The battle is ON at Paranormal Cravings Character Battle 2013! Maddy made it to the quarterfinals – let’s get her to the semis!
The battle is ON at Paranormal Cravings Character Battle 2013! Maddy made it to the quarterfinals – let’s get her to the semis!
Please buy a book today.
It doesn’t have to be my book. It doesn’t have to be an expensive book. It doesn’t even have to be a traditional book made out of paper, purchased at a bookstore. It could be an e-book. But please buy a book.
You see, most authors don’t make the bestseller lists. We don’t count our sales in the thousands, or even the hundreds. We count our sales by tens, and sometimes by ones – one more copy sold here, one more copy sold there. If not enough copies are sold, we don’t get the chance to have our work published again.
Publishing is a business, and publishers look at numbers. An author might have a very devoted, passionate fanbase, but if the sales aren’t there then that author may not be able to continue writing professionally.
Most writers do not make six-figure royalties. We are lucky if we make enough to feed our kids. Every writer I know has either a day job or an extremely supportive partner or both, because you just can’t live off what you make writing.
And the truth is, authors don’t write to make tons of money. We write because we love it. All we want is to sell enough books so that we can keep doing what we love.
I know that the economy has changed, and bookstores have closed, and people just don’t have extra money in their pockets the way they used to. I know that the library is a wonderful place to discover new books for free.
And I know that it can be very tempting to get a free download online, and to justify it to yourself by saying that authors make lots of money and it doesn’t matter if one person gets a book for free. The trouble is, it’s not usually one person, or even a dozen. It might be a hundred, or five hundred, or a thousand. And those copies that went unsold might mean that the author who wrote the book that you got for free doesn’t get another contract.
Writers want to write. We love to write, and we love to have readers reading what we wrote. We’re not trying to get rich. We’re trying to live, just like you.
So please – if you love books, if you love to read, go out and buy a book today. Thank you.
I’ll be appearing at C2E2 on Sunday, April 28th, along with some other fantastic writers. Please join us there!
Title: FOES, FANGS & FUR: A Look Inside Urban Fantasy Novels
Time: 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Speakers: Christina Henry, Anne Bishop, Amber Benson, Kerry Schafer
Description: Vampires have staked their claim on readers and werewolves have certainly taken a bite out of pop-fiction. But these paranormal creatures aren’t the only ones that run havoc in the pages of urban fantasy novels. Authors discuss the villains, vixens, magic, and mayhem in their novels —from witches to gargoyles to zombies and beyond!
Autographing: 3:00PM – 4:00PM
For further details, please check out C2E2’s website at http://www.c2e2.com/
JUDE, SAMIEL AND NATHANIEL STOOD IN FRONT OF the TV, their eyes grave. They cleared a space for me so I could see.
At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. A reporter’s voice came intermittently over the images, but the camera kept jiggling everywhere, and it was hard to see exactly what was going on. People were screaming and running, but I couldn’t see what they were screaming at and running from.
Then the camera finally stabilized, and I realized what I was looking at. It was live footage from Daley Plaza, and the camera was shooting the action just in front of the Picasso statue.
There were vampires everywhere, and the sun blazed down on the plaza.
“Gods above and below,” I whispered. “Azazel’s formula worked.”
The angle of the camera shifted and tipped to one side. Blood splattered over the lens. The reporter stopped speaking. The animal growls of vampires and the sickening squelch of flesh being eaten broadcast far too clearly.
“We have to do something,” I said.
“You can’t fly anymore,” Beezle pointed out. “No wings. And you’re wearing your pajamas.”
A woman’s high-pitched wail broke through the sound of feasting.
“I can carry you,” Nathaniel said, and I ran for my things.
Jude had already changed into a wolf, discarded his clothes, ran to the door.
I grabbed my sword, pulled my boots over my pajama pants, yanked on my coat and followed Jude. Nathaniel was right behind me, Samiel close on his heels.
Beezle launched from the mantel to my shoulder as I opened the front door. Jude darted down the stairs in front of me.
“Why can’t you stay home where I know you’ll be safe?” I said to Beezle as he crawled inside my coat.
