“Rise of the Seers” — Episode 13

36: Offspring of Angels

In freefall from the hospital window, Ari notched an arrow to her bow and let it fly. It sped toward the figure leaving the hospital parking lot.

The succubus — the same one that Ari had tracked into the woods a few days earlier — spun to the side and snatched the arrow out of the air.

Hate it when they do that, Ari thought as her boots smacked against the asphalt. She sent two more arrows singing from her bowstring. One just missed her neck; the other buried itself in her left shoulder.

The succubus went down, but only long enough to tear the arrow head out of her shoulder. She rose again, a thick, curved blade in her right hand, the wound in her left arm already closing up. She looked dead-eyed at Ari as she stalked closer. “I really hate shopping for these suits,” she said.

“I told you to stay away from the Revenant, Felicia of Morgana,” Ari said. She pulled her katana from its sheath on her back, the silver-steel blade singing with energy.

“I found his current disposition a moment of opportunity, but I meant him no harm. In fact, you will find that his injuries will heal much faster thanks to my intervention.”

Ari grimaced, but kept her voice cool. “It is ill-advised to use the remedies of angels on mortal flesh.”

“Typical Nephilim,” Felicia scoffed. “Always underestimating Lilith’s Children. You forget that I, too, am the offspring of angels, and we both know that the Revenant is no mere mortal.”

Ari tightened her grip on the katana’s hilt and closed the gap between herself and Felicia. “Why would you heal that which you hate?”

“I have motivations far deeper than you can imagine,” Felicia said. She whipped her blade upward, placing the razor-sharp edge at her opponent’s’ throat. “Your constant meddling is vexing me, and next time we meet — “

As she felt the blood in her neck beating hot against the succubus’ sword-edge, she became aware of a dark blur shot through with blue racing toward them. The next moment, the pressure from Felicia’s sword was gone, the curved blade skipping over the asphalt. Felicia had a sword tip at her neck, an arm cinched tight around her waist. A bright-eyed face topped with electric blue hair appeared over her shoulder.

“Who’s vexing who now?” Keiland grinned.

Felicia strained in Keiland’s grasp. Pretending momentarily to give up, she jerked her head downward, sinking her teeth into Keiland’s arm.

Keiland grunted in surprise, and looked down at the bloody, torn flesh on his arm. Felicia grinned manically, blood smeared on her lips. She kicked out of Keiland’s grasp and lunged for Ari who sidestepped her blow, spinning around to swipe her legs out from under her with the flat of her katana.

Felicia grunted as her back slammed into the ground. Ari leaned over her. “You can’t win,” she said.

“But you won’t kill me,” Felicia said.

“Leave now or I will.”

Felicia got up slowly and retrieved her sword.

37: Nicolai’s Plans

“You’re letting her go?” Keiland said. “She tried to bite my arm off!”

“I’ve done worse,” Ari said as she watched Felicia vanish in the distance. She turned to Keiland, lifting his arm in her hands. Even now, the wound was closing — broken veins reconnecting, flesh mending, skin rethreading. She let his arm go and looked him in the eye. “What are you still doing here, Keiland?”

The color rose in his cheeks as his gaze darted away from hers. He shoved a hand into his hair and clenched a fist full of strands as though he were going to pull them right out of his scalp. Ari saw the muscles in his neck bulge, the way they did when he was working up a lie. This time, she saved him from it. “He’s here isn’t he? Brayden’s in the city.”

Keiland returned his gaze to Ari, ten different kinds of pain written in his eyes. He nodded once.

“I guess it’s no use telling you — again — to let it go — to let him go,” Ari said.

Keiland shrugged. “What can I say? He’s my brother, my twin. I just need to know what he’s doing. No telling what kind of devilry he’s got up to in all this time.”

Ari laughed dryly. “Sometimes, I wondered if he was the devil.”

“I promise I’ll keep him away from you,” Keiland said.

“You can’t do that. He’s persistent.”

“I’m persistent. He’s just annoying.” Keiland turned and headed for the wide, tree-lined boulevard that ran in front of the hospital. A mild breeze stirred the leaves, as the afternoon sun cast the whole street in dancing, dappled shadow. “Enough about sad things; let’s move on to the truly morbid. What has Nicolai been up to lately?”

“I’m not sure, but he’s planning something — something big.” Ari dropped her voice to a whisper. “He’s been summoning an Angel by the lake. An Archangel, more powerful than Mazon.”

“That is big,” Keiland said. “Mortals aren’t supposed to be able to summon angels at will.”

“He’s not mortal,” Ari said. “Maybe he’s a godling. That would explain — “

“Godlings are extinct,” Keiland scoffed.

“They are not,” Ari said. “They are in St. Alveus’ text — which I actually read while you were enamored with Maidre.”

“As I remember it, Maidre was enamored with me,” Keiland said. “Anyway, I’d say Nicolai is one of the Elder Races — who we know for sure are not extinct.”

“That would explain his lack of a footprint,” Ari said thoughtfully. “No past. He must have multiple past identities.”

“I suppose you haven’t heard what Nicolai and his Archangel friend are actually saying.”

