Raphael - Beginning Again

For she had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her as is customary for wives. -- Tobit 3:8

The odor... so repelled the demon that he led to the remotest part of Egypt. But Raphael followed him and at once bound him there hand and foot. -- Tobit 8:3

He stood in the Far Marches, light brown hair flowing back from his head. Slowly he reached up and bound it back into a ponytail at the base of his neck. He knew that his very existence meant that something had gone wrong. Something had gone horribly wrong.

He pined away for his dark home momentarily, and then pushed it out of his mind. There would be time for that later, when matters were less pressing. He patted his pockets, and the small objects within rubbed against other small objects. Satisfied, he started to walk across the gray sands.

Again with the War. Again.

Teraphim - Assignments

There were ten of us in the chamber, on the highest floor of the highest building of Perdition, a Principality constructed of gleaming steel and glass and chrome. We stood in the depressed floor in the center of the room, surrounded by the walls of television screens, screaming out a montage of images and sounds, assaulting our senses and our reason. We were huddled in the shadows and the reflected light, changing us from demons into the nightmarish horrors of dream time.

I curled my tail around myself, flapped gleaming silver wings, and kept my eyes low to the ground. Baby, I was just feeling unhappy. The others were equally nervous, not pleased about being recalled, or being pressed under undue scrutiny.

The Boss stood on his raised platform before us, hands clasped behind his back, watching the screens with intense delight. He began to walk slowly up and down before the flashing images, occasionally reaching up to adjust his tie, stopping only to make a comment or ask a question. In turn, we bowed to him, hoping to avoid his gaze for another moment, and murmured our replies.

Finally, the Boss exploded into a torrent of excited babble, arms outspread before his overloaded sensory walls. "This is marvelous! Fantastic! More then even I could have planned myself!" A grin covered his face, his pleasure evident. He walked over to the small podium in the center of his stage. He leaned on it heavily, the spotlight full on his face, as he grinned maniacally, possessed madness glinting in his Impudite eyes. "A War in Heaven is a media windfall. This is our time to strike. I want headlines in every major newspaper. I want twenty-four hour news coverage. I want covers of magazines. I want radio. I want books, articles, and web pages. I want an endless parade of movies of the week. I want an animated fucking series. I want a best-selling musical on fucking Broadway. I want Michael and Dominic posable action figures. I want the public screaming for more, more, more! I want this to be the media event the humans crave. This has to be bigger then Diana. This has to be bigger then goddamn O. J.! Do you hear me? They must not get enough!"

"Boss," asked the trembling voice of an Impudite, "how do you wish we bring the War to the monkeys, if these are Celestial battles?"

"Will not a War in Heaven manifest itself on Earth?" The Prince roared. "Use what few brains you have in your head, Zophiel, unless you wish for an easier, less... challenging assignments?"

"No my Prince!" The Impudite bowed so fast he smacked his forehead on the carpeted floor. I was half expecting him to be Force stripped right then and there, but that sort of amusement was not forthcoming.

Nervously, I coiled tighter, and bowed lower, parroting the others in abasement. I was secretly starting to believe the Boss was more then a bit mad. He was too pleased at the prospect of Armageddon. Not that, you know, was a really bad thing. The end of the world was a rather news worthy event, and sometimes those are just hard to come by. Quite the opportunity for advancement, baby, if you happen to be an up and coming Balseraph such as myself. But still, there wasn't supposed to be too much afterwards, and the prospect of nothingness made my insides churn. I'm not into the Buddhist nothingness thing.

Nybbas walked back and forth before the small collection of his Word bound, slowly, arms crossed. The illumination of the flashing news reports gave him an unearthly cast. "I want this to be the biggest media event ever. We will never get another chance like this again. I want dying angels on camera. I want their death throws to be televised to millions of homes every night. I want Falling. I want blood, and misery, and anguish. And, add in some sex if you can get it on camera. Talk to the Lustites. Remember what sells." He rubbed his hands together. "Doing well will get you all rewarded. Failing me, well, we know what happens to those who fail, don't we?"

He turned and gazed down at us fully, each one getting a little special attention. Then the Prince raised his arms away from his body and threw back his head, like he was an electronic Christ, and laughed. He held the pose for a moment, before he relaxed and crossed his arms. "You are all dismissed."

The assemblage murmured their thanks to their Lord Prince, and began to file out. I relaxed, and uncoiled, ready to move on. "Not you, Teraphim."

