“You can’t be serious.” Jeb and the rest of Gerry’s lieutenants were standing around the table while the Dux sat comfortably in a high-backed chair.
“What is it with you and taking risks?” Gerry twirled a dagger between his fingers fast enough that it was making his subordinates uneasy.
If Gerry really looked at the situation he saw the issue, and if he was being honest, old Gerald might have approached it differently.
“There is a difference between risks, and weaving yourself into the lives of mortals who have the attention of the Dominion, my Dux,” Jeb pleaded.
“We’re already all in.” Gerry tapped the contracts he’d been given at the church with his index finger. “We can’t turn back now. We’ve got information on everyone in the area who stands in the way of our goals, and they’re willing to confide in the mysterious martial magician.” He smiled. “Vicky, what did I say about information?”
The Soulless was a little more relaxed then the rest of the Infernals, and it might have had something to do with getting what she’d wanted all along. One of those contracts specified the extermination of the wild Lycans.
“Information isn’t power, it is acting on that information that is what’s truly powerful.”
“Close enough.” Gerry shuffled the documents and pulled one out as random. “So today, I’m going to kill a troll.”
Vicky wasn’t able to hide the displeasure that the Dux wasn’t going to go after one of the packs of Lycan mutts.
“My Dux,” Jezebel curtsied to give him a nice shot of her cleavage. “Trolls are vile, unhygienic brutes. They are hardly worth your time.”
“But they’re worth Gerald Fuller’s, the martial magician’s time.” He turned hard eyes on Jeb. “It would have been nice to get a little more information on this branch of magic before I walked in there.”
“Yes, Dux.” Jeb just stood there hoping Gerry didn’t take his head.
“You’ll stay after. The rest of you may go.” He waved his hand and the rest of the lieutenants moved quickly toward the door. “Jezebel, one moment.” He stopped the sex demon. “I have one question.”
“Anything for you, my Dux.” The looking on her face said that “anything” was spoken in the widest sense of the word.
She wasn’t able to hide a momentary flash of confusion and frustration.
“I am unaware of how imps of the fourth choir are produced.”
“Well,” that flirtatious smile was back. “When a man lust after a woman.” She made a circle with one hand, extended her index finger, and then thrust it repeatedly into the circle in a universal symbol that was impossible to misunderstand.
Gerry just rolled his eyes. “After that. I don’t think you or your breed is stupid enough to be vulnerable for nine months.”
“Of course not.” She waved the statement away like it was a bad smell. “We have a short gestation and then we lay our eggs.”
“Oh…” Gerry hadn’t seen that one coming. “Good to know.”
“Those two are some of my most talented children, Dux. If you require company…?”
“No, thank you. I have work to do.” It was only the morning after the meeting, but he wanted to get to work.
“Of course. The offer is an open one.” She left with another cleavage-revealing curtsey.
Gerry was positive he wouldn’t take her up on that. The imps were just as likely to bite off his dick as suck it.
“My Dux.” The greed demon emerged from the library with an old, worn, leather-bound tome.
“Let’s get started.”
“I’ve already explained the basics of martial magicians.” Jeb flipped through pages until he came to a page filled with names. There are four Great Families and twice as many lesser ones. Each family teaches their children from birth in their clan’s unique form of combat.”
Gerry looked over the names and saw the Fuller’s were one of the lesser families. That fact was mildly irritating.
“At the age of seven they are given their first trial, their second at fourteen, and their third and final at eighteen. If they survive all three they are allowed to go out into the world as a martial magician.” There were crudely drawn illustrations of some of the trials, but all involved fighting something.
One of the pictures was a lopsided woman, with a head way to big, and fangs than nearly reached her knees. Poorly drawn humans lay dead around the disproportioned creature.
“Many of this world’s legends of vampire hunters originated from martial magicians.”
“I got that much.” Gerry replied. “But what about the contracts and the specific nature of their powers?”
