Kelly got to the studio early the next day to set up. Clifford had gone back to his apartment after eliciting a promise to keep him updated, a promise that Kelly half intended to keep. He’d given a promise to keep his mouth shut in return, a promise he had no trouble giving – after all, as he’d pointed out “There’s no way I don’t end up in an institution if I talk about this.”
Standing normally was becoming difficult. Kelly kept finding herself wanting to stand on her toes, and her feet were getting longer. Much as she wanted to deny it, there was no escaping that she was gradually growing full blown hooves. Well, if being a demon doesn’t work out, I could always make a killing doing fetish videos. The idea wasn’t as funny as she wished it was.
As much as she hated to admit it, the other changes were kind of cool, except for the ones she could hide. Retractable claws, flame hair, red eyes – all of that could be completely concealed if she was careful, and she’d actually started liking her look with the other two. They were a bit off putting, but they were striking in a way she enjoyed. Hooves? That was just creepy. At least she could hide them with normal shoe for now. When she couldn’t hide it anymore, however, what was she supposed to do? ‘My feet are hooves’ fell squarely into run out of town with torches and pitchforks.
She distracted herself with trying to figure out the modern equivalent of that. Run out of town with iPhones and Pickups, maybe? It helped keep her stress down, and also prevented her from noticing Chemosh was waiting for her when she walked in.
“This is your idea of discretion, Ms. Schmitt?” he hissed, his voice having regained that harsh quality it had initially possessed on the phone.
Kelly almost leapt out of her skin at the sound of the voice. He was sitting in her chair, his feet propped up on her desk, his fingers steepled. Even though he should have been completely illuminated by the lamp, it somehow cast his normally handsome face in sinister shadows. “What else was I supposed to do?” she said, fear making her snap harder than she intended.
“You told your brother about our arrangement, Ms. Schmitt. That is a direct violation of our contract. I could annul it like this,” he snapped his fingers at her to illustrate his point, a gesture that couldn’t have been better suited to get Kelly blood boiling if he’d tried, “and to be honest, I have half a mind to, and impose the full penalties for violation. Why on Earth would you do something like this?”
“Again, what the fuck was I supposed to do?” Kelly didn’t swear often, but Chemosh was getting to her. And not just because he was scaring her. Although that was a factor. He doesn’t have to be a dick about it, though. The idea of having her contract revoked had put ice in her veins on top of the anger. As much as some of the effects bothered her, she wasn’t sure she she wanted it to end, and she definitely didn’t want to find out what happened if she was found in violation of it. “He saw me pull a hellfire sword out of my ass, he saw a thing in a hood with a laser sword sucking some homeless guy’s soul out, how exactly do I cover that up?” Her nostrils flared. “On top of that, how the fuck do you even know? Do you have spies watching me?”
He clenched his teeth, and the words were spat out as he said, “Of course not, Ms. Schmitt. But as the holder of the contract, I am aware of the nature and time of any such violation. Something you did agree to in Section 91, Subsection F, ‘Enforcement and Penalties.’ If I do not end it, you really should fully read the document, it’s quite bad form to be…” the last word trailed off, and Chemosh sat there, his fingers still pressed together.
“To be what?” Kelly asked, and Chemosh held up a single finger to silence her. Part of her wanted to push ahead, but something told her discretion would be the better part of…well, she was turning into a demon, and he was a demon, so valor didn’t quite fit. Better part of survival seemed more fitting. As she watched, his lips moved slowly, and she realized he was going over everything she had said.
Finally he spoke, his tone becoming the more pleasant ones he had been using when dealing with her so far. “Ms. Schmitt, what exactly did you mean ‘a thing in a hood with a laser sword?’”
“Exactly what I said. It made the air cold, it had a sword of light, it was sucking out some guy’s soul, and when I landed a good hit it flew away on smoke wings when I landed a hit.” Kelly’s anger hadn’t faded, but she wrestled her tone to the ground and left it hogtied for now before it could make the situation worse.
“Ah. Well…that is an important detail. Hellfire sword you said? So you’ve got the powers of a Knight right now, interesting.” Chemosh gave her a warm and friendly smile. “I shouldn’t have doubted you, Ms. Schmitt. You’ve proven quite resourceful, and given the circumstances, the truth was likely the safest option. Although we will be to taking measures to ensure he doesn’t tell anyone the story.”
Kelly stared at him, open mouthed. The transition from furious to conversational was so abrupt it gave her whiplash, and hadn’t done anything to temper her own anger. Kelly made sure her tone was still tightly bound before continuing, “Just to be clear, I’m not in violation of my contract? And that’s not going to change suddenly?”
Chemosh nodded. “Section 91, Subsection F, Paragraph 24. ‘The contract holder [Chemosh] or an entity of a higher rank has the right to declare any such violations null and void due to mitigating circumstances at the contract holder’s discretion. Such declarations are final and binding.’”
The knots were untied from her tone, and she snarled, “Good. Then get your feet off my desk, you asshole.”
Chemosh’s eyes widened, but he did. “I take it something is amiss, Ms. Schmitt?”
“You’re damn right it is, Chemosh.” She leaned forward, putting her hands on her desk so they were face to face. “I dealt with not having answers before. But I almost died, my brother was in danger – incidentally, you’re going to stay the hell away from him – and I finally calmed down from that to have you making demands and threatening me like your my asshole father. You have to give me something to work with.”
Chemosh leaned forward, the dramatic shadows returning, his voice returning to its hoarse tones. Their faces were now inches apart, and part of Kelly wanted to quake under that gaze. “And if I don’t?”
