“You’re what!?” Vicky shrieked that evening in the demesne.
Everyone was standing around the rich mahogany table and staring at the tactical layout of the city’s warring factions.
“I don’t think I stuttered.” Gerry looked at his other lieutenants. “Did I?”
“No, Dux.” Jezebel, the sex demon, answered in her default sultry but sweet tone.
“Find something big and black and shove it down your throat.” Vicky snapped back, her fangs fully extended.
“Ladies.” Gerry brought the fight to an end while raising a hand. “This isn’t up for discussion.”
“Sir.” Vicky’s voice went from heated to pleading. “You’re going to a meeting of people who are trying to kill my family. I think I have a right to be a little pissed off.”
Gerry rubbed his eyes in exasperation. “Vicky, I’m going for information gathering purposes. I’m not going to hunt down one of your coven and cut their head off.”
“If that was this group’s plan for the night would you?”
“Absolutely.” Gerry answered without hesitation. “If one of your people has to sacrifice themselves so we can gain the information needed to root out this resistance to us then it’s a risk worth taking.”
Veins started to bulge in Vicky’s neck as she struggled to contain herself.
“But I don’t think that’s going to happen.” He tried to put her at ease. “I don’t even think the Soulless are the main topic at tonight’s meeting. If anything, it seems to be a general assemble of the locals to go over routine matters, settle disputes, and generally interact with each other in a non-threatening environment.”
Gerry had gotten all that information from one of the elder Salvatore’s minions. After he’d left the tailor, he waited around for one of the trusted goons to leave. Then Gerry got him alone and extracted every drop of useful information. Channeling the æther to read the man’s mind, influence his emotions, and then erase the memory of the encounter was well worth the expenditure of power. He’d even imbedded a “last case scenario” code into the man’s brain to be used when Gerry saw fit.
If Gerry hadn’t known it before he knew it now. Being a Dux was awesome.
“So I am going to do this, and that’s final. What we need is a contingency plan if things go south.” Gerry pointed back to the three dimensional city rising out of the tabletop.
“I still feel it is unwise for you to put yourself in such a vulnerable position while you are still…acclimating to your territory.” Jeb had almost said “weak” but stopped himself.
“With risk comes reward.” Gerry swatted aside the argument while continuing to study the map. “The location of the meeting is here.” He pointed at one of the white spots on the map.
“In a sanctuary of the Divine, my Dux. That alone is enough reason to reconsider.” Jeb tried again to get Gerry to change his mind.
“All the more reason.” He felt a jolt of adrenaline.
It had been a long time since Gerry had truly tested himself. The battles on the boarders against Cain and Beelzebub’s legions had been challenging, but this was a whole new level. Going up against one of the Divine was next level.
<Easy, Gerry.> He took a deep breath and checked himself. Overconfidence was one of the quickest ways to lose your head.
Vicky shook her head, Jezebel’s face was a mask of barely contained sexual energy, and big Lono looked perpetually hungry. It was a motley group, but it would have to do.
“I want each of you to provide me with two of your best fighters.” The request got barely contained grumbles.
It was evident that the lieutenants didn’t like working together, sharing resources, or even being in the same room with each other. Unfortunately, working together was the only way they were going to accomplish their mission and get Prince Seere what he deserved.
“The meeting starts at eight. I want your people here at seven.” He poked a structure a block away from the sanctuary, but with a good overwatch position.
It swirled like grains of sand blowing in the wind and reconstituted itself to show an enlarged view of the building.
“Put two on the roof with high-powered rifles, another two in the lobby for rapid response if needed. Any of your people have ranged abilities?” Gerry didn’t know what Lono and Jezebel’s minions could do.
“I will supply the shooters,” Jeb informed. “I have a lucrative partnership in several mercenary firms. I can have two capable operators here in an hour.”
“I will supply the fighters.” Jezebel and Vicky echoed each other, and then went back to glaring.
“Jezebel will provide the fighters,” Gerry decided. “This meeting is at least partially about dealing with you and your people, Vicky. So it would be best if there wasn’t any of them right outside to draw suspicion.”
