“I don’t like this, Master. I don’t like this at all” murmured Sivian, nervously pacing back and forth across the concrete floor. Bartimaeus watched him disinterestedly.
“Calm down, boy.” he drawled lazily, still refusing to make eye contact with the youth. How did I get stuck with this gunslinger at my side? Bartimaeus thought. Could it really have only been two weeks since he agreed to take on Sivian as his apprentice? It felt like two years. Just take an apprentice, what’s the harm? Thomas had said back in the council chambers. His Father is very important to the council, and he refuses to let his son learn from anyone but the best. For reasons he was still trying figure out, Bartimaeus had accepted.
Sivian was everything Bartimaeus thought he would be and more. Well over six and a half feet tall, he was rapier thin, with a cocksure grin and wavy blonde hair that fell past his collar. On the day that they first met, he bounded up to Bartimaeus from across the council chambers to wring his hand, a massive blue and red cape trailing behind him in the breeze. He looked like a strutting peacock. A pretty little princeling Bartimaeus thought, he won’t last a month as a Dealmaker.
“So you’re the famous Bartimaeus Stroud” Sivian sneered that day, his voice dripping with a sarcastic drawl. Bartimaeus was very proud of the fact that the very first thing he did when he met Sivian was punch him in the throat.
“That’s Master Bartimaeus Stroud to you, boy” he spat back as his new apprentice, who crumpled to the floor. He was certain Sivian would have made a snappy comeback had he been able to breathe. Bartimaeus couldn’t help but grin as he recalled the way the crowd hooted and hollered at the cowering princeling as he gasped for air with each panicked breath.
And two weeks later, here we are, Master and Apprentice, waiting in the dark to make a devil’s deal with a human.
A light rustle of the rafters snapped Bartimaeus back from his memories. “Ah, it seems the third member of our company has arrived,” he told Sivian, glancing back over his shoulder at the pacing apprentice.
Sivian looked very different from that first day. His hair was neatly groomed and cropped, and the ridiculous bright shirts and tunics that he was so proud of were replaced with an elegant black suit and tie. He looks good thought Bartimaeus; I may make him into a Dealmaker yet.
At once, Sivian snapped to attention, whipping his sword from the sheathe that was clipped to his belt, his eyes bright and alert.
“Put that thing down before you hurt yourself,” piped Bartimaeus. Sivian shook his head vigorously.
“Master Bartimaeus, how are you so sure that we can trust this…thing?” he said, his sword still glinting in his hands.
“I don’t trust anyone, Sivian, you know that, but I’ve worked with Vincent before, and he’s never let me down,” replied Bartimaeus. “And for your information, Vincent used to be a demon just like you and me. He’s just…wearing a different body now.” Even after all these years, it still felt strange for Bartimaeus to call himself a demon. But to youngsters like Sivian, it was the only title they had ever known.
When Bartimaeus was born, a child of heaven like he was, the word demon didn’t even exist yet. Then again, when he was born, the Earth didn’t exist yet either. Bartimaeus Stroud, ex-angel and seller of souls.
The silence in the rafters told Bartimaeus that Vincent was in position. Sivian returned his sword to his sheathe cautiously. Hopefully, we won’t need him, but better safe than sorry. Bartimaeus was almost certain that the deal he and Sivian were here to make was a trap, and Vincent’s presence was sadly necessary. Still, Bartimaeus had been wrong before. Not very often, but it happened.
The deal that he and Sivian were in that warehouse for felt suspicious from the beginning. The client specifically suggested that the meeting take place after dark, and in a secluded location, which wasn’t all that unusual. After all, selling your soul to the Devil in your house is a sure way to get a letter from the homeowners committee. It was the choice of location that felt strange.
The site was an old, abandoned warehouse on the shores of Lake Erie, a behemoth of rusted iron and steel. The roof was made of shingle so rusted through that it was starting to cave, and the weeds from the empty lot in front were creeping up the brick-red siding. Whatever the warehouse once held was long gone, leaving only a massive empty room the size of a football field in its place, with not even a chair to sit on. Three sets of balconies ran along the sides of the main room, and massive steel rafters supported the sagging roof. The only entrance was a tiny portal in the northwest corner, the massive sliding doors in the loading dock being completely rusted shut.
