Patricia took a sip of her coffee and winced. After four hours in the car, it had grown cold and bitter. She placed the plastic cup back into the holder and leaned back against the seat, arms stretched in front of her to rest on the stirring wheel. She checked the time; it was a little past ten in the evening. Then her gaze returned to the high-rise building across the street.
This wasn't the first time Patricia had been staked outside the demon's office and she wagered it wouldn't be the last. Luckily for her, unlike most demons, Belial rarely used his powers while on Earth. He maintained his false guise, that of a normal, upstanding citizen to perfection. That gave Patricia, who had been stalking him throughout the past week, a valuable advantage. Following him was easy when he used conventional forms of transportation – mainly his charcoal grey Bentley – instead of teleportation or flight. With little effort, Patricia had managed to find his office and a penthouse apartment he frequently stayed in, both around the city center.
Patricia had dedicated this past week to stalking him, learning his routine, his habits and any other information she could. She was admittedly amazed at how adept he was at maintaining his human front, that of Henry Davidson, an up and coming financial advisor. Rich, successful and popular, he had recently been elected into the city council. He led such a seemingly normal, inconspicuous life, that if she didn't already know, Patricia would have never guessed that this model citizen was in fact one of the most vile spawns of Hell. In the meantime, his followers – lesser demons and humans – did his dirty work for him, allowing him to go unscathed. That frustrated and infuriated Patricia beyond measure. His ability to control himself and pass for an actual mortal was astounding, which made him more dangerous than most other demons, who sooner or later broke the rules of the Covenant and were forced back to Hell.
Through the droplet-splattered window, she stared intently at the building, its glass exterior reflecting the city's night lights. Earlier it had rained for a short while and the air was still humid. The evening showers were becoming daily, ushering in the fall.
The screen of her phone came on and the bright light drew her attention. Chris was calling her again, no doubt to inquire where she was. This current stake out, as well as the ones that had preceded it, was not sanctioned by the bishop, who temporarily acted as the decision-maker of their branch of the Order since Duncan's death.
Patricia sighed melancholically. She missed Duncan during these long hours of painstakingly waiting for the demon to appear. Her missions were never boring when they were together. They would talk about everything and anything, they would argue, she would complain, he would chide her… Her face softened and a wistful smile played at her lips at those cherished memories. She missed him so much…
Then her expression hardened again. The same thing happened every time sadness crept up in her heart and tears threatened to come out. A switch would flip in her head and all the grief would instantly transform into rage. Mourning was useless; what would really make a change was vengeance. Patricia had vowed to not let Belial hurt any more people. Her motivations were not entirely altruistic. She hoped that killing his mortal form – preferably in a slow, agonizing manner – would bring her some measure of relief.
Her phone blinked again, but once more she ignored it. The others didn't understand. They wanted to lie in wait until Belial gave the angels enough reason to go after him. But the more Patricia studied the demon, they more she realized that that may never happen. He was too smart, too careful. Every crime he committed – from gun smuggling to stealing important artifacts from the Church – was done through his followers and there was no way to prove he was directly involved in it.
Right now there were two more demons in the city; Forcas and Scylla. They were the ones getting their hands dirty. But the mastermind that orchestrated every illegitimate activity was Belial, of that Patricia was certain. It made her blood boil that he could get away with it.
She tapped her fingers on the wheel impatiently, fuming. The young woman had always been passionate about hunting down and eliminating demons. It was after all her job, her calling, and she had spent years training for it. This time, though, it was more than a job; this time it was personal. Banishing him from Earth wouldn't be enough; she wanted to see him suffer and anguish and to know that it was she who did him in.
It was during those bloodthirsty thoughts of revenge when her long wait was finally over. A dark grey car with tinted windows, that she immediately recognized as Belial's, came from around the back of the building and pulled up in front of the main entrance. Less than a minute later, Belial emerged from the office building, accompanied by two men. Patricia caught a fleeting glimpse of the demon before he disappeared into the back seat of the car. Wasting no time, she started up the engine.
This was the fifth time she was following Belial from his office. Every other night, Belial would be driven straight to his apartment. Tonight was different, however. As they drove past the main square and headed west, Patricia realized they were taking a new route.
There was little traffic at this hour and soon they were heading out of the city. Patricia grew excited. Maybe this was the night that she would discover the location of Belial's secret hideout, a hideout Patricia was certain existed but hadn't been able to locate yet. With how mindful of his actions Belial was, there was no way he was coordinating his unholy business from either his office or his apartment. There had to be some sort of base of operations where the rest of the demons that followed him as well as the Satanists, resided.
Once they were on the highway, she made sure to keep a good distance between the grey Bentley and herself. She couldn't afford to let them suspect that they were being followed, but she couldn't afford losing them either. She was well aware of the huge risk she was taking by following a demon to his lair all alone and without telling anyone else where she was, but excitement and the rush of adrenaline overshadowed any traces of fear that may have held her back.
