“That guy is unbelievable.” Brig finished his third cigarette before he was irritated enough with Raziel’s silence to push him for answers. “What did he want?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with.” Raziel answered coldly as they walked. He was troubled enough over Vikarr’s threats without starting another fight over Brig’s past. He was attempting to honor Brig’s need to speak freely, but it was starting to worry him.
“That is a bullshit answer, cupcake.” Brig grabbed Raziel by his arm and tried to force the truth out of him. “Would it kill you to tell me the fucking truth?”
“Don’t grab him like that.” Galik scolded Brig for breaking Raziel’s rules. He fought his first reaction to push Brig away and tried to make Raziel proud. “Lord Raziel doesn’t lie to you. You need to be more patient.”
“Don’t cause a scene.” Shana hugged Brig and softly reminded him they were in public. “If he says it isn’t a problem, just let it go for now.”
“Vikarr wants us to leave Nihil.” Raziel gave Brig his answer as he pulled his arm away. “He made threats that are meaningless as long as you manage to behave yourself. He does not want you distracting his bride.”
“Did you tell him I have no fucking interest?” Brig wrapped his arm around Shana and pulled her along as Raziel ignored the question and started walking again. The fargoyles flew circles above them laughing and kept themselves detached from the argument and Brig realized he was probably making things more difficult than they had to be. His friendship with Eliza had been a failure and Demise was right, he had other people to worry about. “Raziel, I’m sorry. I won’t talk to her.”
“You won’t go near her.” Samael landed in front of them. “None of you will.”
“We should have brought umbrellas.” Brig muttered and pulled Shana close as he sneered at the arrival of the more articulate Wyrm. “It’s raining assholes.”
Raziel stepped in front of Galik and depended on him to keep Van quiet. The Wyrms had done an exceptional job at masking their presence and when Watchers made an effort to hide themselves it usually meant trouble. Raziel waited quietly for Samael to explain the interruption, he was not going to react without reason and give Samael the upper hand.
“Lucifer will be disappointed with you, Keeper.” Samael grinned as he baited Raziel. “Vikarr has complained about your entire handling of his request. Your demeanor has offended him, and he claims you’ve been difficult and insulting. You are making a mockery of our Council.”
“Vikarr is the one being difficult.” Brig defended. “He has been the one flinging insults.”
“You’ve insulted the bride of a Watcher, Raziel.” Samael ignored Brig’s interruption and continued. Brig would be the one who handed him the Keeper. Raziel’s other puppets were too well behaved to defy their Master. Brig was going to be easily led to anger. “He has asked my intervention.”
“He won’t have to suffer my presence much longer.” Raziel wanted to pull Brig and Shana closer to protect them, but feared that such reaction would only push Samael’s agenda.
“I see your Lord plays favorites, Brig.” Shiroi walked around them with Azrael and stood proudly between her Masters as she did her part. She smiled cruelly at Brig as Azrael stroked her arm with his fingers to give her confidence. “Is such a weak place in his life worth setting aside those high and mighty ideals of yours?”
“At least I have ideals.” Brig scowled at her and squeezed Shana’s hand as he pulled her behind him. “I feel like I need a shower just being on the same side of the street as you. You have no right to lecture me after what you did.”
“It’s not any fun sharing him with someone who doesn’t love you. Is it Shana?” Shiroi taunted the bride Brig swore he would love exclusively with a pain she was familiar with. “It’s a slap in the face to see him slipping away.”
“You’ve got it all wrong.” Shana smiled and lifted her arm to show Raziel’s crest. She managed a smile and a more polite tone, but Shana was just as angry with Shiroi for the pain she caused Maefyl. “We made this decision like we make all of them; together. Not everyone has the same trouble keeping their vows.”
“Shana. Come here, puppet.” Raziel called for her and knew she would understand the need for silence. Brig was growing more impatient and angry, but if he could at least remove Shana’s additional rage he may be able to protect her. Raziel was used to being unable to read the thoughts of Zakesalek, but they had blanketed Shiroi’s mind to conceal her thoughts, which meant they were carefully hiding her knowledge of their plans. Raziel feared Brig was playing into those plans and that he may be too late to save him. “Samael, we will avoid Vikarr and his bride.”
“You’re just a toy to him.” Shiroi scowled at Shana as she went to stand with Raziel. “Another doll for his collection.”
“You’ve got some nerve, you cold-blooded slut.” Brig screamed at her. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see you cozied up with reptiles.”
Samael wrapped the end of his tail around Shiroi’s ankle. She was keeping herself well composed despite Brig drawing on her unfortunate past for insults. Azrael ran his fingers through her hair and grinned. She had been so nervous, but with their simple gestures her confidence kept her performing so beautifully. Raziel was too panicked to scold his most vocal pet, but he would most certainly move to defend him.
“Insult them again.” Shiroi spread a fan of kunai through her fingers. Even without her Master’s orders to bait Brig into attacking she was not going to let them be insulted by a child. “I dare you.”
“Brig.” Shana tried to remind him to be patient, but Galik grabbed her arm and shook his head.
Galik knew better than most that misbehaving always cost Raziel. He had suffered the absence of his Master as he paid for Galik’s mistakes. Brig was causing enough trouble on his own and Galik was terrified.