A perfect location for a trap, thought Bartimaeus, I hope Vincent is ready.
As soon as the rustling stopped, the door in the corner creaked open. Bartimaeus watched as a tiny, cowering figure crept into the warehouse, eyes darting about nervously. The client stepped cautiously into the pitch black room, a handheld flashlight clutched tightly in his hand. The pathetic beam of light swept back and forth, searching the warehouse for the Dealmaker. Bartimaeus would never understand humans and their obsession with light, but he could sympathize. I was a child of the light once, he thought, before The Fall and the Days Before Light.
“Excuse me, sir, but we are over here,” he called to the client. With a crash, the flashlight fell to the floor and snapped in half. A pitiful scream echoed through the room. That scream… did they send me a child?
“Please, do not be afraid,” Bartimaeus said in his most soothing voice possible, “Come closer. We will not hurt you.”
The crouched figure crept closer to where the two Dealmakers were standing, his eyes firmly locked on the ground. Through the dark, Bartimaeus could see that the client was slight of build, with shoulder length brown hair and clear, pale skin. His face was still covered in shadow. At last, the client reached the center of the room, where Bartimaeus and Sivian stood side by side in their identical suits.
“Sivian, would you please give us some light? I wish to look our client in the eye,” said Bartimaeus. Sivian raised his hand and murmured, the words spoken in the archaic language of the Seraph. After a few seconds of incantation, a ball of electric blue flame appeared in Sivian’s fist. The client whimpered and flinched back, but Sivian tossed the ball into the air, where it hovered gently in place twenty feet above, illuminating the warehouse with an bright fluorescent light.
With the light in place, the client finally raised his head. The first thing that Bartimaeus noticed was that he was not a he at all. The figure before him was a teenage girl: a slim, wispy little thing dressed in a thin blouse and jeans. She had a clean, well-cared for look about her, and her hair was brushed and conditioned to a shine. She was cute…in a human sort of way. No, this isn’t right, thought Bartimaeus, this girl has no reason to be here. She isn’t a drifter or a whore, like most of them. Why would this one wish to sell her soul?
The girl was shivering heavily, either from the cold or from fear. Her right hand was clutched to her chest, where Bartimaeus could see the familiar shape of a silver crucifix. Religious, clean, young, pretty…this is all wrong. Bartimaeus could almost hear Vincent licking his lips in the rafters.
Finally, the girl spoke, her voice a mousey whisper. “Are…y-y-you the d-d–dealmaker?” she stuttered, her voice quivering with fear. Bartimaeus could see that she was on the verge of tears.
“Watch your tongue, human!” barked Sivian from his side, his face twisted in a cruel sneer. “You are speaking to Bartimaeus Stroud, a demon of power beyond your comprehension! Bow before him!” With that, the girl broke. She fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
Not only an idiot, but a cruel idiot, thought Bartimaeus, Thomas is going to get it the next time I see him.
“Sivian! For once in your life, use that pathetic little pea-brain of yours!” he shouted “Can’t you see that this child is terrified! Show some pity, for the Prince’s sake!” Bartimaeus turned back to the quivering child and knelt down in front of her. “I apologize for my associate,” he said as softly as a father speaking to his child, “he’s new to this business.”
The girl sobbed on, her shoulders shaking heavily. Gently, Bartimaeus reached down to the girl and brushed his hand softly across her face. Sivian scoffed loudly behind him, but Bartimaeus knew what he was doing. For some reason, he had always had a way with humans, especially young ones.
“What is your name, child?” Bartimaeus continued, kneeling on the concrete floor in front of her. Slowly, her cries started to lessen, changing from wracking sobs to a soft whimper. Between the tears, she choked out a word, her voice so soft that even Bartimaeus’ keen ears could barely hear her. “Amber? Did you say your name is Amber?” he asked. She nodded in agreement, her eyes fixed on the floor.
“It’s good to meet you, Amber. My name is Bartimaeus, and back there is my idiot apprentice, Sivian Hightower. Don’t you worry, he’s only here to observe. I am the one who you will be dealing with today.” The girl sighed in relief, still refusing to look up.
