“You look worse every time I see you,” de Avaram remarked.
Beringer could not disagree. His face was a mess, his broken finger splinted. Even now there was still a slight buzzing in his ears. Beringer rubbed his tired eyes and said, “It is done.”
“You found the target?”
“Done?” Behind his table De Avaram froze. He blinked. And set his palms on the table. “You. Banished. A Greater Demon. By yourself?”
“Not me. The Creator through me.”
De Avaram blinked again. “You are too modest, Voidguard.”
Beringer shrugged. “Thank you.”
“Where did you find him?”
“I tracked him to a tenement block in the slums three days ago.” Beringer lifted a stack of paper on the desk. “Full details in my report.”
“You went after him alone?”
Beringer grimaced. “Our pet demon suggested where he could be found. I was checking out likely hiding places when he, well, ambushed me. I took cover inside a building, which turned out to be his lair. By the time I discovered that, the only way out was through him.”
De Avaram winced. “You’re lucky to be alive.”
“Absolutely.” He sighed. “Glad it’s over. It is over, isn’t it?”
“We haven’t seen any more demonic incidents. I think this case is closed.”
“So soon? We are talking about a Greater Demon here.”
De Avaram fidgeted. “What about one?”
“Usually they don’t walk the earth unless someone summons them. The summoner is still at large.”
“Ah. Yes. About that. Do you have any leads?”
“I questioned the demon before banishing him. He said it was you.”
De Avaram paled. He looked away, chuckling. “Come now, you can’t seriously believe the words of a demon.”
Beringer laughed too. “Ludicrous, isn’t it?”
“Exactly. And he serves the Prince of Lies.”
Beringer nodded. “Yup. So I did some other checking.”
“And it’s odd. Most people who summon demons tend to fall into three camps.” He raised a finger. “One, they want power. Summoners like this inevitably merge with the demon, willingly or otherwise, becoming an unholy monster.” He raised a second finger. “Two, they want the demon to destroy or ruin a specific target. In which case the demon will pursue that target, and only that target.” He raised a third finger. “Three, they want to work with the demon to pursue a specific objective.” Beringer paused. “But this specific case does not fit any of these profiles.”
“You’re missing a fourth case: the summoner lost control.”
“If we’re talking ordinary Voidspawn, yes. They would consume the summoner, then either return to the Void or destroy the surrounding area. But this is a Greater Demon. They do not answer just any summoner, only the really powerful ones. The ones who do not tend to lose control.”
“There have been many cases of summoners trying to summon a Greater Demon, and paying the price of their failures.”
“Yes, but in those cases, the Greater Demon simply devours the summoner and returns to the Void, or corrupts him. In the latter case we’ll see a spike in heresies and the birth of a new cult. The Intelligence section confirmed that the latter did not occur. So the summoning did work. After a fashion.”
“Perhaps Simon wasn’t a Greater Demon.”
“Nope. He identified himself as an Archon in the Abyssal Palace, and our special intelligence resource confirmed as much. And Archons are busy managing the armies of the Void. If they find a summoner unworthy they devour and return home to their regular schedule. They don’t stick around, period.”
De Avaram furrowed his eyebrows. “So what are you driving at?”
“The Greater Demon was here on a mission. I looked at what he did. He attacked a small church, yes. He invaded and haunted the necropolis, abducted and corrupted people off the streets, but it’s all penny ante stuff. He didn’t start a cult or wreak mass havoc. He did cause panic, yes, but it will not cause any significant societal disruption. Quite unlike how a Greater Demon thinks and acts.
“However. The High Synod will be convening soon, and among other things they will discuss the direction and funding of the Voidguard. If word were to get out that a Greater Demon were found and destroyed in Amarantopolis, that it was on a quest to destroy the Synod and was stopped at the last minute only by the valiant efforts of the Voidguard, the public will be incensed. They will demand that the High Synod expand the budget and the powers of the Voidguard. And the Catholicos will comply.”
Beringer smiled, shaking his head. “Absurd? No. Greater Demons always have an agenda. So I asked myself, who benefits from these attacks? It’s not the Void, so it must be us. You, actually.”
Cold sweat popped from de Avaram’s brow. “You’re mad! Simon is trying to divide us! Don’t you see?”
“Maybe so, but an accusation just before being banished? That’s just something a lesser demon will do. A Greater Demon would not bother with such theatrics. If he truly wanted to divide us, he corrupt the Voidguard and plant false evidence. Something that no one can deny.”
De Avaram licked his lip. “You still think I did it.”
“I know you did it. I know you summoned the demon, removed the paling-stones and sent him on his merry way.”
He jutted his chin. “Where’s your evidence?”
