ConVent – Snippet 3

A bit of a change from the plans announced last week.  I’m posting this week’s snippets in full here on the front page.  Next week, I’ll start linking them to the snippet page.  Also, apologies for not getting Kate’s snippet up yesterday, but life and work interfered.  So, to make it up to you, here is an extra long snippet. Now, without further delay, here’s the next snippet from ConVent.  As usual, the standard disclaimer applies:  this is not the final edited product.  This is similar to the ARC of a book.

2. My Editor is a Demon

2. My Editor is a Demon

 

When mingling got me no new information, I meandered over to where the convention management committee was setting up a new art room — they had evicted themselves from the rest of the ballroom, scrounged some extra display boards, and were trying to make up for lost time and space.

I’ve never figured out why human perversity wins out over intelligence every time. The display boards are supposed to be modular, meaning that you set up the frame and slot the boards into position. The frames are supposed to allow four ninety degree connections.

So far so good, except that the boards — some kind of particle board with holes to take hooks for hanging the art works — weighed so much it took three or four people to get them into position. While someone on each support frame piece held it steady. By the time the room was set up, I’d learned that the word ‘fuck’ can serve as a noun, adjective, adverb, and verb — sometimes all in the same sentence — and that no-one in the room could possibly have set up the ritual I’d interrupted.

All of them, from the balding, overweight fellow who wore what remained of his hair long as some kind of compensation, to the skinny neurotic redhead with the nasal whine… They weren’t merely tired, they were drunk on fatigue.

No-one in that state could manage a demonic ritual without doing something wrong. What little I knew of demonic rituals suggested pretty strongly that they went wrong in ways best not examined too closely.

It’s just as well I’m immune to all magic except necromantic spells. Being technically dead isn’t a picnic — I’ll take every advantage I can get.

Once the concom let the artists in, I faded and slipped away.

 

#

 

By the time the con officially started, I was really worried.  Not only had I completely failed to find any hint of the would-be demon worshiper, rumors were flying through the crowds and warping into unrecognizable shape. The concom seemed to have decided it was better to know and see nothing – to the disgust of the cops, who understandably wanted to check the attendance list against their records. They weren’t being obstructive, per se. They just weren’t anywhere to be found.

Raph caught up with me somewhere around ten. We met up in my room, Raph sitting on the bed with his legs crossed and his wings — yes, white with feathers — wrapped around him. I paced.

“It’s worse than we thought,” he said in a low voice. “Lil got a second look, a proper one, and figured out who the gateway is for.”

“Just tell me the worst Raph. Get it over with.” At this rate I’d wear a hole in the carpet before the con was done.

He swallowed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an angel look that pale. “It’s Himself Below.”

What?”

“Yeah.” Raph’s wings rustled when he shivered. “It’s not like anyone except the Boss can control Him.” Raph shook his head. “You’d need to be crazy to try.”

I kept pacing. I know tradition has we made immortals firmly in Below’s camp, but it’s not true. Most of us stay more or less the same as we were before we got changed. There’s even a few churches in the bigger cities that hold special services for the immortals in their congregations. “I don’t suppose she managed to glean why anyone would do anything that stupid?”

Raph hunched his shoulders and wings. “Nothing. They cleaned their traces pretty well. The only reason she got as much as she did was the spell being broken before it could complete.”

Crap. “Have there been others that did complete?” Lil had said earlier that it took five of these things to open a dimensional gateway. That meant five spells, minimum, and at least five corpses as well.

“We don’t know. There’s nothing to indicate it, but there wouldn’t be until the opening spells were performed.”

I didn’t like Raph this subdued. It felt all wrong, like a frivolous Spock. Besides, anything that can scare an angel officially scares the crap out of me. I know when I’m outclassed. Not using everything in my repertoire of curse words — five languages, two of them extinct, and at least a dozen anatomically impossible phrases — took effort. “I’d suggest looking for a moron, but it takes at least some functioning brain cells to cast a ritual like that without screwing it up.”

“I know.” Raph looked miserable. “Lil went looking for minor demons sent to cause trouble.”

“At a con?” At least half the fen were sufficiently warped that they’d meet Below’s standard of ‘minor demon’. The percentage in official guests came closer to seventy. Something about science fiction, I guess. It seems to attract the perverse. Not the sick types, as a rule. Just the contrary idea-loving types who could live a personally moral life while writing about, reading about and publishing things that would turn stomachs Below. The current management didn’t like that sort of person terribly much, according to Raph. Apparently they disturbed the harmonious worshipers Above and started arguments over the validity of the whole business.

Since the previous incumbents mostly ran their paradises for warrior-types, that didn’t leave many afterlife addresses open. Personally, I planned to hang on to life as long as I could. I’d yet to find the faith that would let me near its paradise. Not that I have any complaints with the current management, mind you. I just prefer to leave them be and hope they offer me the same courtesy.

Raph shrugged. “I know. But Speculatorium’s purchasing editor is an actual minor demon, and he’s not the only one.”

I blinked. “You’re telling me Below is infiltrating the publishing industry?” How had I missed that?

“Has infiltrated.” Raph didn’t look happy. “Look, I’m not supposed to be telling anyone any of this but… This qualifies as an emergency.”

That didn’t sound good. Yeah, right. And the Pacific Ocean’s a little damp. “Stop dicking around and tell me what I need to know will you?”

