Raziel fell limp in Brig’s arm feigning death after he had attacked him in a thirst he had let build a little too long and Brig was not so certain he liked the game any longer. Knowing what Raziel would suffer, had suffered, for the ones he loved made Brig feel guilty for putting him through any more humiliation for something so trivial. He pulled Raziel into an awkward hug in his lap and managed to keep himself composed, but only just barely.
“You don’t need to do that.” Brig grabbed one of Raziel’s ears. He was still bothered that they were so similar to the Wyrms. “Are you making me go to this meeting?”
“If you aren’t ready to face them; I won’t make you.” Raziel adjusted Brig’s fingers on his ear. “Gently, if you don’t mind.”
“Sorry.” Brig had no idea what he was doing. He started to wish he hadn’t left Demise in his office with Cid and Tali. He leaned back against the wall stroking the edge of Raziel’s ear and just hoping for a knock on the door to save him from his uncertainty. Raziel sat up and startled Brig. “What?”
“You’re under no obligation to stay and hold me like this if it is painful for you.” Raziel hung his head. “I will be leaving shortly anyway.”
“You always manage to latch onto the wrong thing I’m thinking.” Brig grabbed Raziel by his shirt and kissed him. He was uncertain, frightened, but not because he wasn’t sure of his feelings only of what to do with them. Raziel was everything he shouldn’t want; his superior, a demon, married, and a man. He was also his friend and the last thing he wanted to do was lose that. But now against all reason, Raziel was his husband and Brig wanted him. He just didn’t have the slightest idea how to turn something he had always found so horrifying into what it should be between them. “We’ll go with you.”
“Thank you, puppet.” Raziel stood and pulled Brig to his feet and was surprised to see the vampire smile and hear the sudden thought that caused it.
“When we’re through with this shit can I take you out?” Brig almost laughed at the idea. It just popped into his head as an easy way to get over some of the fears that were holding him back. As close as everyone had gotten in Vex, he still knew very little about Raziel’s time before they met. “I mean if everyone else wants to wander off shopping or something and you get bored.”
“A date?” Raziel tilted his head slightly. “We’ve already wed.”
“Yea. Never mind.” Brig shook his hair out of his face as he reached for his cigarettes and turned away to head for the door. “It was a stupid idea, I’m going to go get Shana and the kids.”
“Brig.” Raziel grabbed Brig by his arm as he took the lighter that refused to light and provided another. He could see the frustration as Brig blew the smoke away and kept his gaze averted. Raziel pulled Brig’s free arm around him. “I’d love to.”
Raziel sent Brig off to collect Shana and the others and he saw to a few last messages as he waited for Van and Galik to return from errands of their own. Vex did not have its own reserve to care for, but many of the surrounding areas were home to creatures that should have been in the gardens. When they returned it was with news he had feared and proof that was painful to see. Galik laid the broken remains of two pixies in Raziel’s hands. One nearly crushed to an unrecognizable state and the other missing limbs.
“This wasn’t close.” Galik explained. “Not even on the island. We didn’t find anything like this near Vex.”
“Even half way around this rock, this is unforgivable.” Raziel explained. As much as he would like to complain about the simple fact that every beautiful moment he had with Brig had either been interrupted or inspired by or quickly followed by tragedy, but he couldn’t spend the time wallowing in the self pity. This was beyond tragic; whatever was motivating the attacks had to be stopped.
“What are they, Razzy?” Van hung on Galik’s arm sadly. “They don’t look like Demise and the others.”
“Pixies.” Raziel told her. Pixies had been one of the only nether races of fairies to thrive because they were born so frequently. They were abundant and did little more than flitter about giggling, but they were no less precious for their numbers and no less grand for their lack of strong magic. “Smaller, frailer. They know only the laughter they are born from. Which makes these attacks all the more horrific. Each of these marvels was a breath of a child’s first laugh.”
“That’s just awful.” Van sniffled.
“Lord Raziel will put an end to it.” Galik assured her.
“Is there any way we can help?” Frakk offered his assistance.
“Yes.” Raziel patted both him and Frikk on their heads. “Go into the realms your children have made their homes. Tell them to stay there in safety and to spread that advice to the other creatures. The less children that wander Tsuriai in these dark times, the less will be lost.”
“Will do.” Frikk nodded as she grabbed Frakk and shifted to Hell to start making themselves useful.
“The two of you will say nothing to the Wyrms or their bride.” Raziel gently caressed each of their faces as they looked at him with a sad understanding. “The trouble is over with. No grudges need to be held over it.”