I spun and lowered my head. "My Prince?"

"A word with you, if you please. When the others have gone."

The other nine gave me looks of pity as they filed past me, and I returned it with looks of pure scathing death. I don't need these kind of bad vibes, and not from those jokers. I coiled and pressed my head into the plush carpeting. And waited.

When the door slammed shut for the last time, I heard the voice of my Prince. "Well, Teraphim, it seems I have additional assignments for you."

"Yes, my Prince?" I kept my voice properly submissive. You know, there are just times to be a good servant, and baby, this struck me as just one of those times. I was picking up something distinctively uncool going on.

I could hear him start to pace. "The angels you have gotten on tape, they're a very photogenic group."

"Yes, my Prince." I figured I should just go along with whatever he said. He was in one of those passively psychotic moods that just weren't a real great scene. "Have you chosen to withdrawal the protection I requested?"

"Oh, hell no." He chuckled. "Are you crazy? The fun is just starting! I love them. They're fantastic."

I felt a little relief. I had remembered that Dana was a Dominican, and the thought of her being slowly flayed on a Michaelite's ax was starting to give me a mild case of indigestion. Love? I really doubted it. Maybe just a bad case of Like, sort of like eating really spicy Mexican food. I wondered if I could take care of it by using a little Pepto Bismol. Do angels get cured with Tums? I could already hear the little jingle bouncing around in my head.

".... but," the Prince of the Media continued, "there is a minor problem."

"My Prince?"

"The Kobalite Mediator, about whom I have heard a disturbing rumors from the Pleasant Prince himself."

Oh yeah, damn it. Daimon. I had forgotten to mention that little mess when I had reported in, or maybe it was just a mild omission on my part. I figured, hey, if it wasn't bothering me that badly, then it probably wasn't bothering anyone else. Guess even I can be wrong. Skirting that dissonance line again, I see.

"We have worries," came a completely different voice from the dark shadows and randomly flickering lights of the back wall of the room.

I involuntarily lifted my head and fixed my eyes over my shoulder. My eyes widened in surprise. "Prince A-A-A-" Then, wisely, in a move that probably preserved my continuing existence, I folded my wings over my back and bowed my head down so fast I cracked my forehead on the floor, just like the stupid Impudite. Talk about feeling dumb.

"In times like these, we have often had problems with the Kobalites," the Prince of the Game said in his voice of unerring certainty. "And sometimes they need to be put back into their place. If not making a mockery out of the work of the loyal servitors of Hell, then they are meddling where they simply do not belong. They have an annoying tendency to get involved in affairs not their own, and this time it will not be tolerated. Their Prince is Renegade, and the Game must go on. We would like one of their most important members reigned in and dealt with as quickly as possible. And made an example of, if necessary."

The look on my Prince's face clearly showed that he did not agree. He had no interest in making an enemy out of the Kobalites, crazy and disorganized as they are. After all, there are more of them then these two put together, and he needed them on his side. Nybbas needed everyone on his side. He was everyone's very best friend. Asmodeus, I knew, cared little if all of Shal-Mari dissolved into civil war, but Nybbas was another story. And let's not even begin to talk about pissing Lilith off, I just didn't want to go there. He cleared his throat. "Bringing the Lilim back here for retraining would be preferable."

I thought, for a moment, how cool it would be to still be hanging with Malphas, who didn't put up with this kind of manipulative bullshit, unless he was dealing it out himself. "Yes, my Prince."

"We have another, far more loyal, servitor who would be preferable to lead the Kobalites," the Prince of the Game said. "A more approvable replacement to keep stability in such an important Principality of Hell."

"Someone who isn't just going to run off to play halo, if you know what I mean," said a third, and not wholly unfamiliar sibilant Balseraph voice. "Unlike the rest of them."

"Javan," I hissed. "You betrayed your Organization? To the Game?"

A dark shadow fell over me, and I looked up into the black scaled visage of the grinning serpent. Six eyes met six eyes, and I could feel him laughing at me. "Think of it as preserving the Organization, and defining a new, more capable Prince of Comedy..."

Daimonique - Phone Calls Home

Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? - Jer 15:18

"Do you usually have dead bodies in your bedroom? If this is a new habit of yours, I'd really like to know, just in case you ever moved back in with me. So I would know what to expect. I want to be able to alert the cleaning woman."