He gave me a startled look and shook his wings out. With a sigh, he flopped back onto the bed and lay staring at the ceiling. I guess it was better than watching me wearing out the carpet. “Fine. Below’s mission is to spread despair and misery and all that, right?”

I nodded and didn’t stop pacing. Spreading misery and despair was definitely part of the tradition.

“Well, how better than by crushing the dreams of everyone who thinks they can write? And publishing grim, dreary, depressing literature?”

I stopped pacing and turned to stare at Raph. He lay without moving, staring at the ceiling. “This scene is hardly big enough for that.”

“I never said they confined themselves to science fiction.” Raph’s lips hardly moved. “They’re all through the entertainment industry. Oh, and Christian television.”

It made a horrible kind of sense. I’d given up on popular entertainment a long time ago, back when opera was political. The advent of late night shopping had lured me to bookstores, and the heady allure of a hopeful future brought me into the science fiction scene. It had been centuries since I needed to sleep through the day, but actually going out in daylight remained problematic so books were an excellent way to pass the time.

That was another enticement of the con scene – entertainment throughout the day, all in climate controlled and sunlight-free surroundings. It didn’t bother me that the con attendees often formed the entertainment. Taking pleasure from watching human absurdities kept me from becoming a bitter killer.

“Christian television. That would have to be the most lucrative avenue for them.”

Raph snorted. “Oh, quite. The Boss is kind of upset about that.”

Kind of upset. That had to be the understatement of the century. Possibly the millennium. “Kind of?”

I got a hint of a smile. “Well, yes.” Raph’s crooked grin could be charming when he wasn’t looking so miserable. Yeah, I kind of like the angel. “Kind of upset, and kind of ready to go Old Testament on the culprits.”

That sounded more like the deity I tried not to piss off. You don’t piss off something that can smite you with thunderbolts for thinking forbidden thoughts. It’s bad for the life expectancy. “So where does that leave us?”

He pushed himself off the bed and actually looked at me. “Screwed, Jim. If you want Vaseline you’d better supply it yourself.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” I folded my arms and glared at him. “You’re an angel not a frigging incubus.” Besides, last I’d heard Raph didn’t bend over for anyone. “I want tactical information. Patterns. Names.” I might not be keen to mess with high-powered demons, but I was a whole lot less keen to mess with the Prince of Hell. “I know screw-all about magic, so you’re going to have to tell me what to look for.”

Raph blinked and scooted back a few inches. “It’s not that simple.”

“So make it simple.” My lips pulled back from my teeth in a purely vampiric snarl, the kind that made my teeth ache to meet blood. Angel blood would do.

An angel scootching back on his butt isn’t dignified. That didn’t stop Raph pushing himself away from me until his wings hit the wall. He probably would have gone through the wall if someone hadn’t chosen that moment to knock on the door.

I yanked the door open and didn’t bother to be polite when I saw Sean and Lil on the other side of it. “Get in.”

Sean’s hair slicked down on his head and his wolf-shape hung in a hazy aura around him. If he didn’t change soon it would be a tribute to his willpower. Lil — to her credit — seemed to be trying to rein in the normal succubus lasciviousness. She kept her head down and didn’t smell too much of sex and perfume. Both of them scurried past me with the kind of nervous look that I usually only get when I’m projecting at humans.

I slammed the door and stomped back into the room. “What have you got?”

Lil winced. Her shape twitched and her tail wrapped around Raph’s waist. She wasn’t so much snuggled up to him as glued to him. “I can’t find anything.” Teardrops hung on her eyelashes. “Even the people I know are demons aren’t talking.”

Sean growled.

Lil cringed. Raph wrapped his wings around her in a protective gesture that should have been impossible.

“Leave her alone.” The tension in his voice got me wondering just how much I was projecting. Sure I was angry, but I don’t usually let the whole enchilada show. It scares the crap out of people. And angels and succubi, apparently. Weird. I’m not that powerful. “She’s only a very minor demon. If any of the stronger ones don’t want her to see something, she won’t.”

At least I knew better than to even consider succubus blood. Some things a man just doesn’t want to know. “Sean?”

He’d stripped off already. Fur covered his skin and his back arched, forcing his body into a quadruped pose.

“Get a grip, damn it!” I didn’t need the crack that punctuated my words, and I really didn’t need it to be the mirror on the wall opposite the bed. Damn. I needed to watch myself: if I’m not careful my voice gets extra harmonics that can do… interesting things. Like break mirrors.

I took a long, slow breath. My teeth ached. I’d be feeding tonight, and I’d better go hunting away from the con because it was going to take a kill to settle myself. Finding someone who could be safely removed from all the documentation and monitoring of the modern world was a stone bitch. Killing them and then disposing of the body in a way that didn’t attract headlines was worse. My personal requirement that anyone I killed be someone who’d fry if the authorities knew everything they’d done just added another layer of difficulty.

Not that people like that weren’t around, but there weren’t many who met all three standards. I hoped I could find one before the midnight Eye of Argon reading competition. That and the parties were my best hope of finding the summoner. People — and demons — with their minds relaxed by laughter or alcohol were easier to read. Usually I had to block out the stew of random thought and emotion, but this time I’d be trying to follow them and find the idiot who was trying to open a gateway to Hell.

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