Chapter 19


And so began my day in court.

Despite Hannibal's call for order, it was obvious that everyone was still fixated on Roman's presence. I'd known nephilim were despised among greater immortals, but it wasn't until today that the full scope of it hit me. It shed new light on why Roman and his kind were often so obsessed with getting back at the powers that be. I wondered if it was good to have some of the attention taken off me or if I'd just doomed myself further by association.

"So," said Judge Hannibal. "You've got some kind of gripe with your contract. Join the club." Low chuckles from the demonic spectators rumbled around the room.

Roman cleared his throat, silencing the chuckles. "Your honor, we have more than a 'gripe.' We have evidence that Hell not only violated her contract but also drew up another under false pretenses."

"That's absurd," said Marcel. "We can't examine everyone in the world's contract. If someone else has a problem, they can have their own trial."

"The other contract is for a human who's still alive," said Roman. "He's in no position to file a claim, and his was tied in to the paperwork that brought hers to court."

Hannibal waved his hands dismissively. "Well, we haven't even proved there's anything wrong with hers, so let's settle that before we start doing favors for others."

"Can we see her contract?" asked Roman.

"Doris?" Hannibal glanced over at the woman with the laptop. She produced a heavy, metal box from underneath her desk with what appeared to be a numeric lock. After first consulting her laptop, she punched in a long series of digits. Smoke seeped out of the edges of the box. A moment later, she opened it up and produced a long, ornate scroll. She glanced at the judge.


"Yes, please," he told her.

Doris repeated the procedure a couple more times, and I leaned toward Roman. "How does this work?" I whispered. "Isn't there some kind of order? Doesn't the prosecution go first?"

"Maybe in an American court of law," he whispered back. "Here? Everyone just gets out their argument when they can, and it's up to the judge to keep order."

It surprised me. Considering the obsession with details around here, I would've expected a certain amount of painstaking procedure. Then again, a survival-of-the-fittest method of pushing your case wasn't that out of line with Hell's ideologies either.

Scrolls were obtained for the judge and lawyers. Even though it was a copy, I was still a bit daunted when Roman spread the scroll out before us on the table. This was it, the contract that had bound my immortal soul. One small decision with centuries of consequences. It was written in English, and I supposed Doris's magic scroll copy box must have the powers of translation since the original had been in Greek.

"May I direct your attention to section 3A," said Roman loudly. In a softer voice, he added to me, "The rest is pretty much standard Hell legalese."

It was true. The scroll was so big, we couldn't open it in its entirety. From what I could see, most of it was a painfully detailed description of what it meant to serve as a succubus and give Hell the lease on your soul. In their defense, there wasn't much they'd left out. I hadn't read the full contract at the time. Niphon had summarized the high points for me, but it was impossible to say they didn't let you know what you were in for. Fortunately, those technicalities weren't our concern today.

Roman read aloud:

"In exchange for ownership of the aforementioned soul (see sections 1B, 4A, 4B, 5B part 1, 5B part 2, and appendix 574.3) and services detailed below (see sections 3A, 3B, 6A-F, 12C) as performed by the contractee (henceforth called 'the Damned'), the almighty Kingdom of Hell and its representatives do agree to the following:

1. Granting to the Damned of succubus powers described in sections 7.1A and 7.3A.

2. All mortals who were acquainted with the Damned in her human life shall have all knowledge of her erased from their memories, never to be regained, in accordance with standard memory loss procedures (see appendix 23)."

Roman looked up at the judge when he finished reading. "Now," said Roman. "I can read appendix 23 if you want, but the point is that Hell did not honor part of their agreement. Someone she knew when she was human - a mortal - remembered her."

"Why wasn't this raised back then?" asked Hannibal.

"Because it happened a couple months ago," said Roman. "The person in question is someone with a reincarnation contract who was alive then and today."

"If this person was reincarnated, then the point's irrelevant," said Marcel. "It's not technically the same person anymore. Therefore, the contract stands."

"Not according to addendum 764 of the Treatise on Humanity ," said Roman. "According to it, all individuals - humans and lesser immortals - are defined by their souls. No matter what shape that being takes, the soul remains constant, as does the individual's identity. I'm sure Doris can produce a copy if we need it."

Doris looked at Hannibal expectantly. "Don't bother," he said. "I'm familiar with the Treatise. Okay. Operating under the assumption that souls are constant and individuals are defined by their souls, what proof do you have that this reincarnated individual remembered the petitioner here?"

I expected Roman to say something and then realized he was waiting on me. It was still hard to wrap my head around the idea of everyone just jumping forward and speaking.

"He called me by my name, your honor," I said. "My first human name from the fifth century. The one he knew me as back then."