“Yes, Lord Raziel.” Galik leaned his face against Raziel’s hand and closed his eyes. “I won’t make trouble for you.”
“Okay, Razzy.” Van pouted. “But I don’t like them.”
“Neither do I, puppet.” Raziel admitted quietly as Brig returned with Shana. “You’ll learn as I have that there are times it is wise to set aside emotion and do what has to be done.”
“Also times when that is completely stupid.” Brig muttered before he gave Raziel an obnoxious smile. “Don’t get preachy. We already know to play mute.”
“If they start to bother you.” Shana hugged Raziel tightly. “Just remember we all love you.”
“I love you all as well, puppet.” Raziel left a small kiss on her lips before gathered them all discretely to him and took them to Lucifer’s audience hall. They arrived just as the doors swung open for the arrival of the Council’s newest member and Raziel stepped defensively in front of his puppets and waited quietly as Vikarr approached them.
“Vivi, please be nice.” Eliza tugged at his sleeve. His grin made her nervous and she was worried he had not let his jealousy over Brig go. Vale followed them quietly; content not to interfere in the business of her masters. Eliza quietly pleaded for Vikarr to show a bit of mercy after all that had happened. “I’m with you. You don’t need to prove anything.”
Vikarr winked at her as he stopped close to Raziel and smiled as he offered his hand. Raziel stared up at him coldly and made no attempt to accept the offer, not even a sign that he recognized it.
“Accept my apology, Keeper.” Vikarr laughed. “I won’t make it twice.”
“I don’t believe it to be sincere.” Raziel answered quietly.
“It is.” Vikarr grinned. “At least in regards to the suffering I caused the ones who love you. I had never experienced jealousy and regret that I let it make a decision that I would not have made in a more rational state of mind. We are to work together. We should at least begin with some sort of…”
“I know he’s obnoxious.” Eliza interrupted. “But can we at least try to get along. Even if he is a bit of a shite, I’m sorry about what happened.”
“For the sake of those we love, Jester.” Raziel took Vikarr’s hand. “I have no intention of giving you my friendship, but as Brig and Eliza are already friends I may as well tolerate you.”
“I thought we weren’t allowed to talk?” Eliza smirked.
“I owe Brig this trust.” Raziel explained. Brig honored Raziel’s request for distance in public but he could hear the gratitude in his mind and the desire to embrace him for the understanding. “Of course you will need your own Master’s consent.”
“If it makes you happy, lovely.” Vikarr rolled his eyes. “Just keep your hands where they belong.”
“Hands are all yours.” Eliza pulled Vikarr by his tie and kissed him. “Thank you, Vivi.”
“Who is the other chick?” Van clicked the stick of her lollipop across her teeth as she crossed her arms in front of her and glared at the quiet, winged companion with Eliza and Vikarr. “Another girlfriend?”
“Vivi doesn’t have any girlfriends, pinkie.” Eliza sneered at Van. “Vale is my friend.”
“One of my most talented creations.” Vikarr smiled as he pulled Eliza to his side as Vale bowed to introduce herself. “A fitting gift for my bride.”
“Hey! You guys maybe want to stop fucking off and get in here?” Maefyl yelled from the door to the Council hall. “Some of us are here to work.”
“Sit down, half-breed.” Kage’s hiss could be heard from the hall. “You have no business lecturing anyone one work ethic.”
“So much for not being late.” Eliza whispered to Vikarr as they headed inside.
“He wasn’t late.” Lucifer tapped the table in front of him. “But as you are all here now, kindly quiet your playthings. There is much to be discussed.”
“Come on in, pretty.” Maefyl stood aside and invited Vale to join them. “No one else in here seems to follow any fucking rules. Just keep quiet.”
“I intend to follow them.” Vikarr grinned.
“All of you sit!” Lucifer screamed and stepped up onto the table. “This is no longer amusing.”
“It never was.” Maefyl mumbled as he claimed his seat and tapped a cigarette on the table.
“Six months I’ve given this Council reign and the only thing you have proven yourselves capable of is behaving like spoiled children.” Lucifer ranted as he paced the table. “I have for more than a thousand years kept Tsuriai in relative peace, kept harmony between science and magic, kept humanity from rebelling. In six month with you imbeciles in power I have murdered dragons and butchered fairies. You are all too preoccupied with your own petty quarrels.”
“Correction.” Maefyl interrupted. “You halted the advance of science in favor of magic.”
