By Moe Lane


"You have to admit, it's an odd request."

Laurence nodded. "Yes, Lord Marc, I suppose that it is. But a necessary one."

The two Archangels were sitting in Marc's personal tent in the Bazaar. While the Archangel of Trade has a very nice Cathedral, there's something to be said for keeping one's finger firmly on the pulse of one's Word, and the beat was always easier to hear at ground level. Even in Heaven, it takes time for the latest gossip, rumors and news to percolate their way up Marc's Tower: it never hurt to be on the scene. Besides, the coffee seller three stalls down was the best in Heaven, and showed no interest in joining Trade's personal staff: perforce, Marc went to the mountain.

The Archangel of Trade stirred his coffee absently as he contemplated his guest. "Lord Laurence, I am of course always at your disposal. But still..." Marc waved, his hand encompassing the busy Traders around him - "Why do you want an internship?"

Laurence surprised him by actually chuckling, faintly. "So that I can get more work out of you, of course."

The resulting raised eyebrow was eloquent. Laurence chuckled again.

"It is actually very straightforward, Lord Marc. Quite recently, I was in a situation where I was asked for advice by one of my Servitors on a matter that... I had actually very little experience. As it turned out, my advice was not actually needed; he merely wanted someone to make appropriate noises while he worked out what he was going to do anyway. He did so, and his solution was honorable, and we are here to provide inspiration for those angels who serve us, so it would seem that everything worked out well."

The Archangel of the Sword's face lengthened slightly. "However, it occurred to me afterwards that, if it had been necessary to actually give the counsel that is my duty and privilege to provide, things might not have gone so well. I am expected to be a font of answers, as are you, and as are all of our colleagues: with that responsibility comes another - to actually be a font of answers. I should be expert, or at least not completely unversed, in everything that touches upon my duties - and my duties involve every aspect of the War.

"And there is quite a bit about the War that I have no or little direct experience in. Before my elevation, I concentrated on one Word, one arena, one mindset; since then, I have been frankly so busy dealing with the forest that very few trees have gotten my personal attention." Laurence's face cleared. "However, things are finally - finally - starting to come well in hand, and I can afford to 'fill in the blanks', as it were."

"Thus your visit?"

"Thus my visit, Lord Marc. I know your value to the War. You have continually provided the Council with the information and resources that we all need so badly, and have never frivolously used the power that it gives you. I respect your work. I appreciate it. I rely on it."

Laurence stood. "But I do not really understand it, and if we are to win I must learn to understand it." He waved one wing hastily. "Not as well as you do, of course! No, that would hubristic of me. But I can at least try to learn something about how and why you do things. If nothing else, it will allow me to weave your work more thoroughly into the larger tapestry of the War." The faint smile was back. "And perhaps avoid giving you foolish orders. I am sure that you have gotten some from me in the past, even if you are too polite to say so."

Marc repressed his own smile, out of that very same politeness. The tent was silent for a time.

"There will have to be some ground rules established, Lord Laurence."

The Archangel of the Sword nodded. "But, of course." Marc did smile this time.

"Don't be too quick to agree. First off: if we're going to do this, you'll have to act like a Trader, not the Archangel of the Sword. That means following my lead on everything that isn't an honest to God actual military emergency. This is about how I do my job, not how you would do my job. I know that you trust me, so I'm not really worried about that, but I want to say it for the record. Agreed?"

"Of course, Lord Marc. My oath on it, if you wish."

"Actually, I'll take you up on that - and it'll be for your sake, not mine. That leads me to my second condition: you were planning to do this with the rest of the Council, correct?" At Laurence's nod, Marc went on:

"Good idea, as long as it doesn't come back to haunt some of us." The Archangel of Trade stood and looked out at the Bazaar for a moment, then turned. "You've trusted me to do my job, without asking me how I do it, or what ... ambiguities I've had to embrace in order to do it. I don't see that lack of oversight enduring for too long, under the circumstances. You will see me do certain things that I know that you'll disapprove of, but you have to keep on trusting me - and I have to trust that you won't use that knowledge to persecute me later, or my people. Practically speaking, if you do, nobody else will let you see what they really do for the War, anyway, so it's in your best interest to agree. Agreed on that, too?"

Laurence was more hesitant this time before replying. "I... reserve the right to point out what I conceive to be a grievous error." His voice grew stern. "I will not tolerate treason, either - not that you have ever given me reason to think that of you, of course."

Marc snorted. "No, no treason - but there will be squirming involved. That oath you promised earlier will apply here, as well. You will see at least evil - and, unless we or humans are actually threatened by it, you have to let the choice about ending it be mine." The Archangel of Trade raised his hand. "I swear on my own part that this will only apply when you're with me on a lesson, and will end when we're done. Will that do?"

The pause was long. "If my education is successful, then I will be letting the lesser evil go in order to fight the greater one. Irritating, but sometimes necessary. Very well, Lord Marc, I so swear."

