Author: Michael Panush PM
At the dawn of the Enlightenment Age, the alchemists, wizards and magic creatures of the earth made a new home on the Moon, where they dwell and continue delving into the occult. Quincy Quill is an apprentice for hire, working in these Lunatic Kingdoms.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Supernatural - Chapters: 2 - Words: 16,699 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 4 - Updated: 11-01-10 - Published: 10-18-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2857019
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Rake-Hell's Joys
Quincy Quill's thin finger clutched the scarlet phoenix feather quill tightly, drawing it slowly across the lined parchment to form a pair of tight circles, within larger parallel circles. Any man or woman of age and experience would quickly realize what they were, but Quincy wasn't drawing them for his own amusement, perhaps like another boy of his tender years would. This was his job, as a Glyme Lad and apprentice-for-hire currently working for Sir Endymion Eden, a notorious Rake and one of the lewdest libertines on the moon.
He had been hired to help plan the Hellfire Ball, the annual celebration of the Hellfire Kingdom, and a tradition of sybaritic merriment dating back to the time on earth, before the move to the moon alongside the other Lunatic Kingdoms. Sir Endymion had instructed Quincy many times of the importance of their task. This was to be no ordinary ball or gathering, but a veritable temple of pleasure, where the gods of enjoyment would be fully worshipped. Quincy had no desire to disappoint Sir Endymion. An up-and-coming member of the Hellfire Kingdom, Sir Endymion had an enthusiasm for his work that bordered on madness, but he was a kind and sympathetic master.
So Quincy didn't mind working in the morning after breakfast at the Selene's Rest Inn, snugly sitting on his cot in his attic room as he scribbled down the floor plan. He was in his vest and shirtsleeves, his russet hair tangled and his spectacles slipping off his nose. He mumbled to himself. "I believe that's symmetrical," he said. "And Mr. Eden was quite keen on that." His hand trembled as he looked at the bottom of the lined paper. "Now, he wants the desert table set here, triangular in shape, and matching the woman's—"
There was a knock on the door and Quincy looked up. "Good heavens!" Quincy whispered, hurrying to roll up his parchment and its obscene etching. "W-who is it?" he asked.
"It's Mary, Quincy!" The voice was sweet as birdsong, and as welcome to Quincy as a hungry tiger's roar. Mary Sittle was the daughter of the innkeeper of Selene's Rest. She was about Quincy's age, and seemed to him to be some saintly creature of virtue, beauty and kindness, who was as unreachable as the earth below the moon. He certainly didn't want her seeing his dirty drawings, and hastily pushed them to the side. "It's Mary Sittle," Mary repeated. "Quincy, may I come in?"
"Oh, y-yes!" Quincy hurried to the door and pulled it back. Mary stood before him, her hands clasped in an attitude of excitement. Her brown hair hung over her shoulder in a single braid, and a smile played about her eyes. Quincy stepped back to let her in, feeling like a burning coal was sliding down his throat. "I must apologize for the mess," he said. He was room was cozy, but crowded with stacks of books, castoff clothes, and open notebooks full of sketches and writing.
Mary shook her head. "It's quite all right. I was just wondering what you were working on." She paused, taking a breath as she chose her words. "You're a Glyme Lad, aren't you? So you must have so many ideas inside your head. Which ones were you putting out on paper?"
She looked over his shoulder and Quincy stepped over to block her way. But it was too late. Mary's hand shot out and grabbed the notebook. She looked it over and then looked back at Quincy. "Oh…" she said. Quincy could hear his heartbeat. "It's a…a plan for some room, isn't it?"
"It's for a party. For the Hellfire Kingdom. The Hellfire Ball, they call it. The Hellfire Kingdom, that is." He stammered as he looked at his shoes. "I know it looks a little—"
"A party?" Mary smiled. "Quincy, you should take me! I've never been to anything the Hellfire Kingdom has planned, and I'm certain if you're helping them, it will be an utterly amazing experience." She nodded her head, reciting her words like she had memorized them. "You see, I came to a realization that since we live in such an amazing place, I should do everything I can to experience everything it has to o,ffer." She paused. "Do you think that's a good personal philosophy?"
"It makes sense," Quincy agreed. "My p-personal philosophy would be hiding from things that are dangerous and trying not to make anyone angry with me." He sat down on his cot. "I already have the knowledge of most things, even if I've never seen them, and that seems the best course of action."
"But could I go?" Mary asked. "To the Hellfire Ball, I mean?"
He wanted to tell her that it wouldn't be to her liking, and that dragging her into such a den of devils could only lead to tragedy. But instead, he nodded and mumbled. "Of course," he said. "I'll ask S-Sir Endymion."
"Ask me what, dear Quincy?" The voice was languid and slow, rich and dark. Quincy looked out to the attic doorway and saw Sir Endymion Eden himself standing there, resplendent in his rich crimson frock coat and salmon pink waistcoat. He wore a pair of curling ram's horns on the brim of his silken broad-brimmed hat, with a golden pentagram held in the band. It topped slicked back black hair, which combined with his long curved nose to make him appear streamlined. "And how does it concern this charming slip of a girl?"
Quincy put his hands behind his back and tried to stand up as straight as possible. "Mr. Eden," he said. "Sir Endymion, I mean – could Mary Sittle, the daughter of the owners of this inn and my f-friend, attend the Hellfire Ball?"
A minor demon perched on Sir Endymion's shoulder like a watchful parrot. It was a green-scaled imp the size of a monkey, with long pointed ears, wide yellow eyes and fangs reaching down past its round chin. Quincy had seen Sir Endymion give the imp treats of sulfur lumps now and then, but had never seen the little fiend do anything else. Now it licked its lips with a forked tongue while Sir Endymion smiled at Mary.
