Chapter 3: Monte Carlo or Hell ~~ Admiratio minora ~~
Chapter 3: Monte Carlo or Hell
~~ Admiratio minora ~~Emma had been right about my earlier preoccupation, something Armaros had said was playing on my mind and as I turned toward the bedroom door I found myself thinking about it again. Over two thousand denizens have hitch-hiked over here and are currently seeking sanctuary under the protection of Dogma.
Dogma! It hadn’t occurred to me that I might fall under the protection of the Catholic Church now that I was, technically, human. But the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Okay, I was probably clutching at straws but now that I was potentially back on Hell’s radar, straws were probably all I had.
I’d never been that hot on the constricts in dogmata, and for good reasons. I was lazy, disinterested and supremely unmotivated. And bearing in mind that most of my time was spent enticing people to break rules, it all seemed like a waste of time. I figured that not knowing the rules might actually be an advantage. And if you believe that you’ll believe anything.
Now don’t get me wrong, I knew the basics.
~~ The basics ~~
- Demons like Armaros, who were here as demons in their demonic form – definitely not protected.
- Demons co-habiting human form i.e. occupying the body of a human who already has a soul of their own – definitely not protected.
- Humans – protected.
- Me - ?
~~ Portals: part 1 – corporeal ~~
Now, and for the first time in my existence, I wish I had studied.
I pushed the door open with a somewhat understandable amount of trepidation, ready to duck or run or, if the worst came to the worst, scream like a girl before bursting into flames. Thankfully none of these things happened, though I did still cringe involuntarily and screw my eyes shut for the briefest of moments.
So! I hate bursting into flames! Can you blame me?
The bedroom was exactly as I had left it, with the exception of three pools of black wax that had once been candles and an ugly ring-shaped burn on the carpet marking the boundary of the confinement barrier I had used to hold Armaros. A thin veil of smoke drifted aimlessly around the ceiling light and the faint odour of charred meat hung in the air. I knew that carpet was made of acrylic, I thought to myself, remembering how Emma had once tried to convince me that it was real wool.
As for Armaros there were no signs, and I was pleased to discover that he had not satisfied his frustration at being summoned with any acts of senseless vandalism. I didn’t have much worth breaking, but that’s not the point. Better still he hadn’t tidied up either. It was a mess and I liked it that way.
All the same I gave the room a quick once over, just to make sure that he hadn’t left me any surprises, and after a thorough search of all the drawers, the wardrobe, the closet and finally the bed, I discovered that he had. But it wasn’t the surprise I had expected. Are they ever?
In the centre of what had been the confinement ring, sitting on the circular piece of carpet that had been effectively cut out – Bang goes my security deposit! – was a calling card. Armaros always was a suave mother-fucker and a calling card was most definitely his style. I hadn’t noticed it before because it was almost exactly the same colour as the carpet; a deep, rich brown. Emma said it was chocolate, but I thought it looked like something else and I didn’t like it at all. But it did hide most stains, although the candle wax was going to be a bugger to remove. However, I’m digressing.
~~ Portals: part 2 – non-corporeal ~~
I bent down slowly and picked up the card, holding it at arms length in much the same way that one might hold a rabid weasel, or a bomb. I was still uncertain about Armaros’ intentions and his calling card, though innocuous enough, was an ideal foil for a trap. I said that he was suave, did I also mention that he was devious? It was nice, not that I’m an expert in this field, but I’ve seen enough business cards to know that this one wasn’t cheap. It was weighty, for something so small, and a delicately marbled reddish brown in colour. It was also slightly warm to the touch. But apart from a small gold symbol embossed on the upper right hand corner, which I didn’t recognise, it was totally blank. I turned it over to find that the other side exactly the same, only minus the embossing. That was when I felt a slight tingling sensation in my fingers.
Dropping the card like a hot potato, I immediately stepped backwards until I hit the wardrobe, pressing myself against it as though I was trying to merge with it. Instead of falling, the card hung in the air in a most disturbing violation of the law of gravity, and it began to glow, quite brightly in fact. This was exactly why I had been so cautious about the damn thing in the first place. Business cards didn’t normally behave in that way, at least none of the others I’d ever held did.
I waited. Not entirely sure what to expect or what, if anything, I should do at this stage. The card now stood between me and the door, effectively blocking my escape, and as my flat was on the second floor, I didn’t fancy my survival chances in a jump from the window. Besides, it was altogether possible that I might be overreacting a tad; as I said, I was still unsure of Armaros’ intentions.
