Triad 314: Crescendo
By Michael Cleveland
"WOOHOO! Damn, it feels good to be a gangster!"
Muriel looked over at Laris, who was taking their newly 'acquired' car for a 'test drive'. "Laris, although I share the sentiment, I don't think those are quite the words I would have used. Remember, we are the good guys after all. Gangster implies -"
"That we're bad little mothers who bust people up, which is precisely what we did. You need to relax, Muri. Just lay back, enjoy the scenery, and leave your troubles behind. We've done our assigned duty for Heaven -"
From the back seat, "Wiped out a Tether of The Game, got a download of their data files, stole -"
Laris turned his head to look back at the lounging cherub as he whipped around a corner. "Redistributed is a better way of thinking about it, Jack. They weren't meant to have all that stuff, and their vessels were dead, so..."
"So we gave it all to the Wind for them to worry about. It's still theft, but in this case it furthers an Archangelic Word, so I think we can forgo mentioning this to Dominic when he shows up in... let me think..." The Seraph cracked a smile. "Four days. Four whole days of peace and quiet."
Laris beamed. "I told you this plan would work. There's nothing to it. Dominic can't possibly get upset with us this time." He frowned for a minute. "At least, I don't think he can. Let's go over the checklist again one more time."
Jack pulled out a notepad. "Which do we go over first - things we needed to do, or things we were told not to do? I'm thinking we go with the 'Thou shalt not' list first. Muriel?"
Muriel nodded. "I'm relatively confident that we either followed it or have extenuating circumstances for everything, but let's be sure. Rattle them off, Jack."
"Ok... 'Thou shalt not shoot at the Game Tether'."
"The Habbalite did that, not us. Check."
"All right... 'Thou shalt not pick fights with the Tether Staff'."
"They attacked us first. It may have been after the bomb exploded, but they threw the first punch."
"Right - check. 'Thou shalt not strap a bomb to your vessel'. We may get in..."
Laris chuckled. "I gave all the dynamite to the Habbalite. Those were just road flares."
Muriel glared at the Ofanite beside her. "You mean to tell me that you lied to us? Why you..."
"You didn't ask. You just assumed, and therefore that's one less thing we have to worry about."
Jack shook his head. "All right, all right. 'Thou shall not flirt with the local demons'. Muriel, I think that you're going to have a serious problem with that one. That's pretty straightforward, and you broke that one right out. We'd better -"
Muriel smiled as she leaned back in the chair. "I didn't flirt with him. Swear to God."
"Then how do you plan to explain that you ran off with that Balseraph of Lust and didn't come back for six hours? That speaks for itself, Muri."
Muriel closed her eyes, still smiling. "I didn't flirt with him."
Laris reached into his pocket and pulled out a tape recorder. "'Please, be gentle. I've never done anything like this before.' Now Muri, you can't tell me that you weren't lying on that one. I know you too well, and you're dead to rights on this one..."
Muriel smiled a bit more. "I've never convinced a Balseraph of Lust into giving me the address and recognition passcode to the Tether of Lust in Birmingham. That's what I said I'd never done before. You took it the same way he did, and it worked."
The three chuckled as they raced over a hill. "All right, cool. Next on the list is that we weren't to gamble with Judgment funds. Laris, you're gonna get fried on that one, unless you've got a good way to explain how you came up with that ten grand from operating expenses."
The Ofanite yawned as he blazed throught several red lights. "There's fifty thousand dollars in the briefcase on your left, Jack. I needed the ten grand to hire someone to follow that Lilim to her house. Thursday night I went and told her that if she didn't pay up, I was going to tell the Malakite in the car that she wasn't a Mercurian I knew."
Muriel shook her head. "Let me guess - she didn't know that you didn't have a Malakite with you. That's cold. I like it, mind you, but you still lied to her." She blinked a few times, then -"But that means that we weren't gambling with Judgment funds, so we can cross that one off. Good."
Jack spoke up. "All the rest of the stuff on this list we didn't break, so we should be fine. As for the list of accomplishments, I think we should hold off on that for a few minutes."
