Silas spends a day without getting out of bed. He can smell River on the blankets. He moves in and out of sleep like a swimmer bobbing above and under the waves. He has visions of Valiant laughing, pointing a finger at River and making him collapse to the ground. Silas wakes from this nightmares with a gasp and remembers the terrifying reality of everything. He curls back up into a ball and places his hands over his ears.
Maybe he can block out the knowledge that he had let all his friends lose their magic. It had been his idea to get them together. He had thought they could make a difference. In the end he had just gotten them something worse than death.
Maybe he can block out the fact that River had simply walked away from everything they’d done together.
He curls around himself tighter, aware of the cold floor beneath the blankets and the smell of sex that faintly lingers there. He begs for sleep to escape his thoughts, but fears the visions he will see.
“Silas.” The voice shocks him, he shot up, half expecting Valiant to be smirking down at him. It isn’t Valiant, the shape is much more familiar. He blinks and rubs his eyes, looking up from where he sits.
“Violet?” He realizes when he speaks that his voice is paper-thin. He sounds like an old man.
“Lucifer’s balls, Silas, you look like shit.”
Silas looks down at himself, almost expecting to see the effects of the last few days on his clothing. No, that’s not where the evidence lies. Violet can doubtless see the grief in his face.
“I don’t know what to do anymore. I tried to help but…”
Violet placed her hands on his shoulders. “Stop it, Silas. This isn’t like you. You must know that it isn’t your fault. Valiant did this, not you.”
“It might as well be my fault. I’ve failed.” The brilliance of Valiant’s plan dawns on him anew. “Of course…he planned all this.”
Violet frowns at him.
“Valiant knew what taking away the fiends’ demons would do. He wants to take control, and to do that he needs to create chaos. The war somehow makes him stronger. He didn’t only target us to eliminate us as a threat to the war, he also knew that the witches will see it as a sign that peace is somehow detrimental.”
“They’ll think peace is bad somehow?”
Silas buries his head in his hands. “It’s what Valiant wants them to think. The witches will take it as a divine sign that there is supposed to be war.” He looks over at Violet. Her lips are pressed into a thin line.
“That suspicion would be frighteningly close to the truth.” She sighs, looking around the emptiness of the warehouse. “Silas, you can’t stay here. Come back to Malachai’s gang.”
Silas shakes his head. “He won’t let me. There’s no way he’ll let me come back.”
Violet slaps him hard across the face once, and then again with the back of the same hand. The gesture surprises Silas, not due to the violence of it, but because it is so much like something a fiend would do with another fiend in their gang. Violence is a part of fiends, and indicates an affection between them that surprises him.
“Silas. You have nowhere else to go. Come back to Malachai’s.”
Silas lets her pull him up and help him outside of the warehouse. He blinks into the sunlight outside, blinded by its intensity. He notices Violet looking at the wall of the warehouse, and cranes his neck to follow her gaze. Hauntingly familiar words are written on the wall in what he hopes is red paint: Kill the witches, topple the gods.
Violet grabs ahold of Silas’ upper arm and the ground disappears from under them as they vanish through her portal.
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.” Malachai’s beefy arms are crossed over his chest. He stands on the other side of the living room from Silas feels oddly vulnerable since Violet had declared this situation “their problem” and marched up the stairs to her room. The demon in him doesn’t like being made to feel submissive to Malachai and his inferior demon. Serving under him in the gang had been a willing submission, done because he knew Malachai to be a better leader than him. Intimidation, however, made the demon feel its power was being ignored.
Silas’ temper is worn thin from the stress of all that has happened.
“Yes, Malachai. I failed. I know it, you know, the whole fucking world knows it.”
The corners of Malachai’s mouth pull up slightly, making his whole face tight with smugness.
“Yet you came crawling back here, instead of running to your dink friend?”
“Don’t call him that.” Silas says steadily.
