PRESENT DAY . . . A heavy sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Wow! It's a miracle that Idril had survived. Come to think of it, it's a miracle that you and Christine had arrived shortly before she made her attack. How long did it take for her to recover?"
"Oh . . . about three weeks," Cole said with a shrug. "Perhaps a month. Sometime around early September of '69, she tried to have us killed, again." He paused. "Separately. Just before I had reported back to the Brotherhood's headquarters, a zoltar tried to kill me at my Manhattan apartment. He failed, of course."
Olivia shook her head. "Poor Idril. She must have really loved you. I wonder if she still does?"
"What?" Cole found his fiancée's musing slightly disturbing.
"I said I wonder if Idril still loves you."
Cole immediately shot down that unpleasant theory. "Of course not! I had wounded Idril's pride, that's all."
A knowing light gleamed in Olivia's green eyes. "If you insist." She paused, while Cole regarded her suspiciously. "What about Christine?" she added, catching him off-guard.
Wariness crept within Cole's mind. "What about her?" He had deliberately deleted the sexual activity that had occurred between Christine and himself before Idril's attack. Now, he wondered if Olivia had guessed the truth.
"Did Idril hire someone to attack her for the second time?" Olivia's question relieved Cole's mind.
The half-daemon nodded. "Apparently, Idril had also placed on bounty on Christine, as well. Another zoltar attacked her at a hotel in Edinburgh." A chuckle rose from Cole's throat, as the memories rushed back to him. "And like me, she survived. She called me later that night to tell me about the attack. She, uh . . . well, after killing the zoltar, she sent his body back to Idril - in several pieces."
"Ouch!" Olivia exclaimed. "That must have been some message."
Cole sighed. "Yeah, it was. But it was a message from Raynor that finally stopped the attacks."
The revelation took Olivia by surprise. She blinked. "Raynor? How did he get involved? I mean . . . I know that he had started the whole thing, but how did he . . .?"
Cole allowed his lips to curve into an arch smile. "Let's just say that Raynor and I managed to come to an understanding."
SEPTEMBER 15, 1969; NEW YORK, NEW YORK . . . Cole entered the Thorn Brotherhood's familiar reception room and strode toward Raynor's assistant, who sat behind a large desk. "Belthazor," he greeted politely, "what can I do for you?"
The half-daemon answered, "I would like to see Raynor. It's urgent."
"Then you should make an appointment through Vornac," the assistant crisply replied. "You know the rules. In order to see the order's leader, you need to make arrangement through your sect's leader . . . unless Raynor requests your presence."
Suppressing an urge to incinerate the pompous daemon, Cole sighed. "I cannot find Vornac. According to Klea, he's in another dimension. On business. I need to see Raynor."
"Raynor is busy right now with . . ."
Cole leaned over the desk and seared Raynor's assistant with a deadly glare. "I need to speak with Raynor." He paused dramatically. "Or else I'll give him a good reason to find another secretary." The assistant's face turned pale.
"I see that you're back into full swing, Belthazor." Cole whirled around and discovered Tarkin standing behind him. The other daemon continued, "Welcome back."
Cole's temper cooled slightly. "Tarkin. Haven't seen you in nearly two months. Where have you been?"
"On business." Tarkin turned to the assistant. "Why aren't you summoning Raynor?"
His Adam's apple bobbing uncontrollably, the assistant reached for the intercom. Meanwhile, the two daemons moved away from his desk. "There's a rumor going around that you were recently attacked," Tarkin continued.
"Yes, from Idril of all people," Cole replied. "In fact, she attacked us, twice." He paused dramatically. "The first time in Southampton."
It seemed as if Tarkin was struggling to refrain from smirking. "I guess she didn't care to be passed over for someone like Christine."
Cole gave his colleague a hard stare. "How did you know I had been seeing Christine?" he asked in a soft voice.
Tarkin's mouth hung open. "Uh . . . I . . . I heard . . . I mean . . ." He took a deep breath. "I saw Brethil in Paris. He had seen the both of you in Edinburgh, last month." He paused. "By the way, how did you two . . .?"
"End up together?" Cole's gaze remained fixed upon the younger demon. "Christine had told me about seeing Idril with Raynor in Nice, last winter. And considering Raynor's little speech about matrimony for me, I managed to put two and two together. Just to let you know, nothing happened between us, while you and Christine were dating."
With a wave of his hand, Tarkin dismissed the matter. "It's okay. Christine wasn't the type I could remain interested in for very long."
Cole nodded. "That's good. You know," he paused succinctly, "for a moment I thought you were the one who had told Idril that we would be in Southampton . . . considering you were planning to go there, yourself. But I didn't think you were the type to make a fuss over some mortal - even if she was a witch."
"Yeah," Tarkin added with an uneasy smile.