“Not the time, Maefyl.” Gabriel hushed him.
“Just think he should get the facts straight if he is going to slander everyone.” Maefyl grinned as he lit his cigarette. “And it should be noted that not every Circle is having these problems.”
“Those sitting at this table are responsible for more than any one Circle.” Lilith scolded. “You’ve done well in Osore, Maefyl. You have also served well on this Council. This reprimand is not meant for you, but do not be arrogant. We have all failed.”
“I haven’t failed at fuck all.” Maefyl laughed. “I’ve been plenty busy cleaning up other peoples messes as usual. I haven’t had time to fail.”
“You I will deal with later.” Lucifer glared at Maefyl. He was not the problem at the moment. In fact, there was truth in his arrogant claim. He had been busier than most of the Council since it was formed. “It was Zakesalek this Council was created for, the failure lies with them.”
“Zakesalek?” Vikarr quietly voiced his curiosity. “I don’t mean to be a pest, Lord Lucifer. I’m not familiar with…”
“You wouldn’t be.” Lucifer cut him off. “Nikolai, Asura and yourself are at a disadvantage in that respect. Even Sanguine and my Lilith have little understanding of it. You’ll deal with it.”
“Lucy, you understand that some of us have been overwhelmed.” Gabriel defended himself for any negligence. He had been left not only with his responsibilities in Osore, his duty to Itami, but had the realm of Heaven left in his care. He also had the distinct pleasure of being married to Maefyl who had more talent for getting into trouble than most.
“I’m well aware of your responsibilities, Gabby.” Lucifer sighed. “I also know that you and Eidolon were the least interested in accepting your place at this table. All things considered, the two of you have probably been the only ones worthy of it.”
“Kesek saba ise sulesa.” Azrael jumped to his feet and shouted at Lucifer. “Sek zame kosani ken. De faka sabuzaki`at.”
“I doubt that.” Maefyl smirked. “Gabriel isn’t afraid to get his feet dirty.”
“Devek!” Azrael screamed down the table at Maefyl. “Shidakava kalu.”
“Sek kaat ze isa chaset’tach ek ise kalu.” Lucifer slapped Azrael across the face and kicked Samael back into his chair when he rose to defend him. “Ze nat elt sek shent fanet en leshuvi.”
“Did you catch any of that?” Vikarr grinned as he leaned to Nikolai.
“Not a word.” Nikolai shook his head and answered quietly. “Generally I assume that I am better off not knowing.”
“I’m inclined to agree with you.” Vikarr took Eliza’s hand in his and pulled her a bit closer. She was staying sweetly quiet and clinging to Vale’s hand for confidence as she listened to the Council arguing. He thought he could afford to give her at least some of his own comfort as he saw the others fawning over their loves in varying degrees.
“I’ve tasked the Circles to seek out some of this trouble.” Lucifer continued angrily. “If you are all through tripping over your egos, it would be marvelous if you could use the power I’ve given you for something other than an excuse to pick fights. It was a mistake to leave Tsuriai in your care, but I am going to give you a chance to prove me wrong. Fix this mess.”
“Tsumi has been unaffected.” Kage hissed. “Kryss and his pack see to our reserves and have prevented any problems.”
“Osore is likewise clear.” Gabriel added.
“All of Nippon is.” Maefyl corrected. “I don’t do as little with my free time as you all assume.”
“Vex is clear but Van and Galik ventured beyond the isle and found these.” Raziel carefully laid out remains of the pixies on the table. There was silence for a moment and a trail of tears fell across the table as Sanguine flew away from the sight and sought comfort in Maefyl’s hands.
“Nihil has not been as fortunate.” Vikarr called his computer into his hands and sent over full reports from Mala and Donovan and sent them to the others. “Regretfully, the humans in our care seem to be among those that will need to be reminded of their place. After our efforts to protect them from one race, it saddens me to discover they are terrorizing another.”
“I’m impressed, Vikarr.” Lucifer grinned. Vikarr was eager as ever to please and had not only gone beyond his expectations, but had chosen a perfect time to break a painful silence and prove his usefulness. “I went to Mala directly because I expected you to be happily distracted by your bride. You seem well-informed.”
“Mala and Donovan do not act in Nihil without my knowledge.” Vikarr smiled. “I take my place in Nihil very seriously; I intend to give my place here no less attention. I do not let my personal life interfere with my work, Lord Lucifer.”
