Between one heartbeat and the next, the passenger seat of the Blue Beetle was suddenly occupied. I let out a yelp and nearly bounced my car off of a delivery truck. The tires squealed in protest and I started to slide. I turned into and recovered, but if I’d had another coat of paint on my car I’d have collided with the one next to me. My heart in my throat, I got the car moving smoothly again, and turned to glare at the sudden passenger.
Lasciel, AKA the Temptress, AKA the Webweaver, apparently some kind of photocopy of the personality of a fallen angel, sat in the passenger seat. She could look like anything she chose, but her most common form was that of a tall, athletic blonde wearing a white Greek-style tunic that fell almost to her knee. She sat with her hands in her lap, staring out the front of the car, smiling very slightly.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I snarled at her. “Are you trying to get me killed?”
“Don’t be such a baby,” she replied, her tone amused. “No one was harmed.”
“No thanks to you,” I growled. “Put the seatbelt on.”
She gave me a level look. “Mortal, I have no physical form. I exist nowhere except within your mind. I am a mental image. An illusion. A hologram only you can see. There is no reason for me to wear my seatbelt.”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” I said. “My car, my brain, my rules. Put on the damned seatbelt or get lost.”
She heaved a sigh. “Very well.” She twisted around like anyone would, drawing the seat belt forward around her waist and clicked it. I knew she couldn’t have picked up the physical seatbelt and done that, so what I was seeing was only an illusion–but it was a convincing one. I would have had to make a serious effort to see that the actual seatbelt hadn’t moved.
Lasciel looked at me. “Acceptable?”
“Barely,” I said, thinking furiously. Lasciel, as she appeared to me now, was a portion of a genuine fallen angel. The real deal was trapped inside an ancient silver denarius, a Roman coin, which was buried under a couple of feet of concrete in my basement. But in touching the coin, I’d created a kind of outlet for the demon’s personality—embodied as an entirely discrete mental entity living right in my own head, presumably in the ninety percent of the brain that humans never use. Or in my case, maybe ninety five. Lasciel could appear to me, could see what I saw and sense what I sensed, could look through my memories to some degree and, most disturbingly, could create illusions which I had to work hard to see through—just as she was now creating the illusion of her physical presence in my car. Her extremely attractive and wholesome-looking and entirely desirable presence. The bitch.
“I thought we had an understanding,” I growled. “I don’t want you coming to see me unless I call you.”
“And I have respected our agreement,” she said. “I simply came to remind you that my services and resources are at your disposal, should you need them, and that the whole of my self, currently residing beneath the floor of your laboratory, is likewise prepared to assist you.”
“You act like I wanted you there in the first place. If I knew how to erase you from my head without getting killed, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” I replied.
“The portion of me that shares your mind is nothing but the shadow of my true self,” Lasciel said. “But have a care, mortal. I am. I exist. And I desire to continue to do so.”
“Like I said. If I could do it without getting killed,” I growled. “In the meanwhile, unless you want me to chain you into a little black closet in my head, get out of my sight.”
Her mouth twitched, maybe in irritation, but nothing more than that showed on her face. “As you wish,” she said, inclining her head. “But if black magic truly is once more rising within Chicago, you may well have need of every tool at hand. And as you must survive for me to survive, I have every reason to aid you.”
“A tiny black box,” I said. “Without holes in the lid. With the smell of my high school locker room.”
Her mouth curled again, an expression of wary amusement. “As you wish, my host.”
And she was gone, vanishing back into the undeveloped vaults of my mind or wherever she went. I shivered, making sure my thoughts were contained, shielded from her perceptions. There was nothing I could do to prevent Lasciel from seeing and hearing everything I did, or from rummaging randomly in my memories, but I had learned that I could at least veil my active thoughts from her. I did so constantly, in order to prevent her from learning too much, too quickly.
That would only help her reach her goal–that of convincing me to unearth the ancient silver coin buried under my lab and sealed within spells and concrete. Within the coin, the old Roman denarius–one of a collection of thirty–dwelt the whole of the fallen angel, Lasciel.
If I chose to ally myself with her, it would get me all kinds of strength. The power and knowledge of a fallen angel could turn anyone into a deadly and virtually immortal threat–at the low low cost of one’s soul. Once you signed on with one of the literal Hell’s Angels, you weren’t the only one in the captain’s chair any more. The more you let them help you, the more you surrendered your will to them, and sooner or later it’s the fallen angel that’s calling the shots.
I’d grabbed the coin a heartbeat before a friend’s toddler could reach down for it, and touching its surface had transferred a portion of the personality, the intellect of Lasciel into my head. She helped me survive several nasty days the previous autumn, and her assistance had been invaluable. Which was the problem. I couldn’t allow myself to continue relying upon her help, because sooner or later, I’d get used to it. And then I’d enjoy it. And at some point, digging up that coin in my basement wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea.
All of which meant that I had to stay on my guard against the fallen angel’s suggestions. The price may have been hidden, but it was still there. Lasciel wasn’t wrong, though, about how dangerous situations involving true black magic, could become. I might well find myself in need of help.
I thought about those who had fought beside me before. I thought about my friend Michael, whose kid had been the one about to pick up the coin.
I hadn’t seen Michael since then. I hadn’t called. He’d called me a couple of times, invited me to Thanksgiving dinner a couple of times, asked if I was all right a couple of times. I had turned down his invitations and cut every phone conversation short. Michael didn’t know that I’d picked up one of the Blackened Denarii, taken possession of a token which could arguably make me a member of the Knights of the Blackened Denarius. I’d fought some of the Denarians. I’d killed one of them.
They were monsters of the worst sort, and Michael was a Knight of the Cross. He was one of three people on the face of the earth who had been chosen to wield a holy sword, an honest-to-Goodness holy sword, each of them with what was supposed to be a nail from the Cross, capital-C, worked into the blade. Michael fought dark and evil things. He beat them. He saved children and innocents in danger, and he would stand up to the darkest creatures imaginable without blinking, so strong was his faith that the Almighty would give him strength enough to defeat the darkness before him.
He had no love for his opposites, the Denarians, power-hungry psychopaths as determined to cause and spread pain and suffering as Michael was to defeat it.
I never told him about the coin. I didn’t want him to know that I was sharing brainspace with a demon. I didn’t want him to think less of me. I wanted his good opinion. Michael had integrity. Most of my adult life, the White Council at large had been sure that I was some kind of monster just waiting for the right time to morph into its true form and start laying waste to everything around me. But Michael had been firmly on my side since the first time we’d met. His unwavering support had made me feel a whole hell of a lot better about my life.
I didn’t want him to look at me the way he’d looked at the Denarians we’d fought. So until I got rid of Lasciel’s stupid mental sock puppet, I wasn’t going to ask him for help.
I would handle this on my own.
I was fairly sure that my day couldn’t get much worse.
No sooner had I thought it than there was a horrible crunching sound, and my head snapped back hard against the headrest on the back of the driver’s seat. The Beetle shuddered and jounced wildly, and I fought to keep it under control.
You’d think I would know better by now.