belonging to one of the disgruntled demons Syl had dislodged from its position in line while grinning. "So what's in store for him?"
"Well," Syl grinned evilly. (Trust me, an evil grin from a Hell Maid would curdle cheese at a hundred paces. Their friendly grins are scary enough to see, not that they're hideous or anything, just very, very - well, you know, scary.) "Mr. Hemmings is going to be treated to an orgy that would make any man think he had died and gone to Heaven, then will wake up as Hell's Valkyrie number two."
I perked up at that. "You mean I won't be the newbie any longer?"
"Well not the newbie," Syl allowed with another grin that turned serious for a moment. "If you work out as well as you seem to be with the start you've had, little sister, you might just end up heading your own Clan."
"Sheesh! Like I don't have enough to worry about already," I grumped, but then grinned back tooth for tooth at my big companion. "Well, let's go get him. I can't wait to quit being the junior member of this outfit."
"I thought that's what we were doing," Syl gave me a look usually reserved for total idiots then continued forcing her way through to the front of the line.
"Uh, Syl?" I questioned after dodging more irate swings, kicks, and nips. "Why are we in such a hurry?"
"Rumor has it that Mab wants this one, too," Syl growled as we neared the counter.
"Mab?" I knew that name, and what it was connected with in Hell. My experience with her minions had not been pleasant. "Is She recruiting for more Hags now?"
"She wants this one soul rather badly," Syl nodded. "Lillith would interfere just to spite the nasty bitch, but evidently Mr. Hemmings has a reservoir of potential he was never truly aware of. With the political climate down here shaky as it is with The Truce and how different factions are reacting to it, Lucifer wants this newbie with us, not Mab."
"So why doesn't He just give the order that makes it so?" I asked in all innocence, or was that ignorance?
"First come, first served at The Gates," the Hell Maid countered almost gently. "Lillith shunted Michael, who became Lorilei straight to her own offices in The Center, you, she hid away in that little cave and shielded your presence until Lor, Helga, and I came to grab you. Mab found out abut those little tricks and lodged a complaint with Infernal Affairs. So we play this one straight. More or less."
"More or less?" I countered, realizing that we were actually paralleling the counter rather than moving towards it. "And how did you get all this information anyway? We just got back."
"Succubae are messengers that make the old Greek God Mercury look like a feeble old man," Syl replied while giving me a fatalistic shrug. "You were preoccupied with that Angel, so whoever brought the message slipped it to me instead."
"Oh," I replied in a small voice. (Hey, I hadn't been female all that long, and Tiand - the Angel in question - had been drawn to me like an iron filing to a magnet. Even though I hadn't, and didn't really want to admit to the fact, I was attracted to him as well.)
"Oh, is right," giving me a knowing, and lascivious grin Syl continued in the direction she had been plowing. "Now, pay attention to business."
"I will, mommy." Following her amid the growls, curses, and incredibly obscene gestures we were garnering while plowing through the crowd, I noticed we were nearing the end of the pickup area and actually approaching The Gates themselves. "Uh, Syl, why are we heading for The Gates?"
"Remember when I said 'more or less' about playing this one straight?" she responded with another grin that would have been unnerving if I hadn't known her for awhile. This one meant that she was genuinely amused over something. That turned to a brief glower before she added, "and I won't forget that "mommy' crack."
"I'm sure you won't," giving a resigned shrug as visions of even more hellish "training exercises' came to mind, I turned the subject back to the present business. "Now, about "more or less'? It might help me to keep my mind on our business if I knew what we were up to, you know."
"Easy, chickee," Syl laughed as I winced at that nickname. "Mr. Hemmings hasn't arrived yet. We're going to catch him right out of The Gate."
"Oh, that's good," I gave the steadily plodding quadruple line of condemned souls coming out of The Gate an incredulous look. "I only see one little problem with that."
"What's that, little sister?"
"We forgot to bring the sign we hold up with his name on it."
"You can make one if you like." Syl grinned as I continued watching the flood of souls with a resigned expression on my face. "I happen to have something a little better than that."
"What? a bullhorn to shout his name with?"
"Nope, I have this," Syl held up an ugly black string that passed from her hand then through the myriad souls plodding to their various punishments, and on through the gates.
"A soul string," light dawned as I watched the nasty looking thing twitch as it went taut, then loosened in my companion's grip. Given how Mr. Hemmings was condemned, there was a connection between him and Lor - unfinished business, so to speak. "But how did you get it?"
"Lor loaned it to me," Syl gave another toothy grin and winked at me. "Since she isn't really in any shape to come herself, I just sort of detached it - with her permission - at the Rogue's place. She thinks the plan is hilarious, by the way."
"Which part?" I questioned, "Outmaneuvering Mab, or getting our hooks into the man who killed her?"
"Both," Syl replied as she began winding the cord on a rather large spool. "Now help me reel him in, would you?"
That damned spool was full by the time a rather bedraggled and still struggling soul literally popped through The Gates and was yanked into my waiting arms. He'd been a large man in life and that still manifested in his disembodied soul, which made a handful for poor little me. Not that I couldn't handle him, but I was already a bit annoyed at all the kicks and bites that I had dodged on my path to The Gates.
"If you don't stop struggling like a trout out of water, I'm going to hurt you, Ed," I growled after turning him to face me. "We're not here to hurt you, or drag you off to the pits reserved for murderers, but I'm not in a real pleasant mood just now and would greatly enjoy using force to subdue you."
An ungentle nudge in my ribs from Syl distracted me enough to hear her halfway amused, slightly frustrated aside. "You have other powers, dummy, use them!"
"Oh, right," I made the armor and weaponry disappear and manifested a brief, gauzy little number that left absolutely nothing to anyone's imagination, then gave the poor frightened soul my most winning smile of invitation and kissed him fully on the mouth before going on. "If you do settle down I can make this part of the trip really pleasant for you."
My hand had wandered to his crotch and started lightly rubbing with the expected results, and I extended my Succubus abilities to heighten his desire while dropping my voice into Male Meltdown Sexy Mode "Oh, yes, very pleasant. If you just come along like a good little boy I can promise you an experience like none you've ever had in either life or death, Eddie boy."
Good old Eddie's eyes widened and his tongue almost hung out of his mouth as I stroked his libido and other things with a slow, sensuous smile on my face while cooing. "Now come along like a nice boy, and Angelique will show you what you've been missing all these years."
I turned my back, and sauntered away from him with a quick glance over my shoulder and a lazy smile. He would have followed me into Hell after that. (Come to think of it, that's what he was doing, wasn't it?)
"It's "bout time," Syl grumbled, then grinned at me before going back to scanning the milling throngs in the immense receiving chamber. With a frown, then an evil chuckle, she quietly warned me of imminent action. "Heads up, beautiful. It's show time!"
Showtime turned out to be a group of five gorgeous young females who had detoured from their original destination (The Counter ,of course) to intercept us. I recognized them as Hags in full dress for seduction and internally sniffed at the sloppiness of their illusions. Little things like a whiff of foul body odor, a rag sticking out from under one of their lovely illusory outfits, and a wavering of their images were not something most mortals, or new to Hell souls would notice, though. Wrinkling my nose in distaste, I waved Ed to stand behind me and exerted a bit more Influence on him to make sure he did.
"Dark Stars and Damnation," I quietly swore under my breath, then quietly told Syl, "I detest Hags."
"Most of your kind do, hon," my companion nodded. "It's a territory thing, and the reaction of perfection to a poor imitation masquerading as the real thing. Just keep your cool until I give the word, then you can whammy the bitches to your little heart's content."
"I've seen what those nasty bitches do to people in my human existence," I went on with clear distaste in my mouth. "They don't care what they ruin, and never bother to clean up their own messes. I refused to deal with them at all, other than to drive them off when I was a Human sorcerer."
"Wise of you," Sylvanna agreed as she loosened the heavy battle axe hanging over her shoulder so it could be drawn quickly. "Now get ready, we may have a fight on our hands here. These bitches are sneaky, cowardly, and just plain nasty to deal with in a one on one situation. In a group they're actually dangerous."
For the first time since I'd awakened as Hell's newest type of denizen, I realized that I was actually not only ready for a fight, but anxious to get into it. I absolutely hated those creatures on sight in addition to not being in the best of moods to begin with.
"Well what do we have here?" One of the Hags, appearing to be a statuesque brunette with her dark hair playing at ripe buttocks and teasingly flirting with her full, firm breasts, grinned while she looked us over, and her companions spread into a loose inverted wedge with us in its center. "A Hell Maid, a newbie Suckie, and our property. So good of you to fetch him for us. Her majesty, Mab will be sooo grateful for your assistance. Now just hand him over and we won't have to get messy here."
Hags are magic users, and while the leader tried to distract us, the others probed my link with a very quiet Ed, trying to sever it and replace it with one of their own. My own magical shield, set over him before the nasty things even showed up, glowed as the probes touched it, and I deftly reached out to slap them back. (None too gently, by the way. I have mentioned that I hate Hags, haven't I?)
"Naughty, naughty," I admonished with a feral grin as the four other ersatz beauties (two blondes, a redhead, and another brunette) staggered with surprised looks on their faces. In passing, I noted that the usual swarm of denizens in the receiving area were giving our two groups a very wide berth and that we were in the center of a rather large area completely empty of either demons or condemned souls. I guess even the stupid ones can feel trouble coming. There was a gathering at the perimeter of the circle, though, with every Demonic type in the general area crowding, spitting, and biting to get a better view.
The leader of the Hags snarled, then brandished a rolled up parchment. "We have authorizations to pick this one up. Mab wants him, and She is going to have him. We can do this easy, or hard. That's up to you two uppity bitches. Personally I'd prefer the hard way, though."
"I only see one problem with that pick up order," Syl smoothly replied while casually reaching over her shoulder to get her axe. "It won't hold up when we already have possession of the item in question. Possession and nine tenths of the law, you know."
"Tell your seductress to let go of him, now." the leader ordered as her companions began assembling spells to see that her order happened. "Or things are going to get real nasty here."
"What, you mean they haven't already?" I questioned sweetly with an innocent expression on my face as I quietly jabbed magically at the others to mess up their spell casting. "The neighborhood went to - ahem - Hell in a heartbeat when you girls showed up."
"Little girls shouldn't use a smart mouth on their betters," the leader of the opposition growled at me, then turned a syrupy sweet smile on Ed. "Now, fella, you have one beauty with her hooks in you now, and trust me she means no good for you regardless of what she might have hinted at. There are five of us, with an old goddess behind us, willing to save you from the fate she and her devious sisters have in mind for you, probably as a food source, she is a Succubus and I think you know what they do to males. All you have to do is say the word, and you can walk away with us, we'll protect you."
Ed was beginning to waver as he watched the illusory beauties strike seductive poses of invitation. All that smooth gleaming flesh, the curves, mammaries, and sweet faces pouting at him would have been sickening under regular conditions. Knowing the truth behind those facades of youthful beauty, I'd plain and simply had enough of it. I quietly gave Ed's eyes the power of True Sight, something I'd likely regret later on, and just for grins used a powerful counter spell to shred the bitches' illusions. The growls and shrieks from the spectators let me know that the spell had been maybe a bit overdone as illusions clothing creatures in the audience winked out too.
The effect on Ed, as he first watched the beautiful forms of the Hags waver, then blink out completely to be replaced with three stick thin, ugly crones with oozing sores and bad cases of halitosis (not to mention a total lack of personal hygiene) and two grossly fat creatures that might have been female if one used imagination and gave them the benefit of the doubt, was gratifying. He retched, and squeezed closer to me than he had been since the beginning of that confrontation. The only problem with that was we were now in a fight, and having a very frightened soul clinging to me like a second set of clothes was not a good thing.
"Little girl, am I?" I sneered at the now grossly obese and sore encrusted leader of the Hags. (She was a brunette, though her hair was now a tangled, snarled mess any self respecting comb or brush would have run in terror from) "I was using magic and running your kind off every time I saw them centuries ago. And that hasn't changed now. Get out of here, or I'll start getting serious about ridding myself of your stinking presence."
"You're going to regret that, Bit... Waaugh!" The leader started whipping up a very nasty spell to throw at me as she howled in rage. Which I interrupted with a quick bolt of molten plasma Hell Fire that scattered her various noxious pieces all over the receiving area in a cloud of noisome mist. Not to mention adding a new cave/cubby to the wall behind the pick up counter. Seeing those officious clerks scattering and diving for cover was pretty gratifying too, by the way.
Syl had her axe out and ready, but was staring at me with something akin to awe as I casually stepped into the spot the defunct Hag had occupied and purred to the others like a cat in the cream that had found a mouse swimming in it, too. "Now that felt really good. I'm already in a really pissy mood, so I would strongly advise the rest of you to take your ball and go home. Although if you really do want to play, I'd be more than happy to let you."
"Uh, you all might keep something in mind here," Syl added quietly, still watching me while keeping tabs on the four remaining Hags. "Angie here has killed Angels, so I don"t really think she'd have all that much trouble backing her threats up with your lot."
So far, I'd quite easily deflected and flattened their own seduction spells, blown their illusions (which Hags are reputed to be very good at) away, and totally demolished their leader. On top of that, I now held a crackling ball of energy that was spitting sparks and small bolts of lightning in one hand that was quickly recognizable as an area effect spell that was particularly devastating. That was enough for the four remaining Hags. With parting snarls they bolted and ran. Leaving us in the center of an even wider circle of emptiness than before.
I cancelled out the illusion in my hand with a small chuckle. "Now that felt good, Syl. Shall we go, Ed, dear? We have things to do and people to see, after all."
Ed gave me a frightened look, then started as Syl put a hand on his shoulder. "Easy, boyo, we aren't going to hurt you. Angie's little display there was to protect you, after all. By the way, that Hag she blew away was an old one, don't know what her name was, but she was pretty powerful as those nasty bitches go. I think you'd better do like she asks, don't you?"
Ed only nodded with a glazed look in his eyes, and Syl favored me with a look that plainly said we were going to have a loong discussion about this when we got home.
At least I didn't have to dodge angry hooves and claws on our path to the waiting portal for transport to Home. I also noticed currency changing hands, claws, and pincers as we made our way through the receiving area, and idly wondered what kind of odds Syl and I had been given in the encounter. From the sour looks and amounts of stuff passing from one to another, I figured they had been pretty long ones.
"So how much trouble am I in?" I asked no one in particular as we emerged in the gardenlike comfort of Home.
"Well, let's see," Syl began counting points off on her fingers as Ed stared in dumbfounded amazement at the scenery - I think he may have even noticed the Acacia trees and flowering shrubs, but I wouldn't have made book on it. A large number of Succubae were wandering over to where we had appeared, and more were beginning to drift our way as my companion began her litany.
"First, you neglected to remember that you have talents beyond bashing things for a while, until I reminded you. Second, you blew away an emissary from another area of Hell in view of just about every type of demon in existence there in the receiving area. Third, you blew an extra hole in a wall already riddled with them and had the receiving clerks taking extra breaks to change their pants because the bolt blasted right across their counter," Syl paused to draw in a breath, gripping Ed's shoulder to keep him from wandering off as she did. "Then…"
"You deprived your companion of the fun she had been getting ready for by stripping illusions away from their wearers for several hundred yards around you," another, rich feminine voice picked up the thread and I winced as I recognized who it belonged to. Mother Lillith tilted her head and shook her glorious mane of flame red hair off her shoulder, then finished. "Then single handedly sent four well seasoned, and fairly ancient Hags running off to the safety of their Mother Mab's shadow. All without so much as breaking even what would appear to be a little sweat. Between you and little Lorilei, I've been doing more damage control the past few months than I had to contend with in several previous centuries. What am I going to do with you?"
"Uh, send me to bed without supper?" I weakly replied. (Hey, I know it was lame, but you try looking Lillith in the face and telling her to really punish you. I dare you.)
"But you did," the original Succubus, and Adam's first wife pursed her full lips in consideration, "make sure Mab didn't get her hooks on Edward here. Which is what I sent you and Sylvanna to do, after all."
"Well, yeah, I did help do that," I agreed carefully. With Lillith, you can never be too sure where something is leading until you're either in a luxury suite, or falling off the edge of a very high cliff.
"Mab is going to be very angry about your destroying Tiamhaidh, by the way," Lillith went on thoughtfully, "and about losing her prize to us yet again."
"Uh, I take it Tiamhaidh was the pile of rancid lard I blew up?"
"Rancid lard?" Mother Lillith lost her serious demeanor for a moment as a chuckle escaped her mouth. "I'll have to remember that one, dear, and yes, Tiamhaidh was one of Mab's lieutenants, and one of the older ones at that. What you did over there generated a lot of healthy fear of you, which equates as respect in many circles of Hell, and only heightened the reputation of the Succubae in general. The one down side in all that is you made a very powerful, and nasty enemy in the former Queen of the Fae with your stunts. She always did hate being embarrassed or shown up by anyone. I'd love to be able to hear her ranting and screaming over this one, my precocious little darling."
"So now what? Am I confined to Home, or quarters, or something?" I questioned, with an unpleasant picture in my mind of a raging one-time goddess painting a large target on my backside. Then couldn't stifle a giggle at the ridiculous picture that made.
"Just watch your back, child," Lillith let out a tired sigh. "You and Lor can both take care of yourselves in most head on confrontations, but still lack experience with the subtleties of treachery that could snare you. I warn you, Mab is a past mistress of that, three time champion of Hell in double dealing and sneakiness. So consider yourself warned, and do try to be a bit more subtle when you go about your business, couldn't you?"