"Had he ever heard it before - in this lifetime?" prompted Roman.

"No," I said.

"Did anyone witness this?" asked Marcel.

"No," I said.

"I see," he said, managing to make me feel very small with those two words. His tone implied that it was a miracle we'd even made it this far on such flimsy evidence.

"It's okay," said Roman. "Because we have more. This same reincarnated subject revealed under hypnosis remembering her in several other lives."

"Are there witnesses to that?" asked Hannibal.

"We both witnessed it," said Roman. "As well as an imp employed in Seattle. Hugh Mitchell. He was the one who actually performed the hypnosis, if you wanted to summon him."

I tensed. Hugh was certainly an airtight witness - seeing as he wasn't the petitioner in this case or a creature despised by both Heaven and Hell - but my earlier apprehension for him returned. I didn't know if he could get in trouble for providing key evidence.

"We don't need him," said Marcel. "You and he witnessed the same thing?"

I nodded.

Marcel glanced over at the jury. "You can tell if she's lying. Is she telling the truth?"

Six heads nodded. I was surprised I hadn't thought of this earlier. Angels could tell if mortals and lesser immortals were telling the truth. That was handy in a trial like this. I was also surprised Marcel was helping me out like this.

"There you have it," he said. "She thinks she heard the subject remembering her under hypnosis. We can assume this imp would believe it as well."

"Hey," I argued. "There's no 'thinks' about it. He did remember me."

Marcel shrugged. "If you say so. We can only take your word for it and what you think you heard. There's no objective evidence to show that he remembered, therefore calling our part of the bargain into dispute."

"Oh, we can find the evidence," said Roman. "The subject in question is also under contract. And the very nature of his contract contradicts hers. Can you bring it up, Doris?"

Hannibal nodded his consent, and she turned to her laptop. "Name?"

"Kyriakos," I said, trying not to stumble over the word. "That's what it was in the fifth century, at least. In Cyprus. Today he's Seth Mortensen."

The judge arched an eyebrow. "I like his books. Didn't realize he was one of ours."

"Well, he's not yet," I muttered.

Doris meanwhile was typing away on her laptop, putting in the appropriate criteria. She must have found the right case number because she soon turned to the smoking metal box and produced three more scrolls. The copies were distributed, and a strange feeling crept over my skin as Roman opened this one, stranger even than when we'd viewed my own. Here it was. Seth's contract. Kyriakos's contract. It had existed unbeknownst to me all these years, subtly influencing my life. It had been made because of me. Roman again jumped to section 2, which was apparently consistent across contracts as far as what "the Damned" received.

" 'The Damned shall be granted a total of ten human lives, of which one has already taken place. The subsequent nine reincarnations shall occur in such times and places that he may be in proximity to the lover he believes is missing from his first life, in the hopes of reconciliation. Upon completion of the tenth life, the Damned's soul will become the property of Hell, in accordance with sections 8D, 9A, and 9B.' "

Roman fell silent, a frown on his face. I too felt dismayed but didn't think we shared the same reasons. Without Seth confirming anything, we'd been unsure if his soul was damned or not, regardless of his success in finding me. I'd half hoped that Hell had given him some fairy-tale challenge, that if he could find and reunite with me, his soul would be restored to him. That apparently wasn't true. Hell had only offered him the chance to be with me. They'd given him no more than that. If we made amends, his soul belonged to them, the same as if we didn't. Our romantic outcome made no difference. I wondered if he had bargained for more or had been so desperate and grateful for the chance to simply be with me again that he hadn't even asked for more.

Marcel smiled. "I see Letha mentioned nowhere in here. There was no violation of the terms of her contract."

"But obviously someone knew," said Roman. "You must have a record of all of his lives. He's encountered her in each one of them. So someone, somewhere made sure that part of the contract was fulfilled - his reunion with the missing 'lover' from his first life. Her. Whom he was supposed to forget, per the terms of her contract. They contradict each other."

Roman spoke confidently, laying his points out reasonably, but I could sense the uneasiness within him. I knew what the hanging point was - the same point Marcel had promptly jumped on. I wasn't cited by name here. Somewhere, there had to be a record of it if Hell had managed to let Seth be reborn near me each time, but we didn't know what that was. Hell certainly wasn't going to help us find it.

"It could be a coincidence," said Marcel. "Maybe he met someone else in his first life whom he fell in love with, someone whom he lost young and continued to seek in the following centuries."

"Someone else who was immortal and would be alive for the next fifteen hundred years?" asked Roman. "That's an awfully big coincidence."