"Dearest Miss Sittle, you doubtlessly know how wondrous Quincy's gifts are and I must say that they are invaluable in planning the Hellfire Ball. You may attend, as a boon to him." His smile never wavered. "Now, dear Quincy, I'm afraid I must drag you away from this charming little moppet, for Styx Hollow beckons and the Hellfire Ball awaits."
"All right, sir," Quincy agreed. He looked back at Mary. "It's this evening," he said. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to get back here, but you can take the chariot to Styx Hollow and—"
"I know the way, Quincy," Mary said with a smile. "Don't worry. And don't forget your coat."
"Oh. Thank you." He paused to grab his forest green frock coat, tugged at his collar, collected his papers, and followed Sir Endymion Eden outside his room.
Sir Endymion strode boldly down the hallway, nodding to the other guests like he was one of their neighbors, instead of some upper class rake practically dripping with wealth. He led Quincy outside, where he had a carriage waiting. Sir Endymion rode in a carriage of dark ebony, adorned with rubies and gilded wheels. The horses had been covered with an alchemical solution that caused long green flames to dance along their backs and legs, like the luminous scales of a giant fish.
The coachman, a stolid brick of a man in a crimson cloak and tricorne, opened the door and extended a gloved hand to help them both inside. "Thank you, my fine postilion," Sir Endymion said, as the coachman slammed the door shut.
"Coachman is the proper term. The postilion rides one of the horses." Quincy made the correction quickly and nervously. He struggled to hold the stack of shifting parchments steady as the carriage began rolling down the rickety cobblestones of Chestnut Hollow. "I'm sorry for correcting you, sir. I shouldn't presume to—"
"Poppycock, my dear little lad." Sir Endymion tapped Quincy's forehead with a thin finger. "The orb resting upon your shoulders is a veritable library of esoteric knowledge. I spent my time in school enjoying the company of a variety of fine ladies rather than learning, and I insist that you put your library to use, whenever it may benefit me or our cause." He smiled. "And I do see it as our cause, dear Quincy. The Hellfire Ball will be the making of me. And it can be the making of you."
"I am not a member of the Hellfire Kingdom, sir," Quincy pointed out.
"True. Our membership policies are strangely strict." Sir Endymion shrugged. "But do you know who attends the Hellfire Ball? None other than Sebastian Slattery, the Infernal Duke. He has the ear of the Infernal Emperor, Sir Winston Fastblood. If Duke Slattery enjoys the Hellfire Club, I shall mention that you had a hand in it, and your name will be shouted to the rooftops as the grandest Glyme Lad on the moon!"
"Thank you, sir," Quincy said. The unspoken corollary was simple – if Quincy made a mess of things, if the Hellfire Ball was not a success, his career would face a severe setback. He leaned back in the red velvet seat, and tried to stay calm as they rode to the entrance of the highway tunnel leading to Styx Hollow.
The Hellfire Ball was to be held in the Palace Infernal, located in the heart of Styx Hollow. It was a sprawling castle of shining jet black baroque stone, every inch decorated by carvings of leering demons in attitudes of revelry, glittering gem stones and scarlet pennants reaching down from the ceiling. Quincy and Sir Endymion walked to the ballroom where festivities were to be held, their shoes clicking on the polished tile. Quincy felt very small in the cavernous chambers.
As they walked, he handed Sir Endymion the notes he had made. "This is the floor plan. As you specified, it looks like a woman's, well, a woman's—"
Sir Endymion nodded. "Brilliant. And I know just where to place the deserts. Have you developed a suitable menu, dearest Quincy? I hope it relies almost exclusively on sweets. And wine. And opium."
"I'll keep the alcoholic libations, and the um, other substances, at a separate table than the food items, sir," Quincy explained. "I think a steak, well-cooked and cut into thin strips, would be a good choice. And spiced rum should be offered, as well as a series of fine cheeses. I've written down the specific types."
"Perfection, utter perfection," Sir Endymion agreed as they walked into the ballroom. A number of servants were hard at work setting out the table and chairs, while a full orchestra were setting up their instruments and stools in the corner. Two hulking steam-spewing automatons carried an ivory piano across the room, their footsteps resounding like thunderclaps. "I will pass this list onto the chef and he will procure them from the market in Electrum Hollow."
Quincy nodded as they walked between a group of servants carrying a round stone table topped with a milk-spewing fountain in a very suggestive shape. The servants all wore the masks of snarling boars, which clashed with their refined coats and cravats. "There is some matter of the expense, sir," Quincy said. "I wrote down cheaper alternatives next to all the items, because the price might be a little high."
"The highest possible price must be paid, dear Quincy, for the highest possible reward." Sir Endymion extended his hands, indicating the great hall. "In fact, I'll be putting one of my family's ancestral treasures, the so-called Skull of Baphomet, on display tonight." He smiled as he snatched up as sugar cookie from the desert table and tossed it into his open mouth. "It's quite an intriguing specimen, allegedly found in King Solomon's Temple, you know, and supposedly possesses unimaginable power."
"I've done some reading on the subject," Quincy explained. The Skull of Baphomet supposedly talked to the crusader Templar Knights who had discovered it, bringing down the wrath of the French Inquisition on their heads. "I doubt the Templar Kingdom will like you displaying it."