“Then what do you want me to do?” Vicky crossed her arms beneath her breasts.
“I know you have the ability to compel people,” Gerry stated.
Vicky’s eyes widened in surprise. Apparently, she thought she’d been playing that one pretty close to her well-formed chest.
“It wasn’t hard to figure out, and I want you to use that to indirectly influence the evening.” Gerry smiled like an alligator that was about to eat one of its young. “Compel bums, school children, couples on vacation from Milwaukee, or whoever you can find. I want at least a dozen people hovering in the area who will throw themselves into the line of fire to protect our retreat if we need them too.
Vicky’s face paled a little at having to compel a dozen people, but she nodded. She knew her contribution would be the one that really made people hesitate if things got to the point of violence.
“Lono, I want you to have safe houses ready for our people if we need them. I know you have a couple restaurants in the area. Shut them down early, pay the staff overtime, or do whatever else you need to do to get them ready to shelter us during a fighting retreat.”
Lono nodded, his triple chin jiggling in the process.
Gerry checked his watch. It was five-thirty. “Get to work. It’s almost time to figure out just what this city can throw against us.”
An hour and a half later Gerry stood in the lobby of an apartment building a block away from the church where the meeting was taking place. Six people stood with him. Two had the rough and ragged look of soldiers, except for the longer hair and the beards. It reminded Gerry of the legion he’d left behind.
“You two, roof.” Was all he had to say before the men hurried up the several flights of stairs. They didn’t bother with the elevator.
Next he turned to Lono’s two fighters. They didn’t look like fighters. They looked more like two useless meatbags. They were big like their master, but their eyes were vacant and they spent eighty percent of their time around him shoveling something into their mouth. Honestly, it was pure genius on Lono’s part. The pair screamed non-threatening.
Or it was pure stupidity, and Gerry would have to rip out the gluttonous demons tongue when he finished.
The last two soldiers sent by Jezebel were two little sex pistols that would fit in on any corner in the city, which was exactly what he was going to do. Their short skirts and tight shirt showing enough midriff to make a man salivate would draw eyes for all the wrong reasons.
“Go.” He told the four demonic creations known as imps.
When Gerry had searched imps on the internet before he’d only seen pictures of stubby, red, fat creatures with pitchforks, horns, and tails. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The most common imps were humans transformed by Infernal blood and enslaves to the demon that sired them. But imps could be born of an infernal womb or by infernal seed. That distinction created two classes of infernal minions. The first was lower in the hierarchy. They were simply transformed into their semi-infernal state. The second was born into their infernal class, which on earth was right below the demons themselves.
Gerry didn’t know if Lono and Jezebel’s additions to this mission were born or transformed, and he didn’t care. He just hoped they could fight if push came to shove.
With his troops in position,n Gerry watched and waited. In addition to servicing as overwatch, the men on the roof took pictures and video of the people entering and exiting the church before the meeting. Hopefully, Gerry would be able to compile complete dossiers on the city’s resistance to his Lord by the end of the night.
At ten to eight Gerry exited the building and walked the block to the church. He passed the two imps who were busy having a hamburger picnic on a bus bench adjacent to the church, while the two hookers were turning down Johns who were lining up at their corner.
As he passed them he waved for them to take a walk around the block and come back. A line of cars in front of a church looking for female satisfaction might draw Divine attention. From what Gerry knew about them they were kind of tight-asses about that type of stuff.
The church itself looked like it was a hundred years old in a good way. Everything around the small building looked meticulously kept, which was a contrast to the downtrodden neighborhood surrounding it.
Gerry didn’t pause as he climbed the steps to the large, wooden double doors. He acted like he belonged, which he did thanks to the invitation.
“May I…” the large man in a black suit standing guard at the door was one of Salvatore’s goons. “Oh, hello again, Mr. Fuller.”
Gerry was waved through with no other hassle.
Anyone would suspect that when an Infernal creature crossed the threshold of a Divine sanctuary they’d burst into flames, burn, or at least be weakened. But nothing was further front the truth. Gerry felt a rush of positive emotions as he crossed the threshold. Thanks to his attunement to the æther he got power from all primal human emotions including the positive ones.