“Like I would miss this,” he said, his voice muffled. “And besides, somebody needs to make sure you don’t go dark side.”
I ignored his jibe. I’d made some questionable choices lately, to be sure, but when I looked back over them I wasn’t sure I could have made different ones. And there were far more important things to worry about right now than my shades of gray.
Jude burst through each of the front doors and bounded onto the porch, my apartment door slamming against the wall as he went through with a burst of speed.
By the time Nathaniel, Samiel and I had clattered down the front steps, Jude was already gone.
Nathaniel scooped me up, carrying me like a child, and opened his wings. Samiel lifted off a moment later. As we rose above the treetops I realized that neither of them was under a cloak of magic.
“That was a little conspicuous,” I said. “I wonder what the neighbors will make of two angels taking off from my front lawn.”
“Given all the weird shit that occurs in the nexus in and around our house, they probably won’t be surprised in the least,” Beezle said. “Besides, vampires are eating up all the nice little commuters in the middle of the day. I don’t think the regular rules are going to apply from now on.”
As we sped downtown as fast as Nathaniel and Samiel could fly, I knew Beezle was right. In a single instant everything had changed. The world that had been hidden from normal people, a world of creatures they’d seen only in their dreams and nightmares, had been split wide-open. Nothing would ever be the same again.
The news report had come from Daley Plaza, the distinctive figure of the Picasso statue looming in the background of the shot. Nathaniel angled a little west from the lake and headed toward the plaza.
As we got closer I could see traffic snarled on the surrounding streets, buses and taxis at a standstill, drivers abandoning their vehicles to run. People crammed on the stairwell to the El, pushing, shoving, stepping on anyone who tripped and fell. The vampires were monsters to be feared, but people didn’t exactly show the best face of humanity at times like this.
Then we were over the plaza, and it was worse, far worse, than I’d imagined.
I’d thought that Azazel’s potion had to be limited, that there couldn’t possibly be that many vamps colluding with him. And even if there were, I’d assumed his death would have cut off the production of the serum that allowed the vamps to walk in sunlight without turning to flames.
After all, Jude, Nathaniel and I had fought several perfectly ordinary vampires at Azazel’s mansion only a couple of weeks before.
But there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of vampires on the streets below. They poured from the blue line subway station, emerged from the sewers through manhole covers, an endless seething mass of bloodthirsty insects falling upon any human they could find.
I’ve never liked vampires, even when they’ve kept a low profile. I’d always suspected their veneer of civility was just that, and I’ve never bought into the notion that it’s romantic to have your blood drained by a vamp.
This was one occasion when I would have been happy to be proven wrong. It was pretty clear from the carnage going on below us that vampires didn’t entertain any romantic notions about humans. To them, we were nothing more than walking, talking bags of meat.
Beezle poked his head out of the lapel of my coat and looked down. “Gods above and below. Where do you even start?” For once there was no sarcasm in his voice.
“We just have to do what we can,” I said, and tried to sound confident. “Let’s go, Nathaniel.”
He brought us down to the platform that the Picasso statue rested upon, which gave us a slightly elevated view of the plaza. On any given day you can see a few brave kids climbing the tilted platform and sliding, whooping and hollering, to the ground below.
Today it was covered with the spattered blood of dozens of victims.
I leapt from the top, swinging my sword to slice the head from the nearest vampire I could find. When that one was dust, I moved to the next one. I was vaguely aware of Nathaniel and Samiel fighting around me, and of Jude joining the fray, snarling and barking as he tore the vamps’ throats out.
I don’t know how long we fought. I punched, kicked, hacked, slashed and watched heads roll away, disintegrating into dust as they went. And I kept doing it, over and over and over again.
Still the vampires came.
Still more of them poured from the ground like cicadas emerging from hibernation. And nobody showed up to help us.
The Agency was a short walk from where we fought the tide. I imagined large numbers of Agents were engaged with trying to keep up with the souls pouring from the bodies of the dead, but why not send the rest of the Agents to fight the vampires? The Agency’s willfully blind attitude about not getting involved in the actions of other supernatural courts surely couldn’t extend to ignoring a massacre under their noses.