'Uh, ok, I'll do my best, Mother," my response was an honest one, and after dealing with the Hall of Mages on an adversarial basis for several centuries I had thought myself pretty good with watching for just about any kind of treachery that might sneak my way.
"And start teaching some of your sisters here to use that quick draw spell technique, could you?" Lillith asked, making it a command just by saying the words. "That skill will prove very useful in the future, I think."
"Sure, I'd be glad to, Mother,"
"Good, consider yourself officially chastised, and let's get on with the important business at hand, shall we?"
Important business. Oh, right! Ed, with his newly gifted sense of true seeing was ogling the abundant, and real multitude of female flesh gathered around us with something like lust gone into disbelieving awe, then on into heart attack territory if he had still been a living breathing creature. Lillith giggled after watching his reactions for a few seconds then winked at me. "I think he's ready, don't you?"
"Any more ready, Mother," I drawled, "and he'd be humping the nearest tree just for relief."
"THAT MIGHT BE ENTERTAINING," Mama's all encompassing voice joined our conversation. "I HAVEN'T HAD A GOOD LAY IN EONS. LORILEI IS ON HER WAY, LILLITH, DEAR."
"Good, once she arrives, we can get started." Lillith nodded. "Thank you for calling her, Mama."
"OH, SHE WOULDN'T MISS THIS ONE FOR ALL THE SOULS IN CHINA." Mama assured us with a deep, rumbling chuckle. "I HAD TO RESTRAIN HER FROM JOINING THE COLLECTION PARTY SO SHE COULD FINISH HEALING."
"Bet she just loved that," I whispered to Syl, who shrugged noncommittally then grinned in response.
"Just how much fun did I miss out on?" Lorilei stalked regally into the midst of our group, with a quick grin and low bow to acknowledge Lillith, then turning to give Ed Hemmings a long, calculating look. "Ed, good to see you again!"
"Uh, have we met before?" Men. I don't know how I survived as one for as long as I did. Get a look at some pretty bodies and faces (oh, all right, some incredibly gorgeous females even if they all did have horns, tails and wings) and the blood deserts the brain - where it's generally needed in that kind of situation - and fills the one thing that has gotten more males into trouble than Eve and her apple ever thought of. Ed simply stared at Lor as if she was the main course following some very delightful appetizers.
"Oh, yes, Eddie, darling," Lor cooed as she moved gracefully to stand in front of him and deliberately placed one hand on a distractingly curved hip while pursing her lips in feigned hurt that he didn't recall her from the past. "But we can discuss all that later. I can see that you're all primed and loaded for - um - a she bear? Well, no matter, I'll just start getting you some of that wonderful relief you sooo obviously need just now."
"Urgh!" Ed stiffened as Lorilei's other hand reached out to tickle his quite obvious erection. (Newbies in Hell don't get clothes, you know.) Relief, it seemed, was not something the little minx intended to give the poor sap any time soon as she continued teasing him to the point of being merciless.
Well, he had shot and killed her in her previous incarnation, and was pretty much responsible for her being what she was, (Okay, that's reaching, I know. But Sheesh! If good ol' Ed Hemmings hadn't gotten angry enough to lose it and shoot both his loving wife and her illicit lover, Lor wouldn't be here at all.) and for where she was. Well, all right, some would say that her behavior as a male was the cause of placement, and the form she now wore a just punishment for an overactive libido as a Human male. You tell her that. Go ahead, I dare you.
"Get in there, Angelique," Lillith urged, along with a not so gentle pat to my backside for encouragement. "This guy is going to become one of yours, after all, so a bit of input from you is going to be required."
This female thing may still have been kind of new to me, but I knew an order when I heard it. Besides, a good orgy was just what I needed about then and I really, really liked the having sexual relations part of the new me. So, I joined in the fun as the gathered sisters, and two mothers, began singing.
Lor and I took turns draining the masculine energy from the unsuspecting Ed's soul, and replacing what we took with the needed feminine version of that energy. I really don't recall how many different positions we used, or how often I was on top, underneath the other two, or in the middle. Not that it mattered to me, or to Ed, or Lor, we were having the greatest sex possible for Succubae, and one-time Human males. We were creating a new being out of an old one.
I threw in my own obvious strengths, with weapons and fighting techniques, and awakened the sleeping potential for magic in Ed's being. Lor, added her own rather unique self and magical ability, along with her undeniable lust for male essence, flesh (well part of the male, anyway), and the usual Succubus characteristics to balance my Hell Maid inspired input. By the time we finished, all three of us were an exhausted, sated, tangle of wings, tails, arms and legs. With the notable absence of a certain piece of male anatomy that had started the party with us.
'Wonder what color her eyes are?" I idly questioned while looking over the scarlet winged beauty with hair like molten flame covering her lush, if slender (for a succubus) form. As if in response those large almond shaped beauties snapped open to reveal themselves as a very startling, and lovely, ice Blue that contrasted nicely with her generally scarlet color scheme.
"Umm?" the newly made she moaned in a satiny, electrifying contralto.
"Your name is now officially Victoria. Go back to sleep, dear." I leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, then began gently untangling myself from both her and Lor as my - my - child settled back into a deep and restful sleep.
"Hey!" Lor gave my tail a little whack. "Keep that thing where it belongs, will you? And I had something to do with her, too, you know."
"I know, Lor," Finally disentangled, and helping the smaller Succubus to her delicate hooves, I enveloped my teacher and friend in a tight hug. "But Victoria is my first."
"Ok, little sister," Lor grumbled, then flashed one of her famous infectious grins. "She's only my second. But I know how you feel."
"Can we cook, or what?" I asked while watching my newly made daughter(?), sleep.
"I'd sure say so," Lor agreed, then a chorus of other agreements joined hers.
"Well, we'd better get some rest ourselves," with a sigh, I began moving to a spot a few paces away and curled into a comfortable position for a nap. "I have this feeling that sweet little Vicki is going to be a handful when she wakes up and sees the new her."
"If she's anything like you two were," Lillith nodded to both of us with a laugh. "That's a no-brainer that even an Imp blitzed out on mischief would refuse to bet against."
"Now wait a second here!" I barely heard Dimona's jumping to the defense of her kind as I drifted into a very nice little dream world of my own. One filled with an Angel named Tiand, and a randy, but lovable (to me) dwarf called Guiridiur, both working on parts of my anatomy that wanted worked on even after the orgy with Ed/Victoria.
"ANGIE" the voice in my head wouldn't go away no matter how much I tried to ignore it.
"I hate being called that," I mumbled as I shifted my position and tried to return to sleep.
"ANGELIQUE. WAKE UP AND SHAKE THAT PRETTY LITTLE TAIL. NOW!"
That got my attention. "Huh? Mama? Another ten minutes? Please?"
"NOW, DEAR. OUR NEWEST ADDITION IS WAKING UP AND YOU'D BETTER BE THERE WHEN SHE DOES. GOT IT?"
"Oh! Okay, okay, I'm awake, MAMA. Really!"
"I kNOW YOU'RE TIRED, LITTLE ONE," MAMA soothed and I felt strength and alertness flow back into my body and mind. "I'VE GIVEN YOU SOME EXTRA ESSENCE TO TIDE YOU OVER. I'M PRETTY SURE YOU'RE GOING TO NEED IT."
"That's encouraging," I grumped, then hastily added, "Thanks, MAMA. How close is she to waking fully?"
An enraged, disbelieving scream made that question moot. The scream descended into a string of curses and imprecations that would have done a very experienced fishwife proud.
"Never mind," I answered my own question while hurrying the few yards between where I was and where I had left Victoria. She wasn't there. "Great! Now where would I have headed if I were a berserk, newly made Demon?"
I headed for the portal we'd entered Home from at a dead run.
Sure enough, my baby was there, throwing a tantrum and trying to get the portal to open all in one frenetic series of actions that looked more like a seizure than anything normally tolerated by nature, unnature, or supernature. I stopped to watch her unsuccessful tries at getting the portal open until she began to wind down. MAMA had made sure it was closed tight so there was no real danger of the newly fashioned Victoria actually getting loose in Hell before she learned the ground rules of the place.
"I have to give her credit for one thing," a voice beside me commented. "She has staying power."
Glancing at a half amused Lorilei, I gave a shrug. "That she does. At least we know she isn't going to be a shrinking violet, don't we?"
"Think we maybe put a little too much oomph into it when we made her?" The gorgeous (all right, they're all gorgeous) succubus questioned idly as Victoria began beating at the pillars of the portal with a rock she had picked up from an ornamental garden nearby.
"I'd say there was a pretty good chance of that," was my own comment as the crimson beauty decided the rock wasn't doing any damage to the portal or convincing the recalcitrant doorway to cooperate with her and slammed her improvised tool to the ground at her hooves with another panted curse.
"Maybe we ought to stop her now?" Lor asked half heartedly.
"Nah, let her get it out of her system," I advised as the object of our attention began climbing one pillar to get at the arch joining it to the other while muttering about there having to be an on switch somewhere on the damned thing. Once up there, she promptly fell off because her wildly thrashing tail had tangled itself with her feet on its way up to - well, you know. Our tails often seem to have a mind of their own (dirty) when we're agitated.
"Okay with me." the royal blue shaded wings of my companion spread in unison with her slim shoulders to make a truly impressive shrug. "But she's liable to hurt herself at the rate she's going."
"Kids." I sighed theatrically. "All right, I suppose we ought to put a stop to this before she actually manages to damage something or some innocent bystander."
"Thanks, but I really think this is going to take both of us, Lor." I answered as Victoria got back to her hooves and began looking for something else to whack the portal with. Just as she fixated on one of MAMA's prized acacia trees and began trying to break off a branch we both decided it was time to stop our little girl's antics. MAMA was and is very protective of her acacias.
Lor threw a light restraining spell while I Tk'd the crimson winged dervish away from both the tree and the portal. She landed at our hooves with a solid thump, held her head a moment, then promptly shook off Lor's spell and regained her own hooves. After that she just stood there panting and glaring at both of us from those incredible ice-blue eyes until she grated out a sibilant. "YOU!"
"Urk!" was not the most intelligent response I might have come up with, but then I would have been able to talk just a bit better without a hand grasping my throat tightly enough to crumple a steel bar.
Lor wasn't faring any better at that moment, as our crazed daughter had managed to get her in a headlock with the arm not occupied with me.
Events degenerated into a rolling, thumping, tangled free for all after that quiet moment. It must have been quite a sight, a few witnesses (from a safe distance) have told me it was one of the best, nastiest, most vocal catfights they'd seen since Lillith booted Eve out of Home. Yeah, that Eve. You know, the one with the apple?
Anyway, things finally calmed to the point of an armed truce. Mainly because I was sitting squarely in the small of Victoria's back and holding her legs down while biting on her tail for all I was worth to keep it from taking out one of my eyes. Lor was firmly ensconced between the scarlet Dynamo's shoulder blades, keeping those barbed crimson wings from rejoining the fight while industriously pushing our child's face into the turf to keep her from biting.
"Now, could we discuss this in a slightly more civilized manner?" Lorilei questioned through gritted teeth as she pushed a little harder on the back of Vicki's head. "Or are Angie and I going to have to get really angry and do something to hurt you?"
"Mrrmph!" came the muffled response. I managed to trap her tail under my arm to give my aching jaw a rest. It popped when I moved it to speak.
"I didn't quite get that." Lor sweetly replied to the incoherent, and thankfully muted growls from the still struggling form we were holding down. "Are you going to be good if we let you up?"
"I'll take that as a yes," Lor agreeably let go of Vicki's head.
"You bitches! What did you do to me?"
"Made you more compatible with your new home, for one thing," I put in Helpfully, while tactfully avoiding the subject of exactly how we'd done that. I mean it was obvious even to the still shell shocked and weakly raging Victoria.
"I'm not a girl!" she moaned.
"No, you aren't." Lor agreed. "You're a cross between a Succubus and a Hell Maid, which I guess makes you Hell's Valkyrie Mark Two. The Mark One model, also known as Angelique, is the one sitting on your backside."
"But I'm a female!" the muffled wail was full of anguish, but by that time I really had no sympathy left for our newly awakened wild child.
"Duh!" I answered a bit shortly. "By simple definition, neither a Succubus, a Hell Maid, and especially not a Valkyrie, can be male. Not even a male in good drag. It just isn't something that happens at all."
"I might point out," Lor added without flinching. "That both Angelique and I started out as Human males, just like you did, and we seem to be doing all right with the way we are."
"But dammit, I don't want to be this, this monstrosity!"
"Maybe you should have thought of that before you shot me and your wife way back when." Lor brought out the big gun in our little fracas, and it actually caused our newest member to go limp for a moment as she stared in wide eyed disbelief at first Lor, then with a lot of neck craning that had to hurt, at me.
"Mike?" she questioned in a small voice after returning her attention to Lorilei.
"Not any longer, thanks in part to you." My partner in crime answered a bit tartly. "Now I'm Lorilei, a Succubus, like You're Victoria. A Hell's Valkyrie. There isn't any changing back for any of us. Not now, not ever, so start getting used to the idea of the new you."
"Oh," she answered weakly. "You can let me up now. I'll be good."
"Good really doesn't enter into it around here," I told her while gingerly removing my very sore self from her backside and standing with an experimental flex of wings and anything else that I could. "Just behave yourself, please?"
"I will. Promise!"
We'd gathered an audience, one that was a whole lot closer than it had been while the rough and tumble first meeting between the three of us been going strong.
Both Lor and I warily watched Vicki for any resumption of hostilities, but our little darling was far too busy examining herself to be worried over something so simple as a soul deep need to kill something. Her hands moved over her face, fluttering like frightened butterflies before moving down to cup a firm breast each. Brushing her nipples during that activity caused Victoria to draw in a quick gasped breath.
With minds of their own, (I could sympathize, my own had done that when I first awakened as I was now) her hands brushed across her smooth, flat stomach, then both generous hips, and her enticing bottom. Struggling not to do it, she then began a rather thorough examination of the altered landscape at her crotch.
We let her get through all that, including the 'still not believing it' part, then Lor whipped up a full length mirror beside the newly created Hell's Valkyrie while telling her. "You might as well have a look at the full effect, honey. It's going to be you for a long, long time to come."
Victoria took in her new self in all its glory, from flame red hair, crimson wings and tail, to her super model type figure, let out a sigh, gave the two of us a long look in comparison, then swept the gathered audience with another glance while muttering, "When in Rome…"
'Better now?" I questioned with a tentative grin.
"If you mean, am I still homicidal, no," Victoria responded a bit distractedly then went on in a half dazed voice. "But, better? I don't think I'll ever be that again."
"You are something to look at," Lorilei confirmed, deliberately misunderstanding her meaning. "Welcome to the family, Vicki."
"Do I have a choice about that?" Vicki questioned a little acidly. "Being part of the 'family' I mean."
"Nope," Lor cheerfully answered, "Like I said, both Angie and I have been through the same thing. It really isn't so bad most of the time."
"This must be one of those 'other' times, then." Victoria let out a sigh. "Because right now it seems pretty bad to me."
"That's ok," I replied, moving up to give her slim, strong shoulder a friendly pat. "I do know how you feel about this. I did my best to strangle Lor the first time I woke up this way. Now, I think some introductions are in order. Are you up to that?"
"Why not?" came the bemused answer. "If this is going to be home, I suppose I'd better get to know the people living here, right?"
"That's the spirit, little one!" A Hell Maid who had been a very interested observer stalked forward to give the new girl a resounding thump on the back. "I'm Brekke, and we're going to become very well acquainted over the next little while."
"Brekke…" Victoria acknowledged once she had recovered from the companionable clap on the back.
"Just think of Brekke as you very own, personal trainer," I offered while feeling more than a twinge of sympathy. "for all the physical training you're going to have to go through."
"Oh, this one is going to do fine!" Brekke enthused as she gave Victoria a long, carefully measuring examination. "Probably do as well as you did with Sylvanna, Angie."
"Good to hear," my answer actually held a small wince as I recalled my own weapons and fighting techniques training.
"I," Lorilei sauntered forward with a grin, "am going to be your teacher in the use of magic."
"Magic?" Vicki pulled her attention away from the imposing Hell Maid long enough to give the saucy little minx a dubious look. "Me?"
"You always had the potential for it, dear," Lor explained. "It was just never brought out in you. I'll be doing that while Brekke is showing you the fine arts of fighting physically."
We introduced her to MAMA, with suitable cautions about molesting the acacia's, to Lillith, then the rest of the gathered throng of Succubai, Hell Maids, Imps, Hell Hounds, and whatever else MAMA had allowed to wander in at the time. Hell, I met folks I'd never seen before.
"Nice kid you got there," Sylvanna offered after the intros, and Lor had rather gently moved Vicki to a more private spot to begin her orientation in magic.
"Compared to what?" I shot back, still rubbing out sore spots that 'nice kid' had caused. "An enraged Malachite?"
"You and Lor did good." my own mentor in fighting techniques and friend chuckled. "But we have another job that needs doing now, if you'll recall."
"Baal." Letting out a long, very put upon sigh that my companion completely ignored, I looked up at her grinning face expecting to see the usual rough humor there. "And what it is that one is up to."
"That's Lord Baal to the likes of us, sweetie," Syl quietly answered with a serious expression. "He was a god once, and just happens to be one of the major Princes of Hell now. Be very careful about how you use that one's name even in passing."
"All right, I see your point," with an apologetic grin, I finished, "just chalk it up to the trauma of giving birth to a very active child recently."
