Rabdos found he enjoyed leaning against the stones of the parapet on his tower more than he thought he would. Robert Dante reclined against the wall not looking out over the Plain of Gehenna. He didn’t find the Lake of Fire restful either for some reason, though the corral did seem to hold his attention. He turned his head slightly and looked down on the corral.
Demons, imps, and lemurs alike hung on the corral rails, throwing small stones at the solitary occupant. Kicker stood naked in the middle of the corral, trying to use the center post for cover as the gathered throng threw their stones from several sides. He covered his nakedness with his bound hands but that only encouraged the throng more, as they pelted his buttocks and head with the tiny pebbles. He howled at them and screamed letting loose another stream of profanity-laced words at the gathered crowd, explaining in great detail what he planned to do should he ever get his hands on one of them.
“How long do we have to stay here?” Robert Dante asked.
“Until we break Kicker down there and form him into your likeness. He will be our foil so we may continue to hide you at Tech Evangelists,” Rabdos responded.
“Why can’t you just shield me like before?” Dante asked, rising and leaning on the tower as his master did.
“These guardians have one of power amongst them, and a true believer,” Rabdos began. “If she seeks for you, she stands a good chance of finding you unless we give her something more easily discovered, like our friend down there.”
“But if she’s looking for me, why will she find him?” Dante said, searching for a stone but finding none.
“We’re going to give him something of yours to find,” he said, smiling.
“All my stuff was taken by the police when they raided my apartment,” Dante responded wrinkling his forehead as he tried to puzzle the situation out.
“Ah, but she isn’t looking for material things now is she,” he said, wagging a finger at Dante. “We’re going to give him the smallest piece of your soul. In the absence of anything else of note connected to you, she will discover that hint and latch onto it thinking she has found you. When they come for you, we’ll have them.”
“That sounds like an obvious trick,” Dante snorted. “Shouldn’t she know I don’t have a soul anymore?”
“A true warrior of the adversary would, yes. But they aren’t true men of valor,” Rabdos said, trying very hard to sound as though he believed what he’d just said.
“But they have some with them, those other two,” Dante said, turning to face Rabdos. “Couldn’t they teach them?”
“Those who command these guardians do not follow the old ways, they do not believe. They trust their technology, not the old ways. That will be their downfall,” Rabdos stated.
“The old ways?” Dante said it like a statement, but it was clearly a question.
“Harken back to your childhood and every story you ever heard about what Satan can do, how his forces act, and what the Adversary can do. Those are the old ways. We follow the old ways. Even these below you and whom I have assigned to you as your servants do not fully understand the old ways,” Rabdos answered coming to stand tall and spread his hands wide to encompass the corral below.
“What kind of power?” Dante asked, turning to fully face Rabdos.
“The best kind, the kind to influence the behavior of another,” he said, smiling broadly. “Here, your first lesson. Focus on this place, these very stones, and the screams of that man down there. Be thankful you are better than he, that those are not your screams and concentrate.”
Dante did as he was commanded. He closed his eyes and slightly adjusted his stance to orient his right ear to the direction of the corral. Rabdos let him breathe in a few times to get settled.
“Good. Now inhale through your nostrils. Take in the scent of the sulfur fumes coming off the Lake of Fire as it eternally consumes those foolish enough to walk too close to its shores.” Dante drew in a deep breath and snorted, convulsing slightly at the unfamiliar smell. “Center yourself. Focus. I know this is unfamiliar to you, but once you can slip into this meditative state and are at one with this place its power will begin to flow to you when you need it. Use the sounds of the stones beneath your feet, the sounds of anguish and torment, and the smells of souls consumed by the fire of their own sins to center you in this place of power.”
Dante exhaled hard, shook out his hands, and centered his body as he tried again. This time he began breathing through his nose at a more even rate, without as much effort. Still, his unfamiliarity betrayed him and he snorted, breaking his concentration. He rubbed his nose and sniffed hard.
“It burns,” he said.
“Until you can do this, we will remain. You cannot return until you are able to defend yourself at least somewhat back on Eden,” Rabdos said, turning back to watch Kicker strain against the leash that tied him to the center post of the corral.
“Can’t we just go back to Earth and let me start learning there?” Dante asked, turning to watch Kicker as well.
“Don’t rush things, Robert. Savor the moment,” Rabdos said, avoiding the answer. “They just finished the third level and besides, you haven’t met my mentor yet.”
“Lord Malphas,” Dante said without fanfare.
“Lord Malphas, yes, and when he arrives…” He didn’t get to finish his warning.
“He has arrived,” a deep, throaty voice announced as the cloaked form of Lord Malphas emerged from the stairway leading to the top tower level. Rabdos bowed deeply and to his credit Robert Dante did likewise. From his position of obeisance Rabdos watched as the cloven hooves of his master stepped across the stones of the level and stopped at the parapet wall. Dante started to rise but halted when he saw Rabdos fail to move.
“You have a new soul in your care I see,” Lord Malphas said. “You may rise.”
“Yes, my lord. A simple drug dealer. Nothing special,” Rabdos said.
“I’ll wager you have plans to make him more special, eh crafty imp?” Lord Malphas said without turning from the view. Lord Malphas turned to face him and he could see in the set of his jaw and concern on his brow that he was not pleased. “What news have you for me? Your lemur was unspecific.”
“I apologize for the lack of specificity, master but this news is too valuable to impart to any but you personally,” Rabdos said, placing a hand over his heart and bowing again slightly. Dante stupidly mimicked his posture, but the parroting would look good to his mentor. “That is, before I reported to our mutual liege lord the Red Rider of War.”
“Really?” Malphas intoned, inclining his head and frowning slightly. “Do tell what is so important.”
“Master, with respect you taught me knowledge given without reward is knowledge lost,” Rabdos said boldly. “What reward am I to receive for this gift I offer?”
“Ah, yes, you bargain. Well, I suppose it is a monster of my own creation,” Malphas said, stepping away and thinking a moment. “Very well, a reward you shall have in kind with the knowledge you impart.”
“An open ended agreement, one which you alone control the stipulations and set the value,” Rabdos countered. “How am I to gain from that?”
“How am I to know you hold anything of real value?” Malphas responded with a wave of his hand. “A taste of your wares, clever imp and I shall impart more specificity to our agreement.”
He didn’t hesitate. “I bear news of de Molay’s people and their return to Eden,” Rabdos said softly enough so that only he, Dante, and Lord Malphas could hear.
Lord Malphas’ eyes went wide. He spread his arms as a staff of pure ebony wood appeared in his left hand. He raised the staff over his head and struck the butt of it on the ground in front of him. Instantly a gout of flame erupted from the stones where the staff struck engulfing the tower top. Dante screamed in horror and Rabdos felt the soothing warmth of pure hellfire caress his skin. A moment later the flames vanished back into the ground at the point where the staff rested and sulfurous smoke drifted away on the hot breeze. The tower and its laboring thralls were gone, as was anything Rabdos recognized as being in the lands he controlled. They were surrounded again by the high rocks of the boulder field deep in Gehenna, just he, Robert Dante, and Lord Malphas.
“The stones have ears even still so speak quickly of what you know and leave no detail out or I will know it and you will be nothing more than ash floating on the hot breeze that blows here, imp,” Lord Malphas said, leveling his staff at both he and Robert Dante.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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