Or maybe it could, since the cavalry never arrived. After several hours of killing vampires, I slipped. I was tired, hungry and pregnant, and I wasn’t completely on my game after a week spent fighting battle after battle.
My boot heel skidded in a pool of blood, and so I was just a little shy of complete decapitation on the vamp I battled. I landed backward, banged the back of my head against the sidewalk, and saw stars for a moment.
My field of vision was filled with the slavering jaws of the vampire I hadn’t quite killed, ready to eat my face off. There was no time to think, no time to perform a spell.
Then the vampire was gone, and Nathaniel picked me up from the ground and carried me away.
“What are you doing?” I screamed. “We can’t leave. We can’t leave those people down there alone.”
“We cannot do any more,” Nathaniel said grimly. “There are four of us, and thousands of them.”
“We can’t leave,” I said again. I’d never run from a fight in my life.
Nathaniel landed on a nearby roof. Samiel was beside us holding Jude, still in wolf form, in his arms.
“Look,” Nathaniel said angrily, holding me by the shoulders so I could see what was below. “The city is overrun. We can’t do anything else.”
I stared down. It was so much worse from up here, where you could see the pouring mass of vampires undulating through the city streets, into the buildings and buses, leaving empty husks of humanity behind them.
It seemed that the more people who were killed, the more ferocious the vamps became.
“It’s a feeding frenzy,” I said, sickened. “How can we leave them down there, without anyone to defend them?”
“The police are fighting back,” Beezle said, his head popping out of my jacket.
From our vantage point on the roof we could see the teams moving in, hastily mounting barricades. The percussion of gunfire was added to the chorus of screams that echoed in the canyons of the city. My city, overrun by vampires.
“No,” I said angrily. “We have to go back. We have to help.”
Nathaniel’s hands rested on my shoulders and he spun me around to face him. His face was twisted in anger and, to my surprise, fear.
“Just what is it that you think you can do?” he said, giving me a little shake. “Do you not value your life at all?”
I saw Samiel move out of the corner of my eye, obviously intending to defend me from Nathaniel, but I slapped my ex-fiancé’s hands away before Samiel could.
“I value my life as much as you do yours,” I said. “But I don’t value it more than any of them do.” I pointed toward the terrified mass of humanity below.
“So you would kill yourself to save one of them?” Nathaniel said.
“I don’t think I’m superior to them the way you do,” I said coldly.
Nathaniel threw his hands in the air. “Gods above and below, you are the most thickheaded woman I have ever met. Do you really think this is about superiority? Think about your baby. Think about the people who love you. Don’t throw yourself away on the impossible.”
I stared at him, startled to realize that the fear in his eyes had been for me. He correctly interpreted the look on my face and sighed. “I do not know why you cannot credit me with human emotions, even after all we have been through.”
I didn’t have anything to say to that. There would always be a part of me—although that part was shrinking almost daily—that would be suspicious of Nathaniel, that didn’t trust his veracity.
Samiel tapped me on the shoulder. This really isn’t the time for a heart-to-heart.
“Yeah,” Beezle agreed. “We need to get out of here before the police start firing on us just because we look weird.”
“The gargoyle is right,” Nathaniel said, lifting me up again. I felt a magical veil settle over us, hiding our appearance from human eyes. “The humans are in a state of panic, unable to distinguish friend from foe.”
“That, and Maddy’s covered in blood and carrying a sword,” Beezle added.
As we flew away I turned my head from the carnage below. I knew Nathaniel was right. I knew that continuing a battle we couldn’t win was foolish and pointless. We’d barely made a dent in the endless stream of vampires. But I’d never run away before, and leaving felt less like good sense than defeat.
We continued north toward my house. Sturdier barricades were being assembled by the police farther away from the epicenter of the attack. It looked like the authorities were trying to contain the vampires to the Loop.
The sad truth was the density of commuters and residents downtown would probably keep the vampires busy there for a while. There was no need for the vamps to leave that area as long as there was food, and there was plenty of food to be found.
