Deception, Part 1.
Devin sat in his "office", a tiny room containing a desk and two chairs, and lined with bookshelves reaching from the floor to the ceiling. A set of track lights provided light to the desk and the dusty shelves, the contents of which gave the room its permanent miasma of old, moldering paper. It looked like any other scholar's private nook, except that the subjects of the books ranged widely from imp-summoning to cartomancy, from weather magic to conjuring. All of the books that he and his master before him had collected were here, waiting for the day they might prove useful.
Luciel stood at the mage's side, leaning over him slightly to point out something in the large book of demonology on the desk in front of them. "The Naga Clan," he said grimly. "They specialize in offensive elemental magics. Totem is the patterned snake, which you may remember seeing on some of their clothing." The angel tapped a faded illustration of the serpent sigil.
"Yes... I remember," Devin said slowly, closing his eyes to bring the hated memories back. "That's it, then. If you knew who they were, Luce, why didn't you tell me until now?"
"Because Naga is one of the most powerful demon clans at the moment, Devin." Luciel's expression was less than encouraging. "Only such a powerful clan could have attacked your master with impunity, and even with my help, you don't stand much of a chance against them." He raised a hand to forestall Devin's protest. "I knew that, being you, you'd want to try anyway as soon as I told you, so I picked a time when I thought you'd be more cautious."
"What, after fighting the Crow Clan?" The two of them, virtually demon hunters by trade, had decimated the clan several weeks before, recovering artifacts stolen from several mages. "They were nothing..."
Luciel looked uncomfortable. "The Crow Clan was a much weaker group, Devin. The Naga have always been strong, and now they have a new Thane."
"So? He's inexperienced, and the ranks are shifting. It's a good time to attack, isn't it?" the mage said impatiently.
"Not really. Listen to me, Devin, I want to avenge your master almost as much as you do, but this new Thane... his own Clan fears him. I've heard terrible things from my colleagues about this one. We should try to learn more before charging right in." The angel shook his head. "It would figure... only a strong clan would attempt to take out someone like your master."
Devin let out a sound somewhere between a sigh and a growl. He knew that anything that spooked his guardian spirit was likely a real danger. It irked to have to wait, now that the answer was in his hands, but he didn't have much of a choice, if his "weapon" refused to fight.
"Fine, fine." He rose and looked at the bookshelf in front of him. "I suppose the first thing to check on is where I can find the Naga, right?" He looked along the dusty shelves for a specific book of angel lore. The best way to get news of the Spirit Realm was to ask the spirits, after all.
"Interviews?" Luciel grinned, noting the particular leatherbound volume that Devin pulled from the shelf.
"What else?" The mage sat down again, grimacing as a plume of dust swirled off of the heavy book. He sighed gustily. Summoning angels by their true-names was a simple, but tiring, task.
"I'll go see what I can find myself," Luciel said softly as Devin began to write out names onto paper spell-tags with a quill pen.
Devin woke with a violent start, looking around his darkened bedroom. He slowly forced his memory to recognize all of the odd, shadowy shapes by the faint light from the hallway. That lumpy pile that seemed to be floating in midair -- an afghan thrown over his chair, the legs of which were invisible in the near-darkness. The strange dark spot on the floor near the door -- his clothes, where he had stepped out of them before bed. The odd, clawlike shapes above the bookcase -- a vase of silk flowers, their leaves reaching out like green knives. There was nothing out of order here, so why had he woken up so suddenly?
The fact that there was no answer was distinctly alarming. The angel, magically bound to Devin, could normally hear his call anywhere on the Physical Plane. If he didn't answer, he was either not on the Plane or incapacitated, neither of which boded well for Devin.
The mage was reaching under his pillow for a spell-tag of shielding when he was arrested by a smug, malevolent chuckle. "Who's there?!" He activated a simple light spell, raising his hand in a tossing gesture. Another hand closed over his, and the sudden light fell on the unmistakable form of a demon.
Devin drew back reflexively, looking the intruder up and down quickly. He had long, dark hair that shone with a hint of green in the light spell, and yellowy-green cat's eyes. His long, delicately pointed ears were pierced with many studs and rings, and there was one more ring through his his right eyebrow. The long sleeveless tunic he wore, emblazoned with an elaborately patterned serpent wound around it, marked him as a Naga, and Devin realized with a sudden chill that this individual had been the leader of the party that had attacked his master ten years before. The narrow black crescent markings around the demon's left eye were as distinctive as a fingerprint.
"Who are you?" the mage snarled, his initial alarm turning quickly to anger. His free hand moved slowly for the tags beneath his pillow.
