Otherwise, here's the conclusion of Chapter 2 (Don't forget, Virgo's Vigilantes releases on October 26th, 2021!)
I twisted to see her holding a book in her hands. "So they," I said with a jerk of my head toward Bilba and Ralrek, "told you about my copy of The Histories?"
"No. What did you do with it now?" Dialphio asked.
"Nothing. The Council searched my bags when they brought me home and confiscated it… again."
"So you lost another copy of the most important book in Underworld history?" Dialphio said, but I noted a playful hint to her tone. She shook her head, waving her hand. "No matter, copies are being made. I might let you borrow another one, though I'm sure you'll lose that too." She held out her hands. "This is not a copy of The Histories. Just a notebook."
"Magical?" I asked, knowing Dialphio wouldn't have snuck in a regular notebook. This one was demonic, a magical device that allowed users to communicate vast distances across not only Hell, but even from here to the Overworld.
"It is," she said.
"You shouldn't have done that. You could get in trouble," I said.
But Bilba was shaking his head. "The cell has a suppression system for magic. I'm surprised you haven't noticed that, Zeke." So that was what I'd been feeling. He continued before I could revel in the fact that I was now detecting a new type of spell. "Anyway, it's designed to cut off magic at larger levels. No spellcasting in here. But things like demonic notebooks are too low–level to register."
I squinted. "They didn't frisk you for contraband?"
Dialphio planted her hands on her hips. "They would not think about touching me where I had that stashed. Not if they knew what was good for them."
I took the notebook, pinched between my finger and thumb.
"Don't be cute. I'm sure you've been exposed to grimier situations then a notebook carried in my blouse, based on what I know of young incubi. You probably have dirtier things in your bag they searched through." Dialphio chirped.
I smiled and gave her a hug. "Thank you. This will help with the loneliness."
She squeezed, not letting me go. "I heard about your friend, Ezekial. I'm so sorry." Another warm squeeze. She could have held me forever if she wanted.
"Thank you," I somehow managed to choke.
Dialphio held me for a moment longer, until my breathing slowed, and stepped back. Her cheeks were flushed and the rims of her eyes were red. Her hand shot to the cover of the notebook just as I was about to open it to distract me from thoughts of Cancer. "There's also something in there. Wait until you're alone. Make sure no one is around."
"And as for The Histories, don't worry," Dialphio said. "I have plenty of copies, so that's not a worry. Plus, you hardly need it anymore. You're well-versed on the origins of the Council. And you know enough about that thing," she said, half–turning to point at Creed hanging on the wall. "Further reading won't do much for you."
"Because you're not smart, is what she's saying." Ralrek poked my arm.
"That," Dialphio piled on before I could respond, "and what you know just needs to be applied. Knowledge in itself is hardly useful. One must apply themselves before it can become beneficial."
"Well, I should have plenty of time to work on it down here. How long has it been?" I asked.
Bilba's head hung. "Almost two weeks."
"Two weeks? Wow." I was getting very good at estimating the passage of time in prison cells. A benefit of spending too much time in them.
"We're trying to find more information, but it's difficult. The Council is tight-lipped, as always." Dialphio frowned. "From what I hear, it's a matter of dragging this out as long as possible to weaken you. So, it's important that you spend this time sharpening your skills with the halberd and keeping your mind equally sharp. You don't want to be dulled, regardless of who or what they choose as your opponent."
"I would if I could get to my halberd without anyone finding out."
Dialphio's face scrunched. "It's right there."
I hung my head. "I haven't tried because… because I figured I was being monitored, and if I misstepped, the Council would punish one of you, or my parents. Heavens, everyone."
Bilba's shoulders rose and fell in a quick shrug. "They already are. You might as well make sure you're ready for the fight, when it comes."
"What do you mean they already are?"
Bilba's head dropped.
Ralrek's arm slid to his back. "Dumbass here has been getting pressure."
"Pressure? From who? About what?"
"The Passage," Bilba said to the floor.
"Hey," I said as I approached, putting my hand on his shoulder until he looked up at me. "What about it?"