I could feel the pent-up tension in Nathaniel’s arms as he held me, and knew that he longed to have another go at me over my hardheadedness. He held back likely due to the presence of an audience. Of course, if he was waiting for an opportunity to get me alone, he would be waiting forever. There was always someone hanging around my house these days, and Beezle had completely lost all sense of personal boundaries.
We landed on the front lawn, Samiel and Jude beside us. In silent concordance we all trooped back upstairs to my apartment. The television was still on. Jude returned to human form, pulling on his discarded clothing.
I stopped in front of the TV, staring. Nathaniel took my coat from my shoulders. Beezle flew out of the pocket and went straight to his brooding spot on the mantel.
A sober-voiced anchor spoke over footage shot from a helicopter. I guess they weren’t stupid enough to send another cameraman into Daley Plaza.
“We are trying to identify the nature of this threat; however, as unbelievable as it may seem, eyewitness reports have indicated that these creatures are attacking anything in sight, biting and, it seems, feeding on the victims. They are like . . . like some kind of vampires. All we know for certain is that there are hundreds of them, as you can see from our aerial footage of the Loop. The police are attempting to halt the creatures’ progress as best they can. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office has said that the mayor has contacted the National Guard and that he will be making a statement to the press in approximately thirty minutes. The mayor and his staff have been airlifted out of the danger zone . . .”
“What about everyone else?” I murmured. I’d been there, fighting all morning, and it looked so much worse on TV. The news camera was far enough away that detail was blessedly lost, but the black horde seemed to swell even as I watched, a pulsing, cancerous growth engulfing the heart of Chicago.
I saw dark spots before my eyes. The picture on the screen went blank. A few moments later I opened my eyes to see four anxious faces above me.
“What happened?” I said. Somehow I’d ended up prone on the couch.
“You fainted,” Beezle said.
“I did not,” I said. I don’t know why, but I was embarrassed.
“You did,” Beezle said.
“And no wonder, since you have been exerting yourself and have not eaten since yesterday,” Nathaniel said.
“You look thinner,” Jude added.
“I can’t have lost weight since yesterday just because I didn’t eat breakfast,” I scoffed.
“Who knows what this baby is doing to you?” Beezle said ominously.
I really didn’t enjoy it when Beezle implied that Gabriel’s baby was trying to kill me from the inside out, so I waved the lot of them away without replying and sat up. Mistake. Everything went wobbly again.
“For the sake of the Morningstar, just rest for a moment,” Nathaniel said, pushing me back down.
“Quit manhandling her,” Jude growled.
“I will do what I must to get her to take care of herself,” Nathaniel snapped.
“You didn’t show such a touching concern for Maddy’s health when you were trying to kill her in Azazel’s mansion during the rebellion,” Jude said.
Nathaniel stood to face Jude, his hands curled into fists. “I do not have to explain myself to you, wolf.”
“Not this again,” I muttered, then louder: “Enough, both of you. I don’t need you talking about me like I’m not here. If you want to be helpful, you’ll go and get me something to eat.”
“I wouldn’t mind a little something myself,” Beezle said.
“You don’t need it,” everyone in the room replied, including Samiel, who signed the words.
“If you’re going to be that way about it,” Beezle grumped. “We are,” I said. Samiel went into the kitchen. Nathaniel and Jude continued bristling at each other.
“Why is my life filled with men?” I said to no one in particular.
“Beats me,” Beezle said. “It’s not your charming personality—that’s for sure.”
I gave him a sour look.
“I don’t even have to try,” Beezle said. “The punch line was right there.”
“Stand down,” I said to Nathaniel and Jude.
They both turned to look at me, and it was only then that it really registered that they were both covered in blood. And so was I. I was abruptly aware of the gore drying on my face, of my red-stained hands. It was a sad commentary on my life that I was so frequently covered in blood that I wouldn’t notice its presence even when I was soaked in it.
Samiel reentered the living room carrying a sandwich. The thought of eating it while covered in the ichor of doz- ens of vampires made my stomach turn.
“Help me up,” I said.
Nathaniel rushed to help me but I gave him a pointed look. “I asked for Samiel.”
