The Order Ch. 13bypurefire©
The air was charged with something fierce and dangerous as the members of The Order coped with the knowledge that there was yet another failure for them to accept. The five demons sat back in their seats quietly, each considering the next strike. They were wrong to send the Belial demon first; it left too much room and too much time for him to switch sides. Now that he had, he had to pay for his betrayal and the considerable amount of trouble he'd put them through.
Astaroth looked about the cave-like walls of the summoning chamber as he thought of the next step. "So it seems that three hundred Vartek aren't enough to even slow the demon down." His pride and reputation as the most feared demon in the underworld had taken a fierce beating. It was only a matter of time before over-ambitious underlings began to believe that they had what it took to overthrow him. The thought alone put him in a rage. "Tell me, how do you kill a demon who proves to be invincible?"
"We separate him from his armor." Moloch, usually the quiet, calculated member of The Order waited for Astaroth's signal to continue before he spoke. "It is quite obvious that he has sought refuge with The Brethren. Together, they are virtually unstoppable."
"But we tried to take him from them already," Nebiros reminded the second commander.
"Exactly," Moloch said as he rubbed his webbed hands together, "We tried to take Andraemalek. We did nothing to take his protection from him."
Astaroth sat back as he considered the weight of Moloch's words. "You suggest we attack the other members of The Brethren?"
"If we attack or preferably kill enough of them, he'll do what it takes to protect the rest."
"Including killing the human," Botis added, "Ingenious." He looked to Astaroth as he asked, "Which do we attack first?"
"We target the ones who choose to isolate themselves." Moloch stared at the tabletop as he continued to formulate a plan. "They will regroup, allowing us the chance to strike hard with a massive attack."
"And by the time they realize that we're behind it, they will have already been weakened." Botis ran a hand over his large stomach as he smiled in anticipation. "He would gladly hand over the human."
"After you went after my brothers, no." Andraemalek sauntered into the summoning chamber slowly as he wiped off the Blade of Abraxis. He looked at Astaroth as he said, "You might want to start interviewing for new sentries... They put up a pretty good fight, but they were hardly skilled enough to protect someone of your importance."
Astaroth stood up, fully prepared to launch an attack on the treacherous demon but stopped when the Belial casually leaned against the wall. He wasn't here to fight. "What do you want, Andraemalek?"
"World peace would be nice, but I'm a demon. What would I care about that?"
"It would no doubt make your human happy," Botis muttered. It annoyed him that the demon had the gall to breach their security after everything he'd done. And the fact that he did it in human form... "Unless you are here to tell us that you have killed her to that you would like us to kill you both, you are wasting your time."
Andraemalek looked at Astaroth as he said, "I'm here to make a deal."
"A deal like the one you made with us before?" Nebiros asked.
"Even better," Andraemalek replied, "I give you the woman alive and you can do to her what you wish."
Astaroth didn't believe that for a minute. "After all you've done to protect her, you would simply hand her over?"
Andraemalek thought his words over carefully before he spoke. "I thought she was different from the other humans. Strong. Resourceful. She only disappoints me with her fear and detachment." And her refusal to stay with him, he neglected to add.
"You mean she doesn't want you," Botis sneered, "Like I always said, humans are good for nothing but hunting."
"I want The Brethren left out of this."
"And what about you?" Astaroth asked. He glanced at Andraemalek before looking at the other demons in the room. "Are we to simply forget your double-crossing and allow you to walk away alive?"
"It's either I walk away and you get the human, or you can continue to hunt me and fail." As he crossed his arms over his chest he added, "And if you even think of touching my brothers, my double-crossing will be the least of your problems." He gave them a minute to consider his words before pulling his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and quickly lighting one up. "I'll be waiting at the old glass factory. Tomorrow night. Be there before midnight."
"You expect us to walk into an obvious trap?" Moloch asked.
"I expect you to do what you have to do to keep your rank uncompromised." Andraemalek took a long drag from his cigarette as he looked at the confused members of The Order. "Those are my terms. Take them or leave them."