“No, I can’t get close enough to hear without risking getting discovered. Nicolai might not notice me, but the Archangel will.” Ari frowned. “Probably already has. Besides, Nicolai erects a glamour wall around himself. Nothing gets in or gets out. I’ve seen birds fly into it and bounce off.” She sighed. “Look, I have to get back. I’ve been away from home for too long too frequently. Someone’s going to get suspicious. See you again soon?”

Keiland put his arm around Ari’s shoulder and pulled her into a side hug. “You bet.”

38: Conclave I

Rion took his seat in the Great Hall of Lilith’s Children. His lieutenant, Sadhu, sat beside him. Around them sat a quorum of Jinn from the Clan Morgana. Spread out on either side of them were the Jinn, the male descendants of Lilith, ordered according to their clans. The rows of seats cascaded from near the ceiling of the Great Hall to the floor.

The middle of the Hall was a clear, wide strip of marble. At one end were the great wooden double doors. They were closed now. At the other end of the floor were seven regal high-backed chairs — one for each of the major clans’ Regents. The chairs were facing a raised dais, which had a sweep of steps leading up to its platform. On one of the steps was a waist-high pedestal with a silver bell and a silver hammer atop it. Upon the dais was the Ivory Throne which had sat empty for centuries. Behind the Throne, soaring upward to the high ceiling, was a vertical wall of water — as though a lake or a pool had been turned on its side without any of the water spilling out. Rion wondered if there was some magic holding up the wall of water or whether gravity just didn’t work the same way in the Dark Kingdom.

Across from where he was seated, on the other side of the open space, was another series of seats sweeping upward. The succubi — the female offspring of Lilith — filled these seats. One column of seats, as usual, was empty.

Above the seats, windows hewn out of the stone walls of the chamber opened onto the eternal night of the Dark Kingdom.

Boom… boom… boom-boom. BOOM! A slow, throbbing drumbeat began outside the Hall as the great doors were thrust open. Every head in the room turned toward the entrance.

First to enter was the Mother Regent, Celeste of the Clan Sheba. Her thick braided hair was coiled on top of her head. Intertwined among the braids was her icon, a blood red serpent with golden eyes. Its tongue flickering in and out of its mouth. As the members of her clan cheered loudly, she walked — no, glided — toward her seat in the middle of the row of high-backed chairs, her gold-gilded scarlet dress sweeping the floor.

Boom. Boom!

Behind her came Leah, the Regent of the Clan Cleopatra. She wore a diaphanous white dress that hung down to her ankles. Her waist was girded with a gold cord. Atop her head was a golden tiara, a part of which hung down into the middle of her forehead. Embedded in the center of the tiara was her icon, a living eye.

Boom. Boom!

Next came Hagia, the Regent of the Clan Naamah. Her face was mostly hidden by her straggly black hair which hung unkempt revealing haunted eyes. She wore a tattered gray cloak and walked slowly on bare feet. Her icon, a shaggy grey wolf, paced along beside her, its padded feet silent on the marble floor.

Boom. Boom!

Behind her, came Nessa, the Regent of the Clan Persephone. Her knee-length dress was as black as her skin was white, almost as if it had been painted. A ring of tiny black flowers adorned her head. A great black dog — so tall that Nessa easily rested her hand between its ears — kept pace beside her, swishing its tail from side to side. Unlike the members of the other clans, the members of Persephone remained deathly silent as their leader entered. Even the drummers missed their beat.

The cold, hard wave of silence was broken by the entrance of the fifth Regent — Felicia of Morgana. She wore a cobalt blue war dress, cinched tight at her waist by a thick belt. On her left shoulder, sat a black raven with a white starburst on its head. The youngest of the clan leaders, Felicia came on unhurriedly, back rigid as she observed her surroundings. Even from his seat, Rion could sense her apprehension; this was her first Conclave. Beside him, Sadhu let loose with a loud cheer.

Boom. Boom!

Next came Sirra, the Regent of the Clan Athaliah. She stomped in on heavy boots, a magnificent silver cloak swirling about her. A proud sneer curled her lips. Scampering in about her feet was a gray cat who snapped and hissed and snarled at no one in particular.

Boom. Boom!

Finally, the last of the major clan leaders, Kora of Gorgon, entered the Hall. She was clad all in brown, with silver bracelets on her wrists and silver anklets tinkling above her sandaled feet. Her face was hidden behind her icon — a mask made of gold which moved and pulsed like living flesh.

The doors of the Great Hall swung shut with a thunderous bang. The Regents took their seats at the front of the chamber. When the cheers of Lilith’s Children subsided, the Mother Regent, Celeste, stood up and walked to the pillar on the steps that led up to the dais. She lifted the silver hammer and struck the bell. The icy, tingling ring sounded and reverberated throughout the Hall.

“In the name of our great mother Lilith,” Celeste said, “Queen of Earth, Defier of Angels, we gather. Who has summoned Lilith’s Children and their Regents?”

“I have.” A man who had been standing in the shadows behind the dais strode onto the platform.

Celeste pretended to be surprised.