Sir Endymion shrugged. "Pshaw, I say, and I'll say it again to those puritanical ninnies – pshaw!" The Templar Kingdom was the sworn rival of the Hellfire Kingdom. Their feud meant subterfuge, duels, contests – anything short of open warfare. "And between you and me, I doubt the family heirloom is the real Skull of Baphomet. Do you know how many thighbones of St. Anthony and ears of St. Mark there are, lurking around? But at least it is a beautiful specimen."
"If everyone knows they are false, why do people show them reverence?" Quincy asked. It was a conundrum that even his deep stores of knowledge couldn't solve.
"Men need their gods, and gods need their relics, dear Quincy," Sir Endymion explained. "During my Grand Tour to the big blue world below us, which all wealthy youngsters undertake when they come of age, I visited Moscow. The Russians, bless their winter-chilled hearts, had tried to create a society of atheists and yet they still had their founder enshrined in their capitol like he was the messiah. What a silly bunch of twits." He knelt down. "And speaking of decorations, I think some large pitchforks – gilded of course – should be set about the room."
"Do you think the dancers might prick themselves on the points?" Quincy asked.
"It's a risk I'm willing to take." Sir Endymion looked behind Quincy's shoulder and smiled suddenly. "Oh, by all the Brimstone in the Lake of Fire! It's Lord Prue! We were at school together." He waved his hand grandly, resembling a well-dressed scarecrow stirred by the winds. "Pellinghast! Get your fine self hither, my old friend!"
A well-dressed gentleman in a midnight purple cloak, fine periwig and stately black tricorne came over to join them. He had dark eyes and a neat black Cossack moustache, clashing with his white wig and pale cravat. He carried a large ebony cane topped with a silver orb. Quincy could tell just by his clothes that he was fantastically wealthy. His eyes were low and he had a disinterested look, a complete opposite of Sir Endymion's foppish frenzy.
"Endy," he said. "What a pleasure." He glared down at Quincy. "You have a new pet?"
Sir Endymion patted the demon on his shoulder. "Of course not, Pellinghast. No familiars but Prick-the-Boil here. This is Quincy Quill. He's a Glyme Lad. The only one who wasn't driven stark raving mad by all the knowledge pumped into their brains, I should think."
Lord Pellinghast Prue's dark eyes flared to life as he looked down at Quincy. "A Glyme Lad. He seems a ragged little monkey of a boy." Without warning, he snapped his fingers before Quincy's face and the boy stepped backwards, then lost his footing and tumbled to the ground. Lord Prue smiled. "Are you sure he retains his senses? He seems an idiot."
"I a-assure you, sir, I am not," Quincy replied. "I j-just have a little trouble with words, now and again."
"You s-seem t-to h-have a g-great d-deal of trouble with basic speech, boy." Lord Prue didn't smile as he coldly mocked Quincy. "Can you wipe your own rear? Or is that beyond you as well?" Quincy's face burned and he looked at his shoes, his mind reeling. Lord Prue was bullying him, and he couldn't think of anything to say. He felt heat creeping into his forehead, and a shiver running electric through his arms.
Sir Endymion saw Quincy's distress. "Dear Quincy, why don't you go over by the tables there, and oversee the placement of the canapés while Lord Prue and I discuss matters." He stepped in front of the flustered boy and smiled at Lord Prue, instantly launching into a conversation of how which of their old school chums had made fortunes, gone insane from gentleman's diseases, or drunken themselves into early tombs.
Quincy stepped away, grateful to be away from Lord Prue. He had received some amount of teasing when he was younger, and it always struck him like a blow to the skull, leaving him weakened, terrified and unable to defend himself. He tried to shake the feeling of shame and disgust from his head as he approached the servants. They were carefully setting out large golden plates, which would be filled with cheese, crackers and other delectable victuals.
Behind them, Quincy spotted movement in the hall. He stood on his tiptoes, looking over the table and gazing into the hall. He saw half a dozen men wearing white cloaks, golden belts and matching capotains with gold bands. They stared around the Palace Infernal, shaking their heads and scratching their neat goatees.
His Glyme Lad's mind raced to place them. "Holy Heavens!" he whispered. "Those are the Blessed Knights of the Templar Kingdom! But what were they doing here, in the heart of their sworn enemy's kingdom? Quincy looked back at Sir Endymion and Lord Prue, still deep in conversation. He didn't want to interrupt their talk, and receive another round of insults from Lord Prue. Instead, he gathered his courage and approached the Templars.
He stepped into the hallway and stared up at the Templars. "Hello, gentlemen," Quincy said. "Can I, um, ask what you are doing here?"
The Templar Men looked around and then down at Quincy. Their leader, who had a neat blonde goatee, thick eyebrows and a perpetual snarl on his face, turned to the shortest of the Templars and curled back his lips in a snarl. "You swore your spell would sneak us past their wards and watchers, Hackford!" he bellowed.
"It did!" Hackford whined. "But the boy must be something else, someone stuffed to bursting with magical knowledge and he can see us!"
"I'm a Glyme Lad, actually." Quincy took a step back. "I can see things that aren't readily apparent, sometimes. That's why we were named after the Link Boys of old London – for our ability to illuminate the darkness and reveal what is hidden." He didn't know why he was babbling. The Templar knights were clearly up to no good. He turned to run.
"Oh no, you don't!" The leader of the Templars grabbed the boy's shoulder and hauled him back. Quincy's scream died in his throat while he felt a long straight sword's blade placed next to his throat. "I am Uriah Croix, Eternal Enforcer for the Templar Kingdom, and I will not have some runt of a child ruining my plan!"