Astaroth smiled cynically as he said, "You would have made a fine member of The Order. I accept your terms." He held his hand up for silence when the other members began to protest. "We'll take the woman, but you must never show yourself. You must live in exile."
"That was the plan," was all Andraemalek said before he walked out of the chamber. He'd just taken the biggest risk of his life. It would not do to fail.
In the summoning chamber, Astaroth sat back in his seat with an evil smile that screamed revenge. "He is a very calculated half breed."
"Yes, one of the reasons we wanted him to join The Order," Botis replied. He was still in shock that his leader would willingly walk into a trap. "My liege, why did you accept his terms?"
"Because he gave us the opening we needed to ensure our victory."
Astaroth silenced Nebiros as she said, "Leave me. I have arrangements to make."
* * * * *
Nadia stretched lazily as she rolled over in bed and came awake when she did not distantly feel Andrae's strong arms pulling her back into his embrace. In the few nights she'd spent at the manor, that was the one constant she'd come to expect, especially considering the fact that he refused to sleep without her. The night she'd discovered the private library, she fell asleep on the large leather couch and jumped up in fear when she woke up in a bed. It took a full minute and Andraemalek getting out of bed to defend her for Nadia to realize that he'd carried her to his room. She should have been upset by that; she was quickly growing tired of reminding him that she didn't belong to him. But at the same time, his attentive care of her warmed her heart and somewhere in the back of her mind, they told her that maybe, just maybe, trusting him again wasn't a bad idea.
Now as she slowly sat up, she frowned at the sight of him sitting in the chair he'd moved close to the fireplace. He looked stressed and the pensive furrow to his brow made her uneasy. "Why are you still awake?"
"I went to see them." Based on her barely controlled intake of breath, he knew that she understood. "Everything goes down tomorrow." And it had to work. He'd done something unforgivable, but he told himself that it was for a good reason. Once it was over... "I have to make sure you don't get hurt." Andraemalek brought his eyes to her and felt himself relax at the calm expression on her face. Finally, she was becoming accustomed to his life. Or was she resigning herself to the fact that no matter the outcome, it would be over? "This doesn't make sense if you don't get hurt."
"I'll be fine." Nadia wasn't sure who she was lying to, but she knew that the statement needed to be heard. "As long as this is over, I'll be fine." She watched as he turned his dark gaze to the fireplace and became mesmerized by the way the firelight danced over his face. He looked so... scared. "I believe you want me to walk away from all of this with my life."
Andraemalek said nothing to her carefully phrased statement. He knew that her goal was to help him accept her decision, but she still refused to acknowledge the fact that he would not simply allow her to walk away from him. "Nadia..." He focused his attention on her beautiful face and sighed at the sight of the firelight reflecting off her curled hair. She'd forgotten to pack her hair straightener. "Once it's over, we have to decide where we'll live."
"I'm not letting you leave me."
Nadia moved to rest her head on the pillows and stared up at the ceiling as she said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there." She listened as he stood from his seat to move to the bed. As he settled himself beside her, Nadia found herself wanting to press herself against him, to let the heat of his body warm her. No, that was a horrible idea. He only wanted her around because of what she knew. It was either that or sex. When she thought about it, it couldn't have been sex; they hadn't done anything close to the act since the night at her apartment.
"You love me."
"Yes, but considering the circumstances-"
"I'll keep you safe, Nadia."
Of that she had no doubt, but what was the point of loving someone who only wanted her because she made him less lonely? That was, of course, if it wasn't because he wanted to make sure the secret of The Brethren never surfaced.
"What would make you stay?" Andraemalek watched Nadia as she turned to look at him in surprise. He didn't know how to handle the situation with the new and raw emotions taking over him. It was obvious that she no longer hated him, but she didn't trust him either. "Tell me what to do and I'll do it."
The vulnerability in his eyes nearly broke her heart. As much as she wanted to tell him something, anything, it was impossible. She didn't know what to say. Nadia took a deep breath a moment before she rolled into his arms. The gentle way he wrapped his arms around her brought tears to her eyes. Why did it all have to be so complicated?
How was it possible to love someone more than the air she breathed while at the same time knowing that he would never see her as more than a secret to be kept?
