Chapter One: Prelude

 

The following is an extract from the first chapter of a novel I am currently drafting. The general theme, one which runs through a fair bit of the poetry on this blog, is Heaven and Hell. Order and chaos. Also, the idea that Hell itself may be terribly orderly: “In Hell, there will be nothing but law, and due process will be meticulously observed.” Feel free to comment, make suggestions, and let me know your thoughts. 

 

The crazed heat of the fire threw itself above him. An insane roar of flame erupted as the fireball cascaded against the brick wall behind, scorching the clay of the abandoned warehouse: it sounded otherworldly, deafening; and the powerful heat and sound nearly bowled Raziel over.

He’d ducked into a forward roll, and the movement made the black sky, the stars and the fiery remains of the blast a mystical dizziness of light and dark in motion.

Raziel recovered to a standing stance: the figure responsible for the fireball had moved, he could sense it behind the faded-yellow forklift ahead of him. He had seconds before it would make a second strike.

And already a dark limb extended from behind the vehicle, its palm drawing in particles of fire from the atmosphere: it drew in the embers, ready for the next attack.

Chest palpitating, Raziel made his move. He gathered Consideration from the Contract into his cupped hands and, focusing its intention into a single manoeuvre, he launched an arc of violet light at the forklift truck.

It tore through the night like a whiplash, causing the forklift to shatter and splinter in fragments of violet devastation. Mechanical parts scattered like shrapnel, cast out of the impact zone by a ferocious and beautiful supernova of that strange light. The figure had gone: it had clearly made an escape from the impact.

Raziel cursed himself. For as long as the figure was hiding behind the forklift, he’d have known where it was. Now it might materialise anywhere, almost silently.

Over the sound of falling metal clanging upon concrete, Raziel strained to hear for the sound. It would be like a gust of wind through trees, ominous and unsettling. He would recognise it at once, if he could only hear it.

There, behind him: that rattling, rustling breath. It was emerging.

He turned in time to see the swirling darkness eddy and coalesce as the figure emerged, right by the burning residue of the fireball, before the distraught warehouse exterior. It was a silhouette in front of the bright, burning lights; it was so similar to the raging smoke, and yet eerily distinct; it was still and yet in constant, gaseous motion.

Even now Raziel could see it extending a shadowy, angular limb. Already, with its death-rattle voice, it was drawing in embers.

Raziel instantly drew Consideration into his right hand, as entitled by the Contract; its violet energy enfolded itself around his arm, growing over itself in ever-increasing spirals; he could feel its intangible warmth against his skin; in one swift motion Raziel launched his arm forward, and the spiralling colour of helices beamed at the figure.

Shattered brickwork and unimaginable sound: the warehouse wall was torn asunder by the attack, casting debris outward in the explosion.

But it was a hopeless gesture: the figure was nowhere to be seen in the wreckage, for it had entirely disappeared, right out of the deserted car park and into the ether.

“Bugger,” he said to himself.

Drawing breath for what seemed like the first time in centuries, Raziel hesitated to consider his options. It wouldn’t be coming back, not now. Running after it was hopeless. It would have travelled an incalculable distance already, and Raziel had neither the skill nor the time to trace its path across the zones. It had been trained, he thought: it materialised far too skilfully for an ordinary demon of its rank.

It was another lead that had gotten away. He couldn’t Cross-Examine it now. He at least knew now that he was dealing with a more cunning opponent than he had at first guessed: someone with contacts, someone with influence. The Fire Creature was a mere pawn.

He glanced around at the destruction they had wrought. The warehouse had been gutted out by his final attack; the entire car park was a wasteland. They’d have to put it down to a gas leak, or some such credible story. Ordinarily Raziel would have preferred a more nuanced approach, but the figure had left him little room for negotiation. His usual conversational practices would hardly have been of use against the Fire Creature.

Needless to say his suit was ruined. Brick dust and scorch-marks pocketed the fabric and made a pauper out of him. For that alone he would have been devastated. Oh well, he thought to himself: he had more than enough replacements at his disposal back at Chambers.

Ah yes, Chambers: he needed to return to the other zone quickly, for he had already strayed too long on the Surface. His human Client would not appreciate the extra overtime.

Raziel tried to clear his mind: soon his focus had returned, and the very thought of Chambers drew him irresistibly, psychically back through the veils of gentle darkness.

The lights cleared in his vision. His oak desk lay before him as though he had fallen asleep in his office chair, books and notes spread out in organised disarray, all part of the prep for his latest jaunt to the Surface. Already he felt more at peace surrounded by his shelves and shelves of handsome, arcane books. The background aroma of oak and candlewax was a pleasant and nourishing welcoming back to the lower zone, and to his own office. It was certainly one of the nicer offices of the infernal Department of Order and Justice. He took a couple of seconds just to breathe in the calm and academic aura of the place.

This pause could not last long, though: he had plenty of notes to write and much research to undertake. His observations that evening had to be recorded for future reference and collated with the rest of his Brief.