"Now, now," the demon chided, his voice a musical high tenor, "none of your little toys now." Quicker than even Devin's practiced eyes could follow, he grabbed the mage's other hand and began a guttural chant. Before Devin could think to break free (if, indeed, he could have escaped the superhuman strength of the demon), ghostly chains of black demon-fire bound his wrists above his head and his ankles to the footboard of the bed.
The memories of a terrified thirteen-year-old boy echoed back at Devin as he struggled with the bonds. The fire chains held, burning his flesh when he fought them and ceasing when he lay quiet. After a few useless moments, he looked back up at the demon, eyes bright with hate.
"Mmm, if looks could kill," the demon murmured, laying one clawed hand along the side of Devin's face. "To answer your question, little mage, I am Sikhander, forty-second Thane of Naga." His smile shifted slightly to a smirk. "Slayer of Mensharraf, forty-first Thane of Naga." He trailed a finger slowly down Devin's cheek, onto his neck, tracing his carotid artery. "Slayer of Satha Bluerobe, known to humans as Geoffrey Levalier."
Devin couldn't prevent himself from trying to strike at the leering demon, but the chains caught him short and seared his wrists. For this... sadist to soil his master's true-name by speaking it with his nasty demon tongue was unforgivable. But the mage took a deep breath to calm himself. He was helpless at the moment, and fighting would only cause him further injury. He would wait for an opportunity, as long as he needed to.
"Firming your resolve?" Sikhander asked in his seemingly permanently sarcastic voice.
"Where is Luciel?" Devin grated from behind clenched teeth.
"Ah, yes, where could he be..." The demon's vicious smirk was not at all reassuring. Devin began to chant with as little lip movement as possible, but the Naga thane had been expecting such a trick from the beginning of the encounter; the energy of the weak exorcism curse hit him squarely, but then seemed to trickle down his body harmlessly, like water. His grin widened as the mage's look of frustration melted into one of fear.
I know that my magic is twice weakened... once by being spoken and not written, and again by Luciel's absence... but for the spell to simply wash over him without so much as a sizzle...! Devin was beginning to feel overmatched. The amount of power needed to shield from that spell so totally... unless he's using some sort of trick I've never heard of, he's probably stronger than Luciel!
"Do you remember me, Devin?" Sikhander said teasingly, breaking into the mage's train of thought. He raised a hand over Devin's chest, and with one sharply spoken word, the man's clothing unraveled into threads and dissolved into mist.
"You... you didn't..." Memories continued their tortured dance through Devin's mind as he shivered from the sudden cold. "You didn't... make sport with the others, before..." It was true; Sikhander had never touched Devin on that horrific day, while his clansmen had taken turns raping the helpless apprentice. He certainly had not been in a state of mind to notice at the time, but looking back on the scene now, it seemed odd to the mage.
"Do you know why?" the demon asked, unbuckling his two belts and letting them drop to the floor, then bending to unfasten his high boots. Without looking up for a reply from his prisoner, he answered his own question. "Because I wanted to wait until you had a chance to fight back."
As Devin absorbed the meaning of that statement, the demon unzipped the front of his tunic and let it fall, standing in only his close-fitting black pants. He placed a hand over the ten-inch-long scar across his muscled abdomen.
"This is my memento from my last visit," he said in a voice that was just short of a purr as he moved to the side of the bed. "A lot of damage from such a little creature..."
As the demon's yellowy-green eyes locked onto his own, Devin remembered his first and last attempt at defending his master on that day: his desperate charge at the demons' leader with an obsidian sacrificial knife that had sat, unused, as a mere curiosity in old Levalier's study. Healing magic was not in most demons' repertoire; these had scarcely had enough to close their wounds, saving their lives, if not their looks.
The mage turned his head away, smiling bitterly. "Cornered rats, you know..."
"Even so... even so..." Sikhander's voice was too close. Devin turned back to the demon and flinched; the thane was leaning over him, his strange greenish-black hair spilling over his shoulders to whisper along Devin's chest.
The mage knew what was coming. Heedless of the pain, he made one last attempt to break free of the fire chains, to no avail. Sikhander just laughed at him and pushed him back down, slapping his cheeks lightly, more as an insult than an injury. The demon's hands trailed down Devin's chest, and the mage resigned himself to the pain that was coming, telling himself that it would be paid back with interest at the next chance.
He was steeled against pain, so he was totally unprepared for Sikhander's method of "attack". Living like a cloistered monk the way he did, Devin almost didn't understand what the demon's intentions were as he began to caress his "victim" gently, but insistently, his hands hot on Devin's skin.
"What are you doing?!" the mage demanded incredulously, reflexively trying to kick Sikhander away and receiving another nasty burn for his efforts.