The seraph looked back at the cherub. "Jack, is there something I'm missing here? We should be having fun, for crying out loud. We've got a souped-up cherry red convertible, we've got spending money to last us until Dominic comes calling, we've got enough essence and ammunition to fend off any demons we come across, and we've just destroyed a Tether of The Game and strengthened the Word of Judgment. What could possibly be wrong here?"
"Well, you know how I'm attuned to the two of you all, right? Well, my resonance is telling me that we're under active surveillance. Right this very second. Now, I'm not sure about you all, but this puts a minor damper on my spirits."
Laris spoke up, "Man, you've got to be mistaken. The folks at the Wind Tether gave us this car, so there's no way that we're bugged. They swept the car, so there shouldn't be any bugs on us or anything. That's just got to be..."
Jack shook his head. "No, it's not a bug. It's an attunement. I'm not sure of the source yet, but I've got a bad feeling about this. What was it you were saying a minute ago, Muriel?"
Muriel frowned. "We've got a car, we've got money, we've got guns, and we've..." She paused for a moment, the color draining from her face. "And we've just destroyed something that had deep personal significance to a very strong, very ornery, and very possessive Djinn. Oh, bless. And it's going to be four days until we can make contact with Dominic. Oh, this is bad. This is... how far to the closest Tether?"
Laris thought for a second. "About 60 miles behind us. It'd be the Wind Tether we just came from."
Jack shook his head. "Whoever's attuned to us is about 50 miles behind us. We don't want to go back to that one. Where's the next one that we can get to?"
"About 3 hours from here - it's a small Tether of War. It'd be an unpleasant trip, but they'd probably help us if we could get there. But I don't think we're going to pull it off that easily. We've only got about 20, maybe 30 more miles before we'll have to stop for gas. Once that happens, the fellow that's following us will start catching up to us."
"Laris, didn't I tell you to put more that five bucks worth in?!"
"I tried. They couldn't change a hundred. Sorry."
There was an almost tangible silence as the triad of Judgment sped down the highway. Jack continued to lean back in his seat, rubbing his temples as he attempted to learn more about the identity of their pursuer. Laris, in less than typical Ofanite fashion was actually paying attention to the road, while the Seraph Muriel was desperately calling every phone number she had trying to find someone in the area that could assist them.
After a few moments of silence on the phone, she shook her head and looked over at Laris. "Well, that about does it. The Tether of War says they're willing to help us once we get there, but they say they can't get anyone to us in time. Which is a willful dragging of feet, if not a direct lie. I don't suppose you have any ideas, do you?"
Laris shrugged. "What else can we do except get gas and pray they don't catch up that fast? I'm using a few extra tricks I know to keep us moving, but sooner or later the gig's up. Best thing I can figure is for you to pay the man while I get the gas, and we leave Jack to tell us how long we have. You're sure there's nobody else you can call?"
Muriel nodded grimly. "No other Triads within a hundred miles. Triad 691 says they can divert to our position, but it'll be at least 3 hours before they can get here, which still leaves us in the same predicament we're in now."
She sighed heavily before continuing. "At least we should count our blessings. After all, the only way there could be attunements on us is if Asmodeus himself placed them on us, which means he could have been the one after us. If that were the case, I don't the lack of gas would be our biggest setback here."
Jack spoke up from the back seat. "That's true, and I think I'd know if it was the Iron Man himself who was on us. Still, we don't want to get caught by this guy. If the Prince of The Game personally sicced this guy on us, he's got to be bad news. And we'd better pick up the pace if we can, because he's gaining on us. We've still got a 40 plus mile lead on him, but still..."
The three nodded in unison, then collectively jumped as Muriel's cellphone rang unexpectedly. THe seraph snatched it up, then quickly rattled off a sequence of letters and numbers and sat bolt upright. "Oh, bless the cloak, I am glad to hear from you, St... yeah, I'll put it on speaker right now, just hold on." She scrambled to fit the phone into the tape deck and the cigarette lighter attachments, then leaned back as a voice crackled out from the speakers.