No problem, little sister," the usual grin back on her face, Syl handed me a rather large file folder and some computer disks. "Read through these, then go to Lillith's offices at The Gates and use one of her computers to access the disks. There's a lot of information there, and we don't have much time to assimilate all of it. Lord Lucifer believes that Lord Baal is going to make some kind of move very soon. We have to at least have a rough idea of what our esteemed War Leader is aiming for initially."
Giving the heavy paper file folder a wry glance, then the box of disks, I shook my head, waved a hand, and produced a new model PC complete with scanner, printer, and zip drive. "I guess I'd better get started then, huh?"
"I keep forgetting you can do that kind of thing," Syl stared at the computer setup, then at me, then at the paper files being scanned already as we stood there. "Just get it done quickly, so you can brief the rest of us going on the inspection tour."
Already deep within the files and reading with a speed that I would have found both amazing and impossible as a Human her last words dawned on me several seconds after she had left. "Inspection Tour? The rest of us?"
"Home." I informed a gathering of selected Hell Maids, some of the older or more important Succubae, Lillith, MAMA's constant presence, and no one else. This meeting was heavily shielded from either eavesdropping or scrying, and to call it tense would be like calling World War II a little messy. "Lord Baal is aiming for Us. Right here. If he can either take us out, or better in his view, subjugate us, Lord Lucifer loses enough of his power base to be forced into making a lot of concessions, or even surrendering rule of Hell."
"Can you prove that?" Lillith questioned quietly, but seething inside. Trust me, when a Prince or Princess of Hell is seething, everything around them knows it.
"Not to the satisfaction of an Infernal Tribunal," I answered slowly. "But look at it this way. The Lillim, and to a large extent these days, the Hell maids, are based right here in Home. Now, to top that off, He is going to have a new type demon embodying the best of both in Hell's Valkyries. Let me tell you, Lord Baal is very bent out of shape over that. In the past, any attempted coup has been thwarted by one of the two groups, or a combination of both, and with the addition of that third group, Lord Lucifer's power base will be increased to an almost unassailable strength.. Lord Baal knows very well that to take over in Hell, he has to take us out of the picture, or have us on His side in the conflict."
"That makes sense," Lillith nodded thoughtfully. "But we need real, concrete proof of this before I can take it to Lord Lucifer or Infernal Affairs."
"I'd avoid Infernal Affairs if we could," I replied, handing out a few sheets with briefly outlined connections to everyone. "Lord Baal has a pipeline to them, and may even have some very highly placed Demons there in His pocket. Going to them until we can find out who is who would be sounding an alarm that we know what He's up to. Which wouldn't stop it, just make him a bit more careful about setting things up."
"So now what do we do?" Lorilei questioned in concern.
"We get ourselves ready for a fight," I answered carefully. "And hope this isn't a feint by Lord Baal to divert attention from somewhere else. We also give Lord Lucifer a discrete warning of coming trouble, then go ahead with the inspection tour He ordered."
"Along with passing him all the information you've put together here," Lillith nodded with a vicious little smile. (Trust me, you want to see something predatory, have a look at Mother Lillith when she scents a hunt worthy of Her personal attention. Whoever it was that originally said 'the female is the deadliest of the species' must have had Mother Lillith in mind when he or she came up with the saying.)
"I"LL HAVE THE ARSENAL READY" MAMA told us. "IF THAT IDIOT BAAL THINKS I'M GOING TO LET THAT HAPPEN WITHOUT SOMEONE GETTING HURT, HE HAD BETTER GIVE HIS THOUGHT PROCESSES A VERY CAREFUL GOING OVER."
Lillith accepted that pronouncement without so much as a raised eyebrow at MAMA both calling Baal an idiot and the lack of honorific voiced by the keeper of Home. "Good. I'll get this information to Lord Lucifer, the rest of you pass quiet warnings to everyone else. Then get that damned Inspection going."
"I think I can help with that," I offered, feeling very much out of my depth with all the powerful beings involved in this already.
"I'm listening," Lillith gave me a long, inquisitive look.
"I can pass for a Hell Maid, but…"
"You're a magic user of no little power." Mother Lillith finished with a slow smile. "Which skill includes masking and invisibility spells. True?"
"Exactly." my answer wasn't quite as enthusiastic as it could have been, but come on. I was offering to put my own precious head right in the proverbial lion's mouth, then crawl in after it. Would you have been overly enthusiastic at a prospect like that? No? Hah! Didn't think so. "While Syl and the rest distract Lord Baal's minions with the inspection, I can be sneaking around doing a more in depth study of His setup."
"Do that." Simple as that. I'd made a commitment and Mother Lillith was not only holding me to it, she had commanded that it be done. But she softened the steel in her voice when she finished. "Just make sure you get back in one piece, daughter. I've grown somewhat attached to you in recent times and would be most distraught if something bad was to happen to you."
"I'll be careful, Mother," I promised fervently. I may be in Hell, and one of the Damned, but let's face it here; I was alive, breathing (sort of) and really wanted to keep that state of affairs as it was.
"Do that Daughter."
Wonderful. Another order. Only that one, I was more than willing to comply with.
I was preparing for my next adventure (or misadventure, call it what you like.) when a bedraggled, limping Victoria wearily trudged up to where I was. She was dragging a rather nasty looking double bladed hand axe along in what looked to be a very familiar argument with a so-called inanimate object.
"I see you've started your physical training." Wincing internally at the memory of what I had gone through during my own, I gave the axe an appreciative looking over. (Magic weapons, especially the ones with egos and minds of their own are very vain and just gobble up praise.) "Nice axe. What's her name?"
"Angel's Grief," Victoria returned tiredly. "And she says she's glad to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine, Angel's Grief," I replied with a small grin. "You take care of my baby, now."
"She says she will," Victoria passed on, then flopped to the ground beside me. "Arrgh! I think Brekke is hunting for bones she hasn't managed to break yet."
"Been there, done that, dear. I thought Syl was really trying to kill me while she was training me."
"Well I'm, sure Brekke is trying to do that with me." the second Hell's Valkyrie in all creation grumped. "with a wooden sword, yet. Tomorrow she's going to use the real thing she tells me. I can't wait."
"You're making progress, then." I assured her.
"Right, instead of just bruising, I'll be able to bleed."
"Trust me, Vicki, that's progress."
"Huh!" Victoria groused. "I wish you wouldn't call me that."
"What should I call, you dear?" I questioned in a reasonable tone that reminded me of how Lorilei had answered me when I complained. "Would you prefer Victoria? That's kind of formal considering our relationship, isn't it?"
"Call me whatever you like, mama," Victoria shrugged, then winced as she obviously regretted that set of motions. "You're going to anyway."
"But do you think you might be able to call me Vic for at least a while?" she pleaded. "This female thing is still hard for me to deal with. My damned tits get in the way all the time when I'm trying to do anything!"
"Victoria," I responded a bit severely. "this female thing is something that you're going to have to deal with for the rest of your existence, so calling you Vic would probably be counter productive, don't you think? And as for the your tits getting in the way, adjust your sense of balance to include them, it's easy enough to do once you think about it for a while. Then don't think about it and you'll find that it just comes naturally."
"I'll try that." giving me a dubious look, Vicki thought about what I'd told her, then brightened. "Hey! That just might work."
"It will," I promised. "I've been there, and had to do it myself. I was a Human male for centuries, sweetie, so if I managed to adjust, you should be able to do it. Also, don't forget the Succubus trick of self healing, that is a big plus."
"Self healing…" with a sigh, all the bruises on her lovely body vanished in an instant. "Now how could I forget something like that?"
"Not to worry, Lor had to point it out to me, too."
"Hey you two!" as if summoned, the little Succubus bounced up to us. "It's time for some more practice with your spells, Vicki."
"Oh, great," Victoria grumped. "I just finish up with my daily dose of physical abuse and its time for the mental variety."
"Head on over to the training circle, dear." Lorilei ordered with a grin. "I'll be there in a minute."
"All right, mommy," Vicki sighed, getting up and heading for the enclosed, and very safe, area where neophytes where trained in the use of the magics that were inherent in both Succubai and Valks.
"How's she doing with magics?"
"Good, really well, actually," Lor grinned, then chuckled. "She's mastered the healing spell, I see."
"Self defense," I snorted. "That was the first one I recalled and mastered, too."
"No, you used the self cleaning spell first, if I recall."
"Whatever," with a wave at the pile of equipment spread around me, I shrugged. "I always did hate being dirty. But have other things on my mind just now."
"Be careful, hon," Lor gave me a serious hug. (When a full blown Succubus gives you a serious hug, believe it, you know you've been hugged. And blessed, or cursed, depending on your point of view. Me I took it as blessed.)
"I plan on that, Lor." with a grimace I began gathering up all that stuff and squeezing it into a rather smallish backpack.
"A TOW, and an Uzi?" she questioned as I packed those two items with enough ammunition to finish a decent war.
"Why take chances?" I stuffed about a gross of grenades and a pile of satchel charges into the pack while answering. "If things go bad, I want to leave as much confusion behind as I possibly can. Mainly so I can get away."
"Gehenna is a war zone, anyway," Lor commented as I shoved a heavy machine gun into the pack. "How could anyone add confusion to that?"
"Hit the headquarters." was my simple answer.
'No wonder Syl and the other Hell Maids like you," Lor laughed. "You're a girl after their own hearts."
"Hey, if I can't slice and dice it, beat it up, or blast it with a spell, I'll be more than happy to shoot it, or blow the shit out of it with explosives. I just wish I could get a few nukes for this trip."
"You know," Lorilei replied slowly, "the idea of you being in possession of even a small tactical nuke makes my skin crawl?"
"Girl can dream, can't she?" I grinned evilly.
"I made a monster, and I'm not talking about Victoria." Lor sighed, then laughed. "You just come back in one piece, okay? I'm finally starting to get used to having you around, and would be really pissed off if someone took you away from me. Got that?"
"I worry about you, too. Thanks."
Syl met me at the Portal with about six other Hell Maids, all laden with an eclectic assortment of armaments ranging from a simple (looking) dagger that had a comfortingly evil glow all the way up to a 100mm mortar with several cases of rounds. All seven of them gave me long, gimlet looks as I easily sauntered up to where they were gathered and checking their ordnance for the last time before our departure.
"What?" I questioned, checking to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything - like my clothes. "I'm not that late. I had to soothe my poor abused child before I could leave. Got a problem with that?"
"No," Syl shrugged, then gave me and my backpack a dubious look. "Where's all that other stuff you were supposed to bring?"
"In my pack," I innocently responded, then took another moment to observe all the goodies the others were struggling to load on themselves. I proceeded to unload my very own personal arsenal and spread it over the ground for all of them to check. "Did I forget anything?"
"Could'a used maybe a few more cases of grenades," the one with the mortar mentioned in something like awe as I returned the stuff to my pack and shouldered it without straining. "Uh, how exactly, do you manage that trick?"
"Dimensional folding," with a shrug, I continued my answer in technical terms and realized that my audience didn't understand word one beyond the dimensional folding part. (And that was kind of an iffy thing.) "It's a spell, that makes something a whole lot bigger inside than it is outside, and pretty well gets rid of all the weight so you can carry it around without staggering."
"Is it permanent, once you fix the pack, or whatever?" Another one questioned with an avaricious gleam in her eyes.
"It can be, with a small adjustment to the spell and a larger expenditure of power," I responded, then realized I'd been had again. Have you ever imagined a bunch of hardened, veteran Hell Maids giving someone pleading, cow eyed looks? Let me tell you, that's more unnerving than seeing them in full fighting mode.
"All right," with a sigh, I gestured to their own packs, "bring me your pouches, packs or whatever, one at a time, and I'll see what I can do with them."
"I'm Gerta," the lady lugging the mortar supplied as she gingerly handed me her overstuffed backpack. "should I unload it first?"
"Good idea, Gerta. Otherwise the spell might lose something you want to keep."
"Oh, ok," Gerta began pulling out a rather staggering assortment of handguns, a folded up contraption made of chains and sickle shaped blades, and boxes of ammunition for each handgun. I recognized a Glock, a Colt Commander, A Taurus 9mm, and something that looked suspiciously like a hand held Phaser from Star Trek.
Once I'd completed the spell on her pack, Gerta began stuffing everything she had brought, including a very impressive looking assault rifle and the mortar into it with the wide grin of a little girl with a new Barbie case for her dolls. As she crammed the mortar in on top of everything else, I couldn't resist asking. "A mortar?"
"Better to have it and not need it…" Gerta shrugged, then grinned. "I have a howitzer, too, but couldn't figure out how to sneak that into Gehenna."
"I really don't think they'd notice," I answered, wondering what else these ladies had up their collective sleeves, or stuffed down their chainmail bras. "But it's always a good idea to keep something in reserve, anyway."
"Good point, little sister," Gerta gave me a companionable, if thundering, clap on the back and I didn't even stagger. Experience had taught me to brace whenever one of my larger sisters (which included every Hell Maid in existence, by the way) thought I had either come up with a good idea or had done something else they approved of. Given the bruises I still get from their approval, I'm just glad they like me.
Once the last pack had been spelled, permanently because I had decided right away the extra use of power would at least save me from doing the same thing over and over, I was ready for a short rest. Unfortunately, Syl and the rest had other ideas.
"Come on Angie!" my former teacher bellowed out cheerfully as she waved the preset wand to open the portal for our journey to Gehenna. "Time's wasting here! We have things to do, troops to inspect, Myrmidons to annoy, and Night Fiends to make fun of! Maybe we'll even find us a good friendly fight or two if we're lucky."
"Oh, boy," I grumbled while moving towards the gate. "How much fun could we have?"
"Quite a bit of it if you aren't as good at sneaking as you and Lor say you can be," Syl grinned. "That's why we brought along all the extra toys and goodies."
"Your confidence in my abilities is both inspiring and heart warming," I grumped.
"Now don't go getting all pouty, little sister," Syl soothed. "We just want to be prepared for any contingency. I'm sure you'll be able to keep yourself hidden from view long enough to find out a few tidbits of information and all that without getting yourself caught. But if you do slip up, at least we'll have the firepower to get you loose. Right?"
"Hell, Syl, you gals have enough firepower with you to equip a small country's army," with a sigh of resigned acceptance, then a wicked grin, I looked up at her, then around at the others. "But I'll do my absolute best to deprive you of all that fun. I do appreciate the idea that you're all prepared to do it to get me out of trouble, though."
"Aw, it would just give us a legit excuse to tear the gonads off some of those fancy smancy Myrmidons," Gerta laughed in response. "And to twist a few arms off those Ninja Wannabe Spider creeps Baal keeps around."
"I have the feeling that we all may be doing some of that anyway," I answered without the enthusiasm of my sisters. "Even if we get out of Gehenna without any problems, those problems are very likely to follow us home and expect to be fed, if you know what I mean."
"That's ok," The mortar toting Hell Maid shrugged. "My howitzer is on wheels and moves real easy."
A Hell Maid with a howitzer… Now there's an image for you. No wonder I couldn't get any tactical nukes. My too enthusiastic sisters would have connived a way to get hold of some, then probably blow the Hell out of Hell with them and wonder why folks got mad about it.
I did mention the little fact that we actually had a plan that didn't involve shooting, cutting, or blowing anything up, didn't I? No? Well we really did, even if it was a bit simplistic. The others were going to strut their stuff, poke their noses into everything visible, ask a multitude of military questions, inspect Baal's troops, and generally be as obnoxious about it as possible without igniting open hostilities. (Pretty normal behavior between rival bands of fighters in Hell, actually.) All of which was planned to keep the locals busy and scrambling to keep them from finding anything they shouldn't see.
While that was going on, I would be (hopefully) behind the scenes under cover of a whole raft of invisibility and anti detection spells, poking through Baal's headquarters. I had no real idea of what I might find, but was sure there just had to be something interesting and incriminating in there. So, without my armor (safely packed away in my trusty backpack of holding) and wearing some really uncomfortable and noxious booties to muffle my hoofsteps, all I had to do was find the information that would tell Lord Lucifer that Baal really was planning some sort of coup.
Simple. Right? Ohhh, Suuuure. By the way, the plan wasn't mine. In the short time I'd been a minion of Hell, my sweet little ass had been on the line several times, and I wasn't about to go out of my way to devise even more ways to expose it to potential harm. My mamas, either the Human one or the Demonic ones, didn't raise no damned fool. Huh uuhh!
But when Mother Lillith and Lord Lucifer tell just about anyone in Hell that they're going to do something, it generally gets done without argument. So, ok, I argued. For about fifteen seconds. Then started assembling my own arsenal of ordinance and spells for the dangerously idiotic mission they had handed me. Not without more than a few grumbled imprecations, mind you, but I knew better than to press my luck with that pair. Being dead, really dead, does have a few advantages over sulphur pit duty, you know. Not many, but they are there are if you look really hard.
Gehenna is an - interesting - place. I wouldn't care to call it home myself, too noisy and housekeeping would be a real nightmare. Just ask the condemned souls assigned to clearing up the messes all of Baal's war games leave scattered around if you don't believe me.
The noise level would be unnerving, but the ominous periods of silence between ground shaking booms, screams, shouted war cries, cheers, clash of bladed weapons, staccato bursts of automatic weapons fire, and hiss of flying missiles are even worse. Truthfully, I much prefer Gehenna when it's noisy. At least then you have a pretty good idea of what the denizens of the place are up to.
The entrance we emerged close to was really a pretty mundane looking guardhouse with a prosaic appearing chain link fence to either side that only extended about a hundred yards in either direction, and a standard counterbalanced bar for a gate. That's where the mundane ended and the insanity inducing stuff started, though.