Marcel looked smug. "Be that as it may, Letha is not mentioned anywhere in his contract. Everything's circumstantial at best, with no proof that Hell entered into this under false pretenses."

A thought suddenly occurred to me, and I began attempting to unroll the scroll, seeking a very specific piece of information. There were so many sections, subsections, articles, and clauses, however, that I couldn't make any sense of it.

"Who drafted this?" I asked Roman. "Shouldn't whoever brokered the deal be listed?"

"Section 27E," said Roman automatically.

I paused to give him an incredulous glance. "How do you know that?"

"What do you think I've been doing for the last week?" he asked, by way of answer.

He helped me find the appropriate section, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the name I'd been hoping for. Just to be sure, I found the matching section in my own contract. Roman, spying what I had, immediately ran with it.

"Your honor, these contracts were brokered by the same imp. Niphon. He had to have known they conflicted with each other. He had to have known that Letha was the lover Kyriakos was seeking."

"He didn't 'have to have known' anything," countered Marcel. "It could be a coincidence."

"Well, let's get him in here and find out," said Roman.

Hannibal considered this for several seconds. I got the distinct impression that he most definitely did not want to summon Niphon, but some of the angels in the jury were regarding him expectantly. If this were truly a fair trial, with evidence laid neatly out, then there was no reason not to bring in a key witness like Niphon.

"Very well," said Hannibal. He looked over to the guy in the nice suit, the one who'd opened proceedings. I'd taken him for some kind of classy bailiff. "Go get him. We'll call a ten-minute recess while you do." Hannibal banged his gavel, and conversation buzzed as the bailiff hurried out of the room.

I leaned toward Roman. "Niphon knows. He has to know. Did I ever tell you the full story of when he came to visit last year?"

Roman had heard some of it but was very eager for a recap as I told the tale again. Niphon had shown up, ostensibly to deliver Tawny as our newest succubus. During his stay, however, he'd caused no end of trouble for me and Seth. He'd tried to drive a wedge between us, and indeed, some of his actions were what had led Seth to believe a breakup was better for us in the long run. Niphon had also tried to broker a contract with Seth in order for us to be together without the harmful succubus effects that occurred during sex. The cost would have been Seth's soul, of course.

I paused, thinking that over. "I understand the rest . . . him wanting to keep us apart. Hugh had said it was the sign of an imp trying to cover for some mistake - and this is a pretty big one. It makes sense he'd want to split us up and avoid discovery of the conflict. But why bother to make another deal if Seth's soul was already under contract?"

Roman's eyes were alight with thought. "Because he could've done an amendment to the old contract and cleaned up the contradiction. Seth's soul would have been resecured."

We had no time to analyze it further because the recess soon ended. Hannibal brought things to order and the bailiff returned - with Niphon.

My stomach twisted at the sight of him, just as it had last time. Niphon always put me in mind of a weasel. He wore a gray suit, looking business-ready like all imps did, but had heavily pomade-slicked hair that took away some of his credibility. He had thin lips, small eyes, and an olive complexion. He also looked like he'd bolt if given half the chance. The screwup he'd tried to conceal was now being laid out. His escort led him to a witness stand near the bench. Niphon gingerly sat down, sweating visibly. I'd worried about Hugh being dragged into this, fearful of the consequences he'd face. Niphon was probably afraid of the same thing: being punished for helping my case. The difference was that Hugh would at least take some satisfaction out of assisting me. Niphon had no gain in any of this.

"State your name please," said Hannibal.

The imp licked his lips. "Niphon, your honor. At your service."

"You brokered these two contracts?" asked Hannibal, indicating the scrolls Doris had just placed on the witness stand.

Niphon made a great show of studying them. "I suppose so, your honor. My name's on them, but it's been such a long time. Makes it easy to forget."

I scoffed. "You seemed to remember last year when you were scrambling to cover your ass."

"Let's keep this civilized and fair," said Hannibal mildly. Really? I was the one being chastised for civility and fairness?

"Did you know when you drew up Kyriakos's contract that Letha was the one he was seeking?" asked Roman. Seeing Niphon squirm, Roman added, "And be careful about saying you 'don't remember.' The angels in the esteemed jury will know you're lying."

Niphon swallowed and cast an anxious look at the jury box before returning his gaze to Roman. "I . . . yes. I knew."

"And since you'd drawn up Letha's contract, you knew that her terms required all those who knew her as a human to forget her. The fact that he was seeking her at all was a sign her contract had been broken. You weren't able to keep him in a state of forgetfulness."

Niphon made a face. "He didn't mention her by name. He only remembered that she was gone."

Roman smacked my contract hard. "The contract doesn't specify to what degree she can be forgotten, just that she is. Period."