Malachai sniggers and shakes his head. He opens his mouth to retaliate but is interrupted by a knocking on the door. He locks eyes with Silas and jerks his chin towards the door. The command is subtle, but says many things. On one level, it asks him to perform a simple task. Yet, the simple ask of Malachai giving Silas a command indicates that Malachai is his leader. He might have been giving him a tough time, but he had never really intended to turn Silas away. Silas holds eye contact with Malachai for a moment before turning to open the door. The demon in him settles in, like a dog may shake itself off to eliminate evidence of its own raised hackles.
The fiend standing on the doorstep is pale and nervous. He’s older than Silas by several years. It must have started raining soon after Violet and Silas arrived, because he is dripping wet.
“Are you…Silas?” He asks, his uncertainty clearly augmented by the power of SIlas’ demon.
Silas crosses his arms, though they look far less strong than Malachai’s had in the same posture only moments before.
“Jahan. My name is Jahan. Leena was…is my niece.”
Silas feels the breath whoosh out of him. This had never occurred to him. He had never thought that the families of those who had been affected would come to him. Was this man seeking answers? Would Silas be able to give them? He opens the door wider and gestures for Jahan to enter. Once inside, he looks nervously at Malachai.
“I want to help.” He looks back to Silas. “I know others who lost loved ones to Valiant’s attack.”
Lost. Silas notices his use of the word, as if they had died. In most ways, they had.
“Help?” Silas says blankly.
“Aren’t you going to try to fight him?”
The warehouse is old and empty, one of many skeletons of a building left standing in the center of the city. It strikes Silas, as he stands besides Malachai among all the rubble, that he walked by this building so many times. From the outside, the rubble and death of this building is easy to ignore with all the lights and movement of the city. From the inside he can think only of what is about to happen here. He stands with Malachai and other gang leaders who decided to fight with them, other fiends gathered behind them. It isn’t their whole force; they have half as many again waiting at a safe house to portal in when called by one of the gang leaders. Silas can feel the tension from the rest of the group. Even with the reinforcements waiting to portal in, there are less of them than they’d hoped. While horror over Valiant’s actions had turned more to their side and encouraged them to fight,but it had scared twice as many away.
“There aren’t enough of us.” Silas mutters, his quiet voice echoey and louder than he’d meant it to be in the concrete walls of the warehouse.
“He took away my son’s magic.” One of the gang leaders says, turning to stare at Silas. “I would never be able to look myself in the mirror again if I didn’t stand here and fight against him.”
Silas stares at the woman who spoke, searching for some way to reply, to somehow try and say that he feels her pain and sorrow. As he searches for words there is a noise from the back of the warehouse. The others all turn rapidly, and Silas feels his heart jump into his throat, his knees growing weak and shaky. He doesn’t turn towards the source of the sound, afraid to see Valiant moving towards him in the darkness. The sound of his voice still haunts Silas’ mind, like the vision of his friends, pale and empty of magic and life.
“What are you doing here?” He hears Malachai ask, and finally turns, frowning. A group of secs is moving towards them. There’s less of them than he’d seen before, but their leader is walking bravely ahead of them. She is tall and full-figured, her bright red hair only accentuating the sense of power lent to her by her stature.
“We aren’t here for you. You worked with our enemies.” She snarls.
“Josa.” Silas whispers. He regains from his shock quickly to reply to what she said. He wants to try to tell her that they’d been trying to create peace, that they’d hoped they could stop the war before full-out war between the secs and witches erupted. Before he can think of how to phrase this, Josa speaks more angry words.
“We’re here to fight Valiant. He took advantage of our rebellion. That demon used our discontent and our fight for equality to feed his need for power.” The crowd of fiends stands between Silas and her, but he can see her red hair fiery around her face with her eyes blazing. The secs around her are passionate and strong. Silas looks at them, suddenly very glad to see them on his side, even if they are here for themselves. He sees Malachai watching them suspiciously out of the corner of his eye as they take a place besides them in the warehouse, peering into the darkness.