Marc grinned. "That brings us to the last and final condition. It's just Marc, Larry." He held out a hand. "Welcome to the team.

"Now, let's go talk to your cook."

One week later, the two Archangels found themselves on Earth. Marc had found it surprisingly easy to convince Laurence to choose appropriate clothing, but the posture was still a problem.

"For Heaven's sake, Larry, there isn't anyone within a thousand miles that could even make you raise a sweat. You can relax. Here, have a soda."

Laurence raised an eyebrow. Marc idly wondered which Archangel had first introduced the facial gesture: it had been so long ago that even Superior-level memories weren't helping, much.

"Well, perhaps you won't, then. But try to blend in more, at least. We want to be inconspicuous."

The Archangel of the Sword shrugged slightly. "True, Marc... but it is hard. This has been the first time in a thousand years that I have encountered one of - Them - without immediately reaching for a blade, and I did not enjoy the experience the last time."

"Who did, Larry? Not us, not them - and I still think that they would have ambushed us afterwards if they dared, the cowards." Marc smiled crookedly at Laurence's narrowing of the eyes. "I never said that I liked any of Them, just that I have no problems with selling Them the knives to stick in each other's backs. I also recognize that a few of Them can be... ambiguous, in their own turn. Business is business - but get the signatures in advance, and make sure that They don't break the contract. Besides, only one of Them can negotiate worth a - well, only one of Them can negotiate well, and she won't be here today." Marc looked up. "Ah. Here he comes." The Archangel of Trade most carefully did not say anything about behaving.

Laurence gritted his teeth as the Prince of Gluttony sat down on the other end of the picnic table. Haagenti was making an effort to fit in on his own, but there was still a lingering hint of that hateful smell. Old cheese and older blood...

Haagenti snorted. "I will be damned. You actually got him to sit still for this."

Marc's voice was light, and faintly mocking. "Under strict conditions, Haagenti. You remember them?"

"Sure. Come right here, go right back to Hell when we're done, no snacking on the way - or back - and no getting any cute ideas, or Mr. Boy Scout here cuts me twenty new mouths." Haagenti hastily went on as Laurence began to grow cold, "And no smart-ass comments, either now or later. That one just slipped out. I guess that I'm sorry about that. Hey, I brought you something..." He plopped a dingy, crumbling bag on the table.

It took all of Laurence's self-control to not visibly react as the Prince of Gluttony pulled out - a wrapped gold plate. "Washed and everything, just like always. I should say, this year's was really, really good..." Haagenti squinted at Laurence. "Well, maybe I shouldn't say." He turned to look at Marc. "So, you called me. What do you want?"

"What we both want, of course. Belial's head on a platter."

The Prince snorted. "Not quite. Not that I don't like barbeque, but if you think that I'm ready to go for broke, think again. Besides, he keeps that cra... he keeps Gabriel distracted, and that's good for my side and bad for yours. We'll work out who eats who after the War's done."

Marc leaned back: incredibly, he smiled. "Well, you asked me what I want, and I told you. What I'm willing to settle for... that's a different story. Do you know that he just got some new Tethers in?"

"Yeah. He's been keeping quiet about them. I don't know where they are, though."

"I do - and he even knows that I know."

Haagenti grew still. "Keep talking."

"It's fairly simple. I tell you, you take them out, he blames me, I ... well, suffice it to say that I've got that angle covered if he tries to retaliate. You get to screw him over and keep your hands clean, I get to report that Belial's latest expansion went down in flames and he gets to look like the idiot that he is. It won't win the War, but it will make both of us feel all tingly inside. I don't see the downside."

"I do. How many Tethers are we talking about?"


The Prince of Gluttony laughed: his teeth were surprisingly good. "Ten? Ten? No way I'll do ten. One, sure, two, probably: four, if you made it worth my while. But ten is too rich for my blood, no matter how much I hate the scumbag. Go find yourself another patsy." Haagenti stood up to leave.

As he turned, Laurence quietly said, "You have not heard what is in it for you personally."

Haagenti looked back. "Don't tell me, let me guess. Two plates, next Festival? Maybe a sprig of parsley on top? Don't flatter yourself, Archangel: the food's good, but it isn't worth a War down there."

Laurence's tone was clipped. "Maybe not that food." The Archangel brought his own bag (a briefcase) onto the table. "But there are other foods. No?"

It was at this point that Laurence actually understood what Marc had been getting at when he had compared negotiations to the tensing before a formal duel. Haagenti's eyes had flickered from the briefcase to Laurence's face, then back to the briefcase, then once more to meet Laurence's gaze. The Prince of Gluttony was trying to maintain his earlier bravado... and the Archangel of the Sword realized with a certain pleasure that he was going to fail. Haagenti knew what was in that briefcase, and he knew that he was going to take this job for Heaven - but he didn't know that Laurence was reading him like a book.