Bartimaeus continued, “Now, Amber. I need you to look into my eyes before we can start this deal. Don’t worry,” he said as she croaked out another sob, “I won’t hurt you. I just like to see the face of my client before I begin a deal. Can you do that for me?” Amber nodded again. Cautiously, she raised her head and stared right into Bartimaeus’ eyes.
The first thing that he noticed was that Amber’s bright, golden eyes matched the stone of her namesake. They were a beautiful brownish gold, flecked with green and blue. Bartimaeus was instantly reminded of the Great Palaces of Heaven, where the three archangels had lived in the days before the Fall. I wonder if the Archangel’s Palace is still standing. Certainly no one can live there anymore, but they truly were the most perfect buildings I have ever seen. The thought filled Bartimaeus with longing for the house of his childhood.
What Bartimaeus saw next in the girl’s eyes was far more important. A lesser demon would have missed the slight distortion of the pupils, or the tiny golden lines that crisscrossed her iris, but to Bartimaeus, it was as clear as his own reflection. This girl has seen the face of a heavenly being. An unexpected twinge of pity shot through his heart like a dagger. Why, brother? Why did you have to choose her?
But Bartimaeus knew without a doubt what this meant. This girl was the bait in a crude but effective trap, and now, she would pay the price. With a heavy heart, Bartimaeus turned to Sivian and nodded. Without hesitation, the boy whipped his sword from its sheathe. Amber shrieked in terror and scampered off into the shadows. Her part in this is done for the time being, but she cannot leave just yet.
“Enough of this, Azor. Come out and face me like a warrior.” Bartimaeus bellowed into the darkness. Only silence greeted him, and for a minute, his heart soared. I was wrong, he thought, this isn’t a trap, and Vincent will not be needed. Amber is safe. Sivian waved his sword back and forth, ready to strike at any foe hidden in the shadows of the flickering blue flame above, but there was no one to fight.
Then Bartimaeus felt it. His skin prickled with an almost imperceptible charge, and the faintest smell of ozone filled his nostrils. Sivian continued on as if nothing had changed, but Bartimaeus knew what was happening. They are here, he thought, his heart sinking in his chest, now the fun begins.
The warehouse exploded in a dazzling burst of white light, then another, and another. Sivian staggered back, his eyes shielded with his forearm. Bartimaeus stood his ground, carefully counting each flash as it illuminated the room, making the shimmering flame above look pathetic by comparison.
Seven flashes. He brought more with him this time.
Finally, the lights faded, plunging the warehouse back into the half-darkness of the blue flame, and leaving seven, human-shaped figures in its wake. Bartimaeus’ eyes quickly readjusted to the dark, so he watched with perfect clarity as the seven strode up to meet him. They were all very tall, with long hair flowing down across their shoulders. White cloaks were pinned at their shoulders, and their shiny gray boots clacked heavily on the pavement. Bartimaeus saw faces of every color, ranging from ebony black to pale as snow, three female and four male. Each carried a glimmering longsword in their hands, each made of the same lustrous metal; the same material Sivian’s blade was made of.
Bartimaeus knew it by its true name: sanctinium. Many of the younger demons called it Divine Steel. It is one of the most powerful materials on Earth, a metal so strong that it’s impossible to re-forge once it sets. Fire cannot damage it and diamonds fail to dull it. High caliber ammunition and explosive bullets can hurt a demon or an angel, and possibly slow them down long enough to escape, but to truly kill a Celestial Being, you need sanctinium. It was widely believed that all the sanctinium that existed in heaven or earth had already been forged into weapons for the angels.
The seven angels marched silently in a line towards the Dealmaker and his apprentice, their faces blank and expressionless. Bartimaeus recognized many of them as soon as they moved into the light. The female on the far right was Ydrail Longfletch, a renowned archer with jet black skin and golden eyes who carried a massive longbow and seven arrows tipped with Divine Steel in place of a sword. Second from the center of the line was Urion, grandson of the famous cherubim Uriel, known to demons as The Destroyer. To his right was Samadriel the Paladin, an olive-skinned, nervous looking man whose unkempt appearance belied his skill in battle. Batimaeus did’nt know the other two females or the swarthy man on the far left, but he could tell from the way that their blades quivered that they were inexperienced fighters.