“Contracts are the means by which martial magicians sustain themselves. They come to a place, meet with local leaders, and determine their needs. Over time, needs became contracts of choice, and that’s what happened to you yesterday. The more renowned a martial magician is, the more generous the payment on a contract.”
There were a few examples of old contracts in the book, and the payment items listed were animals, shelter, or magical trinkets. Not the cash Gerry had been offered yesterday night.
“Martial magicians by nature are not materialistic.” Jeb followed his eyes. “Honor, reputation, and the need to be challenged is what drives them.”
Gerry guessed as much, he’d met a lot of men and women that sounded like these martial magicians. For all he knew, several members of Seere’s Legion might have once been these magicians.
“And that’s why I have to do some of the contracts. A martial magician turning them down would be out of place and raise some questions.”
“This is why I discouraged you from doing this in the first place.”
“Keep your eyes on the future not on the past, Jeb.” Gerry growled. “We aren’t going to win this city by sitting on our asses and playing it safe.”
“Now, tell me about their power.”
“Martial magicians draw from the magic within them. It is an art that walks a fine line. If they don’t use enough power then they will fail and be killed. If they use too much then they will burn themselves out and die.”
“Not an issue for me.”
“No, Dux. The issue is going to be disguising yourself during battle. The Infernal use of æther will light you up like a bonfire for any Divine in the area.”
“So I need to pull from a more natural source of magic?”
“Yes, Dux. You’re human form has that same internal magic as a mortal. Many martial magician families refer to it as Chi.”
“Very well.” Gerry got to his feet, and with a sweep of his hand the table vanished and a wide space was cleared away.
He was confident the wards of his demesne were powerful enough to hide a little magic from the outside world. The first step was to block out everything but his body and the power. It wasn’t that much different from calling the æther. He felt the powerful force there within him. He was a creature of æther now, just like any Infernal or Divine being, so pushing his true nature aside and grabbing the softer, weaker power of his human form’s Chi felt wrong. But he still did it.
“I have it.” The new power filled him, but it was like a leaky faucet instead of a surging river.
“Most martial magicians use the Chi to empower themselves with strength, speed, and durability. Many carve anti-magic runes into their flesh to repel magical attacks so they can close with and dispose of their enemies.
<I can do better than that.>
Humans and the weak central construct that was their souls couldn’t do anything with the æther at their core. But as an Infernal being Gerry’s essence was hardened against mundane magical attacks. It would be like a wooden bat hitting a steel beam, and with enough preparation he could absorb the power, just like he’d done with his vanquished victims in the Legion.
Not all attacks were able to be absorbed, and he wouldn’t dare us that technique against a member of the Divine or the Remnant without considerable preparation, but he was more than a match for a human sorcerer who thought they’d gotten the drop on him.
<Plus, a surplus of mortal magic will only help me.>
Gerry concentrated and felt the Chi flow through him. It was already there, coursing along its normal current. He just had to turn up the heat. His body didn’t bulge like when the æther filled him, but he felt himself harden as the power came to the surface. He would be stronger and more durable.
“Excellent, Dux.” Jeb smiled.
“A child with severe mental defects could do this.” Gerry frowned at the other Infernal. “Anything else?”
“Martial magicians who become masters of their craft are able to extend their Chi beyond their body and create offensive or defensive constructs.” Jeb finished, turning the book toward Gerry to look at.
There were several options laid out step by step, and completely detailed each hand motions. The two simplest ones were the two simplest weapons: a sword and shield.
Gerry looked at the first for a second and then concentrated. He placed his hands together like he was praying, but faced them horizontally and perpendicular to the ground. He pulled his Chi from him as he drew a line straight up into the air, then separated his hands, and brought them down in two half-moon arches on either side of the line he’d drawn in space. They met, completing a circle, and a shield blazed to life, its orange and red glow sparking slightly as if it were alive.
“Simple.” Gerry swung it though the air a few times to test it.
