Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 08

One of the remoras leaped at Freddi, but a touch from her sent it shrieking to the ground in agony. She gave Mammon an entirely mirthless smile. “Are you sure about that?”

His head tilted the other way. “So it’s true. Curious.” A sloppy salute. “I think I’ll just wait, then. Who knows, someone might save me the trouble.” He disappeared in a swirl of sulfur stench, and his minions blipped out as well.

“Hoo.” Derek’s shoulders slumped with relief. “Man, am I glad he decided to do that. No offense, Zeevi, but with you not at a hundred percent, I don’t like our chances of going up against two of the Princes in a row. Especially when one’s my boss-man. I can’t defy him without it getting… awkward.”

“Neither do I,” said Zeeviel dryly, flexing his wings and wincing. The scorched-off flight feathers were half-sprouted now.

“Can’t we just teleport to the river like we did the tower?” Freddi asked.

“Ha, I wish,” Derek answered. “The Morningstar has blocked me from doing that. Apparently he wants you to get the full effect.” He eyed Zeeviel, who was still limping and bruised. “Maybe we should find shelter for a little while. You’re not looking so hot, bro.”

Zeeviel raised a weary and sardonic eyebrow. “Shelter. In this place. Is there such a thing for such as us?”

“If you know where to look and how to ward it. And I do. Come on.” He led us into one of the crumbling buildings, up a flight of untrustworthy stairs, and into an apartment far more upscale than I’d’ve thought from the outward appearance of the structure. A set of three leather sofas surrounded a fireplace, and our feet sank into the plush carpet.

“One of my many bases of operations,” Derek explained, waving us into the couches while he headed to the sideboard.

Zeeviel collapsed into one and spread his wings, stretching his legs out in front of him, leaning his head back, and closing his eyes. I took my cue from him and relaxed as much as possible on one end of another, while Freddi curled up on the opposite side.

“Is it all a city?” I asked. Derek brought over a tray of glasses filled with–I sniffed at the one he gave me and took a cautious sip of damned fine scotch–various libations. “I mean, I guess you don’t have meadows with bouncing bunny rabbits and stuff, but I haven’t seen a single tree.”

“There’s a forest,” Derek said, handing the others around. He waved his hand, and a blaze sprang up in the fireplace. He had a seat on the open couch and downed about half his drink. “We can detour through it if you want, but it looks about how you’d expect. Sinister, leaf-less, angry trees. Thorns. Carnivores. You don’t want to meet the rabbits. Harvey they ain’t. Some of my brothers enjoy a hunt.”

I didn’t have to ask what they hunted. A permanent crawly feeling had taken occupation of the back of my neck.

Freddi frowned at her glass, filled with a deep red wine. “I’m not sure I should drink this.”

Derek scoffed. “You’re in Hell. It won’t actually affect you, sweetheart, more’s the pity. Not that I would take advantage.” No one was fooled by the innocent look he tried on, and he rolled his eyes. “You guys are no fun at all.”

“Well, no.” Zeeviel didn’t open his eyes as he sipped his drink. “We are, as you keep reminding us, in Hell. Fun does not obtain here, unless you’re a demon.” He cracked an eyelid open and cast his gaze in Derek’s direction. “And sometimes even then it’s not all it’s advertised to be.”

Derek pointed at him. “Don’t start with me, Zeevi. You and I both know what happened to drive me out of Heaven, and that reason still exists.”

“What did happen?” Freddi finally took a drink.

“Daddy is Daddy, Lucifer was right, and angels are assholes who don’t have your back,” Derek said, shooting a glare at Zeeviel, who fidgeted and dropped his eyes. “And that’s all I’ll say on the subject.”

It was Freddi’s turn to scoff. “From what I’ve seen, it’s not the angels who are assholes.”

“You’ve met one.” Derek shrugged with one shoulder. “Even I’ll admit that Zeevi’s one of the halfway decent ones, no matter our past, but I can name several who smite first and ask questions never.”

“Whereas demons wouldn’t harm a hair on anyone’s head.” The rest of her wine disappeared down Freddi’s throat, and she set her glass down with more emphasis than she needed to.

“We are as Father made us. All part of His vaunted Plan, no doubt. You’d think an omniscient, omnipotent Being would prep better, but it’s not for us to question Him, merely to do His Will.”

Zeeviel leaned his head back against the couch and covered his face with his hand. His sigh was long-suffering. “Do you truly think you are following the Will, Derek? Deluding the mortals is clearly something you enjoy. Deluding yourself is just sad.”

“I suppose we shall see who the delusional one is in the fullness of time. Considering the fact that your Charge is down here, perhaps you should hedge your bets, Zeevi.”

“Perhaps you should be hedging yours, brother, if the line between Above and Below is so easily breached, where it was not before.” Zeeviel cracked an eyelid open, and a corner of his mouth curled up in an expression that was in no way a smile. “It’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that shattering the Morningstar’s power is part of Father’s plan. Michael will defeat Lu in the end, but all to the good if he can be a shadow of his former self when the battle commences.”

“Hell’s in a sorry state if I can break it,” Freddi said. “I’m not a great warrior. I’m not powerful at all. I’m nobody.”

Zeeviel straightened. “You are a child of my Father and arguably the most powerful personage here and now. Do not sell yourself short, Freddi.”

“What did you do for a living, anyway?” I asked her.

“I was a parole officer. And I taught women’s self-defense classes a couple of nights a week.” She shrugged. “Nothing special, really.”

“You did good in the world,” Zeeviel said. “There are women living and not dead, and men who turned their lives around, because of your care for them.”

The best that could be said for me was that I’d made the world a better place by taking bad guys out of it. On the whole, that wasn’t much to recommend my life. The noblest thing I’d ever done had been completely on impulse, and it had ended up killing me.

Somehow, my glass was full again, and I sent a sharp glance toward Derek. “You’re welcome,” he said.

“How do you even get to be a hitman?” Freddi asked. “I mean, if I wanted to, I’d have no idea how to actually go about getting a job like that.”

I shrugged roughly. “Family business. My dad did it, and passed the mantle on to me when he was killed.”

Derek raised his glass in a salute. “No wonder Belph seems to have taken an interest–inertia, basically, and not because you couldn’t find anything else to do with your very expensive Ivy League education.”

I gave him another sharp glance. “How did you–?”

“We all know all about you, Anthony,” he said. “Hell is full of incorrigible gossips, as has been said, and your Tempter’s been giving us the lowdown on the down-low.”

I directed my next question at Zeeviel. “Did I get a Guardian too?”

“Of course you did,” he said. “The fact that you barely listened to him no matter how loudly he implored you to do better is a matter of great sorrow to him.”

“Why the Heavenlies even try with someone like him is a question for the ages, Zeevi.” Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s not like you were ever going to succeed.”

“Everyone deserves the chance to choose, Derek.” It sounded like an old argument. “And sometimes they surprise you.”

“Like when they jump into a river trying to save a total stranger?” Freddi quirked her brow in my direction.

“That single act of redemption is why you are with us now, Anthony,” Zeevi said, “rather than back in line with the rest of the wretched damned.”

“Won’t help with his eternal fate, though, because Daddy isn’t quite that forgiving,” Derek sniped, taking a giant swallow of his drink. “He’s still stuck down here.”

Zeeviel looked discontent. “That is so. But perhaps his final lot will be better, somehow.”

It was the only hope I had.