Silas doubles over suddenly, clenching his teeth as pain twists through his insides. It isn’t like a stomach ache or a cramp. It is more deeply seated than that. The female boss to his left grabs his shoulder as he doubles over, helping him support himself.
“My d-demon.” Silas manages to grind out through his teeth. It feels like his soul is being torn apart. He lets out a hoarse yell that echos through the empty warehouse, radiating in the silence and bouncing off the concrete walls.
“Your demon?” the boss asks, her face wan and open with horror. It’s happening. Valiant has been waiting for the perfect moment to strip Silas of his demon and his magic, and he chose now when everyone is watching. He is making Silas into an example. Just as he bears down, gnashing his teeth together to hold in another scream, the pain vanishes. He collapses to his hands and knees, gasping for breath. He is weak, his muscles shaking with the normally minimal effort it takes to keep himself upright. He holds his left hand out in front of himself, using magic to summon a little flame in his palm. Once he sees it he slumps to the floor, mumbling words of thanks over and over, his forehead coming to rest on the grimy floor of the warehouse.
Hands grip his shoulders, pulling him upright. He hears people whispering, telling each other about what they saw, the fact that somehow he still has his magic.
His powers may still be intact, but something in him feels different. As he gets to his feet, he looks over to see Malachai staring straight ahead into the darkness. Silas follows his gaze but sees nothing.
“What?” Silas asks, his voice heavy with exhaustion.
“My demon.” Malachai whispers, “It’s never felt like this.”
Silas frowns at his boss. “Is it pain?” He asks, though he can guess by Malachai’s relatively unphased appearance that it cannot be pain like he had experienced.
Malachai shakes his head. The fiends around them are watching him, and Silas can sense from their expressions that they are experiencing the same thing. Silas’ heart beats in his throat. What are they all feeling that he is not?
“I know my demon.” Silas turns as he hears the voice behind him.
“We all know our demons. We spend our whole lives with them connected to our own souls. It’s the most intimate bond a person can have.” Silas responds, feeling oddly petty.
The man who spoke is entirely unfamiliar to him, some talkative fiend from one of the lesser gangs.
“I’ve never felt my demon feel like this before. It’s been angry, hungry, sometimes even happy. But this…feels like I swallowed a beehive. All the inside parts of me are shivering and shaking. I don’t know what it is, Silas.”
Silas notices that all the fiends are watching him. He realizes that they all know his name. For the first time ever, it hits him just how much these people rely on him. They trust him more than those who had followed him before, because they know the severity of the risks. He tries to process this knowledge, and find something inspirational to say, but he is too late.
He hears a series of soft sounds. Feet hitting the floor. He looks straight ahead and sees witches teleporting in. They glow with divine power. Silas is blinking, trying to understand what is happening when River’s mother appears towards the front of the crowd, taking a place of an obvious leader. Her eyes fix on Silas and she gives a satisfied smirk. Another figure descends next to her, achingly familiar. Silas sees blonde curly hair and pale skin but he does not believe it. Not until the figure lifts it head to look across the distance at him, piercing him with beautiful eyes. One is pure brown while the other has a half-ring of brilliant blue. River appears at the head of the crowd next to his mother. Both wear billowy robes of sheer gold which only barely conceal their nakedness. Silas’ eyes flicker over the sight of River’s body, the distance between them seeming to stretch for miles after how close they had been that one night. River’s mother stares at them from across the field, her eyes moving with measured dismissal over the secs and fiends alike. There are more fiends and secs combined than there are witches. It’s immediately obvious. Silas doesn’t understand why she is so confident.
Then he feels it. The heaviness in the air. He looks around him, but nobody here has felt Valiant’s presence before. Even Violet, standing slightly behind him, must have no idea what the feeling mean.