I quickly scanned the room for something to poke the card, but the only object within easy reach that seemed to fit the bill was a large inflatable hammer that I’d bought on a day trip to Brighton with Emma a few months ago. I was just what I needed … to prove to myself how ridiculous I was being. With the image of me beating a small piece of card to death with a large novelty hammer fresh in my mind, I relaxed, took a couple of steps forward and picked the card out of the air.
Turning it over a couple of times I noticed that faint words had now appeared on the front of the card, they shimmered gently as though they were almost not really there. I moved the card closer to my face, squinting to read the spidery letters. They said ‘Hold your Breath’.
There was a faint popping sound. Everything went dark. A gritty, metallic taste scraped across my tongue.
Bugger! I thought.
~~ A brief history of stupidity: reprise ~~
It was shiny.
So very, very shiny.
I couldn’t resist.
I reached out and took it.
~~ Arrival (The maternity ward: reprise) ~~
I found myself slightly disoriented. I found myself in an unfamiliar, though very swish, apartment. I found myself completely naked.
At least I wasn’t being held upside down by the ankles having the shit smacked out of me. Again!
~~ The decanter ~~
‘You didn’t need to dress for the occasion,’ said a sarcastic voice from somewhere behind me. I spun round to find Armaros smiling from across a large, glass topped desk. Behind him the entire back wall of the room was also made of glass in which, to one side, a door had been fitted, evident in the dim light only by its faint outline and a curved metal handle. I imagined some sort of balcony beyond. ‘Did I catch you at an inconvenient moment?’ he continued, his smile broadened, giving him the air of a sadistic game show host who’s just asked a contestant if they would prefer to be disembowelled or dismembered. I stared at him like a man who had just been asked if he’d prefer to be disembowelled or dismembered.
‘Err … what?’ I managed to mumble.
‘How much have you had to drink this evening?’ he said, moving round from behind the desk. He went across to what looked like an antique french dresser and unstoppered a crystal decanter before pouring a large quantity of golden brown liquid from it into a tumbler which stood on a nearby tray.
‘Mmm … about half a bottle of wine,’ I said, uncertainly. I was still a little dazed.
‘Then you’ll be needing this I would imagine.’ He handed me the glass and continued on past me through a doorway which led to an adjacent room. I automatically raised the glass to my lips and took a long swig of the contents, my hand trembling slightly as I did. It wasn’t cold in the apartment, but I was shivering none-the-less. The metallic taste from the transference was immediately replaced by a smoky, peaty tang and a faint burning sensation caught the back of my throat before a soothing warmth spread upward from my stomach. Whiskey, and probably a good one knowing Armaros.
‘Here,’ he said, tossing a silk dressing gown onto the arm of the long leather sofa to my right. ‘Cover yourself up before you make me blush.’ He threw himself down at the other end of the sofa and picked up a glass from a nearby table. It too contained a golden brown liquid which he lifted to his lips and sipped languidly. ‘Was she worth it?’
I ignored the question. ‘Where am I?’ I asked, pulling on the gown before unstoppering the decanter again. ‘Do you mind?’ He shook his head so I refilled my glass.
‘You’re in my apartment.’
‘Yes. But where?’ I moved over to the window and peered out into the night. The balcony I had imagined wasn’t very wide and was bounded by a thin metal rail over a series of smoked glass panels. I recognised the vista immediately. ‘This is Canary Wharf,’ I said, a little surprised. ‘You live in London?’ I had expected him to live somewhere much more exotic: Beverley Hills, Monte Carlo, maybe Paris or Madrid.
‘I do whilst you’re here,’ he said nonchalantly, taking another sip of his drink.
I was clearly still confused from the transference. ‘You mean you’ve moved to London just for me?’ I asked incredulously.
‘No, I mean that I’m staying in my London apartment until our business is concluded.’ He shook his head. ‘I like you a lot better when you’re drunk Valefar.’
‘You’ve never met me when I’m drunk,’ I protested. It seemed logical since I’d only started drinking after I become human. He raised an eyebrow as if to say, that’s what you think. I opened my mouth to protest but decided that I probably didn’t want to know where and when he’d met me before. If I didn’t remember it now then no amount of explaining was going to help and would probably just annoy me. I went back to the decanter. ‘If it’s drunk you want then give me ten minutes and I’ll be with you.’