Cole continued, "But someone had told us of our whereabouts. I'm going to find out who, and then . . ." He left the sentence unfinished. To his delight, anxiety flashed in Tarkin's eyes.
Raynor's assistant interrupted the pair. "Raynor will see you now, Belthazor."
"Thank you." Cole nodded at Tarkin and shot a caustic smile at the assistant. Then he strode past the latter's desk and entered Raynor's private office. The half-daemon found his mentor sitting on an ornate 18th sofa, sipping drinks with a slender, dark-haired woman. She possessed long, elegant features and sherry-brown eyes.
"Belthazor!" The woman stood up and held out her arms.
Smiling, the half-daemon embraced Raynor's new wife. "Avara. It's good to see you, again. Marriage seems to agree with you."
The demoness smiled brightly. "Thank you, Belthazor. It does, doesn't it? I would recommend it for everyone."
Cole shot a glance at his mentor. "Interesting. Raynor had said the same to me, a few months ago. Remember Raynor?"
The leader of the Thorn Brotherhood grunted, as he fixed his eyes upon a jade statuette of a horse.
"I understand from Raynor that you've become involved with another daemon," Avara continued. "Someone named Idril?
Again, Cole glanced at Raynor. Whose attention remained fixed upon the jade statuette. "Uh . . . it was just a minor little romance. Didn't go anywhere. Apparently, Idril and I were not really suited for one another."
Avara responded with a sympathetic nod. "I perfectly understand, Belthazor. From what Nimue has told me, this Idril did not seem to be your type."
"Nimue?" Raynor glanced sharply at his wife. "You know her?"
"Oh, I never told you, did I?" Avara's eyes grew wide with innocence. "Nimue and I are old friends."
Raynor stared at Cole. "Strange that you never mentioned this at my wedding, Belthazor."
Cole assumed an innocent expression. "I'm afraid that I didn't really think about it, Raynor. I had other matters on my mind, at the time."
Avara smiled at Cole. "Yes, Raynor had told me about your . . . vacation. Did you enjoy yourself?"
The demoness sighed. "Well, I best leave you two gentlemen alone. You must have some business to discuss. And I have some business to attend. Good-bye, Belthazor."
"Avara." Cole watched the demoness leave the office. Once alone with his mentor, he began, "Raynor, I have a matter . . ."
The older daemon interrupted. "You never told me that you and Nimue knew Avara. Why?"
Cole's eyes grew wide. "Hmmm? Oh, uh . . . it must have slipped my mind. I haven't seen her in years, before your wedding. And to be honest, I barely had a chance to say hello, during the reception." He paused. "Too busy trying to avoid Mother's company."
"I see." Raynor sauntered over to his desk and sat in the leather chair, behind it. "So . . . Belthazor, what is this urgent matter you need to discuss?"
After a brief pause, Cole continued, "I don't particularly enjoy bothering you with my private matters, Raynor, but . . . this matter concerns Idril."
"Idril?" The older daemon stiffened slightly.
Cole nodded. "Yes. As you know, we became briefly involved this past summer. Unfortunately, my interest waned and I broke it off with her. She became difficult and . . . in fact, made two attempts on my life. And on the life of a friend. And I had hoped that you would make her stop these attacks."
"Why ask me, Belthazor? I have no say in the private lives of the Source's subjects, as you very well know."
So, Raynor has decided to play games. With a sigh, Cole continued, "I understand, Raynor. But could you at least talk to Idril? Make her understand that these attacks are . . . a waste of her time. I have no desire to be killed due to Idril's inability to deal with rejection."
Raynor maintained a cool façade. "And why should I talk to Idril?"
"Because of your relationship with her," Cole replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "After all, she was . . . your mistress. Am I right? Surely you could . . ."
A tense, almost false laughter poured from Raynor's mouth. "Really, Belthazor! Are you stating that I had an affair with Idril?" His laughter ceased, as he stared at Cole with hard eyes. "Who told you?"
"Someone," Cole replied calmly. "And Idril finally admitted it, under duress. Anyway, I figured that since you two are so close, you would be able to talk her out of this vendetta. If not," again, Cole paused dramatically, "I might have to kill her." A cold smile touched the half-daemon's lips. "And I'm a much better assassin."
Raynor's dark eyes grew wide with shock. "You would . . ." Then his expression hardened. "There are some who might not take Idril's death very well."
"Such as yourself?" Cole shot back. He noted how Raynor's face paled. "Let's be honest, Raynor. I know about your affair with Idril. You're probably still involved with her. And I also know that you two had plotted to use me as some kind of shield to hide your relationship from Avara - who can be very jealous. I understand all of this. All I ask is that you talk to Idril and convince her to stop the attacks. If not . . . I will kill her. Period."