"Whatever I like," the demon murmured, smirking as he leaned closer. The two locked stares for a moment, but Sikhander's hands continued to wander, making Devin flinch and look away again. As he regained his composure and turned back to say something sharp, the demon pressed his lips against the startled mage's, cutting off his chance to speak.
After a shocked moment, Devin turned away sharply, blood rising in his face. Sikhander just laughed at the mage's discomfiture. "Would you prefer me like this...?" In a heartbeat, his body had changed to a female form, still bare to the waist. Devin was more bewildered by the sudden change than anything else; he pulled away in confusion. The demon laughed again, "her" voice now a sultry alto. "I didn't really think so..." "She" smirked and blurred back into Sikhander's form. "After all, your guardian is male..."
Devin stared at the demon, remembering that Luciel himself had said something similar. He hadn't thought about it since then, since he spent more time with his books than with other humans...
Sikhander's persistent attentions stole away coherent thought for a moment. The thane was taking his time, drawing out this... torture? If that was his intention, Devin almost wished that the demon would use more conventional methods -- he could block out pain to an extent, and this was truly humiliating.
The mage lay there helplessly as Sikhander teased him into ecstasy, robbing him of strength and then moving to take his own pleasure. By now, Devin was not so surprised by the demon's apparent gentleness, but he still didn't understand it. He was not, however, in a frame of mind to try to comprehend a demon thane's devious reasoning. In fact, he had to keep firmly in mind that he was being violated and was not supposed to be enjoying it.
At last, Sikhander slumped against his "victim", spent. The fire chains fell away, and though he was momentarily entangled with the demon, Devin was now free to try to escape -- because without Luciel's strength, he couldn't hope to fight the powerful thane. As he moved his arms in preparation to shove Sikhander away, however, the demon pinned him down again and leaned in to sink his teeth into Devin's neck, into the vein below the mage's ear.
Devin froze, not wanting the demon to tear his throat out if he made a sudden move. "What are you doing?" he demanded for the second time that night, trying to free his arms.
Sikhander's only reply was a hum of pleasure as he lapped up the blood spilling from the gash his sharp teeth had made. As the mage realized that Sikhander was actually feeding on him, and not just biting to be kinky, he felt a sudden wave of panic. He had never heard of such a thing from anything besides a vampire, and without the main part of his power, he had no idea what to do about it. Unable to reach his spell-tags, he finally took a chance and desperately threw himself backwards, trying to fall off the bed. He felt the scratch of the demon's teeth against his neck as he fell away, and out of the corner of his eye saw bright red blood against pale lips.
Sikhander laughed in a smug, satisfied way at the man on the floor. "Ah, where are you going, little mage?" He made no move to catch Devin as the man rose to his feet and grabbed his robe from the bathroom door, tossing it on and never letting his eyes off Sikhander, who reclined comfortably on the bed.
Devin gingerly touched the wound at his neck; it was still bleeding, but not gushing. He murmured a healing spell, able to handle something that basic without Luciel's aid. The demon's smile grew wider as he watched Devin patching himself up, and he licked his lips very deliberately, just to provoke the mage.
"If you just wanted blood, why did you have to take so much trouble to get it?" Devin growled, trying to think of ways within his scope of getting rid of his unwelcome guest.
"Now that just wouldn't have been as much fun," Sikhander drawled, rising and reaching for his clothes. He dressed quickly, Devin glaring at him the whole time. The mage held his tongue, since it seemed that the unpredictable thane was preparing to leave.
"Don't even try to claim that you don't agree," Sikhander said sweetly, patting Devin's cheek insultingly. Before the confounded mage could do more than splutter a denial, the demon disappeared in a puff of smoke worthy of a country fair charlatan, his chuckle echoing in his wake.
Something inside the smoke hit the hardwood floor with a loud clinking sound; Devin bent and picked up a small vial on a chain, the type often used for perfume, or poison. As he held it, he felt the unmistakable impression of Luciel's aura. Hurriedly, he tugged the cap off and dropped the vial to the floor as cool, pale mist spilled out. In a moment Luciel had resolidified, sitting on the floor and looking uncharacteristically shaken.
"Devin -- I heard it all -- he trapped me, I couldn't --"
The mage knelt in front of Luciel and clapped a hand over his mouth. "Stop trying to apologize and tell me what happened." Now that Sikhander was gone, he actually was not feeling as... scarred... as he expected. The whole strange encounter had been nothing compared to the nightmare of ten years ago...
But that didn't mean that he wouldn't blast the demon back to his component atoms the next time he came around.
Luciel was looking at him mournfully as he shifted his attention back to the stricken angel. The cynical mage noted that even a Power could be afraid of something, and filed away that particular tidbit of information as possibly useful at a later time.
"He -- damn it, Devin, he laid a trap for me on the Spirit Plane! I was trying to get back to you before he did -- and he let me -- so I fell into that." He pointed at the vial.