Occasionally his job at the DOJ involved fighting those forces which oppose the natural order: but he was, for all intents and purposes, a legal functionary above all else. What’s more, he bloody loved keeping the paperwork in order. He was both lauded and derided for it at the Department. And so, he began to update his records. He drew his quill from the air in front of him and began to write in gall ink:

 

The Fire Creature was significantly powerful in several respects: its conjuring abilities were considerable; its ability to travel through zones was abnormal for a demon of its relatively low rank; its willingness to leave, rather than to fight to the death, suggests that against its belligerent nature the Creature had be instructed to avoid capture and so to avoid Cross-Examination.

We might deduce that it has been empowered above its station. We could then deduce that some individual, or individuals, had strong motives for sacrificing time and power towards such a project. An agent was presented rather than the principal: this indicates an unwillingness to be identified.

We can deduce that the principal, or principals, had planned this to some considerable extent: not only empowering the Creature, but providing it with the skill and instruction to travel zones so as to avoid capture. If so, then we might say that such a plan, and the sacrifices necessary for its preparation, would be inconsistent with a motive as unimportant as causing minor havoc in an unpopulated part of one European city.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to deduce that some greater…

 

Knocking at the door interrupted this stream of thought mid-flow, and caused a pointed frustration in Raziel. He frowned.

‘Who is it?’ he asked. His voice, though drenched in resentment, still held that quality of clarity and elegance which Raziel personified.

The intruder opened the door: it was Zophiel, a slightly older, greyer Contractor of the Department. His salt-and-pepper hair was nonetheless trim and sleek, and he was wearing a suit to match, graceful pinstripes only just betraying the first signs of ageing. Compared to Raziel’s once-pristine, burn-pocked jacket Zophiel seemed the pinnacle of sartorial splendour.

He immediately picked up on the disparity.

‘Did you fall asleep in the Pit again, Raz?’

Raziel glared at his colleague. ‘It was the Surface. Bloody hate the Surface.’

Zophiel raised an eyebrow.

‘What on earth could have happened on the Surface to make you so…?’

Quickly, Raziel remembered that the Brief was at this moment entirely confidential. Not wishing to draw Zophiel’s attention any closer, he backtracked swiftly:

‘I tried to shift zones mid-spell,’ he lied. ‘Consider me a cautionary tale against… youthful folly.’

Smiling good-naturedly, with the forgiving aspect of an older soul, Zophiel stepped further into the room. He’d brought with him a small bundle of papers which he absent-mindedly shuffled in his hands. With his kindly, bespectacled face and black-and-white hair he seemed avuncular, bordering on the paternal. This was all very nice and everything, but it did give Raz the feeling that Zophiel rather enjoyed being the older, wiser colleague.

‘I thought you’d enjoy this brief,’ he said, placing the bundle onto the desk. ‘It’s a fairly ordinary Contract in a way, but it’s got intrigue. Family matters, that sort of thing.’

‘Love?’

‘Well yes, and no. Usual husband-and-wife scenario. Can’t conceive, the wife has suffered miscarriages before, the husband wants to… raise the odds a bit.’

‘Guarantee a conception?’

‘Exactly.’

‘Cool. A very un-immaculate conception, then.’

‘A maculate one, I would imagine.’

‘What sort of Consideration would that need?’

‘Well, ordinarily this sort of Contract needs suitably ironic Consideration,’ said Zophiel, pursing a smile on his thin lips: ‘potentially causing a death? Think something up, you’ll figure it out as you go along.’

‘And if the price is too low, then…’

‘Then the Contract just doesn’t happen, so there’s nothing to worry about there. Just make it apt, elegant. A good price for this one.’

Raziel was certainly intrigued. So far he’d done a good number of Pecuniary Bequests, the Consideration for which was almost invariably a part of the Soul or a few hours of Worship. He’d never bargained a human into committing murder before. This could be fun.

‘I’ll take it,’ he said. He summoned the ribbon-bound file across the table over to himself and began to untie the bundle.

‘There’s a conference at second midnight if you’re interested,’ said Zophiel as he slowly paced back towards the door. ‘It’s about Plea Bargaining. Might come in handy once your order-keeping duties start to pile up, I imagine?’

Raz saw in Zophiel’s face a sort of fatherly encouragement. Zophiel seemed rather keen on his younger partner taking on Departmental responsibilities: there was a fair amount of prestige to keeping infernal order, and the notion of that reflected glory was evident on Zophiel’s kindly and enthusiastic appearance. HE wanted the Rookie to do good. Raziel smiled back in reciprocation.

‘I’ll give it a look’ he said, evasively.

Satisfied by this, Zophiel’s face brightened. He left the office with a decided spring in his immortal step.

Well, Raz thought to himself: it’s just as well you’re proud of my orderly achievements, Zophiel. Because I’m going to be focusing on a rather large amount of disorder in the next few moons. Whoever had empowered the Fire Creature clearly had an agenda he didn’t want the Department of Order and Justice to know about.

And there had been a fair amount of hearsay about infernal disorder in the DOJ in recent moons. There had been dinnertime anecdotes of overly-versed humans who could cite the Rules right back at the Contractors. This was unheard of: usually the demonic lawyer would know the Rules, and the human would fall victim to them in due course. What’s more, there was clear evidence of misuse of Contract. Some magic had clearly been placed in human hands recently without thought for consequence: strange rumours had emerged of victims suffering acute psychological damage as a result…

 

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