Infernals were basically the bastard step-children of the Divine, so the sight of crosses and angels didn’t repel them. In fact, this place kind of felt like home.
“Mr. Fuller.” The Salvatore patriarch waved at Gerry through the small crowd.
“Nice to see you again, Sir. Thank you for the invitation and your help today.” Gerry walked over and grasped the older man’s hand.
“We’re all on the same team, Mr. Fuller.”
“I’d like to call this meeting to order.” A stately woman climbed the steps to the alter and with a sweep of her hand all the candles in the room were lit.
The room’s side conversation gradually died down, and the woman commanded everyone’s attention.
“Thank you. As this month’s hosts, my Circle and I would like to voice the first point of order. The pollution of Lake Norman must stop. It’s…”
“Here we go again.” Salvatore rolled his eyes and leaned back in the pew.
“Enlighten me.” Gerry didn’t get quite as comfortable.
“The Cornelius Circle practices natural magic. Every time someone farts in their protected zone they throw a hissy fit.” Salvatore sighed as the woman’s impassioned speech about the sacred Mother Earth largely fell on deaf ears.
Gerry payed special attention to the group, and committed their faces to memory. The Cornelius Circle was thirteen people, all women from their late teens to early seventies. The woman on the alter, the Circle’s leader, was their eldest member. But he could tell from his pew she still had fire left in her soul. The way she ranted on mildly impressed the undercover Infernal.
After ten minutes, the woman gradually started to wind down and stepped down from the alter with all the statesmanship of a monarch.
“Finally.” Salvatore jumped to his feet and walked up the center aisle and up to the alter.
“Greetings.” He bowed to the segregated groups with a flourish. “It is my honor to present a rare occurrence in our parts. May I introduce Mr. Gerald Fuller, of the Boston Fuller’s.” A murmur went through the crowd as the old enchanter spoke. “I am sure Mr. Fuller will stay after to meet everyone, and I am sure he will take contracts. Let’s just keep from targeting each other.”
<Contracts?> Gerry just smiled calmly as people turned to look at him.
“Mr. Fuller was in my humble shop today gather supplies to deal with our pest problem. I’m sure we’ll be free of the undead within the week with a true martial magician in our midst.”
<Shit.> Gerry kept the smile plastered on his face to hide his real emotions. <I really need to research my family more.>
“A marital magician in Charlotte. I haven’t seen one of you down her in ages.”
Salvatore wasn’t done yet, but he beat a hasty retreat as a man got to his feet and advanced toward the alter.
The man was an Adonis, with a Mediterranean tan and a flawlessly symmetrical face. His lips pulled back in a confident, easy going smile that was undoubtedly a panty dropper. He wore a worn UNC Charlotte Lacrosse hoodie with the arms ripped off to reveal large, sculpted muscles. He was easily Gerry’s height, maybe an inch or two taller, and he was every bit as fit.
“Brock. You honor us.” Salvatore was already heading back to the pew, but Gerry could see he was nervous.
<And I know why.> He looked past Brock’s frat boy appearance and saw a deep well of power. <The Remnant.>
Suddenly, being at the meeting wasn’t the best idea. Gerry knew from a quick glance that he hadn’t accumulated enough power to take on the vestige of Earth before Seere’s father’s conquest.
“What brings you to our little slice of paradise?” Brock leaned casually against the alter.
Gerry knew he needed to pick his words carefully. “I just arrived and found Mr. Salvatore with a little help. Now I’m here.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “There’s not really much to the story.”
Brock watched him for several seconds before shrugging back. It was the kind of shrug you could do if you were the strongest guy in the room.
“I might have a contract for you.” Brock looked up quickly. “But I’ll talk to you after.”
The Remnant was interrupted by a flash of brilliant white light. The flash filled Gerry with an unexpected surge of power that he barely kept contained. He felt like all his senses were dialed up to eleven and every molecule in his body vibrated.
When the flash faded, Brock was back in his seat and the most beautiful woman Gerry had ever seen was standing on the alter.
She made Caroline look like a troll and Jezebel like a two dollar overworked street whore. It was tough to put the rest into words.