Part of Apex of Creation
“*Seriously?*” I nearly exploded. “First you practically hold Emily hostage in the bank. Then you send Alocer to fuck with her mind, to steal the Scroll of the Apocalypse from the Library of Heaven, then you flame blast me and screw with Emily again, and now you *need my help?*”
Lucifer coughed up a small cloud of ash. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Emily's face had gone dark. “You had Alocer planting shit in my mind, stuff that wasn't mine and didn't need to be there. And now, you have the gall to fall down on our homework, and ask for help? What the hell, man?”
Lucifer coughed again, and rolled off the table. He slowly stood up, clutching onto a nearby chair to steady himself. “As you might have noticed, I'm not exactly well right now. And Aamon - you do remember Aamon, right? He kicked me out.”
“You're literally Satan. The king of Hell, prince of darkness, all that other aggrandizing bullshit. Kick him out back, and let us do our homework.”
“That's not how it works.” Lucifer shook his head, and gestured at Emily. “I'm weaker than you are right now.”
Emily was still for a moment, then snapped her textbook closed. “All I'm hearing,” she stood up. “Is payback time for beating on my head when I was already down.” Emily whirled, and swung the book squarely at Lucifer's head. He tried to shimmer out of physicality, but was too slow. The book made contact with a dull thud.
“That's a fraction of what you deserve, you know.” Emily said sternly.
“...If you say so.”
“So what exactly the hell” Emily continued. “do you need us for?”
Lucifer looked around, as if expecting help from somewhere. “Just that.” he said. “Hell. Literally, Hell itself is at stake. Aamon is powerful and devious, yes, but he lacks vision and planning. He would bring his own strategies to bear, strategies that would fail miserably and leave Hades in ruin.”
“I fail to see the problem.” I crossed my arms.
Lucifer looked me in the eyes, then turned to Emily. “Would you want to see the damned released? The wicked, left to roam the world without punishment? It’s true, I collect the dregs of humanity, the wretched and broken. And, Emily, the evil as well.”
Emily gave an involuntary shudder.
“I have my own goals and dreams for the collected power that comes from the damned. Aamon, though, has no such long term plans. He would conquer this world by force, and I fear he will lose everything to the armies of Heaven.”
I was about to repeat my statement about not seeing the issue, when Emily spoke. “Including the people you’ve collected?”
Lucifer sighed. “Yeah.”
Well, that complicated matters. If Aamon bled Hell’s prisons dry, Nigel Butler would not get the eternity of torment that he so rightly deserved. And yet preventing that would inevitably mean allying with Lucifer himself. Cael, for all his obnoxious insensitivity, had been more right than he’d known. Not only had I already been dragged into the war by Alocer and the hijinks with the Scroll, I was now finding myself involved in the political conflicts of Hell.
I already knew what Emily thought about the matter. Anything involving revenge on her father was alright by her. And despite her violently strong emotions on the matter, she was the best human friend I had right now.
“What do you need?” I asked.
I studied the sword on the wall. It had been Lucifer’s once, worn during his original rebellion. Those were the days, when Lucifer was a leader, a champion, a crusader fighting for what he believed in.
But that was ancient history. The present was far more important. The sword was still in good condition. It was star-forged steel, rare even among the realms of heaven and hell. While angels and demons were immortal, few cared to make the unpleasant journey to the stars to collect the material, and fewer still had the skill to work it into a weapon.
The blade carried inscriptions for spells to keep the sword sharp, and to hit hard and accurately. All I needed to do was channel power into it, and my own strength - already formidable - would be improved.
I lifted the sword off the wall and swung it. It was well-balanced, if a bit light for my liking. With a thought, I directed my demonic power into the sword - and dropped it in shock as it burned my hand. It clattered loudly to the floor, and I pulled back my energy. Gently picking the sword up off the floor, I realized that I had missed a small inscription in the pommel.
For Lucifer only
I checked the rest of Lucifer’s armor. Sure enough, the vain bastard had enchanted his entire outfit against anyone else’s use. And I’d been looking forward to using it too.
“Belial” I called. The armorer appeared behind me in a whirl of dark smoke. I offered him Lucifer’s sword. “How long would it take to make more of these?” I asked.
Belial examined the weapon. “This is a very, very fine sword. Lucifer himself often asked me what it would take to make more. I don’t know that we have anyone capable of smithing one, never mind enough to issue to infantry.”
I frowned, hoping that there was more.
Belial continued. “Each time I discussed it with Lucifer, we came back to soulstone ore. It’s plentiful, easily available, easy to work with, and we have a steady supply chain of low-grade sinners to harvest it from.”
“That’s what we have as standard issue now.” I retorted. “It’s not enough.”
Belial flipped the sword over as he studied the runes along the blade. “If you don’t mind the time requirement, we could replicate these spells.” he said. “The resulting weapons would be nearly as strong. Slightly more brittle, I believe, and the edge wouldn’t be quite as sharp. But we would be able to mass produce them for infantry.”
“Then take the sword for study.” I commanded Belial, safe in the knowledge that he couldn’t use it against me. “And take the rest of Lucifer’s battle kit too. He put more spells on the armor, and I want those copied as well.”
“Of course.” Belial bowed, and collected the armor.
“Except for the ownership spells. Obviously we want to be able to use the armor and weapons once you’re done with them.”
“And bring me the first samples once the smiths and enchanters are done with them.”
“Prototypes? Yes, absolutely.”
I put my voice into a low commanding growl. “Now go.”