He slammed Quincy against the wall, pulling his sword back as he snarled with the ferocity of a wild beast. "I intend to have this Hellfire Ball end in the infernal flames it deserves. What's your purpose, lad? Are you a servant of Eden's?"
"Y-yes!" Quincy cried. "I am an apprentice-for-hire! Quincy Quill is my name!"
"Ah. I see." Uriah Croix lowered his sword and Quincy stumbled forward. "Well, Quincy, you know better than to pick a master so steeped in the devil's graces. If you were a righteous child, you would not align yourself with such heresy!"
"Waving a sword at me and making threats doesn't seem very Christian, sir!" Quincy cried. He looked at the Templars behind Croix and saw the tall clay jars, marked with etched Arabic figures, in their hands. He recognized them, or at least his store of knowledge did, instantly. "Those contain Ifrits and Marids, spirits of Arabia. What are you going to do with them?" He answered his own question in seconds. "Oh, good lord," he whispered. "You mean to unleash them during the ball, to sabotage it."
Croix snorted. "Clever boy," he said.
"Well, that's not very Christian at all. Look, Mr. Croix, the Hellfire Kingdom will certainly through a riotous party, and they might consort with demons, but they won't actually be hurting anyone. But if you release a bunch of angry Marids and Ifrits into a ball crowded with people, there will certainly be casualties."
"Well, we have to fight against the Hellfire Kingdom," Croix explained. The Templar seemed to be weakening, and he lowered his sword. It clinked against the marble floor. "It is our duty."
"Why?" Quincy asked. "It seems you're only doing it, because you feel you have to, and that's no reason to do anything, really." He looked back outside. "Maybe you should go back to Masada Hollow and, well, forget about this."
Croix closed his mouth. His eyes glared at Quincy. His sympathy dripped away in a seconds. "You speak with the devil's tongue!" he cried, grabbing Quincy's neck and slamming him against the wall. "The heathen spirits kept within these jars will cause havoc, and they will frighten people, but they will not take lives. However, if you breathe a word to anyone about this, if I so much as suspect you of telling, there will be nowhere in the moon where you can hide from God's holy wrath!"
Quincy gulped. He said nothing. He had no intention of staying silent. Even though Croix terrified him with his holy fervor, the boy's conscience could not allow him to let the guests of the Hellfire Ball be jeopardized. And Mary would be attending the Hellfire Ball. The thought of endangering her filled the boy with deepest dread. But he didn't want to anger Uriah Croix, so he stayed silent.
"Do you understand the import of my words, Quincy Quill?" Croix demanded.
"Yes, sir," Quincy replied. He tried his best to act terrified. It wasn't difficult.
Croix slowly lessened his grip. He looked back at his Templars. "Give him the jars," he said. "He'll place them where they'll do the most damage."
The Templar Knights stepped forward, and held out their jars. Quincy took both of them and tucked them under his arms. Their clay surfaces were cool to the touch, and he tried not to drop them. The Arabian spirits would doubtlessly emerge from the wreckage, and he'd be torn to red shreds in an instant if that happened.
"Go into the hall and place them in its center," Croix said. "We'll be here, watching you." He pulled aside his white cloak, revealing the pearl handle of a long-barreled flintlock pistol. "If you try to flee, or put the jars somewhere else, then you will die in the next second. Do you understand?"
"Y-yes, sir," Quincy agreed. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the pistol. "I d-do."
"Good. God be with you." The Templar stepped back and pushed Quincy's back, pointing back towards Hellfire Hall. He stumbled but struggled to stay upright. He was carrying a pair of magical bombs, and had to walk with them right into the party he was planning.
He did so, heading back into Hellfire Hall without another word. He could see some of the servants looking at him, but they made no move against him. They knew he worked for Sir Endymion and had no wish to bother him. He moved to the center of the room, feeling the eyes of the Templars on his back. He felt like he was walking over coals.
The main table seemed a good enough place. Quincy set down the jars in a spray of red flowers in two golden bowels. They were well hidden enough. He looked over his shoulder, wondering if he'd find a musket ball planted in his back with each passing second. Quincy stared into the hall. The Templars were gone. Evidently, Eternal Enforcer Croix had a high opinion of his abilities to scare the Glyme Lad into doing his wishes.
"Right," Quincy said. "Now to tell Sir Endymion." He was frightened of many things and hated the fear that controlled him. But he would not stand to see innocents hurt. He waited for a few seconds after he spoke, half-expecting Croix and his Templars to come charging out with swords drawn, ready to hack him to bits with holy fervor.
He waited, and nothing happened. They were gone, and Quincy had been left alone. He walked away from the table, and started looking through Hellfire Hall for Sir Endymion. But he couldn't find him. Instead, he saw Lord Pellinghast Prue, leaning against the wall and watching as several masked servants brought in a large silver case held on two poles.
"Lord Prue did insult me," Quincy said. "But he's a friend of Sir Endymion. He'll listen." He pushed his fears aside and hurried to Lord Prue's side.
The aristocrat didn't notice. His eyes were fixed on the silver case. Quincy followed Lord Prue's eyes to the silver case. He saw the engravings on the side, revealing a skull held in the coils of a desert cobra.
This was the container of the Skull of Baphomet, the ancestral relic of the Eden Family. Quincy watched as the servants opened the case and removed the skull, setting it at the table's center. Wrapped round in silver, with glowering gem stones for eyes, it was quite a sight. Quincy had to admit Sir Endymion was right. Baphomet's Skull would be the perfect centerpiece for the Hellfire Ball.
"L-Lord Prue," he said, looking back to Sir Endymion's school mate. "There's something I must tell you."