The Passage was a test very few demons had the privilege of taking. A test of their Abilities, if passed, the demon gained the title of Major demon and all the societal benefits and power that came along with it. Normally, it is a great honor to be selected, one most demons spent their lives only dreaming of—especially those who had a fair shot. Hell did have its fair share of dreamers though, too. My friend wasn't the latter; he'd studied the arcane arts for thousands of years already. Now, that study was paying off. Bilba was taking it early in life, far earlier than maybe he should have. But he'd been preparing for the test throughout my time in Abandonment. I would have thought he'd be bursting with excitement by now.
"I keep hearing they might move it up. My test date, that is," he finally said.
"Isn't that a good thing?"
His lips pinched together, unsure.
"It's a very aggressive schedule," Dialphio answered for my best friend, her eyes on him.
"Are you not ready?" I asked.
"I'm… I'm not sure." Bilba shuffled from foot to foot.
"Then tell them that." It made sense to me.
"It's not that simple, dumbass," Ralrek said.
"Sure, it is. If you're not ready, tell them you need a later date," I said, hoping against everything I knew about the Council that they would be reasonable about this.
"I have, and it was rejected. Twice," Bilba said.
Oh, that was a problem. The Passage was not risk–free. Not by a long shot. Taking place outside of Hell, if Bilba wasn't ready, he could be put in a situation that could kill him. Call that a Light Bulb Moment.
"Is this their doing?" I asked, looking at Dialphio.
From the bracket in the wall, Creed vibrated. Sure, stupid halberd, now decide to keep me company.
Creed vibrated louder, rattling the brackets.
Everyone turned to look, Bilba included.
"Has Akimon petitioned for another date? As your father, maybe his request will carry a different weight?" I asked, trying to think of any way to delay the pressure on Bilba.
Bilba's head dropped again. "He tried. Denied him too. Now he tries to support me as long as I'm confident."
"And you told him you were?" I asked, even though I knew the answer.
"Yeah. He's my father, Zeke. If I tell him the truth…"
"And Melchiot?" I finished, trying to rescue him from dwelling on a son's guilt.
Melchiot Zeistane was the mentor Bilba hired while I was Abandoned. It was her job to prepare him. She was also a Hex user, capable of casting a rare magic supposedly used to initiate the curse that afflicted Cancer and her family. During my time in the Overworld, she had been helping Bilba look for a cure. So far, they had come up empty.
"She's bothered by it, to say the least," Bilba said. "It's not normal, she says. But, honestly, she is acting guarded. She said I am strong, even if I don't feel like I'm prepared. She doesn't think so either, but said this might be the only chance I ever get."
"Tell him the rest." Ralrek looked down at Bilba without adjusting.
"I don't want to get into it," Bilba said.
"Tell me what?"
Ralrek straightened. "Everyone thinks he's being monitored."
"Monitored? Like, being watched?" I asked.
"That's what it means, dumbass." Ralrek smirked. "It basically started when you were Abandoned. Subtle things here and there, even when he's at work or home. Especially when he's training with Melchiot. Nothing threatening, at least not right now. More like they're just keeping tabs."
"Why? Bilba?" I said his name slowly and with emphasis when he ignored me. "You've been playing around with spells, haven't you?"
"Maybe," he peeped. "But either way, that doesn't have anything to do with the Passage."
"You can't know that for sure," I said. "Plus, you should know how the Council is." I didn't want to shame him, but it was so blessedly difficult to deny how harsh the Council was. "They're looking for justification."
"I… I'm just testing things in case we find ourselves in a situation where we need it, that's all." Bilba sounded as guilty as an impling caught with his hand in the cracker jar.
"Like anything required to support the Great Prince," Ralrek snorted.
I shook my head. "Don't you start. Not now. Keep it up, and I'll trick the guard into locking you in here and setting me free."
"You've got to admit, it's still funny." Bilba smirked.
I looked to Dialphio. "Want to help me here?"
She waved a pudgy hand at me. "Oh, you seem to be doing fine on your own… Great Prince."
The three laughed, and it wasn't long before I joined them. "Well, at some point, I might go looking for the Horn again, if you're so ready to help. Not much I can do in here."
