The Politics of Hell by B.R. Bearden

“Revel Hasting.” The young man stood as his name was called. Of all the folk waiting in the Summoned Hall of the House of Inquisition, he alone showed no sign of the fear the place evoked. In appearance he was unlike any of the nervous men and women waiting to be summoned before a Protectorate to answer for some misdeed of faith. Though he shared the light skin, sharp features, and raven black hair of a typical Chelaxian, his wore not the deliberate humble and honest attire of a merchant or tradesman, but rather gray trousers and shirt and a dark gray cloak, as if bound for the opera.

The man who had called his name, somber in black robes, turned and led the way down the hall. Revel followed, his soft boots sounding a muffled contrast to the sharp click of the official’s polished boots on the red and black Arcadian marble.

Revel presented an air of familiarity, though this visit was his first. His dark eyes cast unconcerned glances at the various statues of fiends and devils occupying niches in the walls. Egorian was capital to a nation of devil worshippers, but the statues on display throughout the city were designed to appear non-threatening; a lie the common folk were willing to swallow in return for a night’s sleep. Not so here; the naked evil on the stone faces was intended to cause fear. Revel felt the itch of the burn scar on his left forearm and resisted the urge to rub it. Instead, he casually straightened the front of his shirt, feeling the comforting Iomedae holy symbol beneath the fabric.

The official stopped before an ornately carved door, spoke a word in the Infernal tongue before touching the handle, and swung the portal open. He stood aside, inclining his head slightly to indicate Revel was to enter, which he did without hesitation. Irritation at the young man’s nonchalant attitude was evident on the official’s thin face as he closed the door and walked away.

The chamber was large and well appointed, with dark paneled walls, thick blood red carpet, and expensive furniture. The black and red flag of Cheliax hung on the wall behind a granite topped desk. A bald man sat at the desk in a high backed chair, a five pointed star, symbol of Asmodeus, carved into the wood above his head. He wore a black robe like the escorting official, but with elaborate red stitching worked into the collar and cuffs. Thin eyebrows arched above eyes that glinted like obsidian. He gestured to the chair before the desk and the younger man sat.

“Revel Hasting, I am Protectorate Narvelius Churel. Let me extend my regret at the loss of your father.” His voice was silky and devoid of any emotion, most noticeably compassion. “He was a fine officer, a model Hellknight. The Order of the God Claw is lessened by his passing. Perhaps you intend to follow in his footsteps?”

“Not likely. Have you found his killer?”

A flicker of warning shown in Narvelius’s eyes. “You are blunt, as was your father. A useful trait, at the proper time. This is not such a time.”

“I apologize,” Revel replied.

Narvelius waved it aside. “No need. It’s a misstep, not a deal breaker. But no, we have not found the killer. The Order of the Scar is investigating, as murder is their realm. You were informed Maralictor Darkus was attacked from behind while walking alone at night, apparently on his way home after his shift. What you were not told I will tell you now. The wounds were jagged, as of a serrated blade, and the result of a dual strike. It is suspected he was struck down by a Red Mantis.”

Revel frowned. “A Red Mantis? Why would such be employed against a mid-level Hellknight officer? Are they not expensive assassins?”

“Very. Duke Kotaros was killed by a Red Mantis during the civil wars following the death of Aroden, and, so goes the tale, the fee was a castle in Andoran.”

“Such a fee for a noble, perhaps, but a Maralictor?”

“Not all contracts with the Red Mantis demand such a fee. In point of fact, few do. If one has the right enemies, and they have the required gold, a bargain may be struck. Did your father have enemies he spoke of?”

Revel shook his head. “He spoke little of his duties. In fact, he spoke little after the passing of my mother Alphadia.”

“Ah, yes. A priestess of Iomedae, was she not? She died in accident?”

“A fire. She died trying to save folk during a fire that swept one of the Cheapside districts, when houses were torn down to build the eastern Prospect.” Revel felt the itch on his forearm return, an injury from the same fire.

Narvelius stared intently at the young man, to read accusation in his tone or manner. Many citizens were unhappy with removal of old buildings for the broad avenues, called The Prospects, that ran north to south and east to west of Thrune Square. If the young man held resentment, he contained it well.

“The renovations of the city, alas, were not without cost. But as to your parents, Iomedae and Asmodeus have in common the Rule of Law. Your mother and father reflected that tradition of serving the greater need,” the Protectorate said.

The man rose, went to a cabinet, and returned to the desk with a bundle of red velvet cloth. He spread the contents on the table; a leather belt pouch, a red sash, and a long sword in a worn scabbard.

“The assassin took whatever coin the pouch held. His armor was claimed by the Hellknights.”

Revel stood and lifted the sword, sliding it a hand’s breath from the scabbard. It had a silver basket hilt and a grip of black dragon hide. The blade was dull gray with a bright edge, etched with runes. It was an heirloom of his family for many generations.

“Why not take his sword?” Revel asked. “It is enchanted; the only treasure of the Hasting line.”

Narvelius shrugged. “It is also very distinctive and would be easy to scry. It is your sword now, sad the circumstance that makes it so. If we learn more about your father’s death, I will see that you are contacted.”

Outside the House of Inquisition, Revel wrapped the red sash around his waist and belted the sword over it. It hung naturally from his hip. As a child he had, at times, sneaked the sword from the hidden space where Darkus kept it when he slept. It had seemed heavy and cumbersome to the boy, but it felt light and balanced to the young man. When his father taught him sword skills, they had used a pair of ordinary swords. Only once had his father let him try the sword, fencing at shadows on a moonlit night, in the little garden behind their home.

“Why the silver basket?” he had asked.

“Silver harms devils,” Darkus had explained, running his fingers over the finely made basket hilt. “Though Cheliax is aligned with Hell one might have to fight a devil, just as one might align with but still fight men.”

“Then why not a silver blade?”

“Silver doesn’t hold an edge,” Darkus said. Then he winked. “Besides, there are things besides devils that require a sword. Many things.”

“Is it magical?” Revel asked as he thrust at an imaginary goblin.

Darkus laughed. He had an easy laugh, when his mood was light. “What is magic, Revel? Does your mother work magic? Or does she channel the divine energy of Iomadae? I have seen you work the little spells she taught you. Do you do magic?”

The boy hesitated before speaking. “Sometimes I call on Iomadae to make a light or heal a small scrape or cut. And sometimes I do it without calling on anyone.”

His father had placed his hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes. “How is that, Revel? How do you work spells without calling on Iomadae?”

“I don’t know. I still feel the energy move through me, my fingers tingle. I haven’t told mother.”

Darkus shook his head. “No. No, you shouldn’t. And Revel, you should only use the spells when calling on Iomadae. Understand?”

The boy had not, but he nodded none the less.

His father then tousled his hair and smiled. “And the sword is enchanted, yes.”

The Politics of Hell continues in Part 2