Lord Pellinghast Prue stared down at Quincy with disinterested eyes. "Is there? Well, it might be entertaining you watch you make the attempt. What is so damned important, boy, that you must disturb me?"
Quincy again checked over his shoulder. "The Templar Kingdom means to upset the Hellfire Ball, sir. They've forced me to place two clay jars containing enraged Arabian spirits on that table there. Doubtlessly, the seals are enchanted and will break during the festivities, unleashing the Ifrit and Marid within upon the guests." He paused to look into the hallway once again. The Templars weren't there. "They t-threatened to kill me, if I revealed their plan."
Lord Prue nodded. "And now they'll have to kill you," he said. "As you have done just that."
"But you'll stop it. You'll warn the Hellfire Kingdom's guards and get those jars removed, and tell Sir Endymion?" Quincy asked. "He's not here right now, but he'll arrive shortly and then you should tell him, with no time to spare."
"Ah yes," Lord Prue agreed. He was staring at the silver-lined Skull of Baphomet once again, and smiling faintly. Quincy didn't like the covetous look on Lord Prue's face. "After all, we wouldn't want the ball of my dear school chum to transform into complete and utter chaos, now, would we?"
"No, sir," Quincy agreed. "So, you'll tell him?"
"Of course." Lord Prue's manner had changed entirely. His voice was now warm and comforting, and he patted Quincy's shoulder like a benevolent uncle. "Now why don't you run along and see that the musicians have the evening's music planned properly. I'm sure you don't anything else than the devil's waltz to serenade the revelers, do you?"
"And you'll alert Sir Endymion?"
"Of course." Lord Prue's gloved hand clapped Quincy on the back, nearly shoving him towards the orchestra. "Off you go, Glyme Lad. I'm certain you have much to do."
Quincy took a few halting steps away from Lord Prue. The aristocrat was right. Quincy did have many parts of the Hellfire Ball to oversee. There was the music for the evening, the careful placement of the food, the decorations, and even the low lighting from the great golden chandelier had to be supervised to be perfectly prepared.
"I suppose so," Quincy agreed. He turned and hurried off. Lord Prue was looking back at the Skull of Baphomet. Quincy busied himself with his work, discussing the arrangement of the orchestra and their program for the evening. It was hard work, but at least intriguing, and it kept his mind busy and his fears at bay.
But while he was supervising the placement of the wine bottles on the desert table, he looked back at Lord Pellinghast Prue and found the nobleman gone. "Strange," Quincy said. But he shrugged. "He must have gone to tell Sir Endymion," he reasoned. "I'm certain he's telling the guards and they will carefully remove the enchanted jars and their magical contents at any moment." He went back to the servants carrying the cheese plates, and tried not to think of the Templar Kingdom, the Arabian spirits, or Lord Prue any more.
Before Quincy knew it, night had fallen and the guests began to arrive. Day and night was strange within the moon, with each Hollow using magical lights and electrical fuses to create artificial light and darkness. They ran on separate timetables, so a day in Chestnut Hollow and a day in Nocturne Hollow were far from the same. Night started early in Styx Hollow, as the residents of the Hellfire Kingdom enjoyed the cover of darkness. The carriages of nobility, adorned with carvings of leering devils and set with swinging lanterns of crimson light, began rolling down the narrow streets towards the Palace Infernal, and soon enough, the gaudily dressed guests strolled into the Hellfire Ball.
Quincy stood by the door, his hands folded as he examined the room. He nodded to the orchestra and the conductor swiped the air with his stick, causing a whining string section to come to slow life. Quincy nodded again to the waiters, and they started strolling forward, holding out platters heaped with delicacies, so the guests might snack on them as they came in. He gave a final nod, and one of the servants pulled a lever on the far side of the wall, causing the chandelier to flare to life, and bathe the great hall in golden light.
The servants liked Quincy, as he always differed to them and asked with extreme politeness for their help, and their hard work was well done. The music, the food, the light and even the decorations – including large golden pitchforks projecting up from the shining marble floor like strange trees – created a mood of ultimate pleasure.
One of the maidservants stood by Quincy as the guests, gentlemen in silken coats and grotesque jeweled masks and ladies in damask dresses with towering coiffures, stepped inside and began strolling about the hall. "Looks like a well done little to-do, Master Quill," she said. "You done Sir Endymion proud, and no mistake. Everything's set up just right."
"Thank you," Quincy said. "That's very kind of you." He shaded his eyes and looked to the table in the center. He tried to peer into the bowl of flowers, to see if he could spot the clay jars hidden amongst the red petals. "Um, do you know if Lord Prue told Sir Endymion about the jars there and the Templars? I think it is rather important."
"Sir Endymion hasn't arrived yet. He wants to be late to make a bigger splash at his own party." The maidservant pointed to the doorway. "Oh, but looks like there's someone your age, Master Quill, and she's a right pretty one too."
Quincy followed her finger and let out a little gurgle of tension. Mary Sittle had arrived. Quincy quickly said goodbye to the maidservant and hurried across the floor, dashing around the hoop skirts of some noblewoman, weaving between canes and long legs of Hellfire rakes, and finally arriving at the door to stand in front of Mary.
"H-hello," Quincy said.
"Hello, Quincy." Mary smiled and Quincy felt a feverish warmth arch up his spine. Mary Sittle wore a pleated dress of soft gray fabric, tied round with a dark bow. Her eyes darted around the wide hall, lingering on each strange costume and hellish decoration. "This is quite an event, Quincy," she said. "I think you did a really good job. Has your master arrived and looked at it yet?"