* * * * *
Andraemalek was anxious. As he paced the length of the glass factory, he asked himself what took Astaroth and the rest of The Order so long. They hadn't arranged an exact time, he belatedly realized, but he'd been waiting for over an hour. If everything was to go according to plan, they had to show up before midnight. He'd gone over every nuance of their meeting hundreds of times in his head and not in any possible outcome he considered did he think of them not showing.
"I don't think they're coming," Caleb said as he stepped away from his post in the factory. He too was anxious and ready to do what he had to do to protect Nadia and his brothers. He found it odd that they were left to wait as long as they had. "Euan hasn't seen anything," he added when their brother, who conveniently took the form of a large owl, landed on his shoulder.
"Something isn't right," Andraemalek said as he continued to pace. The Order was up to something. Whatever it was, it was big, and something he knew he would pay dearly for.
"Does anyone else have a weird feeling?" Jameson asked as he walked into the factory. After watching Euan fly in from his post on the roof, he'd found Alexis and brought him inside. Based on the fact that nothing had happened in the hour that they'd waited, he knew that something was off. The only explanation could be found with their half-demon brother. "Can you sense anything?" He asked both Andraemalek and Caleb.
"I don't smell anything but us." Andraemalek said.
"Euan says the same," Caleb added. Using his ability to read minds, he searched for anything that would be of use. "I've got nothing but homeless people in the abandoned church three blocks down."
"Which means they either know what we planned or they double-crossed you," Alexis interjected. He looked at Andraemalek and narrowed his eyes at the uneasy look on his brother's face. He focused his attention on Caleb and thought of what he wanted him to do. Then he focused his attention on the demon of the family. "You're sure they accepted your terms to fight all five of them for her life?"
Andraemalek said nothing as he continued to pace. He forced himself not to think of the actual deal that he made with The Order, knowing that if he said it out loud, his fears would become reality.
"What the fuck is going on here?" Liam watched his brothers turn to look at him as he stormed toward them. "I've been freezing my fucking ass off out there."
"It's not that cold outside," Jameson said.
"You're wearing a goddamned parka," Liam countered, "I've only got this bullshit turtleneck on."
"No one told you to walk out of the house without enough clothing on." Alexis said.
"But I can't fight with all the extra bulk. And all of you assholes know that." Liam narrowed his eyes when Jameson smiled before he said, "I should be home right now basking in my victory over those bastards."
"All in good-"
"You did what?!?" Caleb hadn't meant to shout or interrupt Alexis, but he'd finally managed to get around the mental wall that Andraemalek had put up against him and was both appalled and furious at what he'd learned. "D, why?"
"I thought they'd think she was with us."
"What is going on?" Alexis asked. It was a very rare event when Caleb lost his temper. That he did now was a very bad omen of what was to come.
"D deviated from the plan."
"What do you mean he deviated?" Jameson asked as he looked from Caleb's astonished face to Andraemalek's guilt-stricken one. "What the hell is going on?"
"I offered her instead," Andraemalek said as he placed his hands on the back of his head, "I told them that I would give her to them alive, but that they had to meet me here to get her."
"Why in the flying fuck would you do that?" Liam shouted. He knew that people in relationships did stupid things, but this had to top the cake. "We're going through all of this shit to protect her."
"I know!" Andraemalek turned his back to his brothers to keep from attacking. His body was shaking and it was taking more control than he had in his body to keep from killing something. "I thought that if they believed that she was here, she'd be safe at the manor on her own."
"But there's a cloak on the manor," Caleb said.
"I know," Andraemalek replied, "But I killed a few of their sentries when I breached their walls for the meeting."
"As long as you performed all of the cleansing rituals, you were fine," Alexis said. The cloak made it possible for any and all of their blood to be untraceable but the blood of any other beings could lead their enemies to them. It was imperative that they cleansed themselves to keep any and all traces of foreign blood from being traced. "I saw you cleanse yourself before you walked into the manor."
"You cleansed yourself and your clothes?" Jameson asked. He waited until Andraemalek nodded before he said, "Did you use their weapons against them or your own?"