I leaned back against the wall of the bathroom, and twined the cord around my fingers. Dana was asleep, presumably in the Marches. My clothing was scattered all over the floor, including that horrible leather bondage gear that Andre had found so incredibly entertaining. It had felt good to take a shower and rinse out my underwear. Now it was wet and sticking to my body, but I didn't mind. It was better then being dead. "So are the cops there?"

"We have a Triad here," Erlithan said, with a tone that we difficult to tell if he was angry or amused. "They showed up right after Mickey stopped heaving all over your bathroom. They didn't like us and we didn't like then, so we hit it off right away. Minnie insisted on serving them hot chocolate, and then zipped off to go hitchhike across America or something. What are you doing with powdered hot chocolate mix?"

"I felt a sudden need to rub it all over my body and have it slowly licked off one night." I said with a grin.

"Oh. Well, that's a keeper. I'm putting that back in the cupboard with a label," he said, and for a moment it sounded like he was doing exactly that. "You have the weirdest shit in here. Do I even want to know?"

"My pantry?" I asked.


"No, you don't." I twined the cord back around my fingers.

"Fair enough." I could hear the door of the pantry slamming over the phone. "I have this Cherub who sits around on your couch glaring at me, so I have been filling up the long hours by being a smartass. I think we understand each other now."

I closed my eyes, and imagined Erlithan making a point of annoying Dominicans. If I wasn't so depressed, I would have found it pretty amusing the way our lives take these weird parallels. I get angry glares from Cherubs of Dominic too for some odd reason. "I sympathize. So they've been there for a while?"

"Couple of hours," he said. "They showed up with the human cops, who kicked us out for a bit until we yelled and screamed. Then we got the announcement about the whole hand of the man coming down thing. I thought about this, noticed that, oddly enough, you weren't home to make any sort of faintly intelligent decision, so I made a rash one. I told 'em that we'd protect them and that sort of thing." I reached up and rubbed my temples. "We're protecting them?"

"That's the official word, from me, who is about as official as we can get. I tried to call in a meeting, but only Cozbi is in LA If I was wrong I was wrong. Like anyone will care until we start mooning the armies. Oh, yeah kid, your phone bill is going to suck." He sounded old, and tired. "Speaking of which, kid, I need your exact location."

"So is Cozbi there? Right now? Can I talk to him?"

"Don't get your hormones in a bunch. He was here, and the Seraph loved him. He had a role to go maintain, unfortunately, and now I'm stuck with three annoyed angels and a sick Thief. It's miles of fun. These guys are a riot. I need your location kid, so I can send someone to come pick you up," he said. "I need some entertainment."

I shifted the receiver to the other ear, and played idly with the phone cord, stretched all the way from the beds in the other room. "I'm not ready to go," I said quietly.


"I said, I'm not ready to go. I don't know if I can."

"What the hell do you mean you aren't ready to go? You're in Michigan, for Christ's sake." He was not pleased, and I could almost feel his temper rising over the phone. It had not been a real good day for either of us. "You know what's in Michigan? Fucking cows, Daimonique. Moo fucking moo. That's not our main base of activities, and you know it. If the Boss is starting to show up again, I need you. Here. Now. I need you. Does that mean anything to your little whacked out Lilim brain? We've got crazy Fallen Dominicans who like to leave bodies around and crazy normal Dominicans, who are just as bad, and Gamesters and demons and angels and all the people who fucking worship you for some reason-"

I held the receiver away from my ear for a second so I didn't have to listen to the rest of the tirade, and felt myself starting to fall apart a bit. I took a few breaths, pulling myself back together, while I idly played with the gold ring geas around my finger. "Erlithan..."

"You're dissonant, aren't you." Not a question, a statement of fact. "Did it finally happen? Daimon, did it finally happen to you?" His voice was angry with little glints of hysteria.

"Yes, I'm dissonant, and I have the full blown depression that goes along with it. No, it didn't happen spontaneously," I said with this feeling of hopelessness. "I caused this."