“You called him Simon,” Beringer said simply.
“And if you had actually read my reports, nowhere in them did I use the word ‘Simon’. All I wrote was that his name was unhearable and unpronounceable, and that our informant called him the Archon of Decay.”
De Avaram’s face turned completely white. Beringer smiled lightly, leaning forward. “You covenanted with a Greater Demon, did you not?”
The Bureau Chief sighed. Stood. “And what if I did? I had the interests of the Church at heart.”
De Avaram walked to his window, looking out. “Amarantopolis was once the heart of a great empire, and the bedrock of our faith. Now…now secularism is sweeping the world. The masses are leaving the church in droves. The Faith is under fire, and now even the secularists claim they no longer need the Voidguard to hold back the Void. We are entering an age of spiritual malaise, and only the Church can reverse that.”
De Avaram spun around, his eyes aglow. “That’s all? That’s everything! Out there, the slums cover an area at least as large as the City Eternal. Over half of the city’s inhabitants say they have left or no longer believe in the Faith. Churchmen are fornicating with children. Atheists and infidels bargaining with the forces of the Void. The Church is facing the greatest crisis of our times!”
“And you had to do something.”
“I could not stand by and let this continue.”
Beringer nodded. “Very well then.”
A tense silence spun out between them.
“So,” De Avaram said. “You know the truth. What are you going to do?”
“Nothing.” Beringer stood, removing his telecrystal from his pocket. “On the other hand, I have an open line here with the Inquisition. In fact…”
Four men in black suits barged into the office.
“Who are you?” De Avaram demanded.
The leader held up a graven silver hexagram. “Inquisitor Second Grade Stephan Papakostas, Supreme Sacred Office of the Universal Inquisition. You, Miles de Avaram, are under arrest for heresy and unsanctioned trafficking with the Void. You are coming with us.”
The Void surged through de Avaram. “No. You can’t—”
“Theos nikao,” Papakostas said.
The hexagram flashed white. The Void dispersed. De Avaram, stunned, dropped to his knees. The Inquisitors swooped in, cuffing his hands and picking him up by his elbows. Beringer gave them room to work. As they left, Papakostas nodded at Beringer.
“Thanks for your tip.”
Beringer left the office, ignoring the stares, the whispers, the lone woman who shouted his name. He took the elevator down to the ground floor, wandering over to the visitor’s wing. The Voidguard kept a museum here, chronicling the history of the organization. Within the museum was a small cafe. He wended his way through the tables and chairs, and sat across a blond woman with intense green eyes.
“It is done,” he said.
Kentaris nodded, unconsciously adjusting her wig. “What will happen to de Avaram?”
“He will be given a fair trial. With the confession, it would be a short one. If he’s found guilty it would be life in penance. Or the firing squad.”
Kentaris chuckled. “So lenient? I remember a time when witches were burned at the stake.”
“Times have changed.” He sniffed. “Also, aetherium is too expensive to be spent so extravagantly.”
She sipped at her coffee. “Figures.”
“Your mission here is complete?”
“Yes. And, yes, before you ask, I’ll be catching the first airship out of the city.”
“Where are you going?”
Kentaris smirked. “Come on, Voidguard. I like you, but not that much.”
He chuckled. “Can’t blame a man for trying.”
“Hah. Well, it is good enough for you, right?”
Beringer nodded. “I don’t feel like killing anybody else anytime soon.”
“Good to know.” She drained her cup. “So, what’s next for you? A promotion?”
“I wish. More likely a transfer. Or a quiet resignation.”
He smiled sadly. “I took down a bureau chief, and I ratted him out to the Inquisition.”
“You saved the High Synod and the city.”
“And I betrayed a Voidguard. That means I’m a rat. Nobody will want me in their bureau. If I’m lucky, I’ll merely be shuffled to somewhere quiet, or transferred to a bureau where nobody knows my name. If not, they may discover I am excess to manpower requirements.”
Kentaris shook her head. “That’s…that’s unbelievable.”
“That’s the nature of the beast.” He shrugged. “We may yet cross paths again.”
“If it happens, it happens.”
“You still have my number.”
“So, what, call you maybe?” She laughed. “I’ll think on that.”
He laughed too. She paid the bill, and he escorted her out the cafe. Out the building. At the taxi stand she called for a taxi, and they waited together in companionable silence. It didn’t take long for her cab to arrive.
“May you find peace in the All,” he said.
She smiled. “And may you walk in the light of the Creator for all your days.”
As she turned to go, she paused. Grinned. And extended her hand. “Enemies?”
He laughed. “Enemies.”
If this story looks familiar, it’s the original concept of my Covenant Chronicles series. To see how it really turned out, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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