“A dramatic micromanager. Yeah, I know.” Salvatore blinked the white spots from his vision. “Every time we get together, or every time Brock steps off campus she knows and makes a dramatic entrance.”
The rest of the meetings attendants were talking animatedly to one another. Brock had vanished when the angel did, which left the floor open, and no one was taking it.
“Is that it?” Gerry was hoping for more information than an eco-friendly circle of witches, the Salvatore’s, and a Remnant frat boy.
“Of course not. Ahh…there he goes.”
A man got to his feet and slowly started to float toward the alter. He was wearing a long cloak, a floor-length hooded robe that seemed to drink in the darkness and coil it around him. If Gerry hadn’t been an Infernal Dux he might have been mildly intimidated by the magical weave around the man. But Gerry was, and that meant he could see through the enchantment.
The man wasn’t a man at all. He was a boy, mid-to-late teens, with a full face of acne, and big, blocky glasses. The boy was practically hyperventilating under his shadowy façade as he levitated up to the alter and spun with a flourish.
“I am the great and powerful…”
“That’s the self-styled Dark Mage of Charlotte.” Salvatore leaned over and whispered in Gerry’s ear.
The kid was listing off a number of titles a mile long, and nearly everyone in the room seemed to be rolling their eyes.
“He’s a solo practitioner: darkness manipulation, a sprinkle of necromancy here and there, really nothing overly dark about him except for that cloak he wears,” Salvatore informed.
Gerry could have seen that without a heads up. The kid was weaving magic to make his voice strong and steady. Underneath his cloak he was sweating bullets and shaking like a leaf. He’d finally finished listing his lofty, self-proclaimed titles, and had moved on to talking about some important ceremony he needed to conduct.
“We just try and keep him away from the cemeteries. He raised a few zombies a few months back, and gave an old lady a heart attack when her dead husband came home and wanted to eat her brain.” The old enchanter chuckled. “It was more of a pain in the ass than anything, but the old lady died, so we had to discipline him, and part of that is not letting him participate in Samhain this year.”
The kid was railing about that now; calling it discrimination against his brand of magic. Thankfully he had a time limit just like everyone else, and he got cut off the second he reached that.
“Thank you, most exalted Dark Mage of Charlotte,” the old witch chairing the gathering cut him off mid-sentence. “We will take a vote at the end of the meeting.” She waved her arm back at the rows of pews and the kid started levitating toward the back of the church.
“Does anyone else have any business to discuss?” The witch looked around the room.
There were a dozen other factions present. Some with a few members, and others going solo just like the dark mage. All of them kept silent, like they were waiting for something.
“It’s all you now. I’m sure there’s a bunch of people that’ll pay good money for you to fulfill contracts.”
“Ok.” Gerry really didn’t want to go into this contract business, but he felt he had to in order to avoid detection.
Unlike the kid, he walked unceremoniously to the front and didn’t both ascending to the alter. “If anyone has any contracts I’ll review them and let you know if I’ll take them.”
It was like someone had dropped him into the middle of the New York Stock Exchange, which he only knew about from catching the end of the movie Trading Places. Members of the factions were practically throwing pieces of paper at him to look over and yelling out dollar amounts that none of them looked like they could afford.
It was all really irritating.
“I’ll be in the back. Come back, hand them to me, leave your contact information, and I’ll review them and get back to you by tomorrow.” Without any pomp or circumstance, he walked back down the center aisle, past the Salvatore delegation, and took a seat by the back door.
“Well…um…unless anyone has anything else to add?” The old witch was already walking down the aisle toward him. “Meeting adjourned.”
She walked with a purpose and took the seat next to him. A piece of paper materialized in her hand as the rest of the delegations with business ran to get the next available slot.
“Martial magician.” She gave Gerry a brief bow to start. “I have an issue the must be rectified.” She handed over the paper with all the pertinent details. “A troll from the Fairy Realms has staked its claim to the underpass of the I-77 bridge as it crosses Lake Norman. As you know, trolls are vile, polluting, gluttonous things and it must be eliminated to restore the balance of Mother Earth’s ecosystem.”
“I’ll look it over.” He accepted the paper and placed it face down on the pew beside him. “Next.”
The old witch looked a bit put off by his cold shoulder, but if Gerry was guessing right it wouldn’t be too much or a departure from the norm of what he was pretending to be.
“Yes.” She rose and straightened her dress. “Thank you for considering my contract.” She gave another slight bow and returned to her waiting circle members where they gathered together like a group of schoolgirls.
“Martial magician.” The next guy looked pretty ordinary except for the holstered pistol on his hip with skulls etched into it. “Recently, my organization has been plagued by the wolves to the south.” The man’s voice was heavily accented, and a bit hard to understand. “I humbly request that you eliminate them.”
<You and Vicky both.> Gerry took the paper and gave the man the same line he’d given the witch.
The next four requests followed the same pattern. Everyone showed him great respect, made a request, and gave him a paper with all the details. They didn’t push him, they only highlighted the money they were offering or the benefit it would have for the city. Either way, it gave him a decent amount of information about each of the faction’s motivations.
It only took ten minutes, and when it was over Gerry was left alone in the church. The Salvatore’s had already left, so he took a moment to himself.
<It’s nice to be wanted.> He felt smug that he was able to deceive the humans so easily.
But he’d also gained probably the most important bit of information he could have. He’d seen the Dominion of this city. He’d felt her power, gauged her, and seen her pass him over as just another mundane mortal. He’d been right under her nose and she hadn’t gotten a whiff of his Infernal essence.