When however, after a while the demon's car took an exit into a smaller country road, Patricia knew there was no possible way she could follow them without giving herself away. Spitting a curse, she took a note of the exit and kept to her course.
"Dammit…" she muttered, rather disappointed.
She had been so close… Yet, she shouldn't despair. This was progress. Tomorrow was Thursday, which meant that Belial would have to be in his office early in the morning. Their destination had to be close.
She turned around at the next turnaround and headed back to the city.
Malthus squeezed the cushioned arms of his seat nervously. He still couldn't believe he'd done it, yet here he was, in Belial's manor. He looked around the spacious office, slightly intimidated by the sheer wealth and luxury that surrounded him; from the rich Persian rugs covering the floor and the brown leather couches to the large, U-shaped desk and the huge bookcase taking up the entire wall. Malthus focused on the books, ranging from human world history and politics to apocryphal knowledge. On some of the shelves stood elegant statuettes of demons in their true form, some golden, others silver and bronze.
Malthus felt a twinge of envy for his fellow demon. Belial had made a nice living for himself here. He owned a huge house outside the city, had human servants to tend to his every need and at least four lesser demons at his command, like the one who had showed him to this room. In all aspects, Belial lived like a king while he had lived in squalor, forced to steal in order to survive.
For the first time in his life, Malthus wondered if the path of total obedience, loyalty and devotion to his King that he had chosen early on had been the right one. He had always considered serving as the right hand of Satan as the highest honor that a demon could achieve, yet it was now becoming obvious to him that his brethren seemed to enjoy life much more than he ever had. He was slowly realizing that by dedicating his life to the King, he had missed out on so many possibilities. Now it was perhaps too late, he feared. Other Demon Lords had cults of worshippers all over the world, while he was largely unknown to mortals.
It had been six days since Scylla had found him in that bar and invited him. That's how long it had taken Malthus to work up the courage to accept the invitation. He still wasn't sure why. Even now he had half a mind to get up and leave, maybe grab one of those statuettes in the process to later pawn away for money.
He was seriously contemplating that option when the door opened and in walked Belial. Malthus tensed up, but the other demon simply walked past him and went straight to the bar cabinet.
"I am pleased you decided to accept the invitation," he said, his deep, booming voice sounding deceptively genuine. "What can I offer you? Gin? Whiskey?"
Malthus shook his head. "Nothing for me."
He squirmed in his armchair as Belial poured himself a glass. This level of rapport was not common among his kind. Demons were civil and courteous to each other only when they stood to gain something and Malthus couldn't begin to imagine what Belial could possibly gain from him.
His suspicious gaze followed the demon as he moved away from the bar, his eyes fixed on the glass of whiskey. Since his encounter with Scylla he hadn't drunk a drop of alcohol. His mortal body was jittery, aching for a drink, but he was determined to stay sober and clear-minded for this.
Belial moved to the couch across from his guest and sat comfortably. He hooked one arm over the back of the couch and crossed his legs, drink in hand. Dressed in a well-tailored and expensive-looking grey suit, he exuded so much confidence and assertiveness, Malthus squirmed in his presence. The demon had assumed the guise of a man in his late thirties to early forties. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with steely blue eyes and sandy hair that were beginning to turn white at the temples.
"I see you've settled down pretty successfully here," Malthus remarked in an attempt to hide his feelings of inferiority.
"I can't complain," replied Belial and took a sip of his drink. "What about you? How are you liking your stay in the material world?"
Malthus snorted. "This world is a shithole. I don't understand how so many of us like it here," he mumbled sourly.
"It's primitive, yes, but it has its allures … I myself enjoy exploring the workings of man's society and partaking in their business."
"Their business seems so trivial…"
"It's more intricate and intriguing than you might think. In any case, it's my pastime. Here you can find a pastime to suit your own disposition. There is something for everyone – money, comforts, sacrifices, women…"
"Is that why so many have flocked to you?"
"There is enough room for everyone here," Belial shrugged. "That's why, once I learnt that you were on Earth, I sent Scylla to find you and invite you over."
Malthus' eyes narrowed. "Why would you want me here? We were never allies."
"We were never enemies either," the demon reasoned.
Ignoring the other demon's response, Malthus went on. "In fact, why would you want any other demon here?" he challenged. "Why share all this?"
It wasn't unlikely for demons to strike up alliances and stick together for safety. However, their alliances were always superficial and opportunistic, that's why they oftentimes ended in backstabbings.
"Like I said," Belial replied, "I take great pleasure in infiltrating the society of humans. However, their company is hardly fulfilling. This world would become tedious very fast if I was surrounded by humans alone. Besides," he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, "my dealings with the humans take up much of my time. My allies can take care of everything else; from the management of my estate to the fight against the Order."
