<There’s nothing like a three-way to wake you up in the morning.> Gerry grinned as he slapped the asses of the two whores as they left. He sighed as he watched them go, and then shook his head. <Get your head back in the game.> He chided himself as he went back to change.
The armor he wore was the same but the man underneath it was different. Prince Seere’s gift had fundamentally changed him, and Gerry could tell.
Walking down the cobblestone street away from his home and toward the forge, Gerry could already feel the differences between him and Gerald. He passed a roving patrol of two spearmen and was faced with a situational dilemma.
Old Gerald wouldn’t have even noticed the two soldiers aside from a quick threat assessment, and even then they would have been quickly discarded as worthless. That was how Gerald thought. He was a Knight, an aristocrat of Hell, a member of the infernal one percent. Although, Gerry didn’t know what the term “one percenter” meant, he knew he was one of them. Those two guards were meant to be seen and not heard, and certainly not interacted with.
New Gerry felt compelled to wish them good morning. Not because he knew them or wanted to get to know them, they were common foot soldiers after all, but because it was a decent thing to do. If he treated them with respect they were more likely to fight harder for him. That was the key difference in his transformation. Gerald was all about fear and reputation. Gerry was all about, <Huh, I don’t even know what I’m about.>
In the end he settled for a casual wave. The two spearmen’s eyes nearly bulged out of their skulls and they scurried away like they were cockroaches and Gerry was there to step on them.
<Well shit.> It was probably good he was about to start a new job. Clearly, he might not be capable of doing his old one.
He kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to a minimum as he crossed through the camp of tents and small but sturdily built wooden huts that comprised the majority of the capitol city. He also had to keep his eyes from wandering at every pretty woman who smiled at him, which was all of them. He stopped for a moment to watch a sparring match between two swordsmen.
It was comforting to analyze the techniques and know what the men were likely to do before they did it. His second sight also still worked. He could see the power, what little of it the soldiers’ had, fueled into their bodies to make them stronger. When the gathered group noticed him watching they stopped and dropped to one knee.
Gerry had to stop himself from saying sorry for interrupting, and instead just continued on his path.
Gerry looked up in time to see General Icilius drop out of the sky beside him. Instinctually, Gerry clutched his spear tighter and angled himself away from the General’s dominant hand. That way if the older demon tried to run him through it would deflect off Gerry’s Infernal Iron armor and set him up for an effective counter.
“Yes, Sir.” Gerry still knew how to respond to a senior officer properly.
“I want you to accompany me back to the front. We need to shore up the defenses of the new territory, and I need someone to oversee the construction of the new Keep.”
“I’ve been ordered to the forges by the Prince, Sir.” Gerry replied with a shake of his head. “He has a new assignment for me.”
“A new assignment.” The General was immediately interested without looking like he wanted to know every detail. “What is more important than securing our hard-fought gains?”
Gerry just shrugged before he realized Gerald would have given his longtime mentor more information. He coughed to cover it up and wasn’t sure if it worked. “The Prince didn’t say, Sir. I’m supposed to get more information when I get there.”
The General nodded, but his eye’s crinkled in suspicion. Gerry could guess why. After last night’s assassination attempt and the new job offer, the status of their professional relationship was currently unknown. When things went from known to unknown in the Legion it usually meant someone’s head was on a stake.
“Good luck, Gerald.” The General extended his hand.
Gerry eyed it warily for half a second before grasping it. The General gripped it hard, much harder than was necessary, like he was reminding Gerry of all he’d done for him over the years. Gerry returned the solid grip with one of his own, not because that was what Gerald would do, but because he wasn’t going to take shit from this guy, especially if he didn’t work for him anymore.
“Thank you, Sir.”
The air trembled from the exertion of power, and the streets started to clear as weaker beings sensed the potential for a fight. But the General wasn’t that stupid. Keeping their Lord waiting was something even he wouldn’t survive if the Prince wanted a pound of flesh. With a final nod, the General’s wings unfurled and he threw himself back into the sky and headed east. He accelerated away until the condensed cloud of pressure built around him and the boom of him breaking the sound barrier rattled the city.