Bilba's head snapped up. "Really?"
I looked toward the dark ceiling and spread my arms out to my sides. "Not like I'm going to talk about it as long as I'm in here, but you might hear something soon." I tapped the demonic notebook in my hands. "I received a… note while I was Abandoned that might come in handy."
"Well maybe it was a good thing they brought you back?" Bilba offered.
"Yeah, nothing like always being the exception to the rule," I said with a harsh chuckle.
"You're hardly the exception," Dialphio said. "Plenty of demons have been brought back from Abandonment before."
"Yeah, there's nothing special about you," Bilba said right on the back of her statement. "The Council has done this dozens of times from what I've been reading. They might want us to think something different, that Abandonment is permanent, but that's not the case. Even if you were the exception, which you are not, in case I wasn't already clear."
"You guys are trying to make that very clear, thank you," I said with a wry smile.
"In fact, it's a new punishment, relatively speaking," Dialphio said. "This wasn't necessarily used in a punitive way for much of our early history. At least, it hasn't always been the default punishment."
"Seems to be more of a recent tactic.," Bilba said.
"Shocker." Ralrek wasn't much help.
"I don't think anyone, at least those of us in the cell, are surprised that the Council is being less than honest," I said, my eyes slipping to Creed. Even the halberd was a prisoner of sorts to the Council.
"Demons have crossed over all the time. It's just a lie," Bilba said, his voice rising. "Just another lie. One of many we've been told."
Dialphio made a small noise, like a muffled bird chirp. "Imagine what else they're lying to us about."
We fell into silent agreement, interrupted by the clanking of approaching armor. I tucked the notebook in the back of my pants and pulled my shirt over it.
I sighed. "It looks like our visit is over. I hope I get to see you soon?"
"Hope so," Ralrek said.
Bilba moved in for a hug. I gave it to him.
Dialphio shuffled forward when he vacated the spot. The guard was already unlocking the cell door. Too soon. My ex-boss's mouth was near my ear. "Remember what I said. Use that halberd. Don't cast, just focus on staying physically and mentally sharp. The time is coming soon."
She pulled back and gave me a motherly smile.
"I will," I promised.
With her hand in front of her body so the guard couldn't see, Dialphio made a square shape in the air and pointed at the notebook I hid behind my back. She mouthed, "Read it."
"Let's go," the guard said.
My three friends lingered for a second longer before departing. He shooed them down the hall, away from the cell, as the lock clicked back into place, separating me from the living.
"Get moving. Visiting time is over," key boy said, lowering his spear toward the mouth of the hall.
My three friends waved and departed. I waited until the clanking armor faded to ensure no one was hanging around in the hall, long enough to be sure no other guard was hanging back for nefarious reasons. Now that I knew they had a suppression spell in place, I wasn't worried about being watched by magic, so I pulled the notebook out. A folded piece of paper was tucked inside the front cover envelope sleeve. With excitement, I fought the note open.
I recognized the handwriting immediately. Cassie. The angel who saved my life only weeks before.
Saved my life in the very ambush during which I supposedly murdered a demon.
CASSIE: Hi Zeke. I am sorry I haven't written more often. A lot of things have been happening. I understand they are with you as well. I'm sorry about all of this. I wish I had a better reason to be writing, and I feel horrible saying this, but I need your help. I can't believe this is happening. Demons are causing problems in Olympia. Leo is going through something, but he's not involved. Please, Zeke, the Balance is being affected, worse than before. Can you help? I don't trust this notebook enough to say anything else. I need to see you. I know you're involved in stuff, but the second you break away. I need you. If that's not possible, is there someone else, like Ralrek, you can convince to help. Someone trustworthy and powerful. We need you.
Walking to a torch framing the brackets holding Creed, I burned the note.
Well, wasn't this great? Imprisoned for something I didn't do, begged to return to the Overworld to help in a situation I couldn't alter by an angel who was supposed to be a mortal enemy. My "mortal enemy" was more trustworthy than the ancients who put me on trial.
Things were never simple, were they?