"Jack, Laris, you boys hear me as well?" After grunting assent, the voice continued. "All right, this is Stark. I got a call from the Michaeline Tether about your proposed visit, and they're not happy about it but they will let you use the place when you get there."
Laris muttered to himself "If we get there..."
The voice crackled again. "No, when you get there. I've been checking a few things out, and while I don't have any Triads in the area that I can get there in time to do anything meaningful, I do know some folks in the neighborhood. Now, I can't get the Tether to send anyone, but I was able to convince a Kyrio that I know to start on an intercept course for you."
Jack spoke up. "Um, no offence Mr. Stark, but a single Kyrio..."
"Will increase your combat strength by at least a third. It's not much but it is what I can get there quickly. He already knows that you're low on gas, and he said that he'd do something to take care of that. Look, I'll be honest - unless you can get to that Tether, you're pretty well out of luck. I might be able to get a hold of Michael and see if he can cut orders to the Tether, but you know how getting any Warrior to cooperate with us is. The fact that I've got that Kyriotate -"
Sylviel spoke up quickly, "Look Stark, that'll be fine. If that's what you can get to us, that'll be that much more help we'll have." She lowered her voice slightly before continuing, "Um, by the way, you couldn't happen to tell me if Dominic knows about this... development, could you?"
A deep chuckle came from the end. "Muriel, I know all about your... unique love for giving Dominic small and unexpected tokens of your devotion to Judgment. I'm leaving it to you to tell him. I trust you'll make sure he... sees it in the proper light, isn't it?"
The seraph flushed slightly. "Yeah, that's a more polite way of putting it. I'll find some way to tell him that makes this coming out smelling like roses -"
The speakers squeaked slightly, then "And hopefully overpowering the manure beneath it. You three watch yourselves, and show this Kyrio all due respect. We don't want to alienate anyone anymore than we have to. The guy's name is Frekariel, and I'll just give you the heads up - he's a little... off. I've got to get running - keeping track of Michael's motley crew is more trouble than even I thought it would be."
Laris actually allowed himself a hint of a smirk. "Yeah, I can imagine. Thanks, Stark. We owe you one."
"Not a problem, Laris. By the way, the next time you fence a bunch of cars to the Wind, you could at least show them the common courtesy of telling them that they all came from the Game. I mean, three blue Ford Taurus's with the same interior and the same license plates? Come on, man - you know better. "
Muriel reached out to get the cellphone when Jack reached up from the back seat at tapped her on the shoulder.
"Muriel, Laris - just who in God's name was that? And why are we acting like this guy is the second coming?"
Laris turned back to look at him for a second. "Inquisitor Starkariel - he's the official liaison officer between Judgment and War. If you ever need help getting War to work with you, get in touch with him and you're set. He's also -"
Muriel interrupted the Ofanite, who swerved to miss a stalled car. "He's also one of the few high ranking people in Judgment who doesn't freak out when 314 comes calling. He'll help us out, probably because Dominic rarely lets him down to Earth on account of Kronos still having a contract out on him. If he says he can get us help, he can do it."
As Muriel continued to explain to Jack, a crow swooped down and smacked into the back seat of the car. It squawked loudly as it righted itself, then the speakers of the car flared to life. "Good Afternoon. The time is 3:42PM, and you're listening to news station 111 JUDG. JUDG - for all the information that Internal Security has cleared you for. I'm your guest, Frekariel, and you ladies and gents must be the folk who Stark says are in a bind. If you'll please move the briefcases out of the way, I'll be bringing some supplies in."
Jack narrowed his eyes for a moment, then shrugged and picked up the briefcases and set them in his lap. The bird nodded then clucked a few times while waving its feet, and then dissipated into a human teenager with several large gas cans in his hands. "Ok, nice to be with you folks and... say, nice car. Is it a '67 or a '68?"
