The Angel of Beauty

The temple is quiet around Muse. The air is still, the lingering scent of incense a pleasant counterpoint to the smell of fire, heat and blood she had run through to get here. The infernal forces arrayed in the plaza outside are falling silent and she knows their time is running short.

Sweat beads under the collar of her armour, glamoured as ever to resemble a mockery of the court finery she should have been wearing. Her mother’s betrayal is long forgotten, but it serves as a reminder of what can be, if she but wills it. There is nothing she cannot do given time.

She glances sideways, taking in the exhaustion and worry on her companions faces.

Reed is looking around, his bright eyes shining and his smile wide, despite the lines of fatigue on his face and the flickering embers of his magic. She can barely feel his presence in the Weave, the odd chaotic spark a mild clash of cymbals.

‘er Ladyship and Chef, both warriors of great skill and neither particularly interested in the magical arts, look fresher, but not by much. ‘er Ladyship’s limbs are trembling slightly and she suspects the constant rage of battle has taken a much greater toll than the statuesque woman is letting on. Chef, her white hair spotted with infernal ichor, meets her eyes and nods briefly.

Myca, eyes wide with worry, smiles shyly as their gaze meets. The constant worry has taken its toll even on her and Muse feels her jaw clench. He had better not be playing them false.

Movement by the doors catches their attention and the two martial members of their little band disappear down the stairs, Chef to guard their backs and ‘er Ladyship to confront the Servant and rescue her child. Muse smiles grimly, one of her canines drawing a bead of blood from the inside of her cheek. She had kept herself out of all the fighting so far as best she could to preserve her limited magic for this moment. She had sworn an oath ‘er Ladyship, and she would do everything she could to rescue the child, but if it came down to her word versus Myca’s safety, the child would die.

The wood of her longbow, its dark grain as familiar to her now as the pommels of her daggers, is comforting under her fingers as she moves towards the doors, getting out of any obvious line of sight. The string is taut and well-waxed. She knows, if anything is going to go wrong, it will be her fault. Not for the first time does she wish she had some form of magical bow, anything which could injure the fiends laying waste to the city.

She shrugs out of her backpack, laying it carefully on the ground next to her bags of holding as the doors shudder and start to swing open. She closes her eyes, drawing a handful of shafts from their quiver and laying them next to her. One good, clean shot. That’s all she’ll need to end this. One innocent life ended, and the threat of the demon would be gone. For now.

She hears the footsteps in the nave and creeps to the edge of the mezzanine, watching as Nicodemus, that same irritating smirk on his features, leads a handful of devils to the altar where she now sees ‘er Ladyship sitting.

Already the air is filling with power, a heat perceptible to her senses, and she carefully knocks an arrow to her bowstring. Below, Nicodemus and ‘er Ladyship share some words, the bundle in his arms the wrong shape and size to be a child.

He hadn’t played them false. Good. She respected few people in this world and his self-sacrifice, however self-serving, had been worthy of her respect. She turned her attention to the devils with him, content to let the situation play out and wait for an opportunity.

Her ears caught fragments of the conversation as ‘er Ladyship rushed Nicodemus, the crimson tiefling’s guards restraining her easily. It seemed to be more of his trademark confidence and her flowing anger. The human woman was a terrifying warrior, but her anger was too quick, too unfocused. Muse knows it will cause them problems in the long run.

She frowns as the ritual begins and Nicodemus starts calling upon Belphagor. Her eyes dart down the mezzanine, Reed is hiding behind a plant and Myca is lost in a ritual. Thoughts rush through her head.

Nicodemus can be trusted to serve his own interests first, and those of his Mistress second. She disapproved of the warlock/patron relationship, having grown up with a similar one, but it is predictable, easily understood.

Myca will do everything she can to prevent the demon’s arrival, but Muse isn’t sure how effective her hallowing of already consecrated ground will be.

Reed… Reed will no doubt do something creative to simultaneously better and worsen the situation as he always does.

Chef’s cool head is elsewhere, keeping them safe from ambush.

Leaving ‘er Ladyship to follow along with whatever plan Nicodemus has. No.

It’s too risky. SHE has to do something.

Her tail lashes the air as she thinks, heartbeats turning into frozen seconds as a plan forms in her mind.

She glances over at Myca.

She thinks about the first time she had performed, the first smile on Myca’s face, that night of passion, heat and blood in the public baths. Each and every memory is full of a numinous connection to a world of infinite horizons, a world so much greater than one person.

She pulls on those connections, throwing them out into the Weave, into the uncaring cosmos.

‘Jophiel.’ She says quietly. ‘You don’t know me but Belphagor is coming. He will be here. He will be manifest. He must be stopped.’

There is a moment of silence as the universe waits for a response.

‘What will you sacrifice for this?’ The angel’s voice is a chorus in her head, the purest notes she has ever heard.

Without thinking about it, certainty filling her every thought as usual, she replies.

‘Myself.’

The pain is immediate, bands of fire wrapped around her heart, but it is short-lived. She collapses to the floor, her bow falling from suddenly nerveless fingers.

She expects to fall into the fire and smoke of the Nine Hells, but the Angel of Beauty has a gift for her. He gifts her happiness and she finds herself in a sun-lit wood, Myca singing songs as she dances in a clearing.

She smiles, her mind clear of its habitual scheming, and strides forward into paradise.

Years pass and the wood remains safe and unchanging. Perfect day follows perfect day.

And then the sky darkens. A pain, familiar and long forgotten, washes through her heart. She feels the ground beneath her feet writhe and pulse with the power of the wild places. Myca starts crying and stumbles towards her, pounding Muse’s back with her fists and they cling to each other.

‘I love you.’ She says between tears, repeating it like a mantra.

Understanding floods Muse’s mind. For her, the fight isn’t over. This is not where she belongs, angel be damned. There is a world which needs her.

She reaches down, letting the power of the earth fill her being.

Reality reasserts itself.

She hears the sounds of the temple, she feels Myca’s tears on her cheek, she feels the force of the angel as he hovers there, watching the ritual.

There will be consequences for what she has done.

But there is a half-elf who needs her.

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