My brother-in-law put the sandwich on the coffee table as Nathaniel backed away with a frozen look. I knew there was a reckoning coming with Nathaniel. Sooner or later I’d have to decide whether he was an ally or an enemy. I couldn’t keep him floating in the netherworld between forever.
Don’t touch that sandwich, Samiel signed to Beezle. “I know how to get my own food,” Beezle said loftily. Don’t touch that sandwich, Samiel repeated. He came around to take my arm as I stood. Now that the adrenaline of the fight had worn off, my legs had turned to mush.
“Bathroom,” I said, and Samiel helped me limp along while the other three silently watched us go.
Samiel helped me as far as the tub, then looked at me expectantly, his face red.
“Yes, you do need to help me get my clothes off,” I said. “I’m sorry. Chloe would be better for something like this.” Samiel’s face went tight at the mention of Chloe. The Agents we saved from Azazel were taken to Northwestern.
I overheard Sokolov’s goons talking about it.
Sokolov. The lapdog of the Agency administration who seemed to have devoted his life to making mine miserable. Just thinking about him made my fists curl.
I knew what Samiel was worried about. Northwestern Memorial Hospital was downtown, just off Michigan Avenue. But it was several blocks north and west of Daley Plaza.
“Don’t worry,” I said, and I was glad Samiel could only read lips. I didn’t sound very convincing. “The barriers were being set up south of the river. The hospital is well north of there.”
You know and I know that if the vamps get inside the hospital, it will be a bloodbath, Samiel signed.
“Chloe’s tough,” I said.
She’s also recovering from major trauma.
“All right. All right. We’ll go get her,” I said. “Just let me clean up first.”
Thank you, Samiel signed, his face relieved.
We managed to get me through the bathing process with a minimum of embarrassment on both sides, and Samiel helped me dress. As I pulled a tank top over my head he touched the long scabs on my back where my wings used to be.
Do you miss them? he signed.
I put a sweater over the tank top and nodded. “I never thought about how much I relied on them before they were gone.”
I wonder if you’ll ever get them back.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “They were part of my Agent’s powers, and I’m never going back to the Agency.”
But you’re Lucifer’s granddaughter.
“Much diluted by thousands of intervening generations.”
Samiel shrugged. You’ve had other latent powers appear.
“I suppose,” I said doubtfully, looking at the missing two fingers of my left hand. Lucifer had assured me some time ago that the digits would grow back, and they never had. So I wasn’t putting a lot of stock in the idea that I might regrow my wings.
Samiel left the room for a few minutes. When he returned I’d managed to get my socks on. He carried a plate with a sandwich.
“That doesn’t look like the same sandwich,” I observed.
Can you guess what happened to the other one? Samiel signed. Now, eat up. I swear you are looking thinner by the minute.
I’d thought they were all exaggerating about my appearance, but I’d noticed my jeans were looser than they were yesterday. This was probably a worrisome development, but given all the other worrisome developments in my life, losing a little weight ranked low on the priority list.
I stuffed the sandwich in my mouth. I didn’t realize just how ravenous I was until I took the first bite.
“There’s one thing I want to do before we go to the hospital,” I said after chewing the last bit of sandwich. “Call J.B.”
He won’t be able to help us, Samiel signed. He’s on thin ice with the Agency as it is.
I had a flash of J.B. spread-eagled on a table, tortured by Sokolov and his goons. “Yeah, you could say that. But he’ll be able to confirm the location of the hospitalized Agents for us.”
I’ll get your phone, Samiel said, and went out again.
I could hear raised voices coming from the living room, but I didn’t have the energy or inclination to intervene in yet another argument. Jude and Nathaniel probably needed to have it out once and for all anyway. I just hoped they didn’t destroy the living room in the process. My house had been trashed enough in the last month or so.
Samiel returned and handed me the phone. I saw that there were four missed calls, all from J.B.
I dialed his number and waited for him to pick up. There was barely half a ring before he barked into the receiver. “What’s the point of having a phone if you never pick it up?”