He looked at the book a second time and reviewed the gestures for a sword. He held out his arm in front of him at its full length. He made a circle with his hand, pressing his thumb between his middle and ring finger. Then, he violently pulled his arm back toward his hip. The space in between all his fingers crackled like lightening as a blade appeared between them. When he got to his hip, Gerry closed his fist, and it closed around the pommel of a red-orange sword.
“It seems, my Dux, that you have mastered martial magic.”
Gerry just smiled. He could see where the concentration and activation of mind and spirit at once would be difficult for a person with only one lifetime and no practice with æther. But for an Infernal it was second nature after two centuries.
“Time to hunt a troll.” He let the constructs absorb back into himself and headed for the elevator.
Gerry had never seen a troll before. There were no trolls in Hell, but they were ugly enough to be there. It was tall, with rolls of fat hanging off it, and its naked genitals waving in the wind. A soft breeze wafted underneath the overpass where the I-77 crossed over Lake Norman, and that waft brought with it the smell of decay and death. The bones of fish, small woodland creatures, and even a human or two was piled next to the big ugly beast. It was facing away from Gerry when he finally scaled down to the opening and saw what he was going to be fighting.
The leader of the circle of witches had been ecstatic when he texted her he was taking her contract, but he requested she not be present. This was his first test of martial magic, and he didn’t want to look like a fool.
“Lovely place you have here.” It wouldn’t be any fun to sneak up on the big, dumb creature and stab it in the spine. Gerry at least wanted to see how he handled his new human body in combat.
The troll jumped a little and turned toward Gerry. “You see?” It asked in broken English.
It had about five chins, and a single bloodshot, yellow eye that surveyed Gerry without any discernable intelligence. From what the Dux knew, trolls were simple brutes, but that was enough to make them dangerous to humans.
“Yes,” Gerry answered simply, repeating the motions to draw out his Chi into a sword and shield.
The troll looked at him hungrily and licked its lips, showing rotting brown teeth.
“Just get on with it.” Gerry held the sword and shield at the ready as the troll charged him.
He waited for the creature to make the first move, and it did, rearing back with a club that hadn’t been there before, and swinging it at Gerry.
<Fucking glamour.> He knew the Fey were known for this type of spell work, but he didn’t count on the troll being skilled in it. <And that’s my first mistake.>
The club smacked into his shield in a shower of sparks as the shockwave of the hit rebounded around the enclosed space. The trolls blow was powerful, it drove Gerry back, his feet carving two shallow trenches into the ground, until his foot slipped up on a wet rock and he fell backwards onto his ass.
<Embarrassing.> He cursed to himself as he turned the trip into a controlled fall.
He bent his back into a crescent moon shape, rolled with the fall until he got to the section where his back met his neck. Then, with his core and shoulder muscles he pushed up, propelled himself into the air. The action allowed him to dodge the follow up attack where the troll swung for his head, and brought him within striking difference. Gerry lashed out with his Chi-powered sword and sliced the troll’s hand clean off midway up the forearm as he spun in the air.
The beast howled in pain and his hand and club dissolved into smoke. Gerry landed on his feet and then went on the attack. He slashed and hacked in controlled strokes, driving the now-stricken creature back. He swiped low, going down on one knee, and sliced through the troll’s leg midway through its calf. The creature squealed as it toppled over. It caught itself with one arm, but left itself open. Gerry leap forward with strength way beyond a normal human and drove the sword deep into the troll’s chest, piercing its heart.
It exploded like a ball of confetti smoke, leaving Gerry disappointed, wet, and slightly muddy. He re-absorbed the sword and shield with a thought and tried to sense the energy of the dead Fey as it crossed back across the boundaries into the adjacent Fairy Realm. If he was tempted, Gerry’s Infernal powers would have been able to stop and absorb the troll’s essence, but that would be too dangerous. By now, everyone knew the martial magician was taking on the troll.
<That should help build some trust.> Gerry walked back to the rocks and started to climb back toward the road.
Already the smell was vanishing and being replaced with nature’s normal scent. The witches would appreciate that.