"Not yet," Quincy said. "And thank you. I did work hard on it. Do you think the light's color is a little off? Or the cheese plates are too far away from the fountain in the center? Or the—"
"It's all wonderful, Quincy," Mary said. She took his hand and they walked to the two tables in the center of the room, as the musicians started their next song. It was a slow waltz, and Quincy felt his heart beating in time with the slow thump of the drum. "Would you like to dance?" she asked, rather suddenly.
"Um, well, I guess I would…" Quincy mumbled as Mary already took his hands. They stepped out, joining the other couples that were waltzing slowly around the room. Quincy did his best to follow Mary's steps. His Glyme Lad's knowledge contained detailed descriptions of every possible dance and caper, but his legs still felt like the joints had broken apart. He tried to stay upright as he looked at Mary. "You are very pretty," he said. "You're beautiful."
Mary smiled. "Thank you, Quincy. You're very kind."
He could have stared at her forever, but then another awful thought stalked suddenly into his mind, like a shark lurking in dark waters. "The enchanted jars," he whispered, pulling away from Mary. "I'm sorry, but I really should check on them and make sure Lord Prue took them away and—"
"Quincy!" Mary hurried after him as he dashed way from the dance floor. "What do you mean? What are these jars and why do you need them removed?"
Quincy tried his best to explain as they elbowed past a couple of macaroni fops with unicorn horns set in their wigs. "The Templar Kingdom put them there! They have Ifrits or Marids inside, and they'll burst out and start attacking people! It will cause all manner of problems if we don't stop them."
He reached the table, and was about to reach into the clump of red flowers, when a familiar hand grabbed his shoulder and scooped him away. He was spun around to face Sir Endymion, who had selected a tricorne with a massive pair of antelope horns and a brilliantly pink coat for the party. Sir Endymion's pet demon, Prick-the-Boil, was tugging at the red satin band on his neck. Sir Endymion stood in a circle of Hellfire Kingdom nobles, and patted Quincy's shoulder and he pulled him close.
"And this, my companions in the refined heat of Hellfire, is the lad who made it all possible – my dear Quincy Quill, apprentice-for-hire and party planner extraordinaire. He has made this rake-hell very happy and I hope he has done the same for the rest of you." Sir Endymion Eden didn't take his eyes off of a plump Hellfire noble in a yellow suit, wearing a turban set with a topaz jewel above his side-burn flanked face. "I trust you are enjoying his handiwork, Infernal Duke Slattery?"
Infernal Duke Sebastian Slattery had a glass of wine in one hand and a long pipe in the other. He opened his mouth and a great cloud of pinkish smoke came out. "The choice of opium is simply amazing," he said. "The lotus eaters of the Odyssey did not feast on material so fine as this."
"From my finest stores, sir," Sir Endymion agreed.
"And the lighting is tasteful enough. The food is fine. But it is all so drearily refined, so terribly cosseted, that it makes my blood boil." He tossed the wine glass away behind him. It shattered on the floor, making Quincy jump. "I crave excitement. I lust to have my heart race, my senses thrill. I demand action."
Quincy managed to look back up at Sir Endymion. "Sir, has Lord Prue told you the Templar Kingdom's attempt to—"
"Well, the Hellfire Ball is a somewhat public event, Infernal Duke," Sir Endymion said, trying his best to court his duke's approval. Mary stepped into their ranks, and stood next to Quincy. Strangely, she didn't make him more nervous. Quincy felt a little more confident when she was around. "We can't indulge of our dark desires here. After the party, at my private estate, I'll bring over a few maidens and some donkeys and we can—"
"Even the orgiastic howls of our after-parties seem routine," the Infernal Duke muttered. "I understand that the cravings I have are impossible to fulfill without my death, my I still crack under the wretched fetters of dull reality."
"Has Lord Prue told you about the enchanted jars?" Quincy tugged on Sir Endymion's frock coat, and finally got him to notice.
Sir Endymion looked down, his pet imp hissing in displeasure. "Lord Prue?" he asked. "I don't believe I have seen him this evening. Did he accept my invitation?" The Hell-Rake turned back to the Infernal Duke. "Well, perhaps another glass of wine and another pipe of opium might—"
"The Templar Kingdom placed some Arabian spirits, stolen from the Holy Land during the crusades no doubt, into this hall, in order to upset the Hellfire Ball!" Quincy cried. He nearly shouted, his anger and newfound confidence getting the best of him. Everyone paused and Sir Endymion ceased talking to Duke Slattery.
He looked down at Quincy. "I'm sorry, dear Quincy," he said. "But did you say something?"
Behind them, the table containing the night's meal exploded in a cloud of fire. Quincy felt the ground slip out from under his feet as a wave of heat washed over him. He turned around, his mind racing as he saw something stretching out of the red cloud of fire that had consumed the middle table and gazing at the hall with a trio of baleful glowing white eyes. The Ifrit slowly dispelled the smoke with lazy waves of its four muscled arms, and floated forward in a cloud of fire.
The Ifrit stood twice as tall as a normal man, its skin red as flame and its three eyes, set vertically in its long head, over a mouth containing long fangs and a lolling tongue. Countless golden piercings clanked along its muscled body, and every one of its four large arms carried a scimitar big enough to hack a man apart. Living flame spewed out from countless cracks in the skin of the monster, and it roared as it attacked. Quincy scrambled away as the Ifrit sent a plume of fire into the drink's table, smashing wine bottles and causing the deserts and opium to vanish in black smoke.
"And those Templars said he wouldn't hurt anybody!" Quincy whispered to himself as he tried to come to his feet. "They clearly don't know anything about Ifrits!" He did, and knew that he had good reason to be afraid.