Sweat was practically pouring off Niphon in buckets now. He jerked one of the scrolls toward him and scanned it with his twitchy eyes. " 'All mortals who were acquainted with the Damned in her human life shall have all knowledge of her erased from their memories. . . .' " He glanced up. "This is a translation. I think the original Greek makes it clearer that only those from her human life forget her. Therefore, if he remembered her afterward, there would be no violation. Can we get a Greek copy in here?"

"It wouldn't matter," said Roman. "Even if it does say that. We've already established that a soul defines a person's identity across lives. Even now, he's still technically someone from her human life, and he remembered. You were unable to uphold the contract."

"That's hardly my fault!" Niphon exclaimed. It was unclear now if he was speaking to Roman and me or to superiors in the audience. "I made the arrangements for standard memory loss with her contract. I don't know why it didn't work. Yes, I knew he was her husband when I set up his contract, but I didn't think of this in terms of contract violation. I was just securing another soul."

Marcel addressed the jury. "Is he telling the truth? He made the second contract out of ignorance and not malicious intent? By which I mean, no more malicious intent than is normally called for in these situations."

Some of the angels nodded, looking reluctant to do so.

"It doesn't matter if it was in ignorance," said Roman. "That's never an excuse for breaking the law. You messed up, and in doing so, you've invalidated both contracts."

"Come now," said Marcel. "It's not as though either of the Damned were that wronged. This technicality aside, she really was wiped from the memories of all she knew. And he got nine more lives. Nine more lives! We all know how rare reincarnation deals are. He got exactly what he asked for. He was even reunited with her. Hell has fulfilled these contracts as nobly as possible, and you can't hold everyone responsible for one underling's mishap that no one else even knew about."

"Oh," said Roman, a predatory note in his voice. "I think others knew about the glitch. Others in much higher positions. Your honor, may I call another witness?"

"Who?" asked Hannibal.

"My father," said Roman. "Jerome, Archdemon of Seattle."

There was a collective gasp among some, but whether that was from Roman acknowledging Jerome as his father or simply the summoning of such a high-ranking witness, I couldn't say. Hannibal nodded.

"Granted. Niphon, you may step down. Jerome, please join us up here."

Niphon couldn't get out of there fast enough. He practically barreled into Jerome when they passed in the aisle. For his part, Jerome was sauntering along casually, as though all of this were beneath him and it was a great concession on his part to even show. He sat down, crossing his hands neatly in front of him and affecting a bored look.

"Jerome," said Roman. "Isn't it true you knew about the connection between Seth and Georgina? Er, Kyriakos and Letha?"

Jerome shrugged one shoulder. "I knew they were both contracted souls."

It was an answer worthy of an angel. Some of the truth, but not all of the truth. I half hoped some angel would call him on it until an unfortunate fact hit me. Demons could lie without detection. There was no way to prove he was telling the truth or not.

"Did you know the terms of her contract?" asked Roman.

"Of course," said Jerome. "I do for all my employees."

"So you knew that the contract allowed her to be wiped from the minds of all those who knew her when she was human."

"Yes," said Jerome.

"And you knew that Seth was once her husband, with a contract that involved her."

"No," said Jerome flatly. "I most certainly did not."

A lie, a lie, I thought. But there was no way to prove it.

"If that's so," said Roman, "then why did you use Seth Mortensen to help retrieve Georgina when she was captured by Oneroi last year?"

"I don't remember the specifics of that incident," said Jerome delicately.

"Well," said Roman, "if you need your memory refreshed, there's an angel here who witnessed it all who can give us a recap. One I'm sure the jury won't question."

Jerome's features went perfectly still as Roman's trap sprang open around him. Jerome might be immune to angelic truth detection, but anything Carter swore to seeing Jerome do or know would be held as gospel. Carter couldn't lie. If he said Jerome had used Seth to rescue me, then everyone would believe it, regardless if Jerome continued to deny it. Seeing the futility of more cover-up, Jerome came clean.

"Oh," he said. "Those Oneroi."

"You used a human psychic to help retrieve her," said Roman. "He had the power and the ritual but no way to actually find her in the void where the Oneroi were holding her. You suggested using Seth as a way to find her soul, and it worked. Why? How did you know that?"

Jerome shrugged. "They were always mooning over each other. I figured if ever there was any merit in that true love nonsense, then we could use it to help us."

"That's not what Mei said." I took advantage of the conversational nature of the proceedings, my mind spinning with a long-lost memory. "Mei said it defied the odds and that no matter how in love we were, it shouldn't have worked."

Jerome's dark gaze flicked to something behind me, and I was guessing Mei was now enjoying the full force of his glare.