They held that gaze for several seconds, an intensity so great that Kelly felt sweat begin to spring up her forehead. She began to wonder if something was actually happening here, some mystical force that she couldn’t comprehend, but as much as Chemosh frightened Kelly right now, the idea of what might happen if she lost this contest of wills terrified her more. “You know damn well there isn’t much I can do, Chemosh. But I’ll read the contract. I’ll do the bare minimum for the next week. And as soon as the week’s up, that’s it. I’m done, I’m out.”
“And you really think you’ve valuable enough for me to care?”
Kelly felt her knees begin to tremble, and she hoped Chemosh couldn’t see. It definitely was something more than just the normal clash of personalities. “Yeah, I do. If I wasn’t, you would have just revoked my contract without giving me a chance to explain. Since you didn’t…I’m worth something to you.”
Chemosh pursed his lips, and the pressure faded. Kelly broke his gaze then, using the pretext of wiping her forehead to do so. “I don’t have the time to restart. Very well Ms. Schmitt. You may ask your questions.”
“Okay. First of all, what the hell was that?”
Chemosh smiled. “Practical, I like it. That was a Duel of Wills. You declared it by making a demand linked to eye contact. I accepted.”
Kelly felt her irritation rise. “Why did you accept? I didn’t know what I was doing! That could have gone terribly – I have no idea what it means.”
His smile took on a smug overtone. “Because if I won, you would have found it difficult to ask about it again. And if you won, I would be free to speak of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Either way, it benefited me, and in the event of victory, it benefited us both.”
It was a bit of relief to hear what happened if she had lost wouldn’t have been terrible. Kelly had been imaging some kind of horrible fate, like eternal subservience or a shattering of her mind or being cast straight into hell or something worse. She took a deep breath. “So you’re saying you let me win?”
Chemosh shook his head. “Oh no, Ms. Schmitt. I’d much prefer I had won. But you were…unrelenting.” He gave her a cold smile. “Next question, please. Do keep in mind I am still fairly limited in what I can say.”
“Fine,” Kelly took a deep breath, and forced her heels back onto the floor, just that moment realizing she’d been standing on the toes. “What in hell was that thing I fought then?”
“Oh, it was nothing in hell. No, Ms. Schmitt, quite the opposite. That was an Angel of Mercy.”
“Of Mercy? That angel was trying to help that guy?” Kelly felt sick. She’d just firmly planted herself on the side of hell, and fought an angel
“In a manner of speaking. It was giving him the Final Mercy, death and ascension into Heaven. I’m quite glad you spared him – more time for us to claim his soul.” Chemosh looked quite pleased, and Kelly felt sick.
“I don’t want him to be damned to hell, Chemosh.”
Chemosh gave her the first genuine smile she’d seen today. “You should. It’s much better than the alternative.”
Kelly actually took a step back in surprise from that claim, and didn’t even notice returning to standing on her toes. “What do you mean?”
“Unfortunately, that goes a bit beyond what I can say even now.” Chemosh scratched his chin, and Kelly got the impression that he was trying to figure out what he could say within his limits. “Can we, for now, leave it at that all accounts of Hell you’ve heard were either divinely inspired or written by Christians, which might not be the most reliable source when talking about their adversaries?”
After considering it, Kelly agreed. “For now. But I’ll want more answers than that, Chemosh. I want to know what’s going on with me. What is this test program?”
“Again, there’s a limit to what I can say,” he held up a hand to forestall her retort, “but I can say a bit more. Are you familiar with the Fall of Lucifer?”
Kelly nodded. “One third of the angels followed him. Cast into hell and all that.”
Chemosh nodded. “Every demon you are teaching was once an angel that followed Lucifer, transformed into the forms you see, as am I. We were already outnumbered, but when we started to fight harder against the forces of Heaven, we realized we were at another disadvantage. Heaven has a means to resurrect fallen angels unless we have time to perform certain costly rituals. We do not. Their numbers are infinite, ours do not replenish. Children can arise from our unions with mortals, Cambions, but angels rarely allow such spawn to survive long.” Chemosh frowned at that last bit, and Kelly could have sworn there was moisture forming in his eyes as he did.
She spoke to keep him on topic, and before she started feeling pity to what was essentially an overseer. “I see. So…what? You’re trying out turning an adult into a demon directly?”
“Yes, actually. That’s the program you’re piloting right now, in addition to getting our soldiers into shape where less of them die. We were…lax for some time. And that, Ms. Schmitt, is the extent of what I can tell you right now without permission from a higher office.”
Kelly tapped her fingers in the crook of her arm. It wasn’t a complete answer, but it was something at least. “Who is the higher office, anyway?”
Chemosh gave her an impish grin. “Lucifer, of course.”
“Oh.” Suddenly, Kelly’s throat went dry. “No…no need to bother him right now.”
“I thought you might say that.” Chemosh stood. “I do apologize for my initial outrage. I’ve grown proud of your results, Ms. Schmitt. I was afraid I’d have to scrap the project, and you.”
“Yeah. You’re all heart.” Kelly couldn’t manage any rancor at that. “Could I have a copy of my contract?”
“Bottom drawer of your desk.” Chemosh held up his fingers, then cocked his head slightly. “One more thing, Ms. Schmitt?”
“You have the powers of a Knights. You will see other angels. I suggest considering very strongly if you want to intervene in the future. Some are far tougher than what you faced.” Before she could speak again, he snapped his fingers, and in a puff of flame he was gone.
Kelly let out a sigh of relief. There was a lot to think about in that, including going over her contract, but the confrontation had taken…forty five minutes? How long were we staring at each other? She had work to do.
She also sent a quick text to Clifford. “Hey, could you look up where I can get sword lessons?”
She put her phone back in her pocket without waiting for a response. She’d look it up herself is she hadn’t heard back by the end of her class.
Something told Kelly she’d been needing the lessons soon.