<You do good work, my Prince.> Gerry patted the knee of his human form and got up to leave.
He stepped out of the church and gave the all clear sign to his people.
Jezebel’s imps were on opposite corners talking with random Johns. At the signal they both got into the cars and went off to whatever it was that they did best. Lono’s imps continued to gorge themselves of cheeseburgers and would leave when they were ready. He didn’t see Jeb’s operatives on the roof, and he doubted he’d see them again unless their services were required. What he did need was the footage they’d collected so he could start building dossiers.
Lastly, the compelled humans that Vicky and her coven had been ready to use as human cannon fodder made a synchronized turn when they saw the predetermined signal and dispersed. It would have looked strange if anyone was still present to watch. But Lono’s imps were too busy shoveling food into their mouths to care.
<Now the real work begins.> He slapped the stacked pages into the palm of his hand with a smile.
He knew who his enemies were. He knew what they wanted, and he had a feeling about how to go about eliminating them.
<And then there is her.> There was something truly mesmerizing about the angels that had crashed the meeting. She was beautiful, commanding, and her power was intoxicating. So intoxicating he found himself missing her presence. She was like a hit of heroin, and he needed to figure out how to get more. Plus, he’d absorbed a decent amount of her ambient æther when she’d arrived and departed so dramatically. It had done a lot to boost his current reserves, but it also showed him just how far he needed to go to even be a threat to the breath-taking woman.
Divine æther was particularly potent, much more potent than he’d expected from a creature on the opposite side of the metaphysical battle for the souls of mankind.
“God damn piece of junk. START!”
“Language, Maria.” Ava snapped as she landed lightly next to the early 90’s Nissan.
“Jesus Christ!” Maria flailed and leveled a large pistol at the golden-haired angel just outside the driver’s window. “Mom, you scared me half to death.”
“Nice to see you too.”
Maria abandoned the attempt to get the old car started, opened the door, holstered the weapon and stepped into the waiting embrace of the city’s Dominion. She looked a lot like her Divine mother, but had more than a few features of her human father. She had the same golden curls, but she let them grow out several more inches. She still held herself with a commanding presence, but that was more due to her upbringing than genetics. Lastly, and what she shared most in common with her mother, were the two deep wells of piercing blue that framed her face.
Maria’s skin leaned more towards the yearlong tan of her father than the angel’s snow-white, and her build was stockier. She didn’t envy her mother’s lithe figure though; especially when she appeared in a casual dress that reached down to her knees and flip-flops. Personally, Maria preferred pants and sturdy footwear because she often found herself chasing something.
Maria was a Nephilim: half-human, half-angel, and one of a small band of defenders that kept Charlotte safe from everything that went bump in the night.
The two women squeezed tightly for several seconds before releasing each other. Ava placed her hands on either side of her daughter’s face and smiled down at her.
Ava’s face was ageless. She could have been twenty or forty, but Maria was distinctly a teenager. It was more a pain in the ass than anything, because while she was biologically sixteen, she been alive for thirty-two years. Nephilim aged at half the speed of a normal human, which made puberty, especially for a girl, a living hell.
“Aside from your language you looked stunning.” Ava made her daughter blush.
“Stop buttering me up, Mom. You usually don’t stop by unless there’s something important going on.” Maria took the compliment, but kept the conversation rolling. She’d be late to class if she spent all morning talking.
“You know I would spend more time with you if I could.” Ava looked momentarily wounded.
“I know,” Maria sighed and swiped some hair out of her face. “I’m just in a crappy mood. My car won’t start, I’m going to be late, and they’re going to give me detention again.”
“You’re doing important work.” Ava smiled again, and the whole world seemed to warm up around them. Maria even felt her stress level relaxing a notch.
“But high school…really, Mom.” They’d had this discussion before, and she was just letting the angel know she didn’t like being thrown back into the psychological hell every time she needed someone to go undercover at a school.
“Yes, and don’t hate me but I have another mission.”
“You’ve got to be…”
“It’s nothing hands on right now.” Ava quickly added defensively. “I just want you to put out feelers on the new martial magician in town. Trouble tends to follow them around, or if any opportunities pop up I want to be ready.”
“Just intel.” Maria clarified.
“Just intel.” Ava nodded.
“Ok, good.” The nephilim let out a long breath. “Because I’ve been undercover tracking this Soulless bitch for almost six months now, and if you were going to pull me out now I was going to…” she let the statement end there.
Kicking her mom’s ass wasn’t possible, and despite her enhanced strength, speed, senses, and magical sensitivity she still wasn’t a match for some of her brothers, sisters, and cousins. That left her alone in the garage hitting the bag, throwing knives at things, or putting rounds downrange at the nearest gun club.
“No, we need to know the identity of the Soulless infiltrating the school systems. They can’t be allowed to interfere with the education of the innocent.”
Maria wanted to say that there wasn’t much education going on to start with, unless you counted sex education, but she kept her mouth shut. Her mom’s time was precious.
“Is that it?” Maria didn’t want her mother to vanish into thin air again, but she knew every moment she was here with her there was a chance something could be going wrong out there.
“Sadly, yes.” The angel opened her arms and Maria folded into her like a piece of a puzzle. “But I will check in again with you soon.”
“Love you, Mom.”
“Love you too, Maria.” The angel stepped back and gave another sad smile. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” She scolded with a smirk before vanishing.
<I wouldn’t, if only my fucking car would star.> She climbed back into the old junker and turned the key.
It started up without a single sputter.
“Very funny!” she yelled to the emptiness as she shifted into drive and tore off down the street toward the dilapidated building the people around here called a high school.