“So sorry. I was busy battling the vampire menace taking over the city,” I said dryly.
“I know where you were,” J.B. said. “I saw you, and so did everyone else in Chicago with a television set. You and Jude and Nathaniel and Samiel.”
“We were on the news,” I said, dread filling me. This was not good.
“Goddamn right you were on the news. And you’d better be more careful from now on. Half the reporters have decided you’ve been sent from heaven to save humanity from the plague of vampires, and the other half have declared you should be shot in the street with all the other monsters,” J.B. said. “I’ve got to go. It’s total chaos here. The whole Agency is in lockdown mode.”
“Wait,” I said. “Can you tell me if Chloe and the other Agents we saved from Azazel are still at Northwestern?”
“Yeah, the Agency hasn’t had time to move them with everything else going on. We can’t even come close to keeping up with the new souls. The board is diverting Agents from other regions to help. Wait—why do you want to know about Chloe?” J.B. asked warily.
“Samiel wants her with us,” I said shortly. “Why doesn’t the Agency put together an army to fight the vamps instead of struggling to clean up the mess?”
“You know the answer to that,” J.B. said.
“If the Agency doesn’t get off their ass and do something, there won’t be any souls left to collect in this city.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” he said. “But I’m not exactly a trustworthy figure around here anymore. No one in upper management is going to listen to me.”
“You spend too much time with me.”
“That’s the way I like it,” he said. “I’ll call you later. My mother is outside the window doing her best banshee impression.”
“I thought you had devised some spell to keep Amarantha away from you,” I said.
J.B.’s mother had been a faerie queen of her own court before I’d killed her. Unlike most creatures, she had chosen not the Door but an existence as a ghost. I think she did it just to piss off me and J.B.
“The spell will keep her out of the Agency and out of my home, but it won’t stop her from hanging around outside and driving me crazy. Try not to burn down the hospital.”
He hung up before I could respond.
“Why does everyone think I’m going to destroy a building as soon as I walk into it?” I asked Samiel.
Your track record speaks for itself.
“But those were accidents,” I protested.
Most people don’t have those kinds of accidents more than once.
“Most people don’t have supernatural enemies trying to kill them every second of the day, either,” I said, standing up cautiously.
The shower and the food had gone a long way toward making me feel human. I felt better equipped to fight another horde of vampires, although with any luck I wouldn’t have to.
The barricades were north of the bridges that crossed the Chicago River. I didn’t know how long city authorities would be able to contain the vamps in that area once the monsters ran through their food supply.
Of course, they would likely be evacuating most of the Loop and Michigan Avenue soon. And if they moved the patients at the hospital, we would have a lot of trouble finding Chloe.
“She’s probably safer away from me, anyway,” I muttered. The sad fact of my life was that the low mortality rate of my companions was more luck than anything else. Since Gabriel had died I’d been braced for impact, waiting for the next, inevitable loss.
What was that? Samiel signed. You have to look at me when you’re talking or else I can’t read your lips.
“Nothing,” I said. “Let’s go get Chloe.”
I’ll be signing copies of BLACK CITY and answering your questions at this event at the wonderful CHALLENGERS Comics and Conversation. Mark your calendars and join me there!
Friday March 1st, 7pm-9pm
CHALLENGERS Comics and Conversation
1845 N. Western Avenue, Chicago
For further details and directions, check out this link.
Check out the new interview with me at Talechasing: http://www.talechasing.com/2012/12/episode-44-interview-with-christina-henry/
Fun Halloween interview with yours truly up at A Great Book is the Cheapest Vacation:
Thanks so much, Natasha!
“Madeline!” Nathaniel cried.
I slammed the foyer door behind me and unlocked the door to my apartment. Beezle and Samiel hadn’t followed me in. I wondered what they were doing.
I wondered what Lucifer had planned now.
I hung up my coat, took off my boots and realized I’d left the groceries out in the snow. A second later Samiel and Beezle came in. Samiel carried the grocery bags into the kitchen, patting me on the shoulder as he went by.
I looked at Beezle. “What’s Lucifer up to?”
Beezle shrugged. “It is not for me to comprehend the ways of the Morningstar.”
