The lobby of the building was tastefully decorated. It made Gerry look even more out of place. The black track suit was really killing him.
The demon walking to the left and slightly behind him seemed to feel his unease. “There is proper attire in your demesne, Dux. Please forgive the Soulless, their dress code leans toward the casual and their taste in color tends to be monochromatic.”
“Understood.” Gerry kept his reply terse and to the point.
He didn’t know this demon, and even if the man was deferring to Gerry’s new position it was common in infernal culture to stab a person in the back and then cut out their heart. For all Gerry knew, that’s what happened to the last Dux.
“What’s your name?” It was the obvious question to ask.
“I am Jedidiah DuCane, my Dux. But everyone calls me Jeb.” He bowed his head again, this time a little lower than before.
“And what are you, Jeb?”
The question brought a small smile to the lesser demon’s lips.
“I am a demon of the First Choir, my Dux.” He clearly took pride in what he was.
Gerry knew of the various choirs of demons. There was more variety in other kingdoms. Prince Seere’s kingdom called the souls of warriors to his hall without discriminating by any particular choir. If Gerry was asked this same question before his transformation into a Dux, he would have been a member of the Third Choir, the Choir of Wrath.
The First Choir was the Choir of Greed, and if Jeb’s powers worked similarly to Gerry’s then he fed of the greed of the humans around him.
“I am an executive vice president of finance at a bank here in Charlotte,” Jeb continued. “My latest success has been having my human underlings open fake accounts for people to meet quotas.” His smile was sinister, stretching the skin of his face taut until it looked like it would rip. “They took to it like babes to the bottle, and we have reaped the rewards.
<Nice of him to substitute “we” for “I”.> Gerry could almost see Jeb’s true scars when the demon smiled.
They reached the elevator after attracting quite a few stares. An operator, in a cleanly pressed suit with the hotel’s logo on it, nodded to Jeb and hit the button for the top floor. The elevator had gold-plated paneling and polished mirrors. The operator kept his head bowed as they climbed, but Gerry didn’t sense any infernal influence over the man.
“Many serve us.” Jeb informed, gesturing to the operator. “Anyone trying to get to your penthouse without approval will only do so over his dead body.”
“Yes.” The man practically prostrated himself on the ground when he realized Jeb was deferring to Gerry.
“Get up.” Gerry sighed, motioning with his hand. “If anyone is trying to kill me you can’t be groveling on the ground every time you see me. I need you alert.”
“Yes, Master.” The man replied breathlessly. Apparently, he wasn’t used to being addressed by the boss.
The ride was swift, and the elevator eased to a stop so silently that Gerry wouldn’t have felt it if he wasn’t paying attention. Jeb was playing the role of the docile helper well, but that didn’t mean an ambush couldn’t be waiting on the other side of the door.
Old Gerald wouldn’t have sat there calmly and waited for the doors to open. Old Gerald would have removed Jeb’s head from his shoulders and used the elevator operator as a human shield. Old Gerald didn’t put much stock in humanity’s usefulness, or even lesser demon’s usefulness.
When the doors did open there was no ambush, but what Gerry did see was horrible.
The decor was atrocious.
The carpet was a lime green shag. A reflective ball rotated from the ceiling and threw specks of light around the room. The furniture, colors, and furnishings violently assaulted his senses to the point he didn’t want to get off the elevator.
“What the fuck is this?” Gerry’s exploded.
“This is your demesne.” Jeb kept his head low, while the elevator operator fell to his knees.
“This is not mine.” Gerry disagreed while shaking his head.
“The former Dux arrived in Eden almost half a century ago. This was the popular style at the time, and he grew fond of it. It is by no means fixed.” Jeb quickly added. “Once you perform the ceremony you will link with the demesne. You will become one. It is a piece of land that will become yours in every facet of the word’s meaning. You will be able to manipulate the æther as effortlessly as moving your own limbs. The demesne will become an extension of you. You will be able to change it with a thought.”
<Good.> He wanted to complete the ceremony immediately just to avoid looking at the clashing colors.
“Stay.” He commanded Jeb as he moved to exit the elevator.
He stepped forward and felt resistance. The demesne of the old Dux fought against him. It was a quick struggle. The old Dux was dead and gone, exiled back to Hell. The demesne was weak as a result and ready for a new master. For a moment, Gerry wondered just how hard Jeb had tried to enter the demesne before Gerry showed up as the next Dux.
With a heave and a grunt Gerry pushed himself through the invisible barrier and into the demesne. His vision wobbled as he exerted his will with a mental thrust powered by his internal supply of æther. What remained of the old Dux’s influence on this plain of existence visibly shuddered as the ceremony began.
<Sacrifice.> Gerry instinctually knew what the space needed.