Mary stood over Quincy and offered him a helping hand. The two children looked back at the crowd of the Hellfire Ball, as panic started to race through them. Sir Endymion pointed at the monster with a shaking finger. "Guards!" he cried. "Destroy this uninvited guest!"
The Hellfire Club maintained a few guards, dressed in snarling devil masks and red coats and sashes. They hastened to obey Sir Endymion's words, racing in and leveling their muskets at the Ifrit in the center of the ballroom. Quincy threw himself to the ground as musket shot whined through the air, only to boil into useless lumps as the salvo neared its target.
"That's not going to work," Quincy whispered. He racked his brain to think of something that would. "A holy relic, perhaps," he said, looking up at Mary. "We've got to find a holy relic and that will send the Ifrit running back to its home in the jar."
"What about an unholy relic?" Mary suggested. "I think that's the only kind we'll find around here. Maybe that could have the same effect."
It was a good scheme, and Quincy nodded his agreement as the Ifrits slashed its scimitars across the ground and set a wave of flame towards the guests. Mary pulled Quincy to the ground, and the fire coursed over their heads. Quincy winced as he felt the heat burning past him. "The Skull of Baphomet should accomplish that," he said, and looked up at the skull's display amongst the carved meats.
But the Skull of Baphoment was gone. A tall figure in a black cloak, tricorne and domino mask was hurrying away from the table, a cloth bundle under his arm. Part of the cloth fell away and Quincy saw silver gleam in the golden light of the chandelier. Quincy narrowed his eyes. That was Lord Prue. He hadn't told Sir Endymion about the Ifrit, because he wanted to take advantage of the chaos and steal the Skull of Baphomet for himself.
"That scoundrel!" Quincy hissed. "Mary, we have to go after him." He came to his feet and started after Lord Prue, but found the Ifrit blocking his way. It towered above him, glaring down with its three eyes as it swung its scimitars back in an almost mechanical manner. Quincy knew they would come down and split him into a dozen bloody chunks.
But Mary grabbed one of the decorative golden pitchforks and ran forward. "Quincy!" she cried, stepping before the boy and jabbing at the Ifrit with the ornamental trident. "Get away from him, you monstrous fiend!" She cried, stabbing forward with the pitchfork. It stuck into the chest of the Ifrit, but then the metal curled and blackened, like it was little more than stripes of paper against a roaring flame.
Quickly, Quincy grabbed Mary's shoulder and pulled her away, as the Ifrit lunged for her. They ran down the hall, feeling the heat as the angry Dijinn floated after them. Then Quincy heard a high-pitched shrieking growl and looked over his shoulder. He saw Prick-the-Boil, Sir Endymion's pet imp, had leapt from his master's shoulder and onto the back of the Ifrit.
Hissing like a wildcat, Prick-the-Boil clung onto the Ifrit, raking its back with its long claws. The Ifrit roared, and smoke poured from its mouth as it tried to swipe the demon off of its back with one of its four blades. Quincy had been a little wary of the leering imp, but now he could only admire Prick-the-Boil's courage.
"Come on, Quincy!" Mary cried, and the two children hurried down the hall.
Sure enough, Lord Pellinghast Prue was running ahead of them, the Skull of Baphomet under his arm. "Stop, you pilfering thief!" Quincy called. "You can't just steal from your friends and get away with it!"
"I can't?" Lord Prue turned around and Quincy stopped chasing after him. He carried a short-barreled coat pistol in one hand and aimed it at Quincy and Mary. "Well, my mistake. I assumed I could easily overcome two children – my only pursuers, mind you – but according to you, O Glyme Lad, I am mistaken. Pray tell, how exactly do you intend to stop me?"
Mary and Quincy exchanged a glance. Lord Prue took a step towards them, his pistol leveled at the Glyme Lad. "You know, with all the chaos exploding next door, I bet that no one would hear the crack of this flintlock as it pumped a bullet into your skull, Quincy Quill. Your little head is so stuffed with knowledge that I bet the resulting flood of brains and gore would be most prodigious. Quite a sight to see, I'll wager."
"D-don't—" Quincy started. He looked at Mary, and found a small amount of courage blooming to life inside of him. "Run away, Mary," he said. "It's my fault you're mixed up with all of this. You shouldn't suffer on my account. Just run away, and I'll face this blackguard alone."
"Oh! What nobility!" Lord Prue laughed callously. Quincy turned to watch him, and noticed a strange white capotain appearing suddenly behind Prue. He realized instantly what it was. Lord Prue pointed the pistol at Quincy. "I believe I will shoot you in the gut, so that you may die slowly," he said. "It will amuse me."
But as he reached for the trigger, the handle of a straight sword came crashing down on his head. Lord Prue opened his mouth, removing his fiendish grin and then toppled forwards, the pistol and silver Skull of Baphomet falling from his hands. Mary reached down and grabbed the Skull, just as Eternal Enforcer Uriah Croix and his Templar brethren stepped into the hall, pointing their swords at the children.
Croix stared down at Mary and Quincy. "We came here to see the destruction of our enemies and God willed that we save your life," he explained. "But I would rather let you fall to the blades of this miscreant for—"
"What is wrong with all of you, in the name of God and all the saints!?" Mary cried at the top of her voice. She pointed down at Lord Prue. "This villain pointed a pistol at a child, and now you men are threatening us with your blades! I can see that you call yourselves pious, but you've unleashed an Arabian spirit on a party, threatened poor Quincy and now are about to attack us!"