“That will be a refreshing change in this room.” Lucifer laughed before he crouched in front of one of the quietest of his Council and dearest friends. “Eidolon, I’m about to make your life difficult. For that I apologize.”
“I assume this has to do with the sudden disappearance of my Third?” Eidolon had expected some sort of retaliation over Nexus’ behavior eventually; this was just unfortunate timing. “Could this wait?”
“No.” Lucifer cast a cruel glance down the table at Kage. “The woman is unbearably useless. Choose a replacement.”
“Give me time to consider it.” Eidolon had not expected the choice. Lucifer had chosen every member of his Circles himself. Only Dove had been placed by recommendation.
“What have you done with my mother?” Shiroi clenched her fists beside her.
“Devana, Welak Isa.” Samael instructed and she hung her head and backed down from her question.
“Figure out this mess on your own and get it under control.” Lucifer walked the length of the table as he gave his last orders. “If I could manage it single handedly, the twelve of you should be able to do something. It took you six months to ruin things, I’ll give you that long to fix it.”
“Are you suggesting these attacks are in someway…?” Samael started to laugh at the idea that he could be blamed for anything the humans did.
“Not in some way, Samael.” Lucifer shouted. “In EVERY way. YOU are at fault for the losses your dragons mourn. YOU are to blame for the broken wings Raziel laid on my table. I left Tsuriai to your rule, to your guidance these last six months. The tranquility I have upheld I left in the hands of the Council. Instead of watching after the world you wanted power over; you decided to play games with one another. Clearly you don’t have the attention span to do two things at once. Until you do, leave the games to the me.”
“Hak, kosha.” Samael grabbed Azrael’s arm to prevent him from attacking. Samael smiled up at Lucifer as he stood and pulled Shiroi and Azrael to him. “We will restore Vasun Lucifer’s trust in us. Our shadows will be able to reach us. I’ve had my fill of the rest of this Council for the day.”
“Bite your tongue, Maefyl.” Lucifer cautioned the vampire that readied a sharp comment over the Wyrms sudden departure. “I don’t need your nonsense as well.”
“We could do without yours.” Maefyl stroked Sanguine gently as he held her. “Help us fix this.”
“Put in the effort and I will.” Lucifer grinned at him and vanished.
“That’s spectacular.” Asura pouted. She felt like the weakest link. Powerless and without resource. “How am I supposed to help with any of this? I would like to be more than a mascot here.”
“At least you’re cute.” Vikarr grinned.
“Do you mind?” Eliza pinched Vikarr’s neck before she remembered she shouldn’t be talking and quickly covered her mouth and mumbled her apologies.
“I think it’s okay to talk.” Asura smiled at her. “Uncle Lucifer left.”
“Asura, you’re most adept with the system you created.” Kage sought to put an end to pointless banter before it began. “Put your skills to good use. Coordinate information from the Circles and keep all of us informed.”
“Raziel, I don’t mean to volunteer you, but you and I have the best chance of finding out the point in all of this.” Maefyl was not looking forward to more time away from home or away from Gabriel, but he knew they both had to put their skills to the best use. “Unfortunately, you know we can’t treat this like a picnic. Galik and Brig need to stay in Vex, Gabriel is going back to Osore.”
“Agreed.” Raziel nodded. As reluctant as he was to leave any of them behind, he knew they would take care of Vex and each other in his absence.
“I’ll have things to tend to in Tsumi, but afterward I’ll aid in any I can.” Eidolon looked across the table at Nikolai. “It may be time for you to join Asura in her lessons.”
“I’m not suited for battle, Eidolon.” Nikolai smiled. “I appreciate the offer, but your time would be better spent elsewhere. I’m not certain I’ll be of any use at all in this matter.”
“Then, you’ll join me.” Raziel suggested. “My work will be safe enough, observation and discovery. The experience will do you good.”
“If the choice is mine, I decline.” Nikolai held Azazel and Bezer by their wrists. “I don’t plan on abandoning Golod or my pets to travel with some one I have no reason to have any trust in.”
“A compromise.” Lilith suggested. “There is no need for any of you to abandon your Circles or the things you love for any prolonged amount of time, or to be alone for it. We have two Keepers. So two shifts. Maefyl has Sanguine to accompany him and they can return to Gabriel’s company when Nikolai accompanies Raziel for the experience that I have to agree he needs.”
“I may be able to help narrow your searches.” Vikarr offered. “I have an army of treacherous beauties at my disposal that are very skilled at getting information. With Gabriel’s daughter able to provide areas of interest, my succubi can fan out and bring you answers.”
