EXCERPT FROM MASTER OF THE GAME
© 2014 Jane Kindred
“You.” The Power came into the room and stood in front of Belphagor to intimidate him with his height. “And you might be?”
“My name is Belphagor. I’m a resident of the Brimstone.”
The angel’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve heard about you. Not surprised to find you in the thick of this. You’ll come with me.”
“Just a damned minute,” Vasily protested. The angel tried to hide a nervous flinch.
“It’s all right, Vasya.” Belphagor put a hand on his arm, silently willing him not to show the fire in his eyes. While such elemental demonstrations weren’t exactly against celestial law, most angels, if they believed in it, considered it a kind of sorcery, which wouldn’t help their cause. “If the officer has questions, I’m happy to answer them.” He let the angel take him by the arm and escort him through the door.
In the parlor, soldiers were roughing up the rent boys, demanding proof of age from those who looked younger, and most of the patrons had scattered. Those who remained and those who couldn’t convince the officers of their professed ages were hustled outside, persuaded by fists and clubs to the head and chest.
“Where are you taking them?” Silk demanded as the officer bound Belphagor’s wrists behind his back. Belphagor had to stifle the urge to critique the angel’s knot making. “They’ve broken no laws.”
The angel swung about toward the younger demon and cuffed him. “Unless you want to join them, you little ponce, I suggest you back off.” Behind them, Vasily stood in the doorway, fists at his sides, and Belphagor shook his head in warning, but Vasily wasn’t in submissive mode anymore.
The firespirit barreled into the parlor and swung at the angel, but before his fist even came close, a trio of Powers descended on him and tackled him to the ground. Bound and held firmly by the arresting officer, Belphagor could do nothing but watch as the angels punched and kicked Vasily. Just stop, sweet boy, he thought urgently. Don’t resist. He wanted to say it aloud, but experience had taught him it would only make matters worse. Silk, on the other hand, was shouting at them but staying well back. He’d obviously had run-ins of his own with the law.
After several agonizing moments, Vasily stopped struggling and the angels spat on him and moved out toward the door. The last thing Belphagor saw of him before being yanked outside was Silk throwing himself to his knees beside Vasily in concern. Knowing he was in Silk’s hands would have to suffice.
Explanations and answers were not forthcoming. The demons being arrested were herded through Raqia and across the Acheron River that separated the lively squalor of the Demon District from the stately, pristine streets of Elysium. While angelic mothers watched wide-eyed and gathered their golden-haired children to their skirts to protect them from the dangerous handful of bound rent boys and patrons surrounded by a patrol of imposing Powers, the demons were led up Palace Avenue to the gray stone Conciliary just west of the Winter Palace. At least there was no Kresty Prison here in Heaven. No prisons at all, in fact—just the gallows for those found guilty of violating celestial law.
Belphagor sat on the cold stone floor beside the others, waiting for his turn to be interrogated. One by one they were taken into an adjoining room, from which none of the demons returned. When it was Belphagor’s turn, he went without protest and let the angels shove him onto the hard wooden stool before the table. On the other side sat the officer who’d arrested him.
“So.” The angel looked him up and down. “You’re the infamous Prince of Tricks.”
Belphagor raised an eyebrow. “I had no idea my reputation had made it past the Acheron.”
“Don’t be modest. Every angel with a fondness for gambling knows of your reputation.”
Belphagor shrugged. He had no idea what angels knew about him. “I thought I was here to refute your charge of trafficking in underage sex.”
The angel clasped his fingers together on the tabletop. “You own the Stone Horse.”
“And you own the demon they call Silk.”
“I don’t own him. He’s a free demon. He works for me. And that’s his name.”
“You deny that you purchased him from his former owner at the Fletchery?”
Belphagor’s gaze hardened. The Fletchery had been an actual underage brothel operating not only in Raqia but selling its wares to the world of Man once they’d been “fletched”—a crass term for giving a young celestial his metaphorical wings. “I ransomed Silk from the peddler he was sold to after I exposed the Fletchery and had it shut down. But I did not purchase him.”
“And what about the twelve boys who live with this Silk? Right next door to your perverse house of ill repute.”