Special Agent Ramsey
I frowned, looking down at the transcript of Emily’s interview, the logs of his online chats, and the veritable mountain of image evidence. Nigel Butler and his crew had a lot to answer for. But his online co-conspirators were, for the moment, untouchable. Nigel had been silent too long, and the others had correctly figured out that he’d been captured.
Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that some part of the puzzle was missing. We had a nearly complete picture of the whole thing, enough to ensure that he never walked free again. The federal prosecutor was already going to add several life sentences’ worth of charges based on Emily’s testimony alone, on top of the already enormous sentence he was facing for “mere” possession.
There was something I’d forgotten about. Gangs? Yes, that was it. An email from the police precinct that I hadn’t had time to check out. A quick Ctrl+F brought it back from the depths of my inbox.
From: Dakota Jackson To: Samuel Ramsey Cc: Alan Becker Subject: Emily Butler Agent Ramsey: At 0945 yesterday morning, officers were dispatched to a report of four injured victims of a fight. Camera footage (see attached) shows James Exosia and Emily Butler nearby at the time of the incident. We’re still investigating this attack, but given what we know so far about Nigel Butler, we wanted to let you know, just in case it ends up being relevant. The four victims are all Hispanic, with gang tattoos. My guess is that someone in their gang is connected to someone in Nigel Butler’s ring. If you find a Hispanic gang connection, please let us know as that would help us out a lot. -Officer Jackson.
That was it. There wasn’t a Hispanic gang connection, at least, nothing that I knew of yet. But one of the chat room buddies might “know a guy”, as it were.
I opened the attachments, two videos from two different security cameras. I watched the clips. Somehow, they didn’t seem to capture the actual fight, but at the end of it, the four Hispanic thugs were laying out on the ground, with James and Emily nowhere to be seen. An oddity, to be sure, but perhaps that was fortunate. Though the case against Nigel Butler was pretty much ironclad from a purely logical perspective, anything that casted a shadow on key witnesses - like involvement in a gang scuffle - would just make trial harder.
I gathered up all the papers, and stuffed them back into their folder, closing it. The gesture was largely symbolic - the evidence was already stored digitally. I tapped out an email to the prosecutor, indicating that I was ready for arraignment.
Nigel Butler had been manipulative and clever. But he’d gotten sloppy, and now he was going to pay for it.
Of course, no sooner had I hit send than another email from the precinct landed in my inbox.
From: Darren Sanders To: Samuel Ramsey Cc: Alan Becker, Dakota Jackson Subject: Hispanic gang members Agent Ramsey: Tomas Alvarez, one of the gang members involved in the fight, was tired of “the thug life” and talked on condition of immunity and protection. Poor fucker thought I had the power to arrange deals. Anyways, he confirmed that a hit was ordered on Emily Butler. She was their target Monday morning, but he thinks they may have been jumped by a rival gang. The order came from “El Hefe”, which I think is spanish for boss. They wouldn’t say who the Hefe is, but it’s something. -Detective Sanders
At the same time, a familiar clack clack of high heels announced the arrival of Dr. Roscoe.
“Could that be a feisty redhead?” I asked sarcastically as I turned my chair around. “I was just about to finalize the file on the Butler case, but apparently one of his associates ordered a hit on Emily.” Dr. Roscoe’s face turned down into a dark scowl. “That was what I was about to ask you. But, son of a bitch. I hope they rot in Hell.”
“Emily’s fine. According to this email from the local detective-” I gestured to my screen “-the working theory is that the gang ordered to carry out the hit got jumped by another gang before doing so.”
Dr. Roscoe skimmed the email. “Oh. Well, this Detective Sanders person seems to have an atrocious understanding of Spanish phonetics, but I’m glad Emily’s alright. I still hope they rot in Hell, though.”
“Heh. You’re really not one to mince words, are you?”
Dr. Roscoe feigned shock. “My goodness, Samuel, it’s like you don’t even know me.”
I snorted a bit of air out my nose. “Seriously, though, this is one of the more depressing cases I’ve had, and I was hoping for a quick end, but now it looks like we have to loop in… who handles gangs? Vice?”
“Vice does some, though they tend to do more prostitution and pimping. I think Organized Crime would take this. Forward me that email, I’ll send it on.”
Kevin was filling our dorm room with noise and bad breath. And so, I was showering in Emily’s bathroom, letting the hot water run over my body, grateful that the dormitories had suitably sized hot water heaters. Not only was I currently washing away the stink of Hell, I was also helping Lucifer recover. Weak though he was, he’d been able to shimmer into the industrial boiler in the basement of the dorm tower, and was now using the heat to speed up the healing process.
How Lucifer converted heat to health was beyond me, but he’d been delighted at the discovery. Apparently Hell lacked gas-fired boilers, relying instead on ambient heat to cause perpetual discomfort in the damned, and manifested hellfire for additional torture as needed.
The pleasure of this shower was second only to the shower I’d taken after retrieving the Scroll. Then, it had felt like every pore was saturated with sulfur. Now, it merely lingered on me after today’s brief exposure to hell smoke.
Truth be told, I didn’t mind Kevin’s bad music today. It was an excuse to spend more time with Emily, and spend another night with her. I rinsed the shampoo out of my hair, shut the water off, and grabbed my towel. I fumbled around for a few minutes, drying myself, putting on pajamas, and brushing my teeth.
Ready for bed, I left the bathroom. “All done.” I said to Emily.
But then I saw her, sitting on the edge of the bed, her hair flowing down around her shoulders, her blue eyes looking into mine.
My eyes went wide, as my brain tried to make sense of the sight.
My jaw dropped.
This chapter was written with the support of my Hybrid-tier patron:
- Olli Erinko