"You fell into the vial? What sort of trap was it?" Devin asked, fascinated by the idea despite himself.
The angel shuddered. "It was like... a vacuum, or what your scientists call a 'black hole', centered on your home and funneling into that bottle."
"Centered on my home? How exactly is that possible?"
Luciel ran a hand through his mussed black hair, an oddly human gesture. Devin idly wondered where he had picked it up. "It's a little hard to explain to someone native to the Physical Plane. I've set... an alarm, if you will, around your home. If any part of the perimeter is breached -- door, window, a big hole through the ceiling, whatever -- I'll feel it just as if you called me." Devin nodded; it would be a simple enough field for something of Luciel's level to create. "Well... he found a way to circumvent the alarm -- getting rid of me first. He laid his trap out like a net over my alarm, so that anything entering your home would be caught in the trap before they ever reached the alarm boundary. I was caught, and he passed my alarm without incident, because... I couldn't stop him..." Luciel looked truly pained as he trailed off, embarrassed and ashamed of his inability to protect his protégé.
"You mean... he used the boundaries set by your alarm to build his trap?" The mage almost grinned in admiration of such skill. To defeat a mage's power was one thing, to warp its effects another, but adapting it to your own needs without changing it at all was a mark of genius. And on top of that, Luciel was a Power -- a creature stronger by far than most human mages. The new Thane of Naga must have been a great mage indeed to defeat an angel of the Fourth Choir with such subtlety.
But Devin had been trained by one of the most renowned sorcerers of the past five hundred years, and was a bit more creative than his guardian, by Luciel's own admission. All in all, an interesting battle seemed to be shaping up.
Luciel briefly explained his imprisonment in the little vial; he had been able to hear everything that had occurred between Sikhander and Devin. He hesitantly asked the mage if he was going to be all right.
Oddly enough, he was. So far, Sikhander had angered him, and perhaps tormented him, but certainly hadn't broken him. What was really disturbing Devin, besides his reluctant appreciation for the demon's... varied... talents, was Sikhander's apparent appetite for his blood. He recounted the entire incident to Luciel from his perspective, skipping over some of the more uncomfortable parts, but describing Sikhander's powers and magical displays in great detail. He also described the demon's blood-theft, but was disappointed at the open perplexity on Luciel's handsome face.
"He obviously thought he had something to gain from your blood," the spirit mused. "But whether it actually did anything for him, or whether he was just acting on some kind of myth or legend, We don't know... yet."
"Myth? What do you mean?"
"If he has heard some old tale of how drinking... say, a young charm-mage's blood will make him more powerful, well, it may or may not be true, but he won't lose anything by trying," Luciel explained, frowning. "If it is true, and if he's gained something, he'll likely be back."
"Sounds like bullshit to me," Devin muttered. "But hell, if he comes back, I won't have to go looking for him."
"Devin..." the angel began in a cautionary tone.
"He's not going to sneak up on us like that again." The mage rubbed his face tiredly, then stood and stretched, hissing a little when muscles unaccustomed to the kind of use they had just seen protested sharply. "Next time, it's going to be on our terms."
Luciel still looked doubtful, but said nothing as he rose to his feet. "Are you sure you're all right, Devin?"
Since the mage had clearly taken care of his wounds, he knew that Luciel was inquiring after his mental, rather than physical, state. He smiled sourly at his guardian. "No, I'm not sure, but I seem all right now. I..." he sighed and looked down at himself. "I'm going to take a shower, and then I am going to try and sleep."
The angel nodded. "All right... I'll be here if you need me, but I think I'm going to go do a little more investigating."
"Be careful, then," Devin murmured as he turned towards the bathroom, letting his robe drop carelessly to the floor as he did. He felt Luciel's form leave the Physical Plane as he ran the tap to let the water heat up.
This is the first time I've had to actually worry about poor Luce, he thought, as steam gradually filled the small room. Usually he's the one fretting over me.
And rightfully so, another part of him answered the previous thought. You're constantly getting into holes that are too deep for you to jump out of. He stepped into the shower stall, drawing the door shut behind him.
And sometimes... a third voice demanded to be heard as he stood numbly, eyes closed, in the scalding spray, sometimes, you don't want to jump out...
As I reread this, I see how much it jumps around, but again.... man, do I hate late re-writes. >_< As weak as this story is, I'll probably just leave it. It gets the idea across, and writing a whole new text for the same events just doesn't appeal to me. Yech...
I don't really make it very clear here, but the demons that Devin spends most of his time working against are humanlike creatures that align themselves in clans, headed by the most powerful member, who takes the title of Thane. There are also other kinds of demons, however, and likewise, there are more good-inclined spirits than just the angels...