The Lost Boys were another matter. They’d been the last of the Fletchery’s “unsullied merchandise”. When Belphagor had tracked them down, sold to a gangster in the world of Man to be offloaded to clients who relished not only molesting children but violating what they believed to be angels, he’d been compelled to free them and bring them back to Raqia where they belonged. That they were under his guardianship was certainly true, but by celestial law, a male demon could not foster demonic children. It was considered unsavory. Yet owning them outright was an unquestionable privilege of any demon who could afford to buy them.
The angel was still waiting. “Do you deny you own these youths?”
“Legally,” said Belphagor thinly.
“Legally, I am their owner, yes. But they have nothing to do with the Stone Horse or any other trade.” This wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. But the trade he was training them in involved more pedestrian crime—such as any respectable demon might deal in. He was teaching them the fine art of picking pockets, cutting purses, and gathering useful information.
The angel lifted his hands from a pile of papers stacked neatly beneath them on the table and picked up one of the vellum sheets. “And these boys arrested with you… None of them are your underage slaves, then? You aren’t pimping them out to the perverted lot who frequent your establishment?”
Skin prickling with needles of anger, Belphagor shot to his feet but was swiftly pushed back onto the stool by the guard who’d brought him in. “My boys are not slaves,” he growled. “And they are not working at the Horse.”
“Your ‘boys’.” The angel’s lip curled with distaste. “Then you merely partake of them yourself. Not a crime, of course, so you needn’t prevaricate.”
“I do not partake of them. I am their patron. In the strict, financial sense of the term. And I don’t appreciate your vile accusations.” Beside him, the guard cuffed him without warning, and Belphagor nearly tumbled from the stool without his arms free for balance.
“You are here,” said the angel with careful control, “because you are suspected of illicit dealings. You will suffer any and all accusations I put forth, and you will answer my questions without elaboration unless I ask for it.” He stacked the papers once more in front of him. “To reiterate, you assert that you own the establishment known as the Stone Horse, you employ the demon known as Silk—for whom you paid a ‘ransom’ but did not purchase—as its proprietor, you own twelve underage demons who are not employed as whores at your perversion of a brothel, though they reside next door to it with its proprietor, and none of the demons who are in your employ as whores are under the age of consent decreed by celestial law.”
Belphagor took in a steady breath and exhaled. Put together, it certainly sounded suspicious. But the angel had merely enumerated the facts he’d confirmed. “That’s correct.”
“And how many of these have ties to the Union of Liberation?”
“I beg your pardon?” He’d missed a sharp turn of the angel’s mental carriage somewhere.
“Don’t pretend not to understand me. You were acquainted with several members of that treasonous society before Duke Elyon of the House of Arcadia met his untimely end at the gallows—and his fellow Unionists along with him. And you maintain at the present time an association with a certain officer who recanted his membership before the society was exposed. In fact, my sources tell me this officer stood for you as your second in a recent unlawfully conducted duel.”
Belphagor set his lips together in a tight line. There was no way he could answer this accusation without implicating his sole friend among the Host.
His interrogator obviously knew it and didn’t wait for him to confirm the statement. “Among those detained with you this evening was a small faction of Unionist sympathizers—liberationists, to be more precise, as that unlawful association is no more. These angels have confessed to using your establishment as cover for their meetings with Fallen agitators posing as whores.”
“What?” Belphagor leaned forward on the stool, planting his feet firmly on the ground, making the guard behind him drop a firm grip on his shoulder.
“Interesting.” The angel observed him. “You seem surprised. Your boy Silk is rumored to be arranging these liaisons.” He lifted his brows. “And that surprises you as well.”
Could Silk actually…? “That’s preposterous. Silk is no revolutionary.”
“More than one brought in this evening attested to it.”
Belphagor dismissed the idea with a snort of derision, but the angel remained unmoved. He considered his interrogator. “If this is about Unionists and agitators, why all the insinuations about underage pandering?”
The angel smiled. “Merely to remind you that you are in a precarious position, and that it would behoove you to cooperate with the newly established Elysian Office of the Peace in our investigation, lest that position tip in a direction you will not like.”
Blackmail. Again. Fabulous.
Excerpt from MASTER OF THE GAME
Copyright 2014 Jane Kindred