When the Archangel of the Sword decided that the time was right (and how odd it was to use his battle reflexes in such a situation!), he opened the briefcase. The faint smell of chocolate chips - and something else, something Divinely rich and nourishing - filled the spring air.

"One hundred of them, Prince of Gluttony. I saw her put them in the briefcase myself. I even had one from the batch, and did she outdo herself this time! One hundred now, and a hundred more when the tenth Tether implodes. No tricks, no later ambushes - and we will not let it get out that you were involved. I swear it, on my honor as an Archangel and as a Malakite. You can even have one now, if you are worried that we are trying to trick you."

Was there the faintest hint of hoarseness in Haagenti's throat? "No. I'd know that smell anywhere." He paused. "Eight, did you say?"


"Right, right, ten." The Prince of Gluttony's face worked. "A hundred now, and a hundred and fifty later."

"A hundred and ten, and you make sure that at least twenty Word-bound demons go to Trauma from the blast."

"A hundred and forty, with five Word-bound demons."

"A hundred and twenty, with fifteen."

"Split the difference."

"Done. One hundred now, one hundred and thirty later for ten Tethers and ten Word-bound."

"Do they have to be Belial's?"

"An extra five for every one that is not, up to the ten. No extras, but feel free to be enthusiastic about it anyway."

Haagenti actually grinned. "Fat chance... about the extras."

Marc interjected smoothly at this point. "So, if it's all settled... both of you please sign here."

Afterwards, the two Archangels sat again in Marc's tent. This time, there was a bottle and two glasses: Malakim may not see any Virtue in carbonated beverages, but they can see the point of alcohol. Marc smiled.

"How's your conscience, Lord Laurence?"

"Not... too active, Lord Marc. Tell me, do you do that often?"

"No. The trouble with dealing with The Other Side is that they either can't really remember what it's like to be honest, or else never learned how in the first place. So, unless you have something that they want, more than anything else in the world, and can't get - there's no place to make a deal. Even the first First Woman..."

"You can use her name, Lord Marc."

"Thank you: the circumlocutions can be awkward. Even Lilith can't be trusted unless you first make her staple her promises to her soul, with the understanding that you'll rip them out if she crosses you." The Archangel of Trade looked sad for a moment. "Personally, I find that - well, disgusting.

"Even when you have that unique item, well, most of the time one doesn't really want to actually give it away to somebody who will just abuse it." The Archangel smiled. "However, I can bear to hand over two hundred and eighty chocolate chip manna cookies in exchange for ten Tethers of Infernal Fire destroyed and ten Word-bound demons contemplating their Hearts for a while."

The Archangel of the Sword stirred. "Do you actually think that he will follow through with the deal?"

"Of course. Didn't you see the way that he clutched that briefcase? Haagenti will take them back, savor them for as long as he can ... then, once he's done with them, the thought that he could get more will make him more than eager to live up to his part of the bargain. He'll keep his mouth shut about it, too - I really don't think that he wants his colleagues to know that particular weakness. Unless you want to renege?"

Laurence's eyes narrowed. "Do not tempt me ... but, no, I keep my word. Besides, I like the idea of having a hold on a Demon Prince. Especially one that can be bribed with one day's worth of cooking."

"Well, that just goes to show. Buy low, sell high." Marc laughed, then grew more serious. "Don't count on that happening again anytime soon, Commander. Haagenti isn't as stupid as he looks. There's a part of him that knows that he's allowed his weakness to overcome him, and he probably won't let himself get carried away again. Still, the look on his face when he gets that second batch... who knows, possibly it might actually make him think a little about the side he's chosen. I don't really think so, but you can't win if you don't try." Marc sipped his wine. "That's another lesson."

"One I already knew, but I thank you anyway. May I ask you a question, Lord Marc?" At the other's nod, Laurence went on. "I know what I got from this Trade: an idea of what your Word entails, which will help me immeasurably. I have also seen that you are to be trusted, even when you are deeply enmeshed in the world. But, I must know, seeing as I will use this knowledge to make you even busier - are you happy with this Trade? What have you gotten out of this?"

Marc thought for a moment, sipping the last of the wine.

"Well, aside from the undeniable pleasure of teaching - and may I say that you soaked up your lessons quite well; I might have given in at a hundred and fifty - it's nice to know that one is truly appreciated, or even Truly appreciated, as our Seraphic colleagues would say." His voice grew more somber. "Since Eli left, it has been a bit awkward at times. What if I someday felt the same need to half-abandon Heaven so as to experience my Word directly? I don't think that I would, but it's hard to tell when you can't even really count on your own Choir-mates to give you feedback. But, knowing that I can contribute, am contributing and am trusted to keep contributing helps. It really does - and for that, I thank you, Lord Laurence."

Marc's eyes twinkled. "Besides, I called you 'Larry' for a whole week and got away with it clean. There really are some things that money can't buy..."


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