"Georgina was trapped in the vastness of the dream world," added in Roman. "One soul lost among dreams. For someone else to reach her and call her back required a staggering connection, two souls with a tie that's bound them through time."

"Please don't get sentimental," said Jerome. "It's nauseating."

Roman shook his head. "I'm stating facts. Everyone here knows it's true. Their souls had to have been bound for him to get to her, and you knew it, which is why you suggested using Seth. You knew about the contracts and their history. This wasn't one small error confined to a bumbling inferior. You knew about it. And you knew there was a problem."

"Which is why you had Erik killed and initiated a transfer for me!" I exclaimed. Seeing Jerome sitting there so coolly, so uncaring . . . it drove home the truth. He had known all along what was transpiring with Seth and me, and what it meant. I'd never thought Jerome and I were friends, but it was startling to really accept just how much he'd been working against me in order to further Hell's goals.

"Oh, Georgie," he said. "Always you and the melodrama."

"It's not! We can get proof - "

Roman put his hand on mine. "Not easily," he murmured. "There'll be no paper trail, I guarantee it. And it's not relevant to this case right now."

I thought about kind, generous Erik, bleeding to death before my eyes. "It's relevant to me."

Jerome let out a long-suffering sigh. "Is there anything else? Can I return to my seat, please?"

The judge glanced between Roman and Marcel. Both men shook their heads.

When Jerome was gone, Roman pushed the case. "Your honor, esteemed jury . . . we've provided more than enough evidence to show that her contract was not fulfilled. Through whatever mishaps, those from her human life did not stop remembering her. Per article 7.51.2 of the Soul Chronicles, Georgina's contract is invalidated. She's entitled to her soul back and the remainder of this life, free of Hell's employment, per the section on damages and reparations in article 8.2.0. Likewise, Seth Mortensen's contract is also invalidated because it was made under false pretenses. The imp who drew it up knew that it violated hers and knew that the very conditions of Seth's - finding her and making amends - included a degree of remembering. It's impossible for his to exist without contradicting hers. He too is entitled to the restoration of his soul."

"Your honor - " began Marcel.

Judge Hannibal held up his hand. "Silence. I'll make you a deal."

There was a restless shifting in the courtroom, an undercurrent of excitement. Demons loved deals and bargains.

"Go on," said Roman.

"I'm willing to dismiss the case without a jury vote and grant that Letha's contract wasn't honored. I'm willing to give her all of the restorations outlined in article 8.2.0."

Gasps surrounded us. My eyes widened, and I turned to Roman questioningly. Was it as easy as that? I didn't know all the details of 8.2.0, but by my understanding, if the contract was invalidated, I could return to Earth and live out the rest of my days as a human. In possession of my soul. It seemed too good to be true.

"However," continued Hannibal, "I don't see enough evidence to support the releasing of this second soul. Your argument for it will be thrown out for being groundless."

"But it isn't!" I cried.

"If we don't accept, then what?" asked Roman.

Hannibal shrugged. "Then the jury can vote on the question of both contracts."

Roman nodded thoughtfully. "Can I have a moment to confer with my, um, client?"

"Sure." Hannibal banged the gavel. "Five-minute recess."

The spectators didn't need to be told twice. This was huge. A soul getting released was not something that happened every day, nor was a deal like we were being offered.

"What's the catch here?" I asked Roman softly.

He narrowed his eyes. "Well, I think Hannibal thinks he's in danger of losing two souls and is trying cut his losses. Your evidence is pretty solid. Seth's is too, though not quite as good - especially without Seth actually here. Still, Hannibal would rather let you go easily and ensure that he still keeps one soul in this mess."

"But if the evidence is there, then we should let it go to the jury. You just said it's solid for Seth too."

"It is," agreed Roman. "But here's the thing that Hugh told me about these juries. All contract disputes are judged by half angels and half demons - for the sake of fairness. The angels will honestly vote with what they feel to be right. If the evidence was flimsy, they'd vote against you. It's not worth it to them to get a soul free if the conditions aren't honorable. The demons have no such morals. Jerome and Niphon could both openly confess to a conspiracy of conflicting contracts, and every demon on that jury would still vote against you."

"That's not fair," I said.

"Georgina," he said simply. "We're in Hell."

"So what happens if it's split? Do they go by the same hung jury procedures we know?"

"A tie-breaking vote is produced. A thirteenth angel or demon is called at random, who then casts the deciding vote. If it comes down to that, then your chances simply fall to a 50-50 luck of the draw."

"Hence the bargain," I murmured. "If I abandon Seth's soul, I'm guaranteed my freedom."

Roman nodded. "And if you don't, you may be consigning both of you to Hell."

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