Forty one days from the death of Lucifer, Calibanos, Duke of War, Demon of Firearms fell into Soul Death.
Calibanos was a powerful Calabite, and the most powerful of the Luciferian Word-bound to die up to that point – having been put into trauma in one of the first onslaughts to bolster the Word of the War, Calibanos had been unable to directly bolster his Word. Being a lieutenant to Baal himself, Calibanos was able to avoid the fate of so many Luciferian Word-bound – being cut apart, their Forces added to other failing Luciferians to stave off complete disaster for the Luciferian cause.
But it was all for naught. On day forty-one, Calibanos’s last Celestial Force snuffed out alongside the Word he had possessed, curled around a Heart that flickered and went dark.
Baal, taking a break from directing the Luciferian forces in the civil war for control of Hell, was on hand for the death of his most important lieutenant. He then called a council of the Loyalist Princes together. The Word-bound were almost all gone now, unprecedented numbers of Luciferian demons had defected either to the Lilithian cause or gone fully Renegade, the desperate push to bolster Demonic Words had been successfully met by Heaven and four flights of Malakim were waiting outside the Gates of Hell, hoping that the demonic war machine would grind itself into dust and let Heaven march in and clean up the remains.
It was time for a new strategy. However, the strategy proposed came as something of a surprise even to the Prince of the War himself.
“You want to sacrifice Staciel?” Baal’s voice was sharp, his eyes narrow.
“It is our best play at this time,” Asmodeus replied, mildly. “We’re getting some intelligence from the Lilithian side, but its quality is miniscule and its strategic use limited. If we can move one of our pieces into play – a piece powerful and useful enough that they see too much value in employing it despite its obvious risks – we have the opportunity to begin to influence their strategy from within. Until we can accomplish that, we are merely delaying the inevitable.”
“That’s funny,” Kobal said, leaning back and putting his feet up on the ironwood table. “I could have sworn we’ve all been sacrificing our own Word-bound to keep Staciel in play.”
“Staciel and others,” Asmodeus amended. “Yes. And now it’s time to bring that to use. Hers is the Word of Intrigue. It is almost certain Alaemon will insist she keep it or some variant. She is a Lilim – one I have any number of sworn geases from. And one thing has not changed in this Game – a Lilim can be trusted to keep her Word, when there is a geas involved.”
“It is a bold plan,” Malphas crooned. The red hued distortion shifted, the focus becoming a red pair of human lips. “A decisive stratagem. I am impressed, my friend. However... I would not be a true friend without noting that Lilith and her treasonous dogs will suspect it from the start.”
“Who cares?” Belial snapped, face spasming. His clothing was smoldering – his usually impeccable suit rumpled. He looked strung out. He’d been hearing the voices. “Who cares? We’re wasting time – time. We should be fighting Heaven. Blotting them out! Blotting her out! Don’t you see this is what they want what she wants–”
“Babe babe babe babe babe,” Nybbas said, soothingly. Baal’s eyes narrowed as he watched the Impudite’s resonance wash over the Prince of Fire – there was a time when Nybbas wouldn’t have dared try to charm Belial, but the chaos both in Hell and on Earth had been extremely telegenic, and Nybbas’s Word was doing far better than the rest. That made Baal nervous, but he conceded the advantage of having someone control the increasingly unstable Calabite. “We’re going to. We are. But first we need to put our own house in order. That’s what we’re discussing. Just some housekeeping before we strike back at Heaven.”
“Thanks, Pollyanna,” Kobal snapped, sitting back up. “So. We continue to fight the civil war, we continue our increasingly unsuccessful attempts to bolster our failing Words up on Earth, we continue to lose Servitors on multiple fronts, and we put our faith in a Lilim whose very Word implies betrayal. That’s what we’ve got? That’s our big plan?”
“Why don’t we call for peace talks?” Haagenti said, sullenly. “Negotiations. See what we can get out of all this with?”
Baal’s eyes narrowed. “Peace talks?” he asked, an undercurrent of danger in his voice.