Belial had an answer for everything and a particularly convincing delivery. Every one of his explanations sounded so reasonable and sensible, so natural. Yet, Malthus knew better than to fully trust the silver-tongued demon sitting across from him. Belial was, after all, the Lord of Lies, an artful master of deception. Malthus' instinct of self-preservation wouldn't allow for his guard to go down anywhere near him. At the same time, the prospect of going back to living on the streets, sleeping in decrepit abandoned buildings, struggling to secure a drink and spending his waking hours in a booze-filled haze, made him sick.
Even more so, his recent contact with Scylla and now Belial had revealed to him just how starved of contact with his own kind he was. During those past couple of years, he had gone days, sometime weeks, without exchanging a single word with another sentient being, and when he had, it was almost always to order a drink. That degree of isolation and alienation had thrust him into a semi-savage state and had made him feel less than a being of higher intellect and more like a mindless beast. He needed this type of social contact, needed to be surrounded by others of his own kind… just like Belial had just claimed, Malthus realized. Maybe the Lord of Lies was being honest for once…
"So…" he began, testing the waters," you invited me here to work for you?"
"No, not work for me. Work with me," Belial emphasized. "I have more than enough humans to be my servants. What I need is allies."
The offer was tempting, Malthus had to admit. He yearned to accept it, yet a little voice warned him that this was surely too good to be true.
Sensing his guest's dilemma, Belial suggested, "Why don't you stay with us for a while and see how you like it? If this sort of life isn't for you, you can always return to your… solitary ways."
"Of course. Consider this your new home. I rarely stay here, anyway. My business requires me to stay in the city most nights. Scylla and the others live in this house."
It took Malthus a few long moments of inner battle with his suspicions before he nodded.
"I will stay," he agreed, "just for a while."
"Great!" Belial approved. "I'm sure you won't regret it." He stood up and walked over to the desk, grabbed a little bronze bell and rang it.
A moment later, the door opened and a mortal came in, a woman with tan skin and exotic features.
"Mae will show you to a room and make sure you're all settled down for the night," said Belial. "I'm sure you're tired. Ask of her anything you need."
Malthus nodded, still stunned at the treatment he was receiving. So used to the scorn and disdain of his peers, this was a new and refreshing experience. He was still uncertain of his host's sincerity, but he didn't have to make any binding decisions right now. He could sleep on it and think it over more clearly in the coming days.
Casting one last glance at the direction of Belial, he followed the woman out of the office.
As soon as the door closed behind Malthus and the mortal, another side door opened and Scylla walked in. She had listened to the entirety of the conversation from the adjacent room.
"So, he'll be staying here with us," the demoness remarked. She leaned against the desk, hand on hip. "With how far gone he was when I first found him, I thought he wouldn't show up at all. I'm surprised you managed to convince him to stay."
Belial smirked with devious confidence. He finished his drink, then gripped her chin with his fingers and tilted her head up.
"You had any doubt that I would?"
She smiled back at him coolly, but was relieved when he let go. Soon after they met and struck up an alliance, over a year ago now, she and Belial became lovers for a fortnight, but they both quickly lost interest in each other. Scylla had no wish to rekindle the short-lived fling – as of late her interest lay elsewhere.
"Once he experiences the perks of living here, all his doubts and suspicions will be forgotten," Belial declared with conviction. He was sitting at his desk now, shuffling through some papers.
"Are you sure Malthus won't end up being a liability rather than an asset?" she inquired.
The demon stared at her over a bunch of documents.
"You're giving him too much freedom," Scylla explained. "He's never really had that before. If he is not controlled, he will sooner or later attract the attention of the Order and the angels."
Belial grinned. "I'm counting on it."
Momentarily his response startled her, but she caught on quickly.
"You brought him here to keep the Order and the angels busy. Keep them off your back," she muttered slowly.
Still grinning smugly, evidently satisfied with his ingenious plan, Belial went back to his papers.
"Eventually they'll catch him and send him to Hell," Scylla warned.
"So?" He didn't bother looking up at her this time. "We'll find another one to replace him."
Scylla stood there for a long while. An ingenious, ruthless plan, indeed, she had to admit, yet she wasn't as impressed as she'd expect. Perhaps she had worked with him a long time and had grown accustomed to his underhanded methods. Or maybe it was because she wondered how easily he would sacrifice her when she was no longer of use to him.
"Any progress in the whereabouts of the statue?"
His question brought her out of her grim musings.
"Some. In a few days I'll know more," she informed him, her voice perk and revealing none of her concerns.
"Good. Let me know immediately when you locate it."
Scylla observed him go through his paperwork for a few long moments before she quietly slid out of the office through the same door from which she'd entered.