He paused on the other end for a full minute, just breathing, getting his head together. He knew what it took for me to become dissonant, other then just playing stupid geas tricks. He was probably wondering who had drawn my attention, that who which wasn't him. He was becoming jealous. We claimed to no longer love each other, but the lies made our lives easier. We lie like a pair of Balseraphs, all in the name of an organization which won't give a shit when we're gone. "Well," he breathed finally, "what we're going to do is lie. Whatever you were doing before, stop it. Don't pick up any more, and don't force it to become Discord. You don't really need a third eye. Just sit tight, and head for our nearest tether. Christ, you're on a phone, what am I thinking. To hell with your halo buddies. Call a taxi, have them take you to the Second City in Detroit. Get the Seneschal to pick up the tab. I'll meet you in the Palace, and we'll get this straightened out. I'll tell these Dominicans something."

I bit my lip in wonderful Lilim fashion, and then said softly, "I don't think I can get down to Hell by myself anymore."

The other end of the phone went silent. For a while there I almost thought it went dead. Finally, his voice terse, "When you fuck up you don't cut corners, do you? Always fuck up in a big funny way, I say. You learned that lesson from me."

"I don't... I want to finish this. I want-"

"To go Bright?" His voice was angry and trembling. "The dissonance is messing with your head. Hard. Daimon, it's just dissonance. Do you remember Janeth? Do you remember what happened to him? Do you remember begging him to control his dissonance? Do you think he's happy now? He's probably dead. You'll be dead, too."

"Well... uh.... I don't know. I don't think he's dead." A sudden flash of memory, floating through my head, of holding and rocking a young Impudite back and forth in my arms in the back seat of a car in the middle of the night, praying that we wouldn't lose him, but it was too late. A memory of handing him to that Angelic Seneschal in Arizona, pleading with him to make sure the young one didn't die. I closed my eyes, hard pricks of tears behind my lids. Why did I care? Why did any demon ever care? Janeth made a poor demon, anyway. Good riddance, we said later. He liked people too much.

There was a different memory, an earlier one, of donating hoarded Essence, merging our forces, under the watchful eye of our Prince. I pushed them away, it was part of my life, a different life, a life where I was in control. A life I no longer lived.

"Daimon, listen to me. Listen to me very carefully," Erlithan whispered, his voice bringing me back to reality. He was trying to infuse that professional 'now we're going to have a talk about how things really are' tone in his voice without his emotions. As an Impudite, he had a hard time just getting rid of his emotions. I knew he just wanted to be a charming bastard, and get me to go along with whatever scheme he had in mind. "How many people have you personally had the 'it's just dissonance' talk with?"

"Several. More then I can remember."

"Okay. Of those, how many people have we lost?"

"Some large subset of those," I said, the hopelessness starting to take over my brain.

"And you have always held up well. It's always the same line of bullshit, though. Right? Am I right?" he insisted.

"Yes," I said.

"And you know it's nothing but a pack angel of lies."

"I know," I said softly, knowing full well that Erlithan is a very old Hellborn. He respected angels, but never wanted to be one.

He sighed on the other end. "Look. Do they Want you? Do they Need you? Do they treat you the same way we do? Do they even treat you well? With any respect?"

"No," I said weakly. These were the buttons to push. He angered me, because he knew those buttons so well. "No, I sense a Need to get rid of me most of the time. Fulfilling it would garner me some rather large hooks."

"And what the hell makes you think any angel, anywhere, is ever going to Need or Want you the same way we do? Or even the same way the Boss does?" he asked, continuing to push down this path. "Do you really believe there is some Archangel who will want you around forever? Do you really, honestly believe that the angels will tolerate your little green ass any more then the ones you've run into do? We're not bad people, Daimon. We're a little lacking of morals, but really, we're not bad people. It's not like you're some sort of sex slave or pet."

"I know." I closed my eyes, my head pounding.

"You're not going Bright."

"I've thought about it."

"Well, stop it." He sighed.

"Are the... are the Dominicans still there?" I asked, trying to change the subject.

"Yes. They're giving me the eye right now, wondering who the hell I'm talking to about this. I'm just going to tell them the truth." He said, a little resigned.


"They've got no where to go. It's not like they're stupid enough to go run up to their Boss right now," he said. "And they won't tell the Gamesters. Not if they have our protection."

Something banged away at my head at that comment. Something that wasn't quite right. Some piece of some puzzle I was working on in the back of my mind slid into place. "Why are they accepting protection from Kobalites?" I asked, remembering briefly my profession and position.