The fence itself was festooned with a haphazard mess of webbing that no self respecting spider would have acknowledged, much less called home. Then there were the things stuck in the stuff. Let's just say that it was a pretty wide and wild variety, some of which even looked a bit humanoid. Now that might have made up a tempting buffet table for something lacking in the most basic sense of good taste, and with an appetite that would happily eat anything that didn't eat it; for me it would have been the perfect incentive to diet had that been needed. One look and my appetite would have run with its tail between its legs and not come back for a week.
The road we marched up on was paved in blood red stones that pulsed with some form of life that screamed in agonized rage whenever one was stepped on. Evidently each of the sullen red flags represented one of Lord Baal's victories and held at least one imprisoned soul that had displeased him for one reason or another. I hung back, and off to the side purposefully, so I could activate my masking spells without garnering undue, and very unwelcome, attention.
Why didn't I do that before we left you ask? Simple enough, really though it can be a real pain in the you know what. The portals have this nasty habit of disrupting spells on anyone passing through them. Not negating them, but twisting them into something that wasn't planned for at all and usually ended up as at least a major embarrassment all the way to causing the user of the spell to dissipate into nothing. Painfully.
I know, I know, I'd spelled the packs before we left, and the portal didn't disrupt those. Inanimate objects, you see, aren't affected at all by the effect. Only living (or what passes for that down here) creatures get zapped. I could have hitched a ride inside of someone's pack, I suppose, but just imagine yourself in a place where distance means nothing at all, and dimensions fold back on themselves like a ball of yarn an energetic kitten has gotten its paws on. Oh, yes, I'd have been folded up the same way. Yuck! And thanks for the offer, but I think I'll walk if it's all the same to you.
The gate was manned(?) by several different types of creatures. There were two very imposing and dangerous looking guys in plain but immaculately gleaming armor incongruously armed with wicked looking assault rifles and carrying sidearms that looked like something out of a bad science fiction movie. No matter how ridiculous those handguns looked, I had no doubts at all as to their effectiveness when in use. The Myrmidons (Baal's elite warriors) watched with detached interest and visible distaste as the others guarding the gate met our little party.
Now those critters were pure nightmare. One good look at them and I understood both the web and the things caught in it. Hideously Skull-like faces with burning red eyes that gave an impression of the ability to see through any kind of murk or darkness, fangs that actually dripped some kind of nasty looking(and smelling) gunk, four spindly but powerful arms, one pair of strong looking legs, and another set of limbs between the lower set of arms and the legs that seemed to have trouble making up their minds whether to be arms or legs. All topped off with unkempt white hair that trailed down their backs like some noxious weed. Night fiends, Baal's attempt to copy the Lillim. I personally thought that he'd really screwed up on that one, but as things were, refrained from commenting.
The Night Fiends were armed with ridiculously baroque weaponry, too. Like swords with overly ornate hilts and guards, etched engravings on everything that depicted things that actually made my skin crawl and my gorge try to rise up right out of my throat and run home all by itself, and their armor… Oh please! That stuff was so ornate, decorated with skulls, arcane symbology, and other almost laughable embellishments that I wondered how the creatures even managed to move without freezing up some joint when they did.
But move they did, with a fluid grace that was impressive of itself, interposing themselves between the party of Hell Maids and the road beyond the gate and assuming poses meant to be threatening and ominous.
Syl, naturally, wasn't at all impressed. She marched right up to one of the nightmares, glared back into its baleful eyes, then let out a disdainful sniff. "You're blocking the road, you poor imitation of a black widow. Would you mind moving?"
"What isss your businesss heeere?" the creature hissed, evidently not impressed by Syl any more than the Hell Maid had been with itself. "Produce authorizzationsss now, or suffer the consequences Milk Maid."
"That's Hell Maid, Ma'am to you," Syl answered with her usual bluff aplomb. "If you really want a little tussle, I can lose the authorization papers for a few minutes. Otherwise, we are here on Lord Lucifer's business, a snap inspection of Lord Baal's readiness in the event of a renewal in hostilities with Heaven, and I would strongly advise you to step aside now and let us pass."
"Paperssss," the Night Fiend demanded while holding out a clawed hand after a few moments of considering the pros and cons of just starting a fight and getting it over with. Evidently the cons won out. I had been told that Night Fiends had a great antipathy for Succubae, especially the Lillim. (There is a difference, really. Lillim actually dwell in Lillith's Home, other Succubae exist, and are generally pledged to some Demon Lord or other. Those are the ones who have repeatedly been too much trouble for Mother Lillith to put up with any longer and had been handed their walking papers.)
I noted that their antipathy seemed to include Hell Maids. Oh, well, the feelings were quite obviously returned in kind. Everyone looked at least a little disappointed when the thing decided to check out the papers authorizing the inspection instead of fighting on the spot.
Once Syl produced the papers (Hell invented red tape, by the way) in the requisite triplicate form, one of the Myrmidons sauntered forward and took them from the Night Fiend without a word. He perused them with deliberate slowness, made a great show of counting heads against the passes listed in the papers, gave the assorted backpacks a look and dismissed them as able to conceal anything too lethal, and waved the party through.
"Everything is in order," he announced with a note of disappointment in his voice as he kept one sheaf of the forms while handing the rest back to Syl. "You ladies watch where you stick your pretty little noses. We play rough and for keeps here in Gehenna. You might get yourselves hurt by accident if you aren't careful."
"Thanks for the concern," Syl answered dryly. "Now if you'll tell your spider pets to move, we'll be on our way."
The Night Fiends hissed in anger, but stood aside at a commanding look from the Myrmidon. "Let them pass."
While that little tableau played itself out and ended through sheer boredom, I had been checking out the unseen defenses of the gate to Gehenna. I actually found them to be pretty good, but nothing I couldn't circumvent with a bit of effort, and skirted the fence to quietly wait on the other side for the others to enter Baal's realm.
A patrol of Night Fiends chanced across my path as I moved into Gehenna, and almost seemed to sense my presence. One of them even began snuffling near enough to where I was crouched holding my breath to make me think I'd been had before I even started. The thing was gathering itself for a pounce (or whatever it is Night Fiends do when they attack) and I readied myself for trouble.
Just as I was about to pull Heaven's Bane free of her scabbard and show these ridiculous looking things what a real fighter could do - in my case holler for help and run for all I was worth - it leaped past me to grab up some scorpion like creature and stuffed the little critter into its stinking maw. Chewing industriously, the thing walked right past me and resumed its patrol. Snack time in Gehenna. Phew! I made a mental note to never, ever accept a dinner invitation from anyone who lived there.
Syl and company passed through the gateway into Gehenna as I reached the verge of the road they were following and proceeded to a point only a few hundred yards inside. Stopping, they settled down into variously comfortable (?) postures and quietly began poring over maps of the Principality in preparation for their very real tour of inspection for Lord Lucifer. Not that any of that was necessary, they knew perfectly well where they were going and what route had been planned. The pause, I think, was to annoy the hovering escort of Night Fiends more than anything else.
Not that the things didn't look dangerous, they did, and do. In fact, they are - very dangerous. Capable of shooting out webs to entrap enemies, using a great variety of weapons (up to six at the same time - sheesh, I'd think they'd get tangled up in all those elbows) and rudimentary spell casting, Night Fiends were a pretty nasty package. But put a reasonably competent Lillim, Succubus, or Hell Maid up against half a dozen of them and what do you get? Spider mush, that's what. Baal had created some horrific creatures in them, but they just weren't up to the standards of Home, or The Barracks, where unattached Hell Maids lived. Which is probably one of the reasons Hell Maids delighted in tormenting the things so much. A group of Lillim would have simply lifted their lovely noses and pretended to ignore the damned things.
Anyway, as I was saying, my sisters had already planned out their route and the places they intended to visit. I knew what their itinerary was, even though they weren't too sure of mine. Which made sense when you considered the numbers. Seven of them barreling over to where I was for help would be not only ludicrous, but totally useless. On the other hand, One of me porting to them if I got into trouble would provide reinforcements for yours truly, add my own considerable firepower to the group's, and give us all a better chance of getting out at least partially intact if real trouble did start.
My aim was to take a slightly meandering path towards Baal's own citadel, then into the place itself if that was feasible once I got there. If not, I was to hang around outside and make careful note of who and what went in or out of the place. Truthfully, I was hoping for the second option, but had this horribly certain sensation in my gut that I would be quite familiar with The Citadel's corridors before much more time had passed.
With a half forlorn wave that none of my sisters could see, I began my own trek through beautiful Gehenna. Not! I actually floated myself a few feet off the ground (land mines, unexploded shells, and other nasty surprises down there for the unwary) and used my wings as sails to let the prevailing breezes waft me in the direction I wished to go. As for beautiful Gehenna… If you bought that one, have I got a deal for yooouuu."
My journey through Gehenna was… Well, call it interesting. I sure wouldn't want to live there, and no one else sane aside from a junkyard dog would either. The ground was littered with refuse; I mean broken swords, spears, armor, and the occasional pile of bones were the simplest to describe. I wafted my way past disabled tanks, canon of any era you would care to choose, bent magazines and clips, expended shell casings, trenches, barbed wire (some of it electrified even after who knows how long of disuse) broken fortifications and general signs that I was passing through a war zone. Or at least a place that had seen a lot of nasty fighting in the past and hadn't recovered at all.
I even crossed over several complete, if blasted, cities. What remained of their streets was even more littered than the bleakly sere plains surrounding them. Now I ask you, what kind of idiot would go to the trouble of building a complete city, populating it, then blowing the thing apart? Answer? Just about anyone inhabiting Gehenna. I was just about to reach the vain hope that everyone in the interior of the place had managed to kill each other off when signs of life appeared. Rather abruptly.
In the third ruined city I crossed, one of the choked off streets barely contained a swarming, snarling mass of bodies locked in the throes of killing each other. None of them had weapons other than those improvised from the surrounding debris. I saw crude iron and steel clubs, thrown bricks, chunks of mortar sailing through the air (Several narrowly missed me and I hastily raised a passive shield to keep those from whanging into yours truly, which would have absolutely ruined all of my non-detect and invisibility spells.) but most seemed rather intent on biting, clawing, or just beating their opponents into whatever might pass for submission in Baal's Realm.
That wouldn't have been bad of itself. They were, after all, ignoring me completely. Something I found myself profoundly grateful for upon brief reflection. But there were airborne elements in the brawl. (Come on, no weapons, no discernable tactics, and no leadership adds up to a brawl or riot, not a battle. Right?)
A batwinged (so what's new with that? Think about the answer now. Where are we again? I rest my case.) monstrosity with a head made up mostly of long, dripping teeth and baleful yellow eyes flapped across my path with a number of smaller things that really appeared to be all teeth, wings, and claws harrying it and the very chewed up warrior harnessed to the bigger one's back. That fight was halfway interesting, mostly because it seemed to be headed right for yours truly.
Problem was, the flurry of airborne activity was kind of hard to dodge since it wove a very erratic pattern through the air. One second it was headed right for me and I prepared to dodge one direction, the next it had veered into the direction I had planned on running. As the snarling, hissing mass got closer, I was beginning to worry that I'd find myself in the center of the free for all with nothing to do but blast it so I could get on with what I'd come to do originally.
Fortunately (for me) just as I was preparing a fairly quiet spell to disable some wings that might not have revealed my presence, several of the smaller things latched onto one of the bigger one's wings and started pulling it towards the ground. Letting out a sigh of relief, I didn't bother to watch the frenzied mass crash into the general mêlée below as I gave myself a little (okay a big, and in one hell of a hurry kind of big) boost from my wings to clear the area.
After that I skirted (read gave a very wide berth to) any other battles I happened to come across. That was just as well. I saw another between two groups whanging away at each other with bladed weapons supported by archers, the mass of arrows in flight at any one time was nothing short of staggering and I wondered how any of the combatants managed to survive at all. Going through that mess would have been a really bad idea. As it was, I still had to avoid more stray arrows than I care to count even now. In another, one bunch was dug in and defending one of those very prevalent cities, while another was industriously pounding the defenses with artillery. I didn't even get close enough to hear much of that one other than hollow booms and a few shrieks.
Something about the formation of those towns nagged at the back of my mind, nothing really concrete, but the way they were each laid out tickled my sense of danger, and not because of the fighting going on in and around them. I just couldn't quite put a mental finger on what bothered me about them.
Traveling through Gehenna is a real experience, let me tell you. Not something I'd recommend to a tour group of old ladies, but educational. Speaking of traveling through Gehenna…
I did come across one interesting thing that did not involve a pitched battle to navigate past. There was a group of what I first took to be Succubae escorted by about six of Baal's Myrmidons in their plain, but very functional armor and weapons at ready. Thinking that Baal or some of his minions had managed to capture some free Succubae, or even some Lillim, I quietly and very carefully moved in for a closer look.
I should have known that it would have taken more than a mere six Myrmidons to contain eight Succubae of any allegiance. The luscious female figures turned out to be Hags covered in full illusion of beauty and desirability spells so thick they were almost cloying to my senses. The Myrmidons weren't so much guards as an escort and there to protect their visitors. Looking past the illusions I even recognized two of the truly ugly and hideous Hags. I didn't know their names, but they had been among the group who had confronted Syl and me at The Gates over possession of the then Ed Hemmings.
Interesting. Now why, I asked myself, would a group of Hags be getting the special guest treatment in Gehenna, even to rating an escort of Baal's favorites in their progress through the principality? I hadn't heard of any buddy, buddy relationship between Baal and Mab, and I was sure that information would have been passed on to me and the others on this errand that now seemed much less something for pure fools as I continued watching the group moving along one of the few good (all right, no road in Gehenna is good, call it decent with only a few potholes and pieces of abandoned machinery to avoid.) roads in Gehenna.
Getting close enough to eavesdrop was pretty much out of the question, and using a spell to hear what was going on among that group was a definite no-no at the time. Hags are magic users of no little skill, and scrying or probing of them with magic would have alerted them to my presence. I filed the information in my brain under the very interesting and possibly dangerous information category with a flag for anyone who had the correct keys to open it up in case something should happen to me on this mission. A possibility that had become more likely as I considered the ramifications of what I had been seeing.
I swooped on ahead of the group to see what, if any destination they had in mind and found the key to the puzzle that had been nagging me about those ruined towns I'd been seeing. This was a pristine (or as close as anyone in Gehenna could make it) town layout that looked more like a huge park than anything else even with the buildings and streets. Great Lucifer! Now I understood what had been nagging me so persistently between my observations and dodging the combatants I had encountered.
The layout I was looking at was a pretty good representation of Home. Not perfect, but close enough to give anyone who hadn't been there at least a fair idea of where things were. I knew better than to get much closer, because I could feel some pretty powerful magical defenses in place to defend the ersatz Home, and it was populated by creatures shaped into fairly accurate copies of Lillim and Hell Maids.
Damn! I was looking at a set for a battle, one that was just for practice but extremely suspicious when one thought for even a moment about what that practice was meant to do. Train Baal's fighters to navigate through Home with the least amount of confusion possible. As I thought about it, other things I had witnessed clicked into place with a force that nearly staggered my flight to the stage of interrupting it entirely. The first town I had passed was a fair, if ruined representation of The Barracks. (Pay attention here, that is where unattached or off duty Hell Maids lived.) I wasn't sure, but the second, the one under artillery siege, could have been a copy of Lucifer's own complex.
Now these could have just been exercises set up to train Baal's warriors against some of the more formidable opposition they could run up against barring actual Angelic Hosts. But the evidence had been so mangled up, even destroyed in the cases of the copied Barracks and Lucifer's complex that proof would be nearly impossible to obtain.
Interestingly enough, as I watched, the figures in the copy of home morphed back to their supposedly original forms and began dismantling the place in a frenzy that was near panic. And not because of my presence, they hadn't noted that, thank whatever gods were looking after me just then, but to get rid of intact evidence in the event that the snap inspection my sisters were performing should happen to come that way. Why else would the inhabitants of Gehenna actually take the trouble to dismantle something by hand (so to speak) when they so delighted in blowing the shit out of them?
Things were definitely becoming more and more ominous as I went. My dilemma at that stage was whether to take off with the information I already had (tenuous as that may be in a Hellish Court) or go on and gather more of the intelligence I had been sent to find.
I reached a compromise of sorts with myself after some worrying over the need for Mother Lillith, Lord Lucifer, and everyone else to be at least warned of my suspicions and the conclusions those had made me reach. I fired off a rather abrupt stream of information aimed for Lorilei with all the stuff I had so far obtained. Then hightailed it out of that particular part of Gehenna.
A response came to my hurried message to Lorilei. Mind to mind communication among demonkind, and probably Angels, from all that I've heard, is more like an old style telegram sent over a short-burst encrypted communications stream than anything else that comes to mind. Short, succinct, and very hard to either trace or listen in on.
The reply tickled at the fringes of my mind to warn me, then pushed through as I opened the necessary channel to receive it. Message received. Information appreciated and being acted upon. Continue present activities as originally planned. Thanks from M.L. and L.L. Mama pissed, but says to be careful and Victoria is doing fine.
Well, that pretty well took care of one problem. Home, and everyone else had been given advance notice of impending trouble. M.L. obviously stood for Mother Lillith while L.L. was… (Come on, if you haven't been able to figure that one out, you haven't been paying attention here.) Lord Lucifer. The addition of that bit of personal information simply verified that the message was bonafide, in addition to the very distinct mental flavor of Lorilei's twisty little mind. I really don't think anyone could counterfeit her convoluted methods of thinking and acting upon those thoughts. But the added part about Victoria made me feel better in more than one way.
So, I abandoned my leisurely examination of the landscape and arrowed straight towards The Citadel itself. Truthfully, I'd already had more than enough fun and wasn't at all looking forward to having any more. But, commands from Lillith and Lucifer are ignored at the ignorer's peril. (Been through that already, haven't we?)