Bartimaeus’ eyes then fell on the warrior in the center of the line. He was by far the biggest of the angels, almost seven feet tall. His skin was as pale as ivory, and he had sleek blonde hair that fell gracefully across his shoulders. There was a cold, beautiful quality to his face that looked like it belonged more on a statue than a person. He would have been handsome were it not for the jagged scar that crossed his left eye. The scar was an ugly thing: a thick, white line of cartilage that wound across his face from his temple to his chin.
It looks bad now, but it’s a huge improvement from the day I gave it to him.
“Azor Anzarana,” Bartimaeus sneered at the scarred angel, “how did I know that you were behind this?”
The angel raised his hand, bringing the line to a halt. His ice blue eyes acknowledged Sivian, who stood still as a statue by the Dealmaker’s side, before locking on Bartimaeus.
“Bartimaeus Stroud,” he answered coldly, “I’ve been looking for you for a long time.” With a serene calm, Azor raised his sword to an offensive position. Bartimaeus recognized the blade, a three foot long katana, at once. It looked exactly the same as it did that day, five years ago, when they had last seen each other. That day that Azor got that scar.
“Now, Azor, is that any way to greet your big brother? Mother would be so disappointed in you.” Bartimaeus said coolly, as if scolding a child. “This is the first time we’ve seen each other in five years and you’ve already started making threats. At least introduce me to your new friends before you start waving that sword of yours about.”
Azor ignored his taunts. “You are no brother of mine, wretch,” he replied, his voice icy and sharp as steel. Bartimaeus heard Sivian shift uncomfortably behind him. Up in the rafters, a light rustle told him that Vincent was on the move. I need to give him more time.
“Honestly, Azor, I thought that we were behind all this unpleasantness. This is no way to treat your family.” Technically, Bartimaeus and Azor were only half-brothers, both having the same mother, Sariena Anzarana, or as he knew her, Sariena Salmiel. Azor was the product of her second marriage, after her first husband and child were thrown from heaven for choosing to fight on the wrong side in Lucifer’s Rebellion. A decision I would make again if I had the chance.
The look that Azor gave him was filled with all the spite that the he could muster. He honestly couldn’t be blamed for his cold demeanor. After all, their last meeting had ended with Azor lying on the ground with his face almost cut off, while his partner dueled with Bartimaeus blade to blade.
“I am beyond pity for you, Bartimaeus,” Azor answered, his gaze locked on the Dealmaker. “It is a shame that you brought an apprentice with you to witness the end of your reign.”
Sivian sprang forward, brandishing his sword like a fencer ready to thrust. “If you want to kill Master Bartimaeus, you have to kill me first!” he shouted. Azor didn’t even blink.
“Sivian, could you please be quite for a minute, the adults are trying to have a conversation,” said Bartimaeus calmly. The boy hesitated for a second, and then retreated back a step, bowing his head but keeping his weapon raised.
Azor turned to fix his eyes on Sivian. “Don’t worry, demon,” he said, “we will not harm your master if he does not resist arrest.”
“Arrest? On what charges?” said Bartimaeus, feigning shock and ignorance.
“Urion, bring out the scroll and read this fiend the charges against him” Azor said to the angel directly to his right. As Urion reached into the satchel on his back, Bartimaeus was struck by how similar he was to his grandfather. He recognized the same bright, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, and hawk-like nose that were so distinctive of The Destroyer. I hope he doesn’t fight as well as his grandsire, or this could be tougher than I planned on.
After a moment of searching, The Destroyer’s progeny pulled out a tightly wrapped scroll, bound shut with a massive red seal bearing the crossed blades of the Order of the Archangel. So Michael himself ordered my arrest. I’m flattered. With a snap, Urion broke the seal as if snapping a twig, which released a small flash of crimson light as it split. He unrolled the parchment with a flick of his wrist, letting it spool down to the floor, where it landed with a thud. It was a very long list.
Clearing his throat, Urion held the scroll at arm’s length. He spoke with a booming voice that echoed across the chamber as he read from the top line of the paper. They even have the same twitch in their lips when they talk, thought Bartimaeus.