"They have nowhere else to go, and we're friendly little lawbreakers with no honor. And frankly, we have the largest army of troops deployed Topside then any other Archangel or Demon Prince. We're friendly to everyone who isn't named Asmodeus. If you want allies, there you go." He sighed, work getting to him. "Now look, this is what you are going to do. You are going to go to the nearest bus depot, and you are going to get a bus ticket to New Hampshire. You are going to go to my house, and my human wife is going to think, just like always, that you're my cousin. Bring your dissonance-causing play toy if you must. I can take you to a tether near there, and you can stay until you're better. Then we'll figure out a way to fix your personal situations, and they are apparently legion, while working with everyone else. Okay?"

"Okay," I said weakly.

"Do you think you can do this?" he asked.

"I don't know," I admitted.

"If you can't, I will dig someone up to come get you and make sure you get on that bus. Then it will be all over. We'll figure it out. And you'll call me tomorrow. Do you know the cell phone number?"


"Recite it back to me," he ordered.

I did.

"Good enough. And of course you know your own home number. I will talk to you tomorrow, kid," he said, in a tone like talking to a sick child. Which, in a way to him, I was.

I looked down at the ring on my hand. "God willing," I said.

"No," he returned with a little bit of annoyance. "You will call me tomorrow. God has nothing to do with this."

"I will call you tomorrow," I repeated.

"Good," he said, resigned. "Go relax, okay? Go sleep, or watch TV, or something. I will see you soon, and if you can't get to a bus by yourself then I will send someone to get you there. And no Terry. He's nothing but bad for you. He's never been anything but bad for you. Okay? Got it?"

"Got it," I said.

"I still love you, Daimonique," he said.

"Good luck with the Dominicans," I returned. And then I hung up the phone.

I crawled out of the bathroom, across the floor, and into the bed next to Dana's. She looked so peaceful, sleeping there, her mind and soul wandering somewhere far away on the Marches. I sat there and watched her chest rise and fall for a few minutes, the moonlight falling across her vessel in a manner that was almost sensual. When I had spoken to her, she Needed me, she had need to have me around, and that powerful tug, that urge for friendship, was nearly irresistible. I closed my eyes. I had friends in Hell, of course. I worked in a friendly psychopathic Organization. But it wasn't the same. It wasn't the same as Angelic friends. It filled some screaming need, some open bleeding wound in my soul.

I curled up in a ball on the bed.

I thought about Star, and her one way relationship where she needed to be reassured she was loved. That was holding me here. That selfish, pining Need to have all the attention focused on her all of the time. The same Need I picked up from Impudite lovers I felt from her as well. It was enticing, addicting, that continuous Want to be there for them and only them. It wasn't healthy. It was a Servitor of Lust relationship. I knew it well.

The worst part is that I really loved her. I really, honestly felt for her, deep down inside. I wanted her to stay a Mercurian, I wanted her to get better. I didn't want to see her another insane creature of the Pit who couldn't see the walls of her Prison.

But... but... but I did that to all Creationers I fell in love with. And I loved them passionately. So very passionately. It was my curse.

I closed my eyes, and felt the tears burn behind my lids. Why did everything in my life have to be devolved into a pack of lies and betrayals?

I pulled myself into a tighter ball, and screwed my eyes closed. I felt very depressed, but very warm. The bed seemed to be far more comfortable then it should have been, the blanket around my shoulders more comforting. I was intending on simply drifting to my nightmares, but for a reason I couldn't really put a finger on, I forced myself into the Marches.

Erlithan - Trials of the Prince

The throne room was empty of all but him. He had chased the retainers out an hour before, tired of their sniveling and whining. There had been a general mixture of excitement and anger at his decisions. He ignored the feelings of the servitors, they weren't there to have opinions. They were there to carry out his orders.

Erlithan didn't sit on the Prince's throne. He had pulled in an easy chair from a room on the wing and sat at the base of the steps. The chair was becoming slowly worn after a decade of use, broken and slowly becoming covered with coffee stains and the marks of too many people trying to be funny. He was a man of honor and respect in the matter of politics, keeping his place respectfully at the base of the steps. Not in much else, granted, but he respected his Prince as well as any Comedian could, and still did to the best of his ability.

The looks of outraged indignation on the faces of the Dominicans hours ago had been priceless. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so satisfied by such looks of absolute horror and disgust. Luckily, there had been a camera on hand. The Polaroid, tucked safely in a pocket, had been worth a few good laughs and some additional kudos. The concept of accepting help from someone as outright appalling to their sensibilities as a Comedian had given him a source of amusement that would be sure to last out the week. He closed his eyes and relished it.