In a hard voice, Raynor said, "If you do, don't expect to live very long, Belthazor." He regarded Cole through dangerously narrowed eyes.
"Is that your way of admitting the affair?" When Raynor remained silent, Cole nodded. "I see. Well, let me put it this way - I'm sure that my mother, Avara and the Source will wonder why you had me killed, so soon after Idril's death."
Raynor's shoulders sagged in defeat - much to Cole's pleasure. "I see," he finally said. "And what about the witch?"
Although this audience with Raynor had been for Christine's sake, as much as for his, Cole decided it would be wise to keep her out of the conversation, as much as possible. "She can take care of herself," he added casually.
Looking slightly dazed, Raynor commented, "You know, I cannot believe that you are threatening me. This is unexpected of you."
"I'm not threatening you, Raynor," Cole replied. "Just Idril. The only reason I haven't killed her yet, is out of consideration for you." He continued to regard his mentor with a steady gaze.
To Cole's surprise, the older daemon threw back his head and laughed. "Well done, Belthazor! Well done." His laughter finally subsided. "You've certainly come a long way from since the day I first began to train you."
Cole stared at his mentor. "Excuse me?"
"You really would have killed Idril, wouldn't you?" Raynor regarded the half-daemon with admiration and pride. "And you were quite willing to blackmail me about my relationship with her, as well. Well done. I have trained you well."
Cole merely responded with a polite smile. "Uh, Raynor. About Idril?"
The older daemon nodded. "Oh yes. Of course, I will have a talk with her."
"Thank you." Cole let out a gust of breath. "I, uh . . . I think I better check with Vornac."
Raynor smiled. "You do that." Cole started toward the door. "And Belthazor?"
His hand barely on the doorknob, Cole paused. "Yes Raynor?"
"I want to thank you for considering my feelings toward Idril. And I do apologize for the attempt to manipulate you into a relationship with her."
Stunned by his mentor's apologize, Cole responded with a barely mute, "You're welcome."
But Raynor had not finished. "And one more thing - I would have killed Idril immediately. Regardless of anyone's feelings. Good day."
His mentor's last words ringing in his mind, Cole left the office and closed the door behind him.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1969 (EARTH TIME); THE SOURCE'S REALM . . . Idril stared at her dark-haired lover in disbelief. "Say that again?" she demanded.
Raynor sighed. "I would like for you to cease all attacks upon Belthazor and his witch," he coolly repeated. "Especially Belthazor."
Resentment bubbled within the demoness' breast. "Why should I? He had insulted me!"
"In Caspiel's name, Idril! He had merely dealt a blow to your ego! I really don't see the need for you to continue these attacks! They're simply pointless."
Idril regarded her lover with suspicion. Both stood inside the main living room of her home, located in the Source's Realm. "Did he mention that he had nearly killed me, when he tossed me out of that hotel window? And on top of that, he humiliated me by . . ."
"Let it go, woman!" Raynor's roar filled the room. His dark eyes shone bright with frustrated anger. "Let it go! It's over! We lost the game. Be thankful that Belthazor has decided to spare you."
Idril grunted with disgust. "Spare me? What make him think that he . . .?"
Raynor sighed. "Idril, let me be frank. The only reason you are not dead is because Belthazor has considered my feelings for your well being. But if you persist in this vendetta of yours, he will kill you. With extreme prejudice. And he will be more successful than you. Do you understand?"
Stunned by her lover's words, Idril could only stare at him. "Wha . . . ?" Then an unpleasant thought came to her. "Are you saying that you would have stood by and allow him to kill me? You wouldn't have even avenged my death?"
"How can I kill one of my top assassins out of revenge, without arousing Avara's suspicion?" Raynor retorted. "She happens to be an old friend of Nimue's. As for that bitch - she already has a very good reason to despise me. The only reason I'm still alive is due to the Source's protection. If I kill Belthazor because of you, the Source will not stand in her way."
Sick at heart, Idril turned away. She could not believe this. Belthazor was forever out of her reach. Along with that English tramp, Christine. Worse, she might have to face a future with Raynor. "So, what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do? End our relationship for good?"
Raynor paused before he continued, "Find someone else. Someone not as difficult to control, as Belthazor." He sighed. "Find someone who is a lot less . . . intelligent. Choosing Belthazor for this matter was a mistake. I had underestimated the extent of his pride. And his independence."
"You certainly did," Idril grumbled. She winced under Raynor's dark stare. "Well, why did you choose him?"
The other demon continued, "Because I thought he would be ambitious enough to help us, once he found out. I had provided similar services to my former mentor. I didn't count on Belthazor's 'pride' getting in the way. I was wrong."
No kidding, Idril thought bitterly. And kept her dark thoughts to herself.
End of Part 7