“The charges brought before the demon, Barmayzion Salmiel…” Bartimaeus grimaced at the mention of his birth name “…also known as Bartimaeus Stroud, being many and egregious, will be summarized here. The charges include: collusion with the disgraced archangel, Lucifer Morningstar, the illegal purchase and sale of human souls, conspiracy to insight rebellion against the Father in Heaven, allegiance with an enemy of the Council of the Seraph, and the murder of the angel, Mazriel Sendarr. He is to submit himself to the custody of Captain Azor Anzrana to be transported to the Courts of Heaven to face justice for his crimes.” With a flourish of his hand, Urion rerolled the scroll.
Total silence greeted his declaration. For one long, painfully awkward moment, not a word was spoken by the seven white-clad warriors or the two, black-suited demons. Most of those are the standard charges read to every Dealmaker upon his arrest, but the last one…
Finally, Bartimaeus spoke. “Murder? Is that what self-defense is called in Heaven these days?” he drawled, “If my memory serves me right, I recall that you were the one who attacked me, and your friend, Mazriel, was an unfortunate casualty. For further reference, you may want to touch that lovely scar I gave you. It may just open some repressed memories.”
“Will you submit to Heaven’s Justice,” replied Azor, ignoring Bartimaeus and his pleas.
The Dealmaker refused to dignify that question with any response other than a sarcastic eye roll. Azor looked almost relieved
“Very well, you leave me no choice,” he continued, obviously expecting that this would be the result of his query, “I take your refusal to accept a fair trial in the Courts of Heaven as an admission of your guilt. By the rights administered to me by the Archangel, Michael, I am authorized to administer the penalty of death to the accused. Do you have any last words?”
Bartimaeus thought for a moment. A fair trial in the Courts of Heaven? Unless the Father himself is to be the judge, I find that hard to believe. “I would love to see you try.”
Azor chuckled lightly. “So this is how it ends between you and me? You must realize that you cannot hope to win this time. With me are six highly trained warriors, and unless this apprentice of yours is truly gifted with that stick of his, I see a low level fighter and an unarmed Dealmaker. My victory is certain.” He said as the other angels raised their swords, and Ydrail notched an arrow on her bowstring.
Bartimaeus grinned broadly, his dazzling white teeth sparkling in the still-burning flame above. “Three things before you start embarrassing yourselves. First, I may be unarmed, but I am more than capable of dispatching most of this pathetic lot. Second, forgive me if I don’t quiver with fear at this assembly of ‘highly trained warriors’. Third: I believe you may have miscounted.”
“What do you mean, miscounted?” said Azor, stepping forward.
“Haven’t you noticed someone missing? She’s been gone for a good two minutes now. There are only five warriors with you.”
The head of the one of the female angels fell from the rafters with a resounding thud.
Samadriel was the first to react, recoiling in horror and raising his sword to a defensive position. “NOSFERATU!” he bellowed, his voice quivering with fear. He didn’t get another word out before the blade sprouted from his throat. He collapsed to the floor, yellow blood gurgling like a waterfall from the gash in his neck. As he crumpled to the floor, a cloaked figure became visible behind him, gently wiping a dagger clean of the golden blood of the slaughtered angel. The remaining five warriors spun to face the knife-wielding demon, their eyes filled with shock and terror. Azor was the only one who didn’t cringe back. Bartimaeus shouted at their backs.
“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Vincent Valgorian, vampire extraordinaire.”
As if on cue, the vampire sprang into action. Pivoting on one foot, he flung the dagger at the swarthy angel’s head, where it buried itself before the warrior had time to dodge. Ducking down, he scooped up Samadriel’s sword from where it lay on the floor and charged the line in one swift movement. Two quick slashes later, the other female angel fell to the ground headless, and Urion was staring at the bloody stump where his sword arm used to be, a bloodcurdling scream echoing from his lips.
Ydrail raised her bow and fired a perfect shot right at Vincent’s chest. It would have found its mark, had the vampire not already dodged, rolling out of the way and scurrying up the nearest support column like a monstrous spider. The arrow instead struck the next closest target. Urion’s screams where silenced as the bolt pierced his head, sending fragments of brain matter splattering across the walls. The archer reached to find another arrow, but before she could grasp her quiver, Sivian took advantage of the distraction and lopped off her head from behind.