“I’ll coordinate further protection for the reserves.” Gabriel sighed. “It will mean loosening a few leashes, but I know which ones to keep the tightest.”
“I’ll see to it you have equal assistance from Hell’s loyal.” Kage offered. “I just have a few distractions to see to first.”
“Then we all have work to do.” Lilith headed for the door and gave Kage an evil grin. “I don’t like disappointing my Lord Lucifer.”
“Rest up, Raziel. I’m taking first shift.” Maefyl kissed Asura on her cheek and sat Sanguine on his shoulder before he shifted between Gabriel and Kage. He spoke quietly as he leaned close to Kage. “Where is she?”
“Alive for the moment.” Kage whispered his reluctant reply. “I’m trying to keep her that way.”
“Call if you need me.” Maefyl squeezed his shoulder before he slipped his arms around Gabriel. “You; I will see soon.”
“You’re taking this well.” Gabriel sighed.
“No, I’m really not.” Maefyl kissed him softly. He wasn’t taking any of it well. He still had no answers. He was still furious over what the Wyrms had done and what Shiroi had become. Now species he loved and protected for so long were being brutalized, Brig was terrified of the one he loved, Asura was doubting her own worth, Sanguine was in a state of shock and he was watching the world fall apart for the sake of Lucifer trying to prove a point. He wasn’t taking any of it well. He just wanted to fix all of it before he put Gabriel through any more misery. “I’m just trying to stay out of trouble like you asked.”
“I’ll give you notice before I come to collect you, Nikolai.” Raziel stood and offered Nikolai little chance to respond. “Let’s go, puppets.”
“Later, E.” Brig waved and they were gone.
“Bye, London.” Eliza smirked at Vikarr. “You know, you are all kind of rude. Any chance I can talk to your friend Eidolon before he pulls a Houdini, too?”
“Make it quick.” Eidolon sighed. “I have a Third to replace.”
“It can wait.” Eliza smiled. “It’s just to torture Vivi anyway.”
“Then I will be sure to make the time.” Eidolon slid a card across the table to her with his number and laughed as he left the hall.
“That wasn’t very nice.” Vikarr giggled. “I thought Lord Falcon liked me.”
“Nobody likes you.” Eliza kicked his shin. “You’re a freak. I thought his name was Eidolon.”
“I’ll explain later, lovely.” Vikarr winked at her. “For now we need to go introduce you to a few more of Vale’s sisters.”
“In the interest of working together; can we go with?” Asura asked hopefully. “If I’m going to be the information hub I might as well see where the information is coming from.”
“Certainly.” Vikarr smiled. “As long as your Master approves.”
“Let’s just get this over with, Master Nikolai.” Azazel purred as he clung to Nikolai.
“Lead the way, Vikarr.” Nikolai held Asura’s hand and the back of Azazel’s collar as they walked. He had spent little time in Hell that was not in the confines of Lucifer’s or the cubs’ estate and the unfamiliar scenery made him as nervous. Vikarr’s bride had bright green eyes that he knew were a weakness for Azazel and he gave jealous tugs on Azazel’s collar that made him purr. He had no reason for jealousy, but the attention thrilled Azazel and made Bezer giggle as she clung to his back.
“Where are we going?” Asura asked as she swung Nikolai’s hand in hers.
“My estate.” Vikarr smiled back at her.
“Lord Vikarr is calling us there.” Vale explained.
“I’ll gather those available, send them off, and have them report to you.” Vikarr was confident in the unique abilities of his creations. “Many of my kin are more likely to use force to achieve their goals. I’ve always found it more amusing to convince others to give me what I want. My little pretties are very good at convincing people to give up their secrets… and anything else they want. I’ll be sure to make them behave for this work.”
“Azazel!” Dozens of the gathered succubi winked and waved as they entered a large garden of Vikarr’s estate. “Come play with us.”
“Oops.” Azazel flushed and looked up at Nikolai nervously. “Don’t be mad. It was before I knew you.”
“Long time no see, Bezer.” A particularly well-endowed succubus flipped out of the branches above them and blew Bezer a kiss before she winked at Asura. “I was heart broken to hear a man had stolen you away, but it’s good to see you still enjoy a softer touch as well.”
“Both of you are so punished.” Asura pouted.
“Very.” Nikolai agreed and shook his head as he smiled. He knew the cubs had been adventurous and he was lucky to have their devotion. “Give them your orders, Vikarr. Before your army of temptresses give me any more reasons to scold my pets.”