Haagenti snapped his head back up. “Yes,” he snapped. “Don’t think you can scare me, neither. I wasn’t scared of you when you were hot shit. I sure as shit ain’t scared of you now. Don’t you get it? Our Words are dying. I’m cold all the time. I’m hungrier than ever and I feel nauseous all at once. My guys are being ground into paste and I’ve lost all my Word-bound fighting your war, and we can’t possibly win it. If we go back, in good faith – we can negotiate, get in good under the new order, get our Words fixed, and then–”
“I will not bow my knee to a human!” Baal screamed, slamming his fist onto the table with such force that it cracked from one end to the other. “That miserable bitch will not get the satisfaction of my capitulation, and so help me I will carve your fat forces from your body and add them to my own before I allow you to do so!”
Saminga began to laugh. It was the sick laugh of a child. “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posey,” it mumbled.
“Ashes, ashes, we all fall to ashes,” Belial murmured, his eyes focused on something only he could see.
“Okay, that’s not helping,” Kobal said. “All of you take a breath. Especially you, Boss. We’re not your enemies.”
“I just think–” Haagenti started to say, petulantly.
“Shove it, brother,” Kobal snapped at him. Haagenti blinked, his face burning. “This isn’t the time. We’re not throwing in the towel. Not yet, anyway. After all, we’re having so much fun doing this.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “How quickly will Staciel begin to show results? Is she going to assassinate someone? Give us launch codes? What?”
“She will be an agent provocateur, naturally,” Asmodeus said. “That will take some time, but if we–”
“The time is almost up,” Saminga whispered. It was a skeleton now – literally, like six different beasts had given up their bones. With hisses and pops, the bones cracked and spawned new ones as Saminga moved. “All the time is almost up....”
“What about the short term?” Kobal asked. “We need some short term joy.”
“Indeed,” Asmodeus said. “That is Nybbas’s play.”
“Mine?” Nybbas asked. “Whoa whoa whoa, babe. You’re not putting me out front – I might be in better shape than you are but Vapula or fucking Furfur can eat me alive.”
“Of course,” Asmodeus said. “I wouldn’t expect you to. However, you have a number of Ethereals at your disposal, yes? Your alliance with various factions within the August Coprosperity Collective?”
Nybbas frowned. “With Beleth still queen bitch in the Marches, it’s tricky....”
“Beleth has enough to deal with between Dreams and the Sword hammering her perimeter,” Asmodeus said. “You should have ample opportunity...”
Nybbas continued frowning, but nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Done deal.”
“Excellent. There has been significant comings and goings into the Vale in recent weeks. Lilith and Beleth clearly are looking to firm up their hold on the spirits. If you can arrange for terrorist elements to enter Hell with them... sowing havoc and discord and putting Shal Mari on the defensive....”
Baal smiled a bit. “Yessss,” he said, savoring the word. “A few incidents in the cow’s very Capital would be sufficient to shake their faith and unity. With the rabble up in arms and frightened, they will need to reallocate some of their forces, taking the pressure off of ours.”
“We’ll need to work pretty damn quickly,” Kobal said.
“Not a problem,” Nybbas said. “I have just the crew to send. I’ll have a deal within eight hours. It’ll cost us, though. And up front – they won’t accept assurances when they don’t know we’re going to win.”
“We are going to win,” Baal said, through tight lips.
“Yeah. And when we do, we can make them suffer for their lack of faith,” Nybbas answered. “But right now, we look bad on paper.”
“We more than look bad,” Kobal snorted. “Nybbas is right. We all know it. So, are we agreed? We start using Ethereal mercenaries and terrorists behind the lines in Shal Mari, and trust that Staciel will be able to talk them into trusting her?”
Baal looked around. No one looked happy, but no one was speaking up. No one had anything better to offer.
Including Baal himself.
“Done,” he said. “How does she get there? The wards prevent using the Songs of Motion.”
“There are tunnels between the Halls of Loyalty and appropriate locations just outside Shal Mari. She’ll take one of those routes,” Asmodeus said.
“All right. Luck to her.”
Asmodeus smiled a bit more. “Luck to us all, my old friend. Luck to us all.”