The Citadel was impressive, but what do you expect from the home base of a Prince of Hell? It was an agglomeration of structures surrounded with a very high, thick wall, all made of gleaming, polished steel. A bit tacky in my opinion, but that's what it was, and it was obviously Lord Baal's choice. So I won't pick on that any longer. Miles of parade grounds surrounded The Citadel, empty at the moment because all the troops were off playing their war games. War games that I had a pretty good idea about the purpose of, and what they were practicing for.
Not that the place was deserted. Far from it. There were troops of Baal's elite, the Myrmidons, patrolling the emptied out parade grounds and the base of the massive walls. Given the numbers of those fighter types I could see, I inferred that Baal was at home. Something that was rare, and I swore to myself at the luck I seemed to be having on this mission. Not only had I been at risk from all the idiotic war games and their participants I'd passed on my way there, now I had a Prince of Hell in residence at His own stronghold. A stronghold, I might point out, that I fully intended to infiltrate.
Oh, did I mention that there was a flock of Hags flitting about the parade grounds and the interior of The Citadel? No? Well there were, which brought up a very uncomfortable question. If there were so many Myrmidons and Hags around the place, what was inside? And why were there so many gods be damned Hags there at all?
Answer? If you guessed that Baal had an important guest, and that guest was probably the goddess Mab, give yourself fifty points. I don't care what you do with the points, just don't come to me expecting to have them redeemed for anything. But you have them, for what it's worth.
Second question here. What kind of thrice damned fool would try to pry into things even further with the information so far gathered? Answer - One Hell's Valkyrie who knew she was in much deeper than was healthy already. In other words, sweet little me. Not for the first time since my conversion, I wondered why I had been stupid enough to let myself get killed in the first place, or hadn't tried to escape once I discovered I was in Hell, or run for all I was worth when Lorilei and company had showed up to collect me, or… Oh, never mind, I think you get the idea.
Mouthing a silent prayer, more like a plea, to any god or goddess who cared to listen, for whatever help I might be able to get, I started searching the damned place for a way in that wouldn't set off umpteen million alarms.
It wasn't easy, the pile of metal Baal called home was very well defended from both physical and magical assault. I had to be very careful even with my probes into those defenses, which were so intertwined that tripping one would set off all the others. I did get an irreverent and pretty funny mental picture of some hapless mouse setting the works off by simply trying to get into the food stores the edifice contained. (And why bother with food stores when all the denizens of Gehenna either got their nourishment in other ways, or needed nothing physically ingested to keep going?)
Once I penetrated the defenses, very carefully and slowly, as previously mentioned, I discovered the why for the food stores. Baal had a lot of Human recruits in residence. Not souls of the dearly departed, mind you, real, living, breathing Humans who all looked to be nasty customers even for most demons. What in (you'll pardon the expression, I'm sure.) The Hell was this guy planning here? A simultaneous assault on both the existing ruling structure in Hell and the Human Realms? It had to be something like that, since no matter how formidable those Humans were individually or as a group, the effect they would have during a battle in Hell could be termed as laughable at best. Down here, they wouldn't be facing individual demons but mobs of them. Up in the Human Realms, though…
Lord Baal had been a god of war in the past, but even for someone with his credentials, this plan was shaping up into something incredibly ambitious. If he was successful, not only would Hell be in his grasp, he would have The Human Realms in the palm of his hand as well. Which would mean Heaven would be very hard pressed to even maintain its own independence let alone contest Hell for anything. Hoo! This was turning into a real mess.
A mess, unfortunately, that I had found myself squarely in the middle of. And one that I just had to find out more about while doing my best to stir up and disrupt for all involved.
Well, no one told me being the very first Hell's Valkyrie was going to be either easy or pleasant all the time. I began to wonder if my sisters had brought in enough firepower. And worried that they might be running headlong into some sort of ambush that would be dismissed as a 'training accident' involving non-participants once it had happened. And I couldn't even send them a heads up type of warning considering where I was at the time. I just hoped Lor or someone had managed to get the message to them.
I gained access to the place through the sewers. Yuck! If you think sewers in The Human Realms are nasty, I'd suggest you take a look at the bowels of Baal's Citadel. You'd change your opinion rapidly, let me tell you. The leavings of demonic types combined with those of the Human occupants, and a lot of other really stomach churning items are not something I choose to describe even now. Let's just say I pitied the monsters who prowled that awful place and leave it at that. And could see why they had such bad dispositions.
I managed to get through that place without touching anything or being touched by anything either. (Thank you gods, thank you.) to emerge in the dungeons and court area. Take it from me, the dungeons weren't much better than the sewers, and the courts were at best, dismal places. I suppose that was all the better for those Baal and his cohorts decided were lacking or had transgressed. But I was quite happy not to be one of the poor souls (literally) on any of those dockets and made an extremely pointed mental note not to get caught and become one of them.
Oh, I started leaving my little surprise packages there. What packages are those you ask? Remember my packing all those satchel charges? Well, they weren't really what one would call conventional satchel charges. The plastic bags I left behind me, with detonators, were filled either with a version of C4 or thermite absolutely guaranteed to ruin anyone's day if set off. Considering where I had left them, that would be Baal, since the charges would completely undermine his precious Citadel if I sent the signal for them to activate.
The next level was marginally better. Courtyards, lower administrative areas, and receiving areas for recruited or co-opted souls are best designed to be not so forbidding while maintaining the inherent threat of being in Hell and subject to worse things than being assigned to Baal's Citadel. As it was there were thousands of weary souls oiling and polishing the metal of the fortress to stave off rust and make the place gleam like the well kept monstrosity it was. I left a number of discrete packages there, as well, since the Humans Baal had recruited and brought down to impress were largely quartered in that part of The Citadel. Hey, if things went bad for me, I could at least make things really tough for his planned assault on the Human Realms, right? At least I hoped that would be the case if things went sour. I knew that Humans, no matter how favored by any Prince of Hell, would be vulnerable to that kind of attack.
I won't detail my further progress through The Citadel, other than to say I left enough well concealed charges to blow the place clear to Heaven if I set them off. And fervently wished I had brought more.
My final stop was a series of floors at the top that were inaccessible to anyone without wings or some means to fly. The corridors of that area were filled to near overflowing with senior Myrmidons and Hags. I could tell all the demon types present were the elite of the selected elite from badges, battle scars, and just the pure sense of power permeating those top floors. As a measure of their arrogance in power, the Hags hadn't even bothered to clothe themselves with illusion, and the Myrmidons were not the least bothered, impressed, or worried.
Wow, I was in it now. Making sure my own masking spells were not only intact, but strengthened while adroitly dodging some very clever (but substandard to my experience) search and find spells that would have caught a less experienced mage, I sought for the center of all this active guarding.
And much to my mixed regret and elation, found it.
Getting ready to sneak in, I activated my failsafe device for the event of my capture. Since they would know that I relied on magic, and would likely set things up to prevent my using it, I very fervently hoped they would overlook the purely mundane, flat little box with a single small button in it's center that I had palmed. A classic, dead man's switch. If I released the slight pressure of my palm against that little button, Every charge I had set would go off, and hopefully bring The Citadel down in ruins. Which, I fervently prayed, would give one little and very overmatched Hell's Valkyrie a slim chance to escape with a relatively intact skin.
Drawing in a long, careful breath then letting it out just as slowly (ok, ok, I was stalling. Now tell me you would have blithely snuck into the inner sanctum of one former god who was hosting a former goddess. I might even believe you.) I very gingerly eased myself through one of the intervening walls and began to take stock of the situation.
Lord Baal himself, and the Lady Mab were enjoying a leisurely snack of damned souls that were useless for much of anything else and discussing their plans for the future. I made myself very small, very insignificant, and even more invisible once I had found them in such a relaxed state.
Mab was beautiful beyond mere words. In a forbidding, chill way. Her features and form were as near perfect as anything in Hell could be, and that was without illusion. But her dark eyed beauty was the kind that anyone with a modicum of sense would run hell bent for leather to get away from. There was nothing of softness or mercy in that beauty, or of warmth. All I got from her were waves of freezing malice and a bitterly cold rage that would make the arctic seem like a child's picnic ground.
Physically, Mab was tall, lithe, and very well formed with the quintessential Sidhe beauty. Her elfin features were nothing short of breathtaking, even to one who could only get really excited by males, like I had become. But let me tell you this much. In life, I would have been her willing slave just to be granted a glimpse of her unspeakable beauty off and on. Long, thick midnight hair with highlights that looked like stars in the night sky, delicate features that would have seemed more appropriate on a doll, and a form made to excite the libido of any male and most females pretty well describes the once goddess and ruler of the Hags.
Along with a radiated power that was cold enough to freeze even the inhabitants of the coldest, windiest part of Hell that existed. Mab was not someone to trifle with, or even cross paths with, if one could avoid it. A true Princess of Hell. And I was eavesdropping on a conversation between Her and a powerful Prince of Hell. Oh any gods but Mab and Baal, what had I managed to get myself into?
Baal was handsome as Mab was lovely. But his stocky, powerful form radiated heat and threat of actual physical harm. His Mediterranean good looks spoke of his origins in the cradle of Humanity, and called to me with a force I had to exert a lot of willpower to resist answering. If that one had been presented to me right after my transformation, I fear that I would have pledged my entire being to Him.
But the power He radiated was violence. Unending violence and destruction. Sure, I was part Hell Maid and part Succubus, neither of which were known for the gentler emotions like real love and nurturing, but this guy filled me with a sense of foreboding and despair that more than outweighed any physical attraction He might have exerted on this little ol' Hell's Valkyrie.
Truthfully, once I had gained access to their private chambers, I was way too overwhelmed by the dual Presences to do much more than keep covering myself with masking spells and fight the irrational urges to throw myself at either one's feet to plead forgiveness for having the temerity to think I could do anything to halt their plans. Sheesh!
Those chambers were spartan, but with enough sumptuous trappings to satisfy Mab, who wasn't all that well known for her own love of luxury either. There were a lot of silk hangings, pillows, and two comfortable looking couches occupied by the pair as I listened to their conversation.
"So, all is in place?" Mab questioned idly as she delicately sucked at a screaming soul.
"Of course, my Lady," Baal replied between energetic chewing and faint screams of agony from his own snacks. "We will be the uncontested rulers of both Hell and The Human Realms once our forces have moved."
"It will be good to have that bitch Lillith on her knees in front of me, and to see her precious Lillim subjugated to me." Mab almost purred with anticipation of her coming glory. "Bringing the Lillim down is the major reason I agreed to assist you in this coup, my Lord."
"You've mentioned that several times," Baal appeared to be on the verge of letting loose with some scathing comment, but evidently thought better of it. "The alliance of your forces with my own is an important part of the overall plan, Lady. Trustworthy Allies are, at best, difficult to find in this type of endeavor."
"Just see that you hold to our bargain," Mab answered cooly, then smiled. "Home is to be Mine, with all rights and privileges of that holding. At long last, that insipid garden will be in hands that can mold it into something really worthwhile for Hell to claim as a Principality. Keep that promise my Lord Baal, and you will have a trustworthy ally at your back for all eternity."
I don't really think he believed that. I wouldn't have. Mab had made a name for herself among the old Celtic gods for treachery and double dealing. Which is probably why she did as well as she appeared to do in Hell. Got to hand it to her, the bitch was very good at what she did, and truly hated Lillith, the Lillim, and Home. Mostly because she wasn't able to suborn the first and second, or rule the last.
"I will keep that in mind, Lady," Baal gave her a cryptic smile. "It will be good to know you are at my back." (freely translated: Good, at least I'll know where you are and what mischief you're up to.)
"Why do you put up with all these idiot Humans in your Citadel, my Lord?" The former goddess questioned as she chanced to glance out a large open space in the wall that might have been a window if it had contained glass, or even a metal lattice screen, to see a large group of those beings drilling in the courtyard below. "I would have them on the plain outside my own place of power, was it me hosting the treacherous vermin."
"Well it isn't you," Baal returned shortly, then shrugged. "They are valuable at the moment, as infiltrators, assassins, saboteurs, and agents provocateur. Those idiot Humans my dear Lady will lay the groundwork for our victory in the Human Realms. Many of them will rule there soon enough, and are foolish enough to trade eternity for material promises in life. They do and will serve a purpose, and are primed to strike in concert with our own moves against Lillith and Lucifer. With Hell and the Human Realms in our hands, Heaven will dare not make a move against us. Until it is too late for them to save themselves. In a very short time, Lady Mab, I will make you Queen of all creation, and you shall rule at my side for all time."
"A most pleasant prospect, my Lord Baal," Mab gave him a wolfish grin as she fingered, then took another of the grisly snacks. I had the distinct feeling that She intended to rule alone, but under the circumstances thought it wise not to warn Baal. The Lady reclined on one of the couches with a sigh of momentary contentment while chewing the screaming morsel, then finished it before continuing. "To Rule in Heaven, Hell, and the Human Realms. Such a bold ambition. That's why I like you Lord Baal. You don't fear to think and plan great things. Or to execute them."
"An ambition, my Lady," Baal nodded in agreement, (Hey, the guy was a god once, and ruled in another version of Heaven - I think. So his attitude was easy enough to understand. Just hard to stomach was all.) "that is quite easily within our grasp, and will begin to fruit like a choice apple tree just waiting for us to pick what we will very soon.
"That is good," Mab purred in a velvety, frigid voice. (don't ask how velvet and frigid go together, just take my word for it - with Mab concerned they did. "What about this snap inspection Lord Lucifer has sent to investigate Gehenna? Do you think He suspects anything?"
"Such things are routine, milady, Lucifer always suspects something." Baal replied with a small grin. "Any intact evidence has been destroyed by now, and those fool Hell Maids won't be able to see anything but my own forces at a well honed state of readiness. Their report will show Gehenna ready to continue The War if that should come, and nothing else."
"I still dislike the timing of this inspection." Mab countered while carefully selecting her next snack with the delicacy of a young girl choosing a chocolate. "It comes at a time that could be very inconvenient for our plans. I think you might arrange a training accident to catch them up in. Then send profuse apologies to Lord Lucifer while our forces are readying themselves to strike at His heart."
"Anticipated and taken care of, Lady Mab," Baal chuckled. "Those arrogant bitches won't survive to pass tales to anyone. I can promise you that. While my heartfelt apology to Lord Lucifer has already been drafted in the event that they should stumble across anything the least bit incriminating."
"I am still uneasy at the timing of their advent," Mab pressed. "You are certain no Lillim accompanied them? Even shielded from view?"
"None passed the entry gates with them, Lady, I assure you," Baal soothed. "Given the propensity of that kind for magics, more than one very subtle trap has been set to capture and neutralize any Lillim foolish enough to venture into Gehenna just now."
"Lucifer has authorized some new type of Demon," Mab answered slowly, with a barely contained rage at the thought. "One of those kept some of my oldest and most trusted Hags from obtaining a very special soul at The Gates recently. By using magic despite appearing to be a simple Hell Maid, my Lord. This one destroyed one of my favorites so completely that recovery will never be possible."
"I know," Baal answered with a wry grin before turning directly towards me. "Welcome to my Citadel, Little One. I fear you are going to regret the visit very soon."
One thing I've heard is that there is one major drawback to having the complete attention of a Demon Prince. Which is- Having the complete attention of a Demon Prince. And I had two of them paying very close attention to me at that stage in the proceedings.
My masking spells fell apart as if they had never existed and I felt the beginnings of some very powerful binding spells picking their way into the deepest reaches of my being as Mab started, then glared at me, then began to smile. (When Mab smiles it isn't a good thing, in case you aren't up on your Celtic mythology.) I was caught, and could find no way to run. All I could do was hope the information that I'd already passed along would be enough, and that Syl and my other sisters would get out of this debacle.
The magical power exerted on me was not only overwhelming, it was a blanket that prevented any use of magic on my part. Running physically was more or less out of the question, too. There was a very massive steel door that had been locked so thoroughly that not even the most proficient lock pick or locksmith could crack it, between me and any slight chance of freedom. Then there was the mob of Myrmidons and Hags outside that door. I wouldn't last five seconds in either case, and knew it with a certainty that bordered on a par with knowing God himself was opposed to Hell.
Those binding spells hadn't locked into place, fortunately, when I spasmodically released my ace in the hole, while drawing the TOW from my pack. I hoped it was loaded, but under the circumstances think I can be forgiven for forgetting whether it was ready to go or not. It was just the first thing that came to hand and I was kind of desperate at the time.
My, oh my! Faint booms, tremors in the chamber we occupied, more booms that were less faint… Need I go on? Oh, let's not forget the creaking and snapping of overstressed metal in with all that. Binding spells, Protections, magical blocks, traps, and a lot of other nasty things fell into a confusion of disarray and let it not be said that this little lady didn't seize the opportunity when it offered itself.
The tower room we were in starting taking on a very distinct list as I pointed the Tow in the general direction of Baal, and a furious Mab, then fired it. The thing was loaded. It didn't really damage that pair, but did distract them long enough for yours truly to port out of the place with all those very ugly binding spells still looking for someone to tie up happily left behind.
A spared glance showed me that getting out of Gehenna and avoiding further visits in the future was probably a very good idea. The Citadel was busily collapsing in on itself with a gratifying accompaniment of screams, more explosions, and creaks of collapsing metal. Did I mention that some of the charges I had set were thermite? Silly me. Steel can and does burn under the correct circumstances. Count carefully placed thermite charges going off as one of those instances.