Andraemalek froze when he remembered that he'd used the Blade of Abraxis to kill the sentries. It was the same blade he'd neglected to cleanse before he left the house. The blade he'd left with Nadia in the event that he didn't survive the battle.
"Fuck," Caleb groaned, "That's why they're not here."
"Don't say it," Liam warned. He knew what was coming, but he also knew that he wouldn't be able to take the weight of the truth. "Don't you fucking say it."
"You didn't cleanse your weapons... And we left her there by herself." Alexis took a deep breath as he processed the information he was given. After everything they'd done to ensure her safety, Nadia was left to fend for herself against five powerful demons. They might as well have handed her over on a silver platter.
"It's been a century since I had to cleanse anything. I didn't even think of my blade." Andraemalek didn't try to fight the ball of pain that slowly rolled through his stomach. He'd done this to her; he'd done exactly what he was sent to do. And to think, he'd tried so hard to get her to stay with him when he only made it possible for her to be ripped from his arms.
"She might still be at the manor," Jameson said with a glimmer of hope. They had to think positively; it was the only way they would be able to get through. "Teleport us back and we'll check." He hadn't known Nadia for a week, but yet he'd grown to care for her as if she was family. Based on the way his brother doted on her, she would be soon.
If she was still alive and at the manor.
Andraemalek was quick to shimmer everyone back to the manor. He'd purposely chosen his room knowing that it was the one place after the library that she'd sought refuge. There was no sign of her. "Sweep the house," he said as he grabbed the tainted blade and pushed passed them to get to the library. She had to be there. She couldn't be gone.
He knew what happened the second he stood outside the door. The scent of the underworld, the harsh, thick, and nauseating scent of death filled his nostrils before he'd even touched the doorknob. They were here. And they'd touched her. Pure rage shot through Andraemalek as he pushed the door open and saw the carnage that used to be the library. Books were strewn about one side of the room. Based on their placement and the fact that the antique desk lamp lay broken in the corner, it was plain to see that Nadia fought like a wildcat. The scent of her fear was strong, but not as potent as the anger she'd felt. There were no traces of her blood, which only meant that they'd either taken her to the underworld or they broke her neck before they discarded the body. No, he couldn't think like that. She was alive. She had to be.
"She's nowhere in the manor."
Andraemalek didn't look at Alexis as he said, "That's because they took her. Not that long ago based on the scents in here." He heard the familiar canine whine and immediately said, "Too many emotions in here Euan. Stay back."
"I don't know who's ass I want to kick more; theirs for taking her, or yours for making it possible."
"Right now is not the time, Liam," Andraemalek warned. He didn't need to hear everything he was thinking. "The priority is getting her back."
"If the sons of bitches didn't kill her."
"She is not dead!" Andraemalek roared. He turned to attack the loudmouthed redhead but immediately stopped when his anger became fear for Nadia's safety. Caleb walked into the room and pulled him aside. "She can't be dead."
"She isn't," Caleb reassured, "I'd bet my life that they want you there so that you can watch her die."
"Of course they want me to watch her die," Andraemalek muttered, "They have to make an example out of me."
"So let's make sure you go down fighting." Jameson causally set down the large black duffel bag he'd retrieved before he opened it and began to distribute weapons. He'd taken the time to change out of his parka and into a dark green turtleneck that resembled Liam's.
"You're not coming with me."
"You actually think that I am going to sit here and wait around while you go fight after the stunt you pulled?" Jameson stood as he pulled his hair into a queue and continued, "We're all a part of this now."
"He's right," Alexis said as he shouldered a crossbow, "She's one of us, and we protect our own."
Andraemalek shook his head as he said, "I can't worry about her and you at the same time. You don't know the underworld like I do."
"And you're wasting time talking." Liam stepped forward and strapped on two protractible wrist blades before accepting the gloves Jameson handed him. "Bitch later, D. Save her now."
Andraemalek looked at his brothers and forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand. This wasn't the first battle they'd fought together, and it wouldn't be the last. Every single one of them would do what was necessary to ensure Nadia's safety. "All right. But watch your backs."