Laris looked back at the new arrival. "It's a 68, and if you'll be so kind as to start pouring in the gas, I'll be more than happy to demonstrate what she can do. I'm hoping you brought some additional weapons as well..."
The teenager shook his head as he stuck a tube into the first gas can. "Sorry - Stark said your first priority was gas, so I grabbed the first kid I saw and bought about 20 gallons. Didn't have time to get anything else, but I figure if we can outrun this guy, it won't matter how much ammunition we have."
Jack shook his head. "Well, that might work, but he's closing the distance. I've got him at 30 miles and closing it up really fast. If we run into any real problems, this guy is going to overtake us, no question."
Muriel stared straight forward as she pointed. "Would you call that a real problem, Jack?"
All four people in the car traced the line from Muriel's hand to the group of eight identical blue Ford Taurus's sitting by the side of the road that were beginning to merge onto the highway with them. After a moment of utter silence, a voice from the drivers seat said what everyone was probably thinking.
"Um, yeah Muriel. This could potentially qualify as a problem. Oh, my...."
"The four angels in the car have to realize that they are hopelessly outnumbered and trapped, sir. It's only a matter of moments before we should have them in custody, Captain Askevron. I'll hold them until your arrival. Silas out."
The Balseraph smiled to himself as he hung up the phone. Although he would most likely get very little of the official credit, the fact that Asmodeus's hand-picked hunter had not been able to catch his target without assistance would tarnish the Captain's success and make it an almost hollow victory. The Prince of the Game would not miss that fact, and it would almost certainly be his first step on the ladder of promotion.
The radio traffic was starting to increase as minor disturbances were coming from the car - most of them seemed to be coming from beer cans being thrown at the windshields of his agents. Still, he couldn't help thinking that there was a little more noise than was easily accountable for. The reports stated that this group of Judges was barely ranked as a Triad and was in disfavor with the Dominican hierarchy, but there was always the possibility of a independent thought reaching through their indoctrination. "Mavis, shoot out the car's tires. All others, prep for capture. The Director wants these vermin taken alive."
After a brief exchange of gunfire, the car lurched to the side of the road, sideswiping the Taurus that had been next to it and taking both of them into a ditch. All the other cars ground to a halt, their doors exploding outward as agents surrounded the car. Another brief exchange of gunfire ensued, but was cut short by the shockwave of a Song of Thunder from the convertible. As the agents staggered back to their feet, a surge of essence was heard racing into the symphony, followed by a disturbance and a quick inrushing of air.
The car was empty.
Silas rushed to the car, looking around frantically. "DAMMIT! I thought you said they didn't have Celestial Motion capability! What the hell just happened here, Davora?" A female agent shook her head quietly. "There was a fourth one in there that wasn't noted at the Tether. He must have joined them on the road and facilitated their transport. At least they didn't get away with the relics or the data cores. Sometimes God grants us small favors, yes?"
Silas nodded, then kicked the car hard. "Damn. All right - everyone fan out and try to find something that we might be able to use to attune to them and track them down. I'll... I'll make the call to Askevron."
Several hundred feet down the road, the four angels crouched down in the ditch, covered in dirt and mud from crawling away from the swarming gamesters. Muriel looked back at the car and just shuddered, as she continued to crawl ever further away. "Laris, how long do you think this illusion will hold?"
Very quietly, "For about another 5 or 6 minutes, but if any of them come close enough to pierce it, we're in trouble. If it hadn't been for Jack's thinking of that ethereal motion to steer the car, they might well have figured it out by now. Still, we've got that Djinn on us, and that'll be a problem. That illusion won't fool him for long.
Frekariel whispered, "Yeah, that's really true. I'm overhearing their conversations, and that Djinn who's after us is a real heavy hitter. I've heard the name before - Askevron. One of Asmodeus's personal favorites. We're going to have to really get out of here, or we're going to need heavier support than what we've got now. If I don't do something, I'll be in some trouble here. It's not like I told the Tether I was coming to help you guys and all..."
Muriel nodded. "Well, I've got enough essense to do an Ethereal Shields, and that'll confuse him for a few minutes, but not long enough to escape, unless we want to abandon the computers and the relics and everything else."