"We do it in the name of—"
"Stop your self-righteous mewling, sir!" Mary cried. "You are fools and murderers who hide behind the cloak of faith, just as Lord Prue hides behind his rank. I am greatly disgusted at all of you." Her rage seemed to make her bigger than she was, and Quincy stared in awe at his neighbor. She was braver than he could ever be.
"The Ifirt is killing people?" Croix asked.
"It is throwing fire around and waving swords that could easily hack apart a horse!" Mary replied shortly. "What did you expect it would do, once you set it loose in a crowded party?"
With a sigh, Croix hung his head. "We didn't mean to murder anyone," he said. "The Templar Kingdom just wanted to upset the Hellfire Ball."
"You didn't understand the Ifrit you were unleashing," Quincy explained. "It's a being of pure rage, and it will kill somebody – if it hasn't already." He held up the silver Skull of Baphomet. "But this might stop it."
"Well, perhaps you had better do that," Croix said. He lowered his sword and stared down at Lord Prue. "What should we do about him?"
"Take him with you and toss him in your dungeons. I'll know he'll reveal himself to be as pious as a saint in order to escape, the snake." Mary turned away. "Quincy, we had better go back and put a stop to that Ifirt, before it harms someone." She started walking down the hall, as calmly as if she was heading down the stair of the Selene's Rest Inn. Quincy hurried after her.
They walked back to the room, and Mary handed Quincy the Skull of Baphomet. "Good heavens," Quincy said, holding the skull with shaking hands. "You were amazing! You commanded those Templars and told them off and stopped them from harming me! I am indebted to you and—"
"They were silly and I told them so," Mary replied. She stopped and looked at Quincy. "I was a little frightened, but I said what was right. You see, Quincy, the moon is too wonderful a place to let bigots and rogues ruin it. And there are too many wonders for me to see for me to spend time in pointless politeness."
"Well, thank you," Quincy said. He looked back into the great hall.
The Ifrit was still engaged in brutal battle with Prick-the-Boil, but Sir Endymion's pet demon was not faring well. With a snarl, the Ifrit cracked the flat of a blazing scimitar against the side of the imp, knocking it onto the ground. The imp skittered away, but the Ifrit was already pulling back all four of its blades to slice the devil apart. Quincy would have to act fast. He grabbed the Skull of Baphomet with both hands and dashed into the room.
"Excuse me!" Quincy cried, running through the crowd. "Ifrit! I have something for you!" He dashed past the guards, squeezed between two fops in matching swallow blue coats and top hats, and scrambled towards the Ifrit. It looked up, focusing its three glaring eyes on Quincy as it turned away from the imp.
Quincy held the Skull of Baphomet above his head. He already knew the proper verses of binding to recite in ancient Arabic, and spoke them, drawing them straight out of his implanted memories. He watched the Ifrit shudder with each syllable, but it still drew closer. Quincy's hands shook and the skull felt cold as ice in his hands. He thought he would drop it, and then it would shatter on the ground and the Ifrit would take him. He struggled to hold it steady.
Slowly, the fire and smoke that clouded around the Ifrit began to draw away. It floated towards the sockets and mouth of the Skull of Baphomet. The Ifrit locked its three glowing eyes with Quincy as it fell apart. More and more of it drifted away as living smoke, burning away into nothingness as it vanished into the Skull of Baphomet. The eyes continued to glare at Quincy, and they weren't filled with hate, but a certain sadness, and almost a relief. The Ifrit's fire faded and the Skull of Baphomet began to grow hot.
"Oh god," Quincy said, as he set the skull down on a nearby table. He sank to his knees and looked at his hands. The skin was red and somewhat burned. He winced as he flexed them, and produced a handkerchief to wrap them in as the Skull of Baphomet continued to steam.
Sir Endymion, Mary and the Infernal Duke himself, Sebastian Slattery, hurried to his side. "Dearest Quincy!" Sir Endymion cried, cradling his crying pet imp. "You're bravery has saved us all!" He paused as he picked up the Skull of Baphomet. "And you have trapped an Ifrit within this old piece of bone. That makes it even more interesting and valuable."He paused and looked at Duke Slattery. "Oh! Your turban is signed, O Infernal Duke, I didn't mean to—"
"My dear boy," Slattery said, staring down at Quincy. "Did you place the Ifrit there?" His words were quaking and his hands shook.
Quincy bowed his head. He had to admit his guilt. "Y-yes, sir," he said.
"That was ingenious!" Slattery held his hands high. "The shock of the Ifrit unleashed upon the floor, the real panic that clawed at my heart, the terror that added the perfect feeling of doom to the proceedings – it was ingenious! I am excited again, I am alive, I can feel the blood in my body and I know that true revelry will now seem all the sweeter." He patted Sir Endymion's shoulder. "A wonderful Hellfire Ball! The best in history! Your star will rise like Lucifier's, Endymion, but without the following fall. I promise you that."
Sir Endymion smiled back. "Quincy, I'll double your fee," he said. "And is there anything else I can do for you?"
Quincy looked over at Mary. "You've been very kind to me, sir," he said. "But I think it would be nice if the orchestra could play another song, and maybe Mary and I, and everyone else, could have another dance." He looked back at Mary. "I-if you w-wouldn't mind, Mary, that is."
"I'd be delighted, Quincy," she said. She held out her hand and Quincy took it.
The orchestra began to play, a devil's waltz, something with speed and real energy to it. Quincy tried his best to follow Mary's footsteps in the dance, and he felt a bit of warmth flowing into him. It was like the relics that people cared about so much, he realized. Mary gave him hope and courage and he was happy to be in her company.