Raziel could not hear their thoughts, but knew the Wyrms well enough to see the signs of victory on them. Azrael was never adept at hiding his excitement, his chest rose heavily as his breath hastened and his smile grew wider with every insult Brig and Shiroi exchanged. His silence was offering further worry. Azrael was prone to exchanging words with Samael during every conversation, but anticipation had stilled his tongue. Raziel prepared himself for the worst.
“Everyone thinks you are such a gentlemen.” Shiroi taunted Brig further to push him over the edge. She felt the pride of her Masters as her excitement swelled from her. She had doubted there was any joy to be found in this game, but it was exciting to feel so powerful and untouchable. “You don’t even know how to speak to a lady.”
“You hardly qualify for that.” Brig lost control of his temper and swung on her, but it was Samael that his fist broke against. Brig winced as his knuckles shattered, but it was the smile on Samael’s face that made him regret his momentary lapse of judgment.
“That was a mistake you will deeply regret.” Samael pushed Brig to Azrael and stepped in front of Raziel’s attempt to grab his pet. “Your Master will regret it as well.”
“Baat Deseka shent salek wen sek kofret besek isa ek tallish ek Galik.” Azrael laughed at Raziel as he broke Brig’s wrists in his hands.
“Nepu, Azrael.” Raziel felt the pain in Brig’s limbs and was proud of him for enduring it with little more than a grimace. “Samael, they both spoke unfortunate words. We are supposed to work together, as Council and Zakesalek. Release him.”
“Working together requires respect that you have clearly failed to teach your vampires.” Samael grinned as he called for Lucifer. “I think our Dark Lord will be interested in your pretty pet attempting to assault my bride. He does after all have a soft spot for her.”
“I gave you all such simple rules.” Lucifer paced around them and grabbed Brig by his hair. “If you are going to run your mouth like Maefyl, learn to defend yourself.”
“They started this shit.” Brig cringed as Azrael tightened his fingers on the shattered bones in his wrists. Lucifer headed for Raziel and Brig screamed at him. “You know they did. This is shit. You are still pissed at Raziel.”
“You were the one to resort to violence.” Lucifer took Raziel by his throat. He wanted to break the Keeper himself for other insults, but was satisfied Samael would be cruel enough. “And you are responsible for him. You may as well have attacked my daughter yourself.”
“He did not touch her.” Raziel could feel the crush of Brig’s guilt. Galik was overwhelmed with fear and anger as he held Van and Shana beside him to keep either of them from making the situation worse. The fargoyles stood beside them in fearful silence. Raziel felt each of their anxieties breaking his heart, but the hardest to process was Brig’s wish for death to atone for what he had done. “If you hold me responsible then let Brig go. It was me Samael sought to destroy with this plot.”
“What plot? I was only addressing Vikarr’s valid complaint.” Samael smiled and put his arms around Shiroi. “Now your tribe has not only insulted Vikarr’s bride, but attacked my own.”
“You are going to allow this farce?” Raziel’s mask remained intact and his voice still carried no trace of his feelings, but Galik was not the only one who was afraid.
“I have no reason not to. I don’t owe you any protection.” Lucifer spoke in a cruel whisper. “You should have given your loyalty to the one with the power, Keeper.”
Lucifer dragged Raziel over to Azrael and forced both the Keeper and Brig unconscious before he tossed Raziel to the ground at Azrael’s feet. He snatched Demise from Brig’s shoulder and tossed her toward Raziel’s remaining puppets.
“What did you do?” Shana cried and tried to struggle out of Galik’s arm as Van wept on his shoulder. She watched as Azrael took both of them by the hair and vanished. Lucifer smiled at her fruitless efforts to escape Galik’s protection. “Why would you do this? After everything…”
“Shh.” Lucifer hushed her as he turned to Samael. Lucifer regretted Brig’s part in it, but he could not resist the temptation to see Raziel suffer for his defiance. He still wanted order among the Zakesalek and there were limits to what he would allow to damage the unity he was trying to bring to those he treasured. “You have one week, Samael. Then you deliver them both to Council. Alive. I will let you play your clever game, but you need to remember who makes the rules. I am only allowing this because it saves me the trouble of punishing Raziel myself.”
“Still find your Master impressive?” Shiroi laughed as she fawned over Samael. Lucifer had gone and Shana was screaming and furiously trying to pull herself away from Galik. “Next time you feel like insulting someone, you should remember how easily my Masters could make slaves of the things you love.”
“De kosh sek, Welak Isa.” Samael pulled her against him with a lustful pride he intended to show her the second they returned home. “Sek kaatas paraki.”
There are decisions I regret. I am as much a slave to my emotions as any other and a wounded pride is often the cause of our worst choices.
I do not enjoy the fact that Raziel’s puppets will suffer with him, but I can not deny the satisfaction of seeing the cracks in his arrogant mask.
I need to let Samael have this victory for other reasons. He has his sights set higher and I can not allow his ambitions to claim the victims he truly wants. The Keeper will have to endure this to spare the others.
My hope is that the Wyrms will vent their rage and lose the desire to act against Gabby. I can not risk defending Raziel if it will endanger my son.
Unfortunately this decision will put me at odds with the very things I want to protect. I am sorry Maefyl, but I am going to have to hurt you again.