Jack looked back at the gamesters, and then focused on the one who was looking at his cellphone and pacing back and forth. "Hey, Muriel - you know Celestial Charm, right?" Muriel nodded, looking back at the Cherub. "Yeah, but I'm not sure how that's going to help us much. Sayvil's in Trauma, so we don't have anyone who can do Possession..."
Both Jack and Laris looked at Frekariel with appraising eyes, then looked back at Muriel. "We do now."
Agent Davora walked by the side of the road, quietly venting her frustration at the quality of her 'companions'. This was a pointless endeavor, and she knew that it had been doomed to fail from the outset. Setting a Balseraph, of all things, in charge of this sort of operation was sheer foolishness. All the demons that she forced herself to deal with were worthless, slovenly examples of what happened when angels couldn't get things done right - if the situation were just a little different...
She kicked a rock and cringed as she heard Silas's voice behind her. "Davora, might I have a word with you for a moment? Away from the others?" She turned to face him, and bit back the caustic remark dancing in her head when she saw the blank, faraway stare in his eyes. "Sure, let's just continue down the road a bit further."
As they walked, the Balseraph turned to her. "Davora, for years I've mocked you and everyone who shares your... well, I would have said delusion a little while ago... but I've seen something, and it's changed me somewhat." The Habbalite laughed, shaking her head. "Really? And what, pray tell, have you seen?"
"My death." The Balseraph stopped to look at her clinically for a moment. "By now, you must realize that this mission has been an absolute and complete failure. This 'Triad' has managed to destroy a Tether of The Game and destroy its Seneschal entirely. Asmodeus will... Asmodeus must not allow this sort of failure by the team to go unpunished. And unless extreme measures are taken, everyone in this squad, myself included, will most likely be executed for failure to achieve our objectives."
Davora looked back at the team, who continued to search by the car. "Yes, I must admit that this thought has occured to me as well, but I don't know how we can prevent the inevitable. If it's God's will that this be done, I fail to see how we can possibly be spared..."
Silas's eyes lost the glassy look and focused on Davora with an intensity that made her wonder if the Balseraph had gone mad, and also frightened her ever so slightly. "But that's where you're wrong, Davora. There is a way out of this..." He reached out and grabbed her hand painfully, and locked his eyes onto hers. "We have failed in this test, but there is a way to cleanse ourselves of this taint, Punisher." He twisted her arm, and then pulled a knife and pierced her hand and his in one blow. "Davora, I call to you in the name which you allow no demon to know you by, but which you swore yourself to the service of The Lord in. I call to you in the name of the oath that you took years ago, and the oath I myself swore only minutes ago."
Davora tried to move away, but the knife that had pierced her hand felt so warm and reassuring, and she could feel something in his words that seemed more than a Balseraph's tricks. "Who... what..."
"I am an agent. Just as you are, Davaranal. And we are agents that have an opportunity, Angel."
The Habbalite shuddered as she heard her true name spoken by a creature that she knew could never have known it. "What... what do you mean?"
The Balseraph whispered in her ear, "This Triad is known to be rebellious, treacherous, unwelcome in God's Sight. If we can do something that can please God enough to allow him to forgive our sloth and incompetence, he might yet cast them out as a sign of favor to those who know the Truth. If we could remove these... swine ... he might grant you the strength to capture them before Asmodeus's hunter arrives. We would have these unfaithful dogs back in their place, and Prince Asmodeus would never need to realize that you know the Truth."
The Habbalite turned to look into the Balseraph's eyes, tears of joy streaming down her face. "And what is that truth, Silas?"
"That God sent Lucifer to Hell, not as a punishment, but to pave the way for the rest of Creation. So that through our work, we can either save the World...
The Habbalite's eyes began to glow as she unslung her assault rifle. "Or burn it down..." she whispered.