Needless to say, I didn't hang around to watch the chaos I had caused. Centering on the trace of Syl I had, I immediately ported to where she and the group of Hell Maids were currently giving grief to a harried and very angry Myrmidon in company with a seething group of Night Fiends.
"Hey everybody!" I shouted while giving the Night Fiends something besides casting webs, spells or fighting to worry about. "Time to beat feet. Let's get out of here!"
One look at my smoke stained appearance and the emptied TOW launcher still in my hands was enough for Syl and the others. They all immediately pulled weapons from their very own personal arsenals and began firing at random. I never did see what kind of facility or emplacement they were inspecting at the time. Burning Night Fiends, One gutted Myrmidon (courtesy of an overly exuberant Syl) and innumerable explosions, shots, ricochets, and clangs of bladed weapons hitting armor kind of distracted me. Of course, the burning Night Fiends were my fault. And they were pissed off over it.
"Everyone gather round me!" I shouted over the uproar. "Now!"
Most of the Hell Maids had already done that, smart enough to understand that even with the ordnance they all carried and were using with such gleeful abandon, I was still their heavy artillery. Syl grabbed a preoccupied sister from the smoldering clutches of several worse for wear Night Fiends as I began the spell that would get us back to Home without letting outsiders tag along.
The portal opened up with gratifying speed, and all of us dove through it like all the fiends of Hell were on our tails. Come to think of it, they might have been by then. We all passed the crackling defensive lattice that covered the interior of the Portal without harm, but for the one and only time in my existence, I actually felt sorry for the Night Fiends who tried following. They gated to somewhere else, too, only their destination was one of the more noxious sulphur pits in Hell. With even more physical and psychic damage than they had already sustained.
Somehow, I didn't think I'd be a willing visitor in Gehenna anytime soon.
We landed right in the middle of Lillith's admin area with varied clangs, crashes, and thuds of bodies hitting others and the incidental piece of furniture. Syl and several others immediately booked, to find the portal leading to The Barracks, and Lord Lucifer's Demense to spread the warning of imminent attack to those precincts. I found myself sitting on the lap of a rather dumbfounded clerk who had been typing some kind of report, who managed to splutter out an indignant. "What's the idea?"
"Can it," I answered, reaching over her still immobile form to toggle the Pan Home and Allies Alarm switch that I knew was situated right at that particular desk and that one only. And here you thought I'd missed my target when setting up the portal from Gehenna, didn't you? "We Have bigger problems than a messed up office just now. Where's The Lady at?"
"Right here, daughter," Lillith emerged from her admittedly plush office to survey the shambles her outer office had become in such a short time. "I trust there is a good explanation for this spectacular entrance into my offices?"
"Baal and Mab are plotting to take over Hell, with Home as one of their major targets." my answer came out with what I thought was commendable calm and succinctness. So what if was shouting? "And I'm pretty well sure that Lord Baal and Lady Mab are launching the attack right now. Provided they've gotten out from under the rubble of The Citadel. If they haven't managed to dig themselves out yet they will soon, and man are they pissed off!"
"What did you do?" Lillith questioned while sending out more alarms, with her own seal attached. "Dig themselves out?"
"Well, I kind of blew up The Citadel," my answer came but it sounded a bit lame even to me. "No, make that, I'm sure, really sure that I ruined Lord Baal's home and that I don't think I should go anywhere near Gehenna for at least a few thousand years."
"Oh," Lillith nodded with a quizzical look for me. "I think this story is going to be worth the time to hear. But later. For now, get to one of the borders and get ready for the trouble you've uncovered."
"Yes, Mother!" I immediately charged out of the broken up office, even remembering to let go of the still befuddled clerk at the door, to the gate leading to the part of Home I called home. Then followed by the remaining Hell Maids in the group, dove through it to literally land at the feet of a very surprised, but loaded for bear Lorilei.
The little darling managed to pull her spell back before it blasted us, then favored me with a frowning look. "All right, Angie, would you mind telling me what you've done this time?"
"Made one very bad enemy, and reinforced the enmity of another one," I replied as I hurriedly donned my armor, Hell's Defense and began rooting around in my pack for something that would hurt demons at a distance. "Tell you later, Lor, for now just get ready for a really nasty reaction to what I did, okay?"
"ONLY BLOWN LORD BAAL'S CITADEL INTO SO MUCH SCRAP METAL," Mama's voice entered the conversation. "WITH HIM AND THE LADY MAB IN IT."
"Really?" Lor seemed impressed, a first since we had met.
"What SHE said," I responded, peering into the distance for any sign of attack or anything else that was amiss. "And let's just say that those two are more than just a bit annoyed with me."
I still don't know what Lorilei's reply to that was, because about then the proverbial excrement impacted the equally proverbial device built to move air. And spread the shit very liberally around.
The first little hint that anything might be wrong… (Hah! That happened even before I went to ugly uptown Gehenna.) Okay, let me rephrase that one. The first sign that we were really under attack was really pretty innocuous. Every Acacia tree near us started shaking and waving as if in a high wind, but there wasn't even a breeze at the time.
"Uh, oh," looking up and around, I tried to sense anything hostile nearby. (Nice thought, but in Hell, just about everything can be hostile at one time or another.) "I have a really bad feeling about this. Do these trees shake like that often?"
"No," Lor surveyed our surroundings uneasily. "Surely Baal and Mab couldn't have launched their attack already?"
"Don't kid yourself, sis," I answered, starting to remove weapons from my backpack. "They had everything just about ready to move on us as it was, and my blowing the plot wide open probably caused them to jump the timetable up."
A nonplussed Victoria stroked the handle of her axe in a manner that was almost sexually obscene as she observed my unpacking. "How do you do that?"
"I'll explain later, kiddo," still rummaging through the pack I came up with what I had been hunting with a triumphantly satisfied, "Ah! I knew I'd packed this thing!"
"Ok, so what is it?" Lor questioned as I held out the compact little cylinder for examination.
"A hand held, reusable SAM launcher," Victoria supplied with a halfway amused look as I unfolded the weapon and carefully loaded it. "Does the enemy fly?"
"Nope, but they have things that do, pretty nasty things. Trust me, I've seen them up close and uncomfortable." lining up the sights, I peered through the rangefinder, selected the Fire and forget option to go with the smart missile I'd loaded, then handed it to Vicki. "Here, kid, when the shit starts really flying, just point this at anything in the air that looks like it wants to eat you, and shoot."
Vicki looked as she was going to argue, then shut her mouth as a tremor ran through the ground under us. "Got any more missiles for it?"
"ALARM! ALARM!" MAMA's voice roared in our minds. "HOME IS UNDER ATTACK AND THE PERIMETER HAS BEEN BREACHED!"
"I knew it," grinning with a humor I really didn't feel, I pulled a small crate out of my backpack and handed it to Victoria. "Here you go. Got twenty of the little beauties in there. Don't waste them."
I winced at that, being a female was still something kind of new to me. Being called mother, by another newly made female was just not something I was prepared to deal with then. Come to think of it, it still isn't, but I suppose I'll get used to it one of these centuries. At that moment, there were more pressing matters holding my attention.
"Heads up all, incoming!" Syl, how had she gotten back so fast? I wondered, shouted in warning as a blue tinted sphere arced towards us from a distant wavering line on the horizon.
"Damn!" I watched the wavering line resolve into a mass of fast moving Night Fiends and other even less savory creatures. They flopped, flapped, staggered, bounced, leaped, or just plain ran. Lor took care of the nasty looking sphere by simply firing off a Hell bolt into its center. The resulting explosion and shower of ice shards nearly knocked us off our feet.
My own spells were pretty well depleted, and I really hadn't had time to recharge since my return. I had enough in reserve for a real emergency, but looking at the rapidly advancing horde, I got the sinking feeling that this wasn't one of those. Yet.
Hell's Defense growled, Heaven's Bane hummed a happy little tune, and I knew we were in deep trouble there. And gathered enough of my madly scrambling wits to shout out, "Distance Weapons, NOW!"
Either everyone had listened to me and acted very quickly, or most of us were thinking along the same lines. As I grabbed up a nasty little rapid fire grenade launcher, I heard a variety of thumps, foompfs, booms, zzzztts, cracks, and bangs from the people around me.
"You gonna use that thing, or just admire it?" Syl questioned acidly while I fumbled with the barely familiar mechanism. Hell Maids do have an affinity for weapons, it happens to be our reason for existence, but come on now. I wasn't a full Hell Maid, and had been a minion of Hell for a very short time in spite of all the trouble I'd managed to get into so far.
"How's it work?"
"Point that end," Syl helpfully tapped the blunt muzzle, then the trigger mechanism in the middle of the thing, "squeeze that, and brace yourself!"
I did. Hoo boy! The rapid series of thumps from my weapon of desperate choice knocked me clear back to the rear of our group and landed me on my butt too.
An exasperated Syl helped me to stand by the simple expedient of grabbing my arm, yanking, and setting me on my feet. "I said to brace!"
"Yehaaah!" whoosh! Boom! Click, snap, click, click, snap. Whoosh! Boom! Victoria was joyfully finding nasty looking flying things, then picking them off with the SAM launcher. "Allll Riiight!"
Well, she had been the one who shot Lor when Lor was a Human male. Groaning, I loaded another rack of grenades into my own little monster, and fired away again. At least that time I didn't land on my butt. I flipped over and used my head instead. Literally.
Half dazed, and seeing real stars again, (painfully familiar after my training sessions with Syl) I felt a hand take the grenade launcher from me and replace it with something both lighter and smaller. "Here, try this, little sister."
Brekke grinned down at me as I examined what she had handed me. An AK47 with a bunch of banana clips to go with it, as she hefted the grenade launcher. "Less kick, and you don't have the body mass for this damned thing."
"I'd just figured that out," was my grated response, but I did manage a weak grin in return. "Thanks."
"Have fun, little sister," the Hell Maid clapped me on the back and nearly sent me sprawling on my face again before moving off to make use of her newly acquired ordnance.
Well, between the weaponry, spells, and whatever else we could throw at them in the few minutes before the enemy closed, we had managed to blow some pretty respectable holes in their advancing ranks. I'd emptied all my banana clips, scooped up some more from a Hell Maid who would never use them again, or anything else for that matter, and emptied those. Then I was faced with a choice. I could either use the light, rapid fire weapon for a club, or resort to drawing Heaven's Bane. Go ahead, you guess which option I took.
Evidently both sides had expended their ammunition, at least near us. The clatter of weapons hitting the ground accompanied by the soft hiss of blades, axes, and maces being pulled out hinted that we were sure out of the point and go boom stuff. Happily, it became clear that the bad guys were too. But Sweet Nineteen Million Names of Hell, there were still a lot of them.
I looked around to see how many of us were left, and felt even more discouraged. Syl, Brekke, Lorilei, Victoria, a pair of badly singed Lillim, and me. That was it, out of almost fifty of us to begin with. The Hell Maid with the Howitzer, whose name I had forgotten, to my shame, had been the one who provided me with the extra clips for the AK47.
"MOVE BACK!" MAMA's voice warned us. "RIGHT NOW!"
We didn't need to be told twice. All of us hightailed it in the clearest direction away from the advance of Baal and Mab's forces.
"FAR ENOUGH, GET READY NOW."
We watched in near dumbfounded amazement as the land itself folded over at least half the enemy troops headed our way. Then started rubbing the folded sections together with the nasties in between. It was an awful lot like watching an apparently solid board turn into a cloth napkin, fold itself in two, then begin to industriously rub the outside parts of the folded napkin as if trying to squash a particularly noisome insect you didn't want to touch, but sure wanted dead.
And the damned fools kept coming anyway. Some of those were grabbed by suddenly animated acacia trees, shrubs, and even some of the longer grass. Seeing a damned tree lean over to first snatch a Night Fiend with unnaturally limber branches, then use those tentacle-like, unnervingly prehensile branches to pull the thing into a lot of little pieces before reaching for another victim was really something. I made a quick mental note to never, ever get MAMA really angry with me.
Lawn-like grass had suddenly grown to nearly seven foot lengths or even longer and developed very serpentine characteristics. I watched in mute amazement as several blades(?) snaked around the legs of a Myrmidon then proceeded to drag him into the ground. Literally. The grass simply pulled the Demonic champion down like a ravenous sea monster dragging a sweet morsel underwater to eat it at leisure there. We weren't getting nailed by as many distance weapons or spells as we might have been simply because the invaders had to make use of them to fight off the suddenly active, and hostile flora.
But gods, there were still a lot of them advancing on us with intent to commit major mayhem on our bodies. Flying boulders, nasty tempered trees, and hungry grass notwithstanding, all of us watching in total awe as MAMA went into FULL DEFENSE MODE knew we would still be outnumbered, hard pressed, and very, very busy within a few minutes.
At least all the lesser nasties and beasties were gone. Now we faced Night Fiends, Hags, and a few units of Myrmidons. Lucky us. I idly noted that the Acacias around us had started to flex their own branches, while the grass everywhere but the spot we occupied was growing and becoming thicker, growing armor-like scales, and waving in anticipation of getting their own share of fertilizer very soon.
"Now what?" Vicki glanced from one of us to the other while stroking the handle of her axe again and sparing the odd, nervous glance for the suddenly active plants around us..
"Well," Lor grimly answered. "There isn't any place to run. MAMA has told me that Home is pretty well overrun all around except for the center. I say that's where we head, pick up whatever stragglers we can, then make our stand."
"Like we have a choice," nodding my agreement, I staved off a potential explosion of temper from the little Succubus with a wave and grin. "I sure don't have a better plan. Anyone?"
"So I would suggest that we get the Hell out of here right now!" Lor finished, then pointed back to where our first battle had happened. The land was seething with gleefully dancing Night Fiends, grimly smug Hags, and stolid Myrmidons. All headed our way. At least the ones not fighting either the landscape or flora were. Which was still an awful lot of bad guys for our diminished group to face head on.
"Sounds good to me," I hastily agreed.
"Just a second," Vicki held our headlong retreat up briefly while muttering something that sounded obscene even in Hell, then made several throwing gestures with both hands. The crackling waves of energy that came from her to snake and circle among the celebrating enemy was a fairly simple spell, but almost terrifying in its pure power. What do I mean almost? It was, and remember, I'd been hanging out with the precocious Lorilei for most of my time in Hell.
As crisped Night Fiends, Hags, and some very badly scorched Myrmidons fell writhing to the ground, Lor and I exchanged quick glances, then shrugs, then grinned like maniacs. "That's our baby!" We shouted in unison.
"Okay," Vicki brushed soot from her hands then gave us all a pointed look. "We can run now."
"MAMA channeled some of her power through me," Vicki was explaining as we rushed headlong away from the still overwhelming numbers of the enemy. "SHE told me everyone else who could do it was so exhausted, the overload might kill them."
"I'm starting to think that would have only been a bit earlier than otherwise," I panted in response.
"But we'll leave this existence in glorious style!" Syl grinned nastily. "And be taking a whole shitload of Baal and Mab's finest along for the ride."
"Well, this looks like the spot." Brekke waved our ragged group to halt on the top of a deceptively gentle appearing rise and turned to critically survey the landscape we had just crossed. Remember, I had mentioned panting? Well, MAMA had altered the terrain of Home from the verdant parkland into a convoluted series of dead end ravines, steep rises, sudden drops and choked the whole thing with thick, prehensile looking vines just for spice. It had been hard work getting up to where we were, let me tell you.
"Good as any I've seen so far," I admitted grateful for the respite.
"Won't be much better inwards," Vicki noted with a look at the still park-like stretch of ground only one very steep gully behind us.
"You and the other little ones recharged yet?" Syl questioned Lorilei while looking at the troop of about forty Lillim we had picked up on the way.
"As well as can be expected," Lor returned, giving the other thirty battered Hell Maids who had joined us a long look of both respect and a little doubt. "Can you and yours still fight effectively?"
"So long as we stand, we can fight, Lady," one of the Hell Maids avowed with a wicked grin while brandishing a nicked sword. "and We're always effective in a brawl."
"What about you two?" the little Succubus looked at me and Vicki.
"Ready to go, little sister, I answered.
"Got enough left to show those things some tricks they might not have seen yet." Vicki grinned. I fenced, and was a black belt third degree in Tai - kwando when I was Human."
Sheesh, we'd spawned a crazy female ninja or something, I thought to myself while watching her demonstrate some very nasty little moves to all of us.
"I still like your foot in their heads move, myself," Syl grinned down at me. "Nothing fancy, just good old fashioned beat 'em till they drop style."
"Kind of messy, though," I pointed out half seriously. And getting my foot out of their damned heads is real bitch."
"But it sure shakes up the opposition, little sister," the Hell maid responded with a throaty laugh.
"Not to mention me," I grumbled. "I have to get airborne to use the stunt at all."
"Here they come!" One of the Hell Maids announced rather matter of factly I thought for someone looking their own end of existence down the throat. I inanely wondered what happened to Demons when they died. Was there another version of Hell waiting for us?
We just naturally fell into a formation most effective for the conditions. The Hell Maids, me, and Vicki moved to the front while the Lillim, fearsome hand to hand fighters in their own right, fell to the rear so they could cast what spells they had with a minimum of hindrance. Then we put up with each others sick jokes while we waited.
MAMA had been pretty accommodating to us in choices of ground. To get any farther along with the invasion, our enemies had to negotiate a single valley leading to the simple looking rise that we stood at the end of. That would funnel their numbers into a fairly confined space, making it difficult for them to bring their superior numbers to bear in an overwhelming attack. But it also meant that we would be facing a very steady battering from enemy after enemy. And they had to take the rise we had chosen or the invasion would stop then and there. At least from this direction.