The Order's headquarters were located right above the city's archbishopric. At the moment, it hosted seven mortals and three angels. There were a few more people taking part in the fight against evil, volunteers that had their own homes and families, but the ones that stayed in the headquarters had little life outside of the Order. They were the ones with no families, no connections to the outside world. The ones who had taken a vow to protect mankind against the demonic threat. Patricia was one of them.
The young woman reached the headquarters just shy of twelve. She counted on the fact that the others would most likely be asleep at this hour. Their nightly outings of demon hunting had abruptly stopped after Duncan's death. For that reason, she was startled when a voice called to her as she was hopping up the indoor stairs to the third floor, where the bedrooms were. She stopped dead in her tracks and turned. Haniel, the angel of Joy, greeted her from the base of the staircase. Though angels didn't require nearly as much sleep as mortals, they usually spent the night in their rooms, meditating and praying.
"I am glad you have returned," Haniel said, her voice gentle and melodious as ever. She was wrapped in a lilac gossamer shawl, her wavy blond hair, usually in a bun, now spilled over her narrow shoulders. "The others were worried, Chris especially."
"I'm fine. I was just driving around and thinking," Patricia lied. "Goodnight."
She turned to resume her climbing up the stairs, but was once again stopped by the angel's soft voice.
"Would you mind accompanying me to the roof? I would like to talk to you for a little if you are not too tired."
Patricia sulked, having a pretty good idea of what the angel wished to talk about. When she turned to face Haniel, however, she was smiling.
The terrace had been recently transformed into a proper garden by Qaphsiel. The green-haired angel had an affinity for plant life and was spending increasingly more time on the roof, tending to his lilies, orchids and carnations and decorating the place with colorful solar lamps, that were now aglow.
Haniel gestured towards one of the benches. Once they were seated, Patricia did her best to avoid the angel's eyes. Instead, she focused on the beautiful view sprawled beneath them.
"We all suffered a great loss recently," the soft-spoken angel began, "but it was even greater for you. How are you holding up?"
Patricia shrugged, her prediction on the topic of their discussion confirmed.
She was getting tired of having this conversation. Qaphsiel had tried to console her time and again, not understanding that consolation was not what she needed. She needed revenge, not a shoulder to cry on.
"You must miss him terribly," Haniel said tentatively. "Yet I have not seen you mourn."
"Am I supposed to cry all day long?" Patricia snapped. She immediately regretted it a moment later, when she saw the angel's slightly upset expression, but it was too late to take it back. She was becoming more and more like her mentor – gruff, uncouth and curt.
"No, of course not. But mourning is a natural – no, an essential part of the recovery after the loss of a loved one." Haniel tilted her head, worry tugging at her brow. "If we do not allow ourselves to grieve, if we suppress our emotions, we cannot let go and continue with our lives. Sometimes we might try to fixate on something else in order to avoid dealing with our pain. But that is not healthy at all. In fact, it is dangerous."
Although the angel was speaking quite abstractly, Patricia knew perfectly well what she was referring to; her quest for vengeance. Had it been a mortal giving her such a lecture, the girl would have lashed out. However, this was Haniel, and, even though she had been around angels since adolescence, Patricia still held much respect and awe for the celestial creatures. She cleared her throat and did her best to sound as calm as possible.
"I want you to feel comfortable enough to come to me about anything that troubles you," Haniel pressed on. "Whenever you want to talk to someone, know that I am here for you."
"Thank you for your concern." Patricia stood up. "I appreciate it, I really do. But it's getting really late and I'm tired. I think I'll head off to bed."
The angel seemed hardly convinced, but was too discreet to press the subject more. However, before Patricia could retreat, Haniel reached up and touched the girl's arm.
"You know better than most people on this Earth that the end of this life is not truly an end. Duncan's spirit lives on. He is with the Father now."
The angel's words of comfort struck a chord with Patricia, but the young mortal couldn't afford to linger on them. She simply nodded, then left in haste.
A minute later, she was closing and locking her bedroom door. Her emotions were a mess that she didn't dare untangle. Instead she resorted to the safer option – focusing on her revenge strategy. She tossed her brown leather jacket – a gift from Duncan for her twentieth birthday – on the bed haphazardly. On the wall above her small desk hung a map of the city and the area around it. Two big red dots close to the city center marked the location of Belial's office and apartment. Pinned around the edges of the map were several photos of the demon, most snapped from a safe distance by Patricia herself. Grabbing a marker from the desk, Patricia circled a large area from the spot where the grey Bentley had exited the highway, all the way to the hills. Somewhere in those parts lay Belial's secret base, Patricia was sure of it. And sooner or later she would find it.
I hope you enjoyed Chapter #2! Feedback is always appreciated!