Well, I guess he is good for something, thought Bartimaeus, watching the scene unfold with morbid fascination.
Ten seconds was all it had taken, and now Azor stood all alone in the center of the room, surrounded by the dead bodies of his comrades. The look on his face was beyond shock now. It had evolved into total panic.
With a gentle swoosh, Vincent dropped from the rafters in front of him, his night black cloak covered in the blood and gore of the slaughtered angels. His hood had fallen back off his face, revealing the rotting face of the demon beneath. Like all of his kind, Vincent was the reincarnation of a corpse, inhabited with the soul of a demon. His face was covered with tightly drawn skin so pale that the empty veins below were visible, and his eyes burned with a hungry, crimson fire. His thin, colorless lips were pulled back in a constant, skeletal grin, revealing the razor sharp canines below. Azor wisely dropped his sword in submission.
“Should I kill this one too, Bartimaeus?” said Vincent, his voice a gravely whisper that sounded more like a death rattle than actual words.
Bartimaeus shook his head in response. “No. No matter what he has done, Azor is still my family, and I will not become a kinslayer.” He could see the angry protest burning in the eyes of both Vincent and Sivian as he spoke.
“But Master…” Sivian began to say. Bartimaeus cut him off.
“However, I cannot allow him to continue engaging in violence like this. Sivian, please take Captain Anzarana out behind the warehouse. Vincent, you go with him,” said Bartimaeus.
Azor spoke up, all the usual vigor absent from his voice. “What do you plan to do with me, Bartimaeus? Kill me or set me free, but I refuse to live as your captive.”
Bartimaeus responded, his voice slow and measured. “Do not worry, brother, I intend to release you.” Azor sighed in relief, but the Dealmaker had more to say. “But only after I have Sivian cut off your hands, and of course your tongue too. We can’t have you running around trying to kill any of my friends again, can we?”
The last that Bartimaeus saw of his little brother was his kicking and screaming body being dragged away between Sivian and Vincent.
Exhausted, the Dealmaker turned to leave the warehouse, ready to put this entire affair behind him, but as he reached for the door, he heard a tiny voice from the shadows.
“P-p-please, don’t l-l-leave me hear”
A chill ran down Bartimaeus spine as he remembered. Amber. The girl was crouched behind a box next to the door, shivering in the cold. She was obviously well beyond terror, and had the calm poise of a person in the early stages of shock. Bartimaeus saw that her shirt was covered with golden angel blood.
An unexpected twinge of pity ran through the Dealmaker’s heart. “Come here, child,” he said, his voice a soft whisper. Slowly, Amber took one step at a time, lurching toward Bartimaeus and his outstretched arms. Blood fell of her shirt with each shaky step, and her sleek hair was matted with gore.
She managed to hold off the tears until she reached the spot where Bartimaeus was standing. But when she reached the Dealmaker, she fell into his embrace with her eyes full of tears.
“Shhhh, don’t cry dear,” he said as the tears started to soak through his coat, “you’re safe here. I won’t hurt you.”
“I just want to go home,” she sobbed, her shoulders shaking. Bartimaeus patted her head reassuringly.
“Don’t worry, child. You will be home soon, I will take you there” he said sincerely. He released her from the hug and held her out at arm length. For the briefest second, a tentative smile crept across her face.
Bartimaeus smiled back, ruffled her hair reassuringly, then spoke a word in the ancient tongue. The girl collapsed into his arms, dead before her legs gave out.
It is better this way, thought Bartimaeus, as he let the Amber’s lifeless body fall to the floor. Better a peaceful, painless death than a lifetime being hunted by Vincent. The only request that Vincent made as payment for his services was the blood of the client. If there was any empathy left in the heart of this Dealmaker, it was for this little girl, and he could not let her be slaughtered like a lamb by Vincent. He will hate me for it, but I cannot allow him to kill this one.
Bartimaeus bent down gently and touched the dead girl’s face. She looks peaceful, he thought happily. “Go home to your Father in Heaven,” he whispered in her ear, “be at peace.”
The Dealmaker walked somberly out the warehouse door, slamming it behind him with a heavy thud.