Well, in a battle or even everyday existence, one takes the little favors granted and makes the best of them. But a few thousand fresh troops for reinforcements on our side would have been nice. Like I said, 'ya pays yer money and takes yer chances,' Especially in Hell.
It was pretty grim group waiting at the top of that rise. Our home had been invaded, we had all lost friends, and it looked as if the sheer numbers of attackers would overwhelm us and break into the as of yet undespoiled center of Home itself. MAMA in full defense mode was something to see, the land itself convulsing to swallow the enemy, plants of every kind grabbing to choke and tear them limb from limb, and the lay of the land at least favoring us wherever we went. But it looked to all of us, that no matter how awe inspiring it was, or destructive to the enemy forces, would be enough to tip the balance any more towards us.
We were tired, dirty, many of us were injured in varying degrees of seriousness, and every one of us standing atop that rise was madder than (You Guessed it) Hell aroused from a sound sleep, and were determined to exact the highest price we could on the invaders for their passage over us. Because they sure weren't going to get around, or past us while we could stand up and use either weapons or spells.
The Night Fiends swarmed up the slope with a liquid grace that was frightening to see, and impressive. Even MAMA's interference barely slowed them down. The Hags hung back, obviously preparing spells just as our Lillim were doing behind us, and the Myrmidons stolidly marched up the slope without visible concern as their numbers thinned from the attacking Flora. No wonder those guys were Baal's Elite. They were tough, disciplined, and determined to carry out their Prince's commands or die.
Well, there was a bunch of very pissed off Hell Maids, Lillim, and pair of Valkyries waiting with the intention of letting them do that. Die in the attempt, I mean. Strange how clear your thinking can get at times like that, isn't it? I remember very calmly watching all that, noting different things about each of the three groups of our opposition, and looking for weaknesses that I could exploit. Vicki stood beside me, obviously doing the same thing during that all too brief period of quiet.
"Hell Maids to the front," Syl commanded quietly, then added, "You Valks stay behind our line and pick off any that get through us and be ready to fill gaps in the rank. This is going to be a fight like we haven't had since the War cooled down. Should be interesting."
"I always wondered how one of those damned, prissy Myrmidons would stand up against a Hell Maid." Brekke put in with a grin while hefting her massive Two Handed sword in one hand (quite easily, I might add) and shifting a nastily spiked shield into a more comfortable position on the arm not holding the sword.
"Wannabe Ninjas first," another responded with a chuckle. "Let's make really sure to show those spider/weapons geeks how real warriors fight."
"Yep, sister," another responded with a nasty, anticipatory grin. "But I don't plan on letting any of these survive and carry the tale to others."
"Ware their webs, all," Syl advised, then grinned back at Victoria and me. "And you two watch out for any jumping over us. They like doing that kind of thing, so I really doubt that you'll be at all bored in the coming fracas."
"Oh, we have a few surprises for any who try that," I assured the Hell Maids as a group, then found myself grinning too. "Vicki and I can still zap as well as slice and dice, hack and slash, or whatever. I'm really looking forward to frying a few more of the suckers, or sending them to where their sisters ended up when they tried following us home earlier."
"But I don't know that many spells," Vicki protested.
"Just throw a chain lightning behind them, hon," I advised in my turn. "That should give them something to think about besides overrunning us."
"hmmm," the thoughtful expression on her pretty face boded ill things in the immediate future for our enemies. "Yeah, and a few Hell Bolts, with some living fire, and…"
"You've got the idea," I answered, then cautioned. "But don't forget that you have a weapon fully capable of giving more than Angels grief."
"Kids," I shrugged with a small laugh. "They grow up so fast these days, don't they?"
"Your mom knows what she's talking about," Syl grinned back at Victoria, and winked at my obvious discomfiture at being called a mom. "You should have seen her in action at old Shen-Dai's stronghold. She was truly… Ah, surprising with all she did there."
"You forgot to mention the scared shitless part, and the fact that half the bad guys I got were complete accidents." I grumbled.
"But such fortuitous accidents they were, Angie!" My former trainer grinned. "Awe inspiring, the damage you managed to do by accident."
"Much as I hate to interrupt this very interesting conversation," Vicki interrupted, pointing to the slope in front of us. "We need to continue it later. Our company's here."
"Oh, good," Syl turned to face the slope, now swarming with Night Fiends closely followed by a large cadre of Hags covered by the thinned, but still impressive ranks of Myrmidons. "I was beginning to think they'd decided not to come and play."
They hadn't decided to quit yet.
Gods of creation, destruction, and other fun things, they not only showed up, but hit us like a mass of down-sized, ugly tornados.
All the noise is the first thing that comes to mind when I recall that fight. Clangs of weapons against armor, shield, or other weapons. Shrieks of the attacking Night Fiends, warbling battle cries of the Hell Maids, shouted commands and warnings, assorted booms, fizzles, pops, crackles, and zings as spells flew, blended right in to the aural chaos without a hitch.
A couple of the Lillim kept the Night Fiend's webs at bay, while Vicki and I cheerfully fried, electrocuted, or freeze dried any who tried leaping over the triple line of Hell Maids boisterously holding the top of the slope. I actually think those ladies were having fun. But to be fair, Hell Maids were created to fight, and are Lucifer's Elite fighting force.
Things got really confused for a while with all the spells, and short individual clashes going on. What am I saying, for a while? I used up my last spell on an eight limbed idiot who thought the Lillim behind us would be easy targets, but neglected to consider the two Valkyries between it and the intended victims. After that, I let Heaven's Bane loose, and Vicki had started using Angel's Grief long before I ran dry in the spell department.
The ranks of Hell Maids had thinned, but was still holding, mostly. I moved forward to fill a gap in the line, and found myself facing three of the spider freaks at once. Each of them was brandishing, and using four weapons at the same time. No shields, though. Too bad. For them.
With my usual, and by now famous battlefield aplomb, I shouted a strangled "Gaack!" and started swinging Heaven's Bane at anything that wasn't me in a desperate attempt to get the suckers away from me. To my usual (and very unwarranted according to Syl) surprise I cut all three of them into variously sized parts suitable for frying before one could so much as bring a weapon to bear on me.
While I was doing that, Hell's Defense literally crisped another that decided it would be a good time to tackle me from the side. (Sometimes having armor with a mind of its own is a pretty good thing.) After that the general confusion degenerated into pure chaos. A Myrmidon decided I was a weak link in the defensive chain and I avoided his whistling attack with a sword bigger than I was through the simple expedient of going airborne. Then typically, got clumsy and landed on his head with both High heeled hooves.
"I hate that!" Kicking myself free of his ruined head before the body could pull me down as it fell, I angled over to give some help to a Hell Maid who had gotten herself isolated from the rest and was hard pressed by so many Night Fiends that the Myrmidons trying to exploit her vulnerability couldn't get close enough to use their weapons. I gave them someone to play with. After considerably thinning the ranks of the nasty uglies (Night Fiends) with a surprise attack from above that left half of their number with either broken heads, or in lots of little tiny, bloody pieces.
"Oh, hello," I greeted the Myrmidons with a viciously arcing downward swing of Heaven's Bane that took one's head off and literally disarmed another. (His severed arm flopped around, as if seeking its owner before getting trampled in the rush of other Myrmidons anxious to commit mayhem on my person. "I don't think we've met."
"Lord Baal wants this one alive," One of them wearing the rank insignia of a Captain cautioned the others. "don't kill her."
"Oh, I'm flattered that He wants to see me again," with a sweet smile, I cut the captain into two separate pieces - lengthwise. "But I'm really not interested in seeing Him any time soon. Sorry, guys."
"Hell with that," another wearing sergeant's stripes grumbled. "Kill the bitch and tell whoever asks that the Spider Freaks did it."
I screamed in pain as a dastardly attack from behind broke my right wing, and made sure that the culprit would never sneak up on a lady again. But my ability to fly was gone. Which made the situation even worse than it had been. So I did the one thing that no one, not even I, expected. Instead of trying to get away, I charged right into the midst of them with Heaven's Bane moving so fast she looked like a silvery streak in the air. I don't know whether it was pain, desperation, rage, or a combination of all three (that last one gets my vote, but I'm still not sure.) but within several very rapid minutes I was alone in a circle of dismembered Myrmidons and rivers of blood. And was looking for someone else to hurt. Not to mention bleeding from numerous wounds of my own.
Things had gone very quiet as I stood panting inside that circle of bodies and body parts. With a quick look around (and a pang of disappointment that I never thought I would feel when a fight was over) to see the enemy withdrawing in reasonably good order, provided you allow for the speed of the withdrawal. (Ok, they were running like whipped puppies yelping all the way home to mama.)
The pain of my injuries, especially the damaged wing took that moment to let me know it was there, and I'd damned well better do something about it quickly. My bright response to that was simply to groan, "Oh, shit, that hurts."
"Angie," a tired voice interrupted my cataloging of injuries and rating how much each one hurt on a very arbitrary scale that went from 'ouch' all the way up to 'Arrgh!'. "Get yourself back behind us and let Lor take a look at that wing. It looks bad."
"Gee, think so?" I looked up at a battered and bleeding Syl and gave her a crooked grin. "You oughtta have a look at it from in here. Broken, I know that much. The other damage to it, I haven't worked up the nerve to check."
"Morning star, I think," my friend judiciously looked the damage over and tried not to wince. "It's broken all right, and pretty shredded in spots, too."
"I wish you hadn't told me that," with a bright smile, I promptly fell to my knees, then hit the ground with my face. Then mumbled through the turf, "Ruined my whole day."
"Good fight you gave them, little sister," Syl answered, gingerly picking me up and carrying me back to the others. I moaned something totally unappreciative of her efforts as the tip of my damaged wing (and my broken tail, I found out later) brushed the ground. "Lord Lucifer is going to be pleased with Lady Lillith's newest daughters, I think."
"In better shape than you are," Syl answered with a chuckle. "But not much. You two seem to have a knack for finding the nastiest parts of the fight and jumping right into the middle of them."
"Gotta be the wings. Remind me about that later," was my muttered response. "When I can actually kick myself for it without hurting things any more than they already are."
"No problem, little sister."
"I'm sure it won't be," I grumped from within the fuzzy maze my mind had become all of a sudden. "You'll take great pleasure in reminding us both, I have no doubt."
"Got that one right, Angie," Syl laughed through her tears. "I'll never let you live it down."
"Damn right you won't,"
"Just stay with us so I can, ok?"
"Sure, love to, but think I'm going to take a nap right now."
"Good idea, Just so long as it's only a nap." Syl answered in a choked voice. "We've lost enough good ones today. If you leave us, I'd be tempted to go after Lord Baal and that bitch Mab myself."
"Feel sorry for them already."
"She'll be ok now," Lorilei's voice penetrated whatever dreams I'd been fighting my way through. "But she won't be flying for the next little while."
"Lor?" I questioned.
"Welcome back Angelique," her grin was very suspiciously strained by relief she wasn't trying to show as I forced my eyelids to peel themselves away from each other so my eyes could see if they still worked. "Are you in any pain now?"
"Only a little," I lied, as the bolts of fiery agony lanced from my damaged wing and tail to my already overtaxed pain centers.
"Sure, I really believe that, you idiot," She answered with a tired little grin. "Why in all the Names of Hell did you jump right into the middle of them like that?"
"I dunno, just seemed like the thing to do at the time,"
"Well remind me to never, ever, make you mad enough to come after me like that, ok?"
"Sure will," I mumbled, getting to my feet and finally looking around. The surrounding area looked like a hastily set up triage unit in an overworked field hospital that hadn't had time to even set up tents. There were injured Hell Maids, Lillim, and a very battered looking Victoria within several feet of me. "Gods! How many of us are left?"
"Not all that many," Lorilei answered quietly. "We beat the literal Hell out of them, but they returned the favor."
"Why did they stop?" I questioned in genuine curiosity. "We were in bad shape, they could have probably overwhelmed us completely with one more push."
"I think they got tired of climbing over bodies to reach us," Syl offered with a crooked grin. "We had a pretty impressive rampart built up from their dead."
"They needed to regroup and recover," Brekke, appearing as much the worse for wear as the rest of us, put in. "We Hurt them bad. Real bad. Lost heart and just turned around and ran after you took out the Myrmidon Captain and his troop."
"Well," a distant, and weary voice added. "They've gotten their collective shit back together. Here they come again."
"Oh joy," I grumbled, making sure Heaven's Bane hadn't gotten lost in all the confusion. She hadn't, and was ready to go at them again despite several rather large nicks in her gleaming blade. "Guess we'd better get ready for them, then."
With something less than pure enthusiasm, all of us, even me with my broken wing (okay, it was healed up, but the poor thing was too weak to support me in the air and still hurt like blazes - and don't tell me that I was imagining that unless you would like some broken bones of your own so we can compare notes a bit more realistically, all right?
"Same formation as before, my friends," Syl passed along as we straggled up to the position. "Leave the bodies alone for now, they'll give us a rampart of sorts and we need all the help we can get. Been nice knowing all of you, but I think it's time to die. Let's just make damned sure those assholes know they were in a bloody big fight here when it's over."
"No need for that, Ladies," a deep male voice interrupted. I turned to see who that could possibly be, a male on Home's Turf without suffering grief for it? What I saw literally had me gasping in lustful amazement.
The owner of the voice was a tall, darkly handsome fellow in blood red armor and carrying an almost bewildering array of weapons on his broad back. Not only that, he had brought friends with him. A lot of friends.
Among the friends he had brought were both Dimona and Helga. The imp ran up to Lorilei with a gleeful, if manic, expression on her cute little face. "Hey, Boss, I found us some help!"
The Death Angel (Angel!? In Hell, without having to fight his way every step?) I had briefly seen during the near fiasco in the rogue Shen-Dai's ruined palace, and the halfbreed Succubus/Angel I had helped out of trouble at the one usable door into the place were there. Adrianna, I remembered her being named.
"Jedidiah!" Lor greeted the Death Angel with more than a little surprise. "What are you doing here? You haven't Fallen have you?"
"No more than I had the first time you met me," the Death Angel shrugged. "But I still Owe you, and am more allied with you than with Heaven any more. Besides, whether Heaven knows it or not, it's in their interest to see this rebellion put down. We aren't ready to resume The War yet either."
"Okay, I won't argue that point," the little Lillim grinned. "Who's your friend? You know, the good looking, sexy one in the red armor?"
"You can call me Aries," the gentleman in question smoothly responded before Jed could reply. Otherwise known as Ares, Mars, and by several other names I won't bother to mention just now."
Urk! The Greek god of War. Right in front of me, and I was such a mess! Worse, he turned to greet me, and even took my hand in a gentle grip, then leaned forward to kiss its palm. I had an orgasm on the spot.
"Lady, I saw some of what you did here and am greatly impressed with your fighting abilities." and I swear he winked and grinned at me! "If you weren't already taken by a certain smith who favors me with his work off and on, I fear that I'd try recruiting you into my own cadre."
"You'd have to fight Lillith, and me, to get her," a beautiful, very feminine voice that sounded vaguely familiar interrupted with a chuckle. "Not to mention a certain very horny and capable of fighting himself, Dwarven smith."
"It's been a while, Inanna," Ares turned to give the regal woman who had spoken a low, respectful bow. "As always, it is a pleasure to see you."
"As it is to see you again, Ares," Inanna answered with a smile that would have melted the entire north pole if aimed in that direction. "But you can't have my children. Especially not the Valkyries. I worked very hard to get them, along with Lillith. Neither one of us would stand idly by while you tried stealing either one of them away from us."
Inanna…Queen of Heaven… once. Holy shit, I finally recognized her voice. "MAMA!"
"Yes, dearest child, that is what you and many others have called me since I claimed refuge in the underworld." the goddess replied with a soft smile for me.
"We seem to have work to do here and now," Lillith moved to join the group with a nasty little grin of her own. "Baal himself, with Mab tagging along, are marshalling their troops down the slope even now. We can all reminisce and get acquainted after this business is finished. And Mab is Mine."
The tone of Lillith's voice caused me to shudder even though the rancor in it was aimed at someone else.
"She's all yours, Lillith, dear," Inanna answered, then hardened her own voice. "As I have business to continue with Baal, especially now, I'll be far too busy to worry about that upstart little bitch."
"Hmm," Ares grinned at the pair. "Remind me to leave your children alone. I wouldn't want either one of you after my balls, or any other part of my anatomy for that matter. I'll honor your wishes and concentrate on breaking the assault. Have fun Ladies."
"What happened to get Him involved in all this?" I questioned, giving the departing God of War a longing, and curious look.
"He hates Baal, and chafes at the idea of subordinating himself to Hell's war leader," Lillith answered with a small chuckle. "And takes every opportunity to vex Baal he can find. This is one of those, and He does actually like me and Inanna. So he is doubly motivated here."
"You all rest here and watch the show," Inanna - MAMA - told us. "I guarantee it will be worth watching. And my very personal thanks to all of you for holding them until we could settle other matters and reach you with reinforcements."
With that, the goddess, and the being who was maybe even older than she was (Lillith, dummy, haven't you ever read the bible?) very regally stalked off to join the mounting counter-attack on Baal and Mab's forces.
It was really something to see, let me tell you. Lillith, with her group of (reasonably) fresh Lillim tore through the Night Fiends and Hags like a little boy gleefully kicking a large, teeming anthill to pieces. Leaving the rest of the Fiends, and Hags to her followers, She simply unexisted a tight group of Hags and Myrmidons (I know how that sounds. But I swear by the unholy grail that's exactly what happened. One moment all those hostile creatures were making threatening noises and preparing to attack her, the next they were gone. Well, except for some dirty piles of ashes with scorched, and/or melted armor and weapons mixed in.) then confronted a frothing at the mouth, enraged, Mab one on one.