Agent Davora's eyes positively glowed as the Taurus pulled up beside the others. Her faith had not been in vain - once the other filth was dispatched, the 'Triad' had been thrown to her feet in a heap. They still laid there unconscious, proof positive that they were as pathetic as he'd thought. Silas had actually proven to be capable of acting with an almost respectable level of ferocity, and he'd spoken of a particular place in Sheol where he planned to begin his ordeals. "Here is the hunter. We'll simply not tell him about your revelations. We can't let the others know that you've come to understand." Silas nodded in acknowledgement.
A large framed man pulled himself from the car, looking out at the scattered bodies of the rest of the Team. "What happened here, Silas? I thought you said that you were going to tell me when you had them captured." He bent down and looked over at the three bodies at Davora's feet, then looked back at the Balseraph. "Well, at least they're in custody. Let's see about binding them for trial."
The Balseraph nodded slightly. "I would have already done that, but there's a small problem."
The Djinn looked back at the Balseraph, who had quietly brought his weapon in line with the Djinn. He started to back away from the two demons when a shot rang out and the Habbalite dropped to her knees. The three bodies that had been laid out at the Habbalite's feet quickly righted themselves and picked up weapons from the corpses of the agents around them. "You see, we're not the ones that need to be bound for trial." Askevron started to stammer something, but was cut short by a rifle stock to the back of the head from the Balseraph.
Looking at the dying Habbalite and the unconscious Djinn, Silas turned and looked at Muriel. "Damn, I've never heard a group of people that could talk a Habbalite into killing its own people. That takes some serious mental work. Muriel, you sure you aren't at risk of falling?"
Muriel blushed slightly. "I've just seen it done. Laris and Jack are the ones who deserve the majority of the credit. Still, let's get these prisoners in one of the cars, get some will shackles from that stack we stole, and get everything on down to the Tether before anyone else catches on. Any objections?"
The three angels stood ramrod straight as Dominic paced back and forth in front of them. The list of violations and charges had been continuing for better than 5 minutes, and he showed no outward signs of slowing. Dominic turned to the Seraph and bent down to look into her eyes, his voice a mix of incredulous and angry.
"And you actually expect me to believe all of this?"
Muriel nodded. "It's the truth, sir. Every word of it."
Dominic turned to look at the rest of the Triad. "The truth, yes. A very clipped, edited, and glossed over version of the truth that holds so much deliberate misdirection and calculated statements that I am almost pained to look upon it. Tell me, did you actually think that in destroying that Tether, your judgment was more sound in my own?"
Laris muttered, "In this particular case, yes.", then paled and clamped his hands over his mouth.
Dominic glared at them, the air of tension growing stronger and more pronounced by the second. Then the sound of a boot scraping the floor broke the silence, as a Malakite stepped forward and placed itself by Dominic's side. The Archangel of Judgment turned to glare at the interloper, then spoke again. "It appears that I will need to take some time to decide precisely what to do with you all. You are ordered to stay within the confines of Heaven until I summon you back and pronounce my formal decision. Dismissed."
The three quickly walked out of the room, but at the doorway the younger Seraph looked back at her Archangel. "Really, sir. If there should be any blame that should fall, it should be on me, not them..."
"Noted. You are dismissed, Muriel. Leave."
As the door closed, Dominic turned to the Malakite. "Thank you for aiding the illusion, Bronwyn." The Malakite nodded as she stepped back, watching as several other angels walked into the room. One of them, a Seraphim spoke.
"Do you think they realized what happened, sir?"
Dominic shook his head. "No, Starkariel. I believe they accepted things exactly as they appeared on the surface, which is what we hoped. The force catcher that they acquired did contain the Renegade Yttrial, as your intelligence network related, and Yves says that his redemption went even more smoothly than hoped for. Does anyone else have any comments to make?"
A Kyriotate moved forward. "Only thing I can say is that I seriously hope we never lose these people. I've never seen anyone outside of those in this room that could pull off these sorts of operations. Do we have a timetable for integrating these people into the Whispers?"
Dominic shook his head. "As soon as they learn patience, Judge Frekariel. Patience and Discipline."
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