<That could have gone worse.> Gerry thought to himself before hurrying toward the forge.
The Prince wouldn’t like it if he was later either.
The forges weren’t what someone would expect. Prince Seere’s kingdom had a distinct medieval, Viking taste to it, but the forges were nothing like the ones Gerry had seen when growing up in eighteenth century Boston. For one thing, they were buried hundreds of feet under the city. Second, they were more flaming inferno industrial center than forge.
One thing he seemed to have gained from his recent upgrade was a more modern understanding of Hell, complete with imagery that wasn’t drawn by monks in the fifteenth century. According to a more modern interpretation, Hell was all fire, brimstone, red-skinned devils, and endless pain. The interpretation was close to some other kingdoms, but the opposite of Prince Seere’s, except for the forges.
The forges burned in the true fires of Hell. Flames of every color leapt into the air as Gerry entered through a guarded door after descending through a twisting tunnel. Men and women in heavy protective clothing tended the flames, poured molten metal into the forges, mass produced ammunition, rifled giant artillery pieces, and built the Infernal Iron armor that protected generals and knights like Gerry. Even with the masks, goggles, and heavy black fabric smocks, their skin was still a fire-engine red.
<It’s hot in here.> Gerry felt like an idiot for thinking the obvious.
A dozen members of the Prince’s personal guard were scattered around the room while another half dozen stood guard by a wrought iron gate in the rear. They nodded to Gerry as he passed, and watched him go. He heard them whisper before he was out of earshot. Rumors already seemed to be spreading about his change.
“Gerry!” Prince Seere smiled and clapped when he came into view. The blue fire coming from the corner of the small chamber danced off his rows of teeth. “Right on time.”
Gerry went down on one knee and bowed his head low.
“Get up.” The giant waved away the gesture of submission. “Today is just too exciting for silly formalities.”
Gerry could physically feel the excitement. The air itself seemed to dance with the Prince’s positive mood.
“He’s always like a kid in a candy shop when he comes down here.” A raspy voice announced and a woman stepped out of the blue fire.
Or at least Gerry thought she was a woman.
Whatever he wanted to categorize her as, she was hunched over and shuffled across the floor toward him. She had on a dark black hooded robe that seemed the push back the blue light of the flames. The creature’s face was buried deep in the shadow of the hood, but she reached out with hands like old, gnarled tree roots to take Seere’s hand and kiss his signet ring.
“Only because I get to see you again,” Seere answered charmingly. “It’s been too long.” Then he turned to Gerry.
“Gerry, this is the Carver. She will be preparing you for your next assignment.”
“Ma’am.” Gerry respectfully bowed to the woman. After all, Seere was treating her like an old friend, which meant she was important.
She ignored his greeting and shuffled around him in a wide circle. “I can work with him.” The hood bobbed as she nodded. “Tell him already so we can get down to business.”
Seere rolled his eyes at her, but then fixed Gerry with a serious stare.
“I changed you for a reason, Gerry.” The power of his voice told Gerry just how important the conversation was. “I needed a man of your reputation, a man with your skill, and a man with your tactical knowledge.” He held up a finger to stop Gerry’s reply. “I know you underplay it, and most of the credit goes to your mentor. But you see things others do not, and what you don’t see you are able to overcome.” He gave his wings a shake, but the dried blood that was permanently apart of them didn’t budge. “Yesterday, the test with Lydia was to see if you were able to cope with a betrayal from one closest to you. You succeeded, with quick and brutal efficiency, and that’s the attitude I need going forward.”
Gerry was feeling pretty good about himself after all the praise.
“But Gerald couldn’t accomplish this mission. Gerald was too stuck in the past, too rooted in his time. Gerry is better. Gerry is more equipped for the modern age. And it is Gerry who will go forth and be my Dux.”
“Dux? My Lord?” Gerry wasn’t quite sure what that meant.
“A Dux is a leader. Dux are the trusted advisors who administer the other cities in my kingdom. Dux are the elite, the most trusted, and the most powerful of all my subjects.”