"You arrogant, foolish little bitch," Mother Lillith's voice carried up to where we waited and watched from over a hundred yards away. "What made you even think that Home, let alone myself and all who live here, would tolerate your filthy presence, or even consider allowing you to rule here?"
"Thrice damned and twice spurned, bitch!" Mab screamed back. "Your prissy dominance in the councils of Hell ends here. Now!"
It got sort of hard to see what was going on after that. With all the spells, innate magical energies, not to mention clawing, biting, and hair pulling (hey, it was a catfight after all - just one so monumental that attempting to even describe the bits I managed to see kind of go pale in comparison to the real thing.) and the occasional use of a weapon, it wasn't safe to be anywhere near those two at the time. In fact, I was considering the wisdom of moving back from the near ringside vantage I had.
Oh, yes, Ares and his fighters, including Jedidiah the Death Angel were energetically dismantling the major Myrmidon formations while that was going on. And doing so quite well, I should add. Baal himself sighted the figure in blood red armor leading the reinforcements that were devastating his invasion force and roared in pure, unadulterated rage. "Upstart Godling! Are you enough of a fool to think you are a match for Me?"
"I'd be more than willing to find out, you overbearing thug!" The other War god in the conversation cheerfully shouted back without halting in his joyous dismemberment of several Senior Myrmidons at the same time. (He wasn't even breathing hard, while doing it, either.) "But someone else wants to speak with you right now!"
Inanna suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Literally. Being the basic force that created and holds Home together has its perks, I could see. The goddess, one time Queen of Heaven, favored Baal, her contemporary with a chilly smile. "Hello, Baal, we have a few matters that require finishing between us, I believe."
"I bested you once, Inanna," Baal answered with a ferocious baring of teeth that could have been a grin. "Wasn't that enough for you? You've not seen fit to seek me out in all the time we have dwelt in the underworld, and I would have made you a Queen!"
"I was a Queen," Inanna answered quite equably, but the undertones in her voice were not at all pleasant. "Until you betrayed me to Yawveh and his upstarts. I turned your proposal down before that and see no reason to accept it now. Share a throne with you? I held one quite well alone before your premature withdrawal from the field allowed the Hosts to swarm into the gap you left in our defenses. I can well see how That One and his gratitude has served you since, but He has little use for cowardly turncoats either."
Suddenly, She was armed and clad in glowing armor with a simple diadem across the top of her business-like helm. Oh, yes, I did mention armed there, didn't I? Her weapon sort of looked like a staff tipped with absolutely vicious looking blades at either end. The staff, or whatever it was, rippled in my view, changed shape, size, even apparent materials it was made up of. Whatever form it took was extremely nasty to face, and I thought it was made up more of energy than solid matter. (I was right, but still haven't figured out the trick of shaping one for myself. Gods are able to do such neat things, aren't they?)
That was another of those fights that one catches bits and pieces of while being very glad your own participation other than as a distant spectator wasn't required. Those two could fight, and obviously held very ancient grudges that I was just as happy not to be involved in other than peripherally. Trust me, when gods face off, little folks like you and me get out of the way and do our best to stay there until the disagreement is over.
It seemed that others thought the same thing. Namely, Night Fiends, Hags, and the few surviving Myrmidons. Their retreat (all right, it was a rout, pure and simple) was harried by very pissed off Lillim, Enraged Hell Maids, and the troops Ares had brought into the battle. Even so, there were still a freaking lot of them. Some of the idiots even ran in our direction.
Oh, well, at least we'd managed to get a little rest, and had allies hotly giving chase to those charging up the slope towards us. Frankly, I was hoping the pursuers would catch them and save us the trouble of taking the nasties out. Didn't happen.
That was one ugly fight. The bad guys weren't really interested in much more than getting past us, and we weren't about to let that happen. A lot of them, Night Fiends, and Hags, anyway, weren't even carrying weapons any longer. We killed them anyway. And kept killing until our arms ached and our legs had gone rubbery. Once they realized they were caught between two forces determined to destroy them, most actually did pick up discarded weapons and try giving us a fight. I still detest Hags, and hold only a slightly better opinion of Night Fiends, But in the end, even decimated (in the literal Romanesque sense of the word) and then some, demoralized, and without a snowball's chance in Hell (another misconception there. Some parts of Hell are so frigid they'd make the arctic seem tropical.) They still wouldn't surrender. Even when we finally gave them the chance.
Baal was down and not moving, though He wasn't dead. Mab was still on her feet, kind of, being firmly held by several Hell Maids and the Celtic goddess had a very battered, shredded look that hinted she wouldn't be on her feet without being held up.
Ares was standing in the middle of a pile of bodies even more impressive than the one in front of us, calmly cleaning his weapons and thoughtfully scanning the battlefield. A ragged cheer started, then swelled as other victorious survivors joined in, until it echoed like thunder in a closed room.
The rebellion was quite effectively finished, and a failure. But the ramifications would reverberate through Hell for a very long time to come.
Jedidiah, along with Adrianna, left almost as soon as the fighting was over. They hung around only long enough to make sure things were well in hand, and for the half breed beauty to find me. She stood in front of where I had found a reasonably comfortable piece of turf to collapse on and simply stared while shaking her head in bemused humor. "You know, Angelique, I don't think I've ever seen you without bruises, cuts, and other wounds. Up close and quiet, though, I do think you'd clean up really nice."
"Thanks," I mumbled, just loudly enough to be heard. "I think. And thanks for showing up here."
"Well, Lillith is my mother," she responded with a shrug. "If I hadn't already gotten back into her good graces, thanks in part to you, this would have been the chance I'd been waiting for. But you're welcome. We really should try and get together sometime when we aren't preoccupied with just surviving the moment, don't you think?"
"Anytime, my friend," I answered with a real grin of my own. I actually liked this one. A lot.
"As for me," the Death Angel put in, "I haven't been properly introduced, but have heard a lot about you, and seen you in action. I am Jedidiah, and am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Angelique."
"I'm no lady," I grumped shifting a little to find a more comfortable position for my still tender wing and tail. "But the pleasure is returned, Jedidiah. By the way, aren't you violating some kind of rule by being here right now?"
"Too many to count," he shrugged without concern. "Old Dominic will have a real heyday with me if he ever finds out about my participation in this fracas, but so what? Dominic and his lackeys were why I was barred from Heaven in the first place. At least if that happens now, I do have somewhere to go, right?"
"I'll bet Lord Lucifer would be more than happy to have you," I replied with visions of real red carpets, and other blandishments offered to the Death Angel if he was even considering a change of venue and loyalties.
"Something to keep in mind," Jedidiah nodded, knowing what I was thinking. (Sometimes Angels, even half-fallen ones, can be so damned unnerving with the way they seem able to discern anything you think about, even if that one was pretty transparent. Hey now, don't be snickering at me over that, I had been through a pretty rough go recently, you know.) "But for now, I intend to keep my options open, if it's all the same to you, dear lady."
"Guess I can't blame you for that," I agreed, then shrugged. "But I would sure hate to line up for a fight and see you on the other side."
"The feeling is mutual, Angelique," Jedidiah responded tiredly. "But it might happen. Until then, though, and even if it should happen, you have my undying gratitude and friendship for helping Adrianna when no one else would even give her the time of day."
I replied with what was becoming one of my stock phrases then. "Just seemed like the thing to do at the time."
"Well, time to go," Adrianna leaned forward to plant a sisterly kiss on my cheek, "You get well, then come visit sometime soon. I need to speak with Mother for a few minutes then we're gone. It's best that Jed not spend any more time in Hell than absolutely necessary right now, after all.
"I can understand that," rising to give her a hug, then one to Jed, I waved in the last direction I had seen Lillith. "I think she's over that way, making sure Mab doesn't get away before the Tribunal convenes."
"Yup," Jedidiah answered after peering in the indicated direction. "There she is. Inanna seems to have Lord Baal pretty well under wraps, too. I'll look forward to seeing you again, Angelique."
"You both take care of each other and yourselves."
"No problem there, Lady," Jedidiah answered with a wide smile and hug for Adrianna. "I wish you well in the future, which is no small thing since I'm still an Angel."
"Thanks, but Angelic blessings aren't exactly something I'd know how to handle just now."
"Don't worry about it, Angie," Adrianna advised. "Just take the luck that comes your way and run with it. That's what I do and it seems to work without fouling the lines of essence and spirituality too much."
"I'll keep that in mind," I shouted to their retreating backs while wondering just exactly what I could possibly do with more luck.
A familiar, booming voice attracted my attention as that pair left. "Ah, Lass, what a fight you gave those dastards! I was soo proud of my little hellion I nearly forgot to fight myself. Would have missed a great party if I had!"
"Nice to see you, too, Giruidir," I answered with a slow grin as the heat in my belly went from its normal smoulder to a small flame.
"Aye, that was a beauty of a fight you went through," the dwarf, who still had co-habitation rights in perpetuity with me (not that I was too upset over that, just wondering when the randy old character would tire out.) ambled up with a broad grin splitting his beard. "But you need schooling in the proper care and feeding of magical weapons and armor, my dear."
Giving a rueful glance to Heaven's Bane's nicked blade, and the multitude of small rents in Hell's Defense, I returned an insouciant grin to his comment. "But that's why I have you around, darling. To help me fix the little nicks and scratches from normal wear and tear on them. Isn't that right?"
He almost melted then and there. Gee, being a gorgeous female does have its benefits, doesn't it?
The Tribunal was short and rather brutal, even by the standards of Hell and considering the crisis we had just gone through. Infernal Affairs was reamed for missing the clues that the rebellion was going to occur at the time it did, and let me tell you, that bunch was taken as much by surprise as everyone else. Not that they hadn't suspected, and sent the requisite reports to Lord Lucifer, they just hadn't expected little ol' me to foul Baal and Mab's timetable so badly that they would launch the attacks before the nasty pair were quite ready.
The sitting Magistrates were both impressive and more than a bit intimidating. Lord Lucifer, Lady Inanna, Lord Chronos, Mother Lillith, and several lesser lights who just wanted to be in on the fun. I testified regarding the meeting I had accidentally (?) eavesdropped on and so drastically interrupted, but that was all there was to it. I told my story, what I had seen, heard, and other information I had gleaned from my very interesting (and last for a long, long time to come) visit to Gehenna. No cross examination was offered, no protests at my testimony were voiced, but I felt the glares from Both Lord Baal and Lady Mab throughout the ordeal. (Giving a testimony at a Hellish Tribunal is kind of like having your mind sifted through, shaken, turned upside down, inside out, then shaken again. There is absolutely no way anyone at all could lie their way through all of that. Especially with such powerful Lords sitting in judgment and doing the sifting. I still get a headache when I recall that experience.)
You've already seen my comments on having the complete attention of a Lord of Hell having only one major drawback, which is having the complete attention of a Lord of Hell. Multiply that by the thirteen sitting members of the Tribunal and you can see why I was uncomfortable.
"LORD BAAL," Lucifer commanded once all the evidence had been given. "STAND AND RECEIVE THIS TRIBUNAL'S JUDGEMENT."
That one complied, with all his usual arrogance and pride, along with a good leavening of defiance, though I detected a trace of nervousness in His demeanor along with all that bravado as Lucifer intoned forcefully. "YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF SEDITION AND ATTEMPTING TO OVERTHROW THE EXISTING RULING ORDER OF HELL. GIVEN YOUR PRESENT POSITION, AND THE CONTRIBUTIONS YOU HAVE MADE IN THE PAST TOWARDS THE ASCENDENCY OF HELL IN THE WAR AGAINST HEAVEN, YOU WILL NOT LOSE YOUR POSITION."
I, and others were slightly outraged, but not surprised. Baal began to puff himself up even more than he had been but Lucifer hadn't finished his pronouncement. "AS A RESULT OF YOUR UNFORTUNATE ATTEMPT TO UNSEAT THE CURRENT RULERS OF HELL AND SEVERAL OTHER DOMINIONS WITHIN HELL, YOU SHALL BE FORBIDDEN TO SHAPE ANY MORE WARRIORS, NIGHT FIENDS, OR RECRUIT OTHERS TO YOUR SERVICE FOR A PERIOD NO LESS THAN FIFTY YEARS AS MEASURED IN THE HUMAN REALMS, AND TO BE NO MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED FIFTY OF THOSE SAME YEARS. YOU SHALL ALSO SUBMIT ALL PLANNING TO THE LORD ARES FOR ASSESSMENT AND FORWARDING TO ME. ALSO YOU WILL EXPERIENCE ONE YEAR OF PAIN FOR EACH OF THE DEMONS WHO DIED AS A RESULT OF YOUR LATEST ESCAPADE. FURTHER, I FORBID YOU TO REBUILD YOUR CITADEL UNTIL THE TIME OF YOUR PUNISHMENT IS FINISHED. YOU SHALL DWELL IN RUIN, AS YOU PLANNED FOR OTHERS HERE, AND IN THE FOULEST LEAVINGS ANY PASSING BY SHOULD CHOSE TO DEPOSIT THERE. YOU MAY LEAVE US NOW, LORD BAAL, AND REMEMBER THIS. I WILL NOT BE SO MERCIFUL IF THERE IS A NEXT TIME."
With a wave of his hand, Lucifer sent Baal back to his still ruined citadel. At least I hoped it was still ruined. (I know, I'm kind of vindictive, but hey! Where do I live? Vindictiveness just seems to come with the general package when someone here has wronged or hurt you.)
"RISE AND FACE THE TRIBUNAL LADY MAB." Mab was nowhere near so arrogant or defiant as Baal had been. She didn't cringe, but was more subdued than her partner in revolution. "YOU HAVE ALSO BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF THE CHARGES LISTED AGAINST THE LORD BAAL. AGAIN, YOUR PREVIOUS SERVICE, AND THE POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE SERVICE LIGHTENS THE POSSIBLE PENALTIES. YOU ALSO WILL EXPERIENCE THE PAIN SET UPON LORD BAAL, FOR THE SAME LENGTH OF TIME. YOUR RECRUITING OF NEW HAGS WILL BE LIMITED TO THE SOULS YOUR EXISTING HAGS ARE ABLE TO SUBORN AND WILL NOT BE ALLOWED AT THE GATES. IN ADDITION, YOUR ASPECT OF BEAUTY IS TO BE DENIED TO YOU UNTIL THE STATED SENTENCE IS FINISHED. BE ONE WITH YOUR HAGS, LADY MAB, BUT WITHOUT THE OPTION OF EVEN AN ILLUSION OF BEAUTY TO COVER YOUR HIDEOUS FORM. GO NOW, AND CONSIDER ALL THAT HAS BEEN SAID HERE, ALSO OF WHAT YOU MIGHT DO TO MEND THINGS AND SHORTEN YOUR SENTENCE."
That was pretty much it. Oh, except for Lucifer personally handing out rewards for those of us who had fought in the defense of the incumbent order. All of us were listed as Heroes of Hell, with far reaching rights and privileges that included elimination of the need to bow and scrape in the presence of one of the Lords of Hell. I was confirmed as the head of a new clan in Hell - Valkyries, and given pretty much carte blanche to recruit members however I saw fit. Oh yes, I was also named as a special investigator empowered by Lucifer himself (basically at liberty) to go snoop into anything I pleased so long as it involved Hell or Hell's concerns. Which made me think I would end up with even more nasty little missions in the future, but trust me, you do not turn down appointments handed out personally by Lord Lucifer. Not and stay healthy, anyway. (I have mentioned sulfur pit duty haven't I?)
Lorilei was confirmed as a sub-head of clan Lillim, Helga and Dimona each got perks among their own kind (Hell Hounds and Imps respectively) and Sylvanna was named as the new Matriarch of Hell Maids to replace the former holder of that title who had fallen during the rebellion.
Jedidiah, in absentia for obvious reasons, was named officially as an ally (provisional) of Hell with full entry and exit rights. (That was an obvious ploy to recruit the Death Angel into our own ranks on a permanent basis, but who was there to protest? I sure wasn't going to.
Adrianna was granted full rights as a bona-fide Lillim, with severe punishments for any who failed to observe them. So, no more life as an outcast for my newfound friend.
That ordeal was finally over, and all of us retired to our respective homes in Hell. Home had repaired itself after the depredations (from both sides) caused during the battle for possession of that place. With a sigh of relief, I settled to the once again softly inviting turf for a well deserved, and long overdue, nap.
"Lisa is where?! And as what?!" I heard Victoria screech in the distance. "His name is Richard??! I want to see him. Right now! I still have some things to say to that deceitful, no good, two timing… Oh, believe it, I'm not finished with that relationship yet, and I will Let her - him, know it in very precise and intimately described detail!"
Sheesh, it seemed that death do us part had no meaning to my newly formed daughter. Given her demonstrated homicidal tendencies, and the ability to make such effective use of them, I found myself thinking that dear Richard, incubus or not, was in for an interesting millennia or two. Maybe along with any unfortunate mortal females he favored (or cursed) with his particular attentions. Having a homicidal Hell's Valkyrie following him everywhere with intent to commit mayhem was not a position I envied at all.
I made a mental note to try and keep Vicki from outright killing Richard (again) then settled back into my nap with an absolutely ludicrous image of Victoria declaring her love for poor Richard while she tried to choke the life out of him. Or shoot, cut, slice, blow up… Well, I think you get the picture. Ahh, forget it. Interesting is a very good word (I guess) to describe life in Hell. Wouldn't you agree?
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