His troops had their orders, as upsetting they may have been. He was fairly certain the guards he had left in place back in LA wouldn't get too cheeky, not to the point of anyone getting seriously hurt. They were already working on trying to be funny as hell when he walked out the door, much to the Dominican's disapproval. But Comedians were Comedians, he couldn't hope to change them any more then he could change himself, they would just have to use their own judgment in drawing the line.

Heh. Judgment. Now, he thought, we have plenty.

For a long time, he sat in silence.

Finally, he glanced up at the throne, and tried to remember what it was like when it was filled. Not like when the Boss was around he sat in it much. Pomp and circumstance was never really his thing. But Erlithan was grasping, trying desperately to remember the timbre of his Prince's voice, what it was like not be trying to hold the place together with threads and convoluted lies. He realized, to his dismay, that he was having trouble remembering what his Prince looked like. Loyalty, he thought, to the dead.

He stood, and left the throne room behind. He slipped through the empty rooms of the top floor of the Palace, coat tails flowing behind like a second pair of leathery wings, and located a well stocked bar in a small secluded library. The television screen over the counter flashed news reports which could hardly be believed. The news from Topside, for once, was more entertaining then poorly executed angel porn, the soap opera-ish drivel of the continuous sitcoms, or the ridiculous game shows. He stopped and peered at the screen for a moment, watching one enterprising young Servitor of the Media trying to get close enough to interview some highly placed servant of Baal. His lips curled in a grin of irony, and true to his nature, Erlithan made some helpful remark. He lifted his glass to the screen, and walked out to the balcony.

He leaned over the railing, drink in hand. Beneath him, the city of Shal-Mari spread out beneath him like a brightly glittering sheet beneath the blood red sky. He could, peering, make out the check points which lead to the steel and glass of Perdition, or the twisted metal nightmare of Tartarus. Across the city, on separate points, rose the minarets of Andrealphus's palace of lust, the tall, slender tower topping the Guildhall of the Lilim, the hulking smoking monstrosity of the twisted slum dedicated to Haagenti's insatiable gluttony. The hot wind blew back his long graying hair, rippled through his leathery wings.

"We're here to serve him, Erlithan," Daimonique said with reverence as she shrugged on the black robe. "That is why we're called servitors. We are dedicated to duty."

He closed his eyes, thinking that things should have been different. So many members of the Core were dead, or worse, the alternative in his mind being definitely worse. They had held off a civil war down there in the city, carefully, through a combination of shameful manipulation of the populace, some careful political maneuvering, and generally pretending that there was absolutely nothing wrong at all. They shouldn't have been able to hold the sprawling, confusing, disordered Organization together, but they did, with spectacular success.

"The key to pulling this off is to think creatively," Daimonique said as she flipped through a pile of records. "We're intelligent people, and we have what no other pack of mindless babbling demons possess."

"Sex appeal?" he asked.

"No," she said with a gesture with her pen. "I'm talking about our ability to think about solutions different then just kowtowing to our basic selfish instincts. We know how to think beyond ourselves, and the others can't seem to pull it off."

She had been right then. Ten years ago, when they had realized that the Boss wasn't coming back, she had been right about everything. How it was going to pan out, who to place in charge, who to bring into the fold... and she had held it all together with a series of angry looks, well placed comments, and knowing when to run. She was one of the only demons he had ever met who could actually think beyond her own selfish needs and try to see the big picture. It was very difficult to think in terms of what was in the best interests of the entire Principality versus what was in best interests of the self, and find a balance. Erlithan, for all he was, knew, honestly knew, that he could not have pulled it off by himself. He loved people, for all their hot pulsing essence pumping through their warm living bodies. He loved humans and angels and demons equally, all so he could be full of warm essence all of the time, but this did not make for a skilled administrator. Being Lilim made for a skilled administrator. She should be Prince, he thought, not himself, but she never really quite fit with the entire Hell scene. She was just never quite demonic. There was something wrong with her that he could never quite put a finger on.

Student, friend, colleague, lover, wife. And for all he knew, would soon be dead from too much Discord, because of a group of goddamn angels who were too stupid to know better. He knew he had lost her the night that Mara died at the hands of those crazy Outcasts with the relics, but he had never really admitted it to himself. Now he did. On the phone she didn't sound like the same creature he knew, had known for a century. She sounded like she was coming apart at the seams.