“He had to know that I wouldn’t accept Nathaniel,” I said. “Why send him here?”
“Lucifer has to be thinking of the child,” Beezle said. “He wants the baby protected.”
I looked at Beezle incredulously. “And you think that Lucifer thought Nathaniel was the best choice to protect a child he will no doubt despise because of its parentage?”
Beezle shook his head slowly as the smells of something cooking came from the kitchen. Samiel was getting pretty good at turning a small amount of ingredients into something delicious.
“No. I think that Lucifer presented an unappealing option that he knows you’ll refuse out of hand so that he can then send you the person that he really wants here.”
I nodded. It made sense. It was exactly the way Lucifer operated.
“And his leniency toward Nathaniel is no doubt dependent on Nathaniel’s ability to get me to cooperate,” I said.
“Which is why Nathaniel is still on the porch,” Beezle said. “He said he’ll sleep there if he has to.”
I thought about calling the cops to remove him, but Nathaniel would just return over and over again until he got what he wanted. I didn’t believe that he cared about me one whit. I knew for sure that he cared about keeping all his body parts in their proper places, and that meant that he would go to any lengths to please Lucifer.
Fine. He could stay on the porch if he wanted. I hoped he froze to death.
“Maybe you should think about accepting Nathaniel,” Beezle said thoughtfully.
I stared at him. “That’s the second insane thing you’ve told me to do tonight. First I’m to make a pact with Lucifer; now I’m supposed to accept Nathaniel?”
“Think about it,” Beezle said urgently. “You’d have leverage with Nathaniel. You could use him to find out what Lucifer is up to. Plus, you’d definitely throw the Morningstar a loop if you accept a bodyguard he was certain you’d reject.”
“Nathaniel is a killer,” I said heatedly.
“So are you.”
“I didn’t kill innocents. And I don’t try to justify anything I did saying I was under orders from someone else.”
“Nathaniel can’t help that,” Beezle said, shaking his head. “It’s something you never understood about Gabriel either. You’ve never submitted to anyone’s authority in your life—not your mother, not me, not your Agency supervisors, not your teachers at school. You were born contrary.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m an independent thinker.”
“Or, depending on one’s perspective, you’re a stubborn mule, but that’s not the point. The point is that you’ve never understood why angels don’t contradict their master, why they follow orders that would seem unreasonable to you. It’s because they’ve had respect for the hierarchy drilled into them from birth. They’ve been taught to be unquestioning, to do what they’re told even if it’s something a human would consider morally wrong.”
“So they’ve been brainwashed?” I said skeptically.
Beezle sighed. “No. Think of them as soldiers in an army. A soldier might doubt the validity of a commander’s order, but that soldier would still do as his commander said. Because that’s the way he’s made. That’s the way he’s been taught to behave, because an army is not made up of one person. Its strength comes from the sum of its parts.”
“So all the angels are taught to do as they’re told because it’s so important for each court to preserve its base of power.”
“Yes,” Beezle replied. “It’s also why rebellion is never initiated from the bottom. Most of the lower hierarchy could never conceive of going against Lucifer. But Azazel and Focalor are both Grigori. They have their own courts. They are used to answering only to Lucifer, and in recent years it seems he has given them more leeway.”
“But why?” I asked. “You told me once that Lucifer would do anything to maintain his base of power. And Gabriel once said that he thought Lucifer had enough power to have dominion over all things.”
“I’m pretty sure he does,” Beezle replied.
“Then why loosen his grip?” I wondered.
“To see what would happen,” Beezle said. “To see who is truly loyal to him.”
I scowled. I really disliked the idea that Lucifer would allow a rebellion to fester just so he could watch the game play out. I was also disturbed by the idea that Nathaniel might not be entirely at fault for his part in the memory-selling enterprise. He wasn’t completely blameless, not by a long shot, but it seemed it would have been difficult for Nathaniel to refuse Azazel.
He had tried to kill me in Azazel’s court. But he had also helped us save Wade’s cubs.