A knife with a black blade condensed out of thin air and fell into his waiting hand. He made a shallow slice across his palm like Prince Seere had before offering his own blood to transform Gerry. He squeezed his fist tightly and leaked his life-essence onto the shag.
The effect was immediate.
Gerry felt the demesne open like a giant metaphysical maw and swallow him whole. He felt it weave itself into his very existence, while the remaining power contained within the pocket of reality became his completely. He used some of that power to immediately make changes. The carpet disappeared like sand blown away by a gust of wind. It was replaced by polished, hardwood floors. The disco ball became a crystal chandelier. The furniture, which looked like someone had vomited the rainbow all over the room, shuddered and morphed into something from the timeframe when Gerry last walked the earth.
With a final shift the changes settled and Gerry felt the demesne settle back into place as his demesne. He had been a Dux in name only until that moment. This was what truly made him powerful in this world. There was potential here. Power flowed into the demesne as the city around it roiled with humanity’s primal passions, emotions, and sins.
Gerry let out a deep breath and flexed his muscles. For the first time in his memory he felt whole.
“Dux.” Jeb had gone to one knee in the elevator. “Let me summon your lieutenants so we can prepare to take this city for our Prince.”
“Yes.” Gerry nodded, only half paying attention to the demon. “Make sure Vicky is included in that summons.”
“Victoria. The leader of the Soulless. We are going to need everyone to accomplish what I have in mind.”
“Yes, Dux.” Jeb kept his head low as the elevator door closed.
<Well, that was a hell of a rush.> Gerry’s whole body shivered. He could tell he was at his most powerful here.
He savored the feeling for several seconds and cataloged it along with all the new sensations he’d experienced since arriving in the middle realm. If he was being honest with himself, he couldn’t wait to get the first good night’s sleep since his first death. He couldn’t wait to dream anything but the day he first died.
But he had work to do first.
All the power in the world was useless if you didn’t know what to do with it, and to precisely wield his power he needed to know about the world. His abstract knowledge could only fill in so many gaps. He needed to experience this new time for himself, and he knew his demesne could help.
<What year is it?> The question came out of left field, and he was momentarily embarrassed he hadn’t thought of it sooner.
The top of the gilded, colonial-style grand table at the center of the main room shimmered and condensed into a thin black rectangle.
<Laptop.> He knew what it was and what it was capable of, but this was his first time touching one.
He undid the clasp on the front and opened up the top half to reveal a glossy screen. He pressed the button marked with the circle with a line jutting into it, and the screen came to life. It didn’t prompt him for passwords and didn’t need to run dozens of programs to boot up. It was a manifestation of his thoughts made real by the power of the demesne, and that meant it got straight to the point.
The most popular search engine he could remember popped up, so he typed in the question.
The answer floored him.
<2016!> He sat down on a cushioned chair that groaned in protest.
It had been the year of Our Lord 1776 when Gerry had died on that bloody battlefield. <Two hundred and forty years.> Gerry knew he’d had lifetimes of experiences in Hell, but it was different to see the proof in front of you.
He took a deep breath and settled himself down. He had important work he needed to get done. He couldn’t rely on Jeb for too long or his lieutenants would question who was really the Dux.
For an hour, Gerry spent every second researching the world, modern history, and specifically Charlotte, North Carolina. He found the fledgling United States he’d died for was now the world’s sole superpower in a world that appeared on the edge of chaos. He found Charlotte to be a major banking city, with a major energy company in town, in an important battleground state. He also saw a place torn by division, in a state that was powerful but vulnerable. Prince Seere had made an excellent decision in bringing Gerry here.
With his initial research completed he vanquished the laptop with a flick of his wrist and went to attend to his human needs. Being able to take a piss in the privacy of an ornately furnished bathroom was a luxury he hadn’t often enjoyed in hundreds of years. He was just getting used to the idea of indoor plumbing since becoming an Infernal Knight.
<This is infinitely better.> He washed his hands in warm water. <This place is heaven.> At least it was compared to Hell.
The small reward of not constantly being besieged by a chill was more than worth whatever price he had to pay in this realm.
He was just about to try out the comfort of his newly remodeled bed when he felt an infernal presence at the edge of his demesne. Reflexively, he pushed back against the intruder. The demesne responded to his will and rebuffed the creature. Unlike when Gerry had broken through the old Dux’s barrier, the intruder failed to enter Gerry’s home without his permission.
“My Dux,” Jeb’s voice called from the main room. “May we enter?”
“You may.” Gerry lowered the defenses and gave himself a quick look in the mirror.
He’d shown his dominance over Jeb in front of all the other lieutenants. There shouldn’t be any question who was in charge. <And if there is, I’m more than capable of giving another demonstration.> His grin was reflected back at him through the body-length mirror.
“Time to get to work.”
Prince Seere’s patience wasn’t something a wise man tested.