Lean-legged and trim-waisted, with blood-colored hair. Valiant smiles, his human-looking teeth masking the fangs that Silas knows hides beneath them. He tosses his hair once he has fully materialized, letting out a sigh of release. Silas’ heart leaps into his throat, the vision of Valiant bringing back his memories of watching his friends lose their magic. Then it occurs to him that River is standing right behind Valiant. In a split second his mind has already conjured up the image of Valiant turning and killing River, or stripping his magic away. But why are they there? Why is River there? Why are the witches standing by Valiant?
“Hello, brother.” He smiles at Silas. Silas feels his demon coiling in on itself inside him, trying to disappear. It hurts, and he finds himself unable to resist bending in on himself as well.
“Brother?” Malachai asks, his eyes turning to Silas, filled with anger and fear.
“I don’t know what he’s-” Silas is cut off by the sound of screaming. He looks over to see one of the fiends grabbing at his chest, his screams turning into gurgles as he falls to his knees.
Valiant closes his eyes and inhales deeply. When he opens his eyes again they are full of savage energy.
“You took his magic!” A fiend from back in the crowd screams, bent over the still form of his friend. Silas turns around to stare at Violet, who is pale-faced with her hand over her mouth.
Valiant smiles. “You cower in that human body, brother. You are horrified by my actions. Yes, A soul without magic, demonic or divine, is empty. He runs his eyes slowly over the secs. The anger emanating from them is palpable. “Did you really think I was cruel enough to consume my own brethren without reason? You forget how much energy it takes to create my form here. I take from my people because I need. And because you seem to need a little motivation, brother.”
He smiles as Silas, who is still transfixed by the sight of Valiant and River standing behind them. What Valiant has said, as shocking as it is, hits Silas through a curtain of confusion. Valiant’s smile fades and he turns around, following Silas gaze.
He turns back to face the fiends, a smug look on his face. He raises an eyebrow. “Is there something between you two that I am not aware of?” River’s pale skin flushes scarlet.
“Oh boy. You always know how to pick the innocent ones, brother!” Valiant chuckles, turning back again to look at River. “Won’t mommy be disappointed when she learns who your lover boy really is.”
Silas is frozen, watching as River turns an even deeper shade of red. His mother’s eyes fix on him in shock, but only briefly. She quickly hides her feelings and returns to staring straight ahead.
Valiant sighs and takes several slow steps, inching closer to Silas and the gathered group of fiends and secs.
“Odd, isn’t it? How much can be hidden beneath the surface of a person that you’ll never know about.” He stops only a few feet from Silas. He can feel the demon inside him frantically scrambling to hide, but they are bound and the demon cannot leave him.
“What do you want with me?” Silas grinds out, his teeth clenched around pain.
Valiant laughs eerily pure and child-like. “You? Absolutely nothing. But that demon inside you is my brother.” Valiant changes then, black leathery wings sprouting from his back, a thin tail flicking at the air behind him.
“That’s impossible.” Silas whispers. “The demon inside me isn’t powerful enough to-”
Valiant’s face twists into sudden rage, and a burst of energy launches Silas backwards.
Some of the other fiends move to prepare for a center-attack, tension running all through the group.
“Oh please, as if any of you could hurt me. I don’t want to hurt more of my people, but if any of you come between me and my brother, I will strip you of your magic to make myself stronger. Or I will simply kill you. Whatever is easiest.”
Silas is in pain, and confused about what is happening, and frustrated by Valiant’s lack of answers. So when Valiant turns to him and calls him brother, Silas lets out a yell of frustration.
“I have no brothers!” He yells. To his surprise, Valiant is not angry. He smirks. “You fiends are a mystery to me. How can you spend your lives with demons and know so little about them? The demon in you, Silas, is my brother. Like me, he’s Lucifer’s son, but unlike me he is obviously weak to live so subserviently for so long. Please brother, we have urgent family business to discuss and I have a world to take over. Just come out and talk to me already.”
Read chapter 10 here