I shook my head. I didn’t know what to do about Nathaniel right now. It seemed too complicated to sort out what was right and what was wrong, and that worried me. Those shades of gray were Lucifer’s provenance.
Samiel came into the dining room carrying a tray full of food. He set three bowls on the table.
“Yum, chili!” Beezle said, diving toward his portion.
“Use a spoon,” I said before he went headfirst into the bowl. “You’re not a pig at the trough.”
Beezle muttered crossly to himself, but he perched on the edge of the bowl with a spoon held in his fist. He scooped chili into his beak with the rapidity and care of a toddler just beginning to use utensils. Food dribbled from his mouth to his stomach.
Don’t look at him, Samiel signed. You’ll lose your appetite.
I try not to look at him generally, I replied.
Samiel went back into the kitchen and returned with a plate of corn bread and three glasses of milk. He indicated I should sit down across from him, looking inordinately pleased with himself.
“This looks great,” I said.
I wondered where he had found all the ingredients in my very bare kitchen. I was pretty certain I hadn’t bought all of this stuff with Beezle, so I asked Samiel.
I had most of the stuff downstairs, he signed, pausing between bites.
His bowl was almost empty already, and I’d had only a small taste. Samiel eats like a teenage boy who’s not sure where his next meal is going to come from.
“But where did you get the money for the groceries?” I wondered aloud.
Lucifer gave it to me.
I raised my eyebrow at that.
He knows that I don’t work, and he was worried about you because he knows you depend on the rent from the apartment.
“Yeah, I’ll just bet he was worried,” I muttered into my chili so that Samiel couldn’t read my lips.
Everywhere I looked Lucifer was there, entangling me in his spider’s web. I knew Samiel was loyal to me, but I also knew that Lucifer was very good at making simple things look confusing.
If Samiel continued to accept an allowance from Lucifer, then one day in the future the Morningstar might come to Samiel asking for a favor. And Samiel might think that one little favor was small repayment to the angel who had given him so much. Then Lucifer would ask for one more thing, and another, and another, until Samiel was well and truly trapped.
“Aren’t you eating?” Beezle asked, breaking my reverie.
I glanced over at him and wished I hadn’t. He was covered in chili from horn to claw and was presently stuffing corn bread in his beak. The bread crumbs sprayed everywhere as he chewed. I covered my eyes.
“I don’t know why, but I seem to have lost my appetite,” I said loudly.
“More for me,” Beezle said gleefully.
Samiel pried my hands from my face so I could look at him.
You have to eat, he signed.
Do you know about the baby, too?
He nodded, looking rueful. Beezle told me.
Listen, Samiel, I signed. Do you want to work?
He looked uncertain. Yes, but Lucifer said I wouldn’t be able to get a regular job, because I can’t hide my wings like you can.
“It’s nice that he’s thought of everything,” I mumbled to myself, then looked at Samiel and spoke. “You could work at the Agency. There are a lot of supernatural creatures working for us that aren’t Agents.”
But I thought you didn’t get paid?
“I don’t. Agents don’t because collecting souls is a ‘sacred duty,’” I said, making air quotes with my fingers. “But the support staff and the management collect regular paychecks. Don’t ask me where the Agency gets its funding from, though. That’s apparently need-to-know only.”
Do you really think I could work there? Samiel looked doubtful.
“Sure. I’ll talk to J.B. about it.” As I said this, it occurred to me that I hadn’t picked up any souls for a couple of days, and I wondered if I had been neglecting my sacred duty while wandering around in a depressed fog.
“Before you start panicking,” Beezle said, reading my thoughts, “you should know that J.B. called a few days ago and said he was reassigning all of your pickups for the next week.”
“Do you think you could actually deliver my messages in a timely manner?” I said. “Or, better yet, don’t pick up the phone at all and let the answering machine fulfill the purpose for which it was created.”
“What?” Beezle said. “You’re getting the message now.”
“That’s not the point,” I began, and trailed off. The snake tattoo on my right palm tingled. I stood up. I’d learned not to ignore Lucifer’s mark.
What’s wrong? Samiel signed.
“Danger approaching. Stay in the house,” I said to Beezle.