<I like the sound of that.> Gerry thought, and Seere smiled as if he’d heard it.
“I am honored to be your Dux.” Gerry started to get down on one knee again, but remembered the earlier reprimand, and instead just bowed his head in thanks.
“And as my Dux,” Seere rolled over his thanks. “You must be better than what you are, and that is where the Carver comes in.”
The gate clanged open and a company of men grunted, heaved, and pushed a solid block of Infernal Iron into the room. A second smaller group followed behind with a smaller block of some white substance. They deposited the blocks in front of the Carver, bowed at a ninety degree angle to all three of them, and retreated back through the gate.
“Craft him something beautiful, sweet creature.”
“As always, my Lord.” She reached back with her gnarled hands and kissed his ring again.
“When she has finished with you come to my throne. I promised you a story.” He flashed his glittering teeth and followed the laborers out of the gate.
Gerry was left alone with the Carver, and he felt much more vulnerable than when the Prince was present. In the last twenty-four hours he’d seen a kinder side to his liege, if you didn’t count the organized assassination attempt. But other than that things were going well.
“You have nothing to fear from me, mortal.” The Carver shuffled over toward the blocks of material and softly caressed them.
They seemed to pulse when she touched them.
“I serve the Fallen One. His will is my duty.” She reached out with her twisted hand and beckoned him closer.
As she made the gesture the limb split over and over again until it was comprised of only fine, thin roots. “Come closer, Dux. So I can see you.”
Gerry didn’t want to go anywhere near the freaky woman. But he didn’t have a choice. He felt a pull at his core, partially a calling from the Carver, and part an urging of his duty to his Prince.
“What are you going to do?” Gerry asked, stepping into the woman’s embrace.
Her root-like limbs slithered all over him. They covered his eyes, brushed his lips, and slipped down into his armor to trace his body in every intimate detail.
But the sensation was a two-way street. He felt the Carver too. <She could easily kill me.>
The Carver wasn’t human, she wasn’t a person’s soul twisted by the harshness of Hell. She wasn’t like Prince Seere, and she wasn’t one of Beelzebub’s abominations. She was something old, very old, something powerful, and something eternally comfortable in Hell.
“I’m going to make you.” The Carver gave a shudder that was way too sexual for Gerry’s taste.
Gerry didn’t know what to say to that, but he was grateful that she seemed to be withdrawing herself from him. When her limbs had fully retracted she turned and shuffled the few feet to the smaller white block. She pressed herself against it and her limbs began to spread all around it.
Suddenly, the spreading stopped, and the Carver turned her hooded head back toward him. “Do you have any requests?”
“Requests?” Gerry was still coming to grips with what she was doing.
<She’s making me? How do you make me, I’m already here?…Could she?…Can she?…Shit!>
Now the “requests” question was making sense. Prince Seere had said he was being changed, and that seemed to mean more than a mental upgrade. Whatever his job as a Dux required, the body of an Infernal Knight wasn’t going to cut it.
“I can make you tall, short, muscular, thin, mighty or meek. I can endow you enough to make the Whore of Babylon blush, or I could remove any and all temptations of the flesh.”
Gerry’s hand reflexively moved protectively to his groin. “I’d like to remain as much myself as possible.” Gerry stated, but then really considered her offer. “Make me tall, muscular, mighty, and I don’t think I need any help in the endowment department.” He stopped short of winking at her.
For all he knew she’d give him a vagina out of spite.
His requests weren’t all motivated by vanity. If he was to be a Dux he was going to be a representative of his Lord in a much larger capacity than a mere knight. He was going to be a decision-maker, a man beyond mere individual power. A man like that needed to be the physical embodiment of strength. Internally, Gerry understood that some would wish to fool others with feigned weakness, but that wasn’t his style.
“Very well. Return in a day and you will be complete.” The Carver turned back to the block of white material and went to work.
<That’s my cue to leave.> Gerry headed straight for the throne room.
He didn’t have any idea how this day could get more interesting.