~~ Portals: part 3 – trans-dimensional/trans-temporal ~~
‘Are you out of your tiny mind?’ I spluttered, about forty minutes, and a good many whiskeys later. ‘If I go back to Hell they’ll …’ I didn’t need say what they would do, we both knew.
‘Only if they catch you,’ he said with infinite patience. He’d been over this whole ‘going back to Hell’ thing three times already and I think he was starting to wish that he’d just killed me back at my apartment. But he kept his cool admirably. ‘Besides, you’re going to have to go back there eventually, one way or the other. The question is would you rather go back under their terms or yours?’
I was beginning to feel like that unfortunate game show contestant again and I wondered if option three could possibly be any worse than either having my guts ripped out or my limbs torn off. ‘There’s still one thing I’m not clear on,’ I said slowly. He groaned and looked up at the ceiling. ‘Back at the flat you looked like you wanted to kill me. So why are you helping me now. When you brought me here I thought you were going to tear me apart. And why didn’t you just summon me instead of all that elaborate translocation business?’
‘I did want to kill you. I just wasn’t allowed,’ he sighed. ‘Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve told you? You’re protected by Dogma. Which bit of that is unclear? And as for summoning you, well that’s impossible. You’re not really a demon anymore. At least not as long as you’re in that body. Your sigil doesn’t work for the time being. Why do you think no one has found you yet? Oh they’ve tried, believe me they’ve tried, but something about you being in human form prevents it. My instructions have been clear from the moment you stole that soul. I wasn’t allowed to go looking for you, but if you ask for help I have to give it. And you did summon me for help.’ He looked at me enquiringly, ‘It’s the only logical reason why you would summon me.’
I nodded slowly. ‘Then tell me again, how are you going to send me back to Hell?’
He flashed his game show host smile again. ‘Come with me,’ he said.
He led me through to the room he’d recovered the gown from earlier, it was his bedroom. It was a little ostentatious for my tastes: a four poster bed, rosewood panelling and a polished wooden floor. It seemed strangely incongruous in comparison to the ultra-modern lounge we had just left. But who am I to judge a man’s tastes, I live in a hovel.
At the back of the room he stopped and drew his finger down one of the panels. A faint glow emanated from his finger tip as he did and I heard a distinct ‘click’ before a long panel in the wall popped open to reveal a doorway. ‘Welcome to my inner sanctum,’ he said with undue formality.
‘Corny,’ I replied, sneering at him.
He chuckled, ‘I’ve always wanted to say that. Now wipe your feet.’
I looked down at my bare feet, and then at the bare floorboards. On what? I thought to myself as I followed him into the room.
I found myself in an Aladdin’s Cave of magical paraphernalia. A large table, covered with manuscripts, occupied the centre of the room with an armchair set nearby. A number of other, smaller tables filled positions near the walls, each of which was lined from top to bottom along their full length with shelving crammed with magical items. Most of the stuff had power, and you could feel it emanating into the room. I was impressed and I think he knew it.
‘You remember my calling card?’ I nodded. ‘Well I can make one that will send you back to Hell.’
‘What! Now!’ I looked down at myself in his black silk dressing gown. ‘I’m not really dressed for it.’
‘No,’ he said, a hint of exasperation in his voice. ‘It’ll take me about a week to prepare but I have all the elements I need right here.’
I thought about the one he’d left on my bedroom floor. ‘Do you mean that you made that other card a week before I summoned you? How did you know?’
‘I didn’t,’ he said again, opening the lid of an ornate wooden box on the table. ‘I always keep a stock of those. At least one for each of my homes.’ Inside were about a dozen neat piles of calling cards, exactly like the one he had left for me. They all looked alike. I reached out to take one but he stopped me. ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. They’re activated when anyone but me touches them.’
‘How do you tell them apart?’ I asked, peering closer, still trying to discern the difference.
‘Top right hand corner,’ he replied enigmatically. I looked closer and saw that the embossed symbol on the top card of each pile was slightly different. ‘Rome, Beverley Hills, New York, Monte Carlo,’ he said, pointing to a different pile each time. He moved over to one of the shelves and began to rummage through a pile of parchment.
I knew he had a place in Monte Carlo, I thought bitterly to myself. Why couldn’t he have translocated me there? ‘So what do I do for the next week then?’
‘You could do that girl again,’ he said distractedly. ‘She seemed very ... enthusiastic? But does she ever shut up?’