This book should be available from Ring Of Fire Press so this is the last snippet.
Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 14
I hadn’t. I probably never would. And I wasn’t sure Derek had, either, but demons were champion liars, especially when they lied to themselves.
My wounds knit to the point where I could move without too much pain, and I hauled myself onto a sofa, deciding to change the subject. “Are we any closer to the river?”
Derek closed his eyes and made finger motions, as if he were doing mental math. “Little bit. Geography here is somewhat fluid. We should probably recuperate more before we get started again, though. Our humans are unscathed, but we got kinda scuffed, bro.”
“Tell me about it.” I brushed at the blood on my shirt with my fingertips. It disappeared after a few more passes than usual. My powers were severely limited; being cut off from Heaven felt like I was missing a limb. “I hate this place.”
“Don’t we all,” Derek muttered. “Sooner I’m done with this job, the happier I’ll be. I am so sick of the political maneuvering down here.”
And yet we stood firmly in the middle of that political maneuvering, whether we liked it or not. If angels got headaches, I’d have one from all this. I wanted to bang Lu’s and Meph’s heads together and make them see sense.
That probably wouldn’t end well for me, were I daft enough to try.
“How are you, Derek?” I asked. My own wounds hadn’t completely healed, but I thought they might take longer to do so than I wanted to wait.
He wiggled his left hand, flexed the elbow, and rotated the shoulder. “Not as good as new, but it’ll do. As long as we aren’t beset like that again. Which is a forlorn hope, under the circumstances, but we might get a little farther down the road before it happens.”
Anthony held up a hand. “Can we take the stairs, or an elevator, or something? That teleportation thing is horrible.”
“If you insist,” Derek said. “Not like we have a deadline, except inasmuch as the whole thinning-of-the-barriers thing goes.” A glance at Freddi. “And more time to corrupt you, but I don’t think a couple of extra minutes will make that much of a difference.”
“Hey, the longer we take, the better I like it.” Anthony shivered. “No offense, Freddi, but I’d like to put the torment off as long as possible.”
She flinched. “I’m sorry, Anthony.”
“Yeah. Me too.” He stood up and squared his shoulders. “But you didn’t make my choices for me, and I knew in my heart what I was getting into, and that it was wrong. Murder is murder, even if you’re killing bad guys who would’ve gotten the death penalty anyway, if the authorities caught them instead of me.”
Still justifying himself. I started to say something, but closed my mouth and shook my head. The time for remonstration was over. He’d made his bed.
We trooped down thirteen flights of stairs after Derek told us the elevator wasn’t too reliable and had, in fact, been known to eat people. Back on the street among the tormented, we did our best to ignore the ugliness around us.
It wasn’t easy. Anthony stalked slightly ahead, the gun in his hand and his back stiff. He looked like he wanted to start firing indiscriminately.
“Anthony,” I said. “You cannot do anything about this. In fact, you might make it worse on the poor wretches.”
“Might make me feel better. I’d like to think that if I was being tortured, someone might step up and try to put a stop to it.”
“The only reason someone would put a stop to a human soul’s torment would be so they could steal that soul for themselves and inflict worse,” Derek said.
“They’re all worthless anyway.” The new voice belonged to a demon wearing the persona of a dissolute young man in an open-collared shirt, dress slacks, and a stained sport jacket that had seen better days. Antelope horns decorated his forehead, and a bedraggled peacock pecked the sidewalk beside him.
“I beg your pardon, Belial,” Derek said. He stopped, and perforce so did we. “But they manifestly are not. They’re currency.”
“Bah. It’ll all end in fire, and then no one will care.”
“You cared enough to send four of your minions after us,” I pointed out.
“It was a test, which you passed, by the way, and doesn’t change the whole fire and brimstone at Armageddon Valley outcome.”
“We might be able to change it, though,” Derek said. “If we can unseat Lucifer, cooler heads may prevail. And you could have your station back.”
“Station?” Freddi asked.
Belial took a little bow. “I was the one who talked the Morningstar into rebellion in the first place–then he stole the credit, the story got mangled, and I got relegated to a mere Prince of Pride rather than the Emperor I should have been, because belief has power and most people don’t even know who I am.”
I was impressed by him getting that all out in one sentence, but angels and demons didn’t need to breathe, so he had an advantage. “Have you heard about what Mephistopheles has planned?” I said.
“Rumors and lies, the place is full of them, and I’ve no truck with any of it,” Belial answered.
“No lie, not this time,” Derek said. “He’s got us on a recruitment mission.”
Belial crossed his arms and tilted his head. “And what’s in it for those of us who join him in this mad enterprise, because the last one didn’t go too well.”
“He doesn’t like how Lu’s running things, or, you know, not running things. And Meph doesn’t want to die any more than the rest of us, so maybe if our Blowhard in Chief is taken down a few notches and replaced with someone who’d rather talk than fight, it won’t come to us all being wiped out at Armageddon.”
“Intriguing, depending on who else is on board with this.”
“Shaitan seems interested. Beelzebub said no. Mammon’s on the fence. We haven’t seen Asmodeus or Leviathan yet.” Derek put on his best salesman smile. “If you were the first of the Princes to actually say yes, I bet Meph would raise you higher in the ranks.”
“Replace the self-aggrandizing punk and take my rightful place.” Belial snapped his fingers. “I’m in. Have Meph’s people call my people.” An enormous set of bat wings flapped into being, and he took off, flipping us all a wave. The clouds lightened to steel gray rather than the black they had been before. Was that a sign that the veil between the dimensions was thinning? I kept that worry to myself, but it weighed on me.
“Huh,” Derek said. “That was easier than I thought it would be.”
“That was some smooth talking,” Anthony said. “You didn’t even really promise him anything.”
“Beli’s always been bitter about how the rebellion ended. He thinks Lu bungled it, and then of course there’s the whole ‘some people don’t even realize he’s an actual demon and give him the credit he deserves’ issue. Lu allocated him Pride as a sop to his ego, but it didn’t really work.”
“Credit,” I snorted. “Blame, more like. He doesn’t think anyone actually likes Lucifer, does he?”
“‘Likes’ is a strong word. ‘Respect’ is the one he wants. He’ll settle for ‘fear.’ “
“He could have had love,” I said, shaking my head. “All of you could have had that.” I waved an arm at the misery surrounding us. “Was Heaven so dreadful that they thought they could do better? Look what they unleashed.”
“Yes, well.” Derek’s voice was heavy with irony. “If ‘love’ lets me languish down here to be tortured until I Fall, maybe love’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
“The place is wholly separated from Heaven. It’s not that any were unwilling, brother, but unable.” My heart twisted. “But I still love you, even after everything. I wish you could see that.”
Derek shook his head. “Oh, I do. Surprisingly, brother, it doesn’t actually make me feel any better.”
He turned and walked away, heading toward the river. All I could do was follow, sick in my spirit over what we’d all lost.