She needed to be wanted and loved and listened to and understood, so she could realize where her priorities lay, and they were right here, among her people, in Shal-Mari. If there was an outside chance that she could be fixed, he would explain this in plain, simple terms. Somewhere, deep down inside, Lilim were all the same, and he knew all the tricks for keeping them around indefinitely.

If she died he knew he would probably mourn, which was unseemly for a Baron, in any Organization, but he didn't much care. And if she went Bright, he would hunt her down and try to bring her back to sanity. It was the least he could do.

To hell with Andrealphus and his attitude, he thought, trying to put his finger on the problem, the Prince was nothing more then an overblown pimp. Erlithan frowned, and thought about making certain commodities difficult to attain in a certain red light district of the city, and wondered if political vindictiveness would really make the situation any better.

He sighed. He was one of the most powerful people in the Principality, and he couldn't seem to save anything.

He stared up at the sky. He tossed the empty glass of the balcony. Then he closed his eyes, and forced himself upwards, back to Earth.

The sinews and flesh and bone felt heavy on his frame for a moment, and he stumbled forward, catching himself on the back of a car, losing the comfortable counterbalance of his wings. He breathed heavily, and looked up at the apartment building. Hot California wind blew some of the hair off his face.

He peered up at the right window, and it didn't look like anyone had been thrown out of it. He assumed his troops had the presence of mind to control themselves. If not, there would be some forces slowly separated in the streets of the city later.

He straightened his tie, pushed back his hair, and started to walk through the parking lot. Suddenly, he felt a strong hand fall on his right shoulder.

"Look, buddy," he said, "I'd love to stay and offer you my wallet, but you don't want to fight with me. Really. You never know what you'd find in there, and it's not all good."

"No," came the soft male voice from behind him, "you're right. I do not wish to fight with you."

Erlithan slowly turned around. Then his eyes went wide.

The figure in the dark put a finger to his lips. "Shhhhhhhhhhh."

"Boss?" Erlithan whispered in surprise.

"Close, but no cracker."

Daimonique - Geasing the Will

For I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord. -- Tobit 12:15

The sand beneath my bare feet was a dull gray, the sky the same. I stood in the boxers and tee-shirt belonging to the Daimon Lightner vessel, standing on long female legs, in the tall, slight form which matched my celestial self, and mashed the sand between my toes. It felt warm, like the sand of a Southern California beach, crunching quietly. I remembered I loved the Marches, sometimes, when I was tourist and a friend. But there was a blank spot in my memory which involved the Marches from a few years ago which I dare

the bodies lay in messy rows bleeding eyes staring up at the formless gray sky

not think about. Something was out there in the Far Marches, where we weren't supposed to venture. Or so sayth Matthew, who claimed to be sagely about these sort of things. But Matthew claimed to be sagely about all sorts of things of dubious merit. That's why I liked him, and even slept with him when the occasion arose.

A few small human dreamscapes went whizzing my head. I watched them with detached interest.

I was, oddly, alone. I tucked a stray lock of hair behind an ear.

I started walking, slowly, in a minor daze. It occurred to me after a few minutes that I should have had at least the impression of other celestials around me. There was, after all, a brand new war in heaven. There should have been the faint subconscious tingle of unchecked panic. But I felt nothing. I looked around, and I absolutely knew was all alone.

I searched, spinning in a small circle on the gray sand, and knew something was amiss. I squinted at the horizon. There was no tower of Beleth. There was no tower of Blandine. Where in the hell was I?

I knew being out of sight of either tower could lead to ugly encounters with the old pagan gods, encounters for which I was neither prepared or armed. In my panic, I started to walk briskly across the sands in a direction I hoped would lead me out of the Far Marches, not too quickly as to belay my nervousness. I was intent on coming up to Beleth's side of things, a direction I was certain I was headed, a belief based entirely on my demonic nature and nothing else. I had no idea how I ended up in the middle of nowhere. I didn't even want to know. I just wanted to get back to the inhabited areas, or wake up.

As I walked, and no towers appeared in sight, waking up was starting to sound like a better and better option. This minor adventure was becoming a wash, and I couldn't remember what I was expecting to see here in the first place. Talk to my father? Talk to my friends?

I was getting the odd funny feeling that I came up here on compulsion. Someone had gotten their hands on a Geas and activated it as I fell asleep. I tested out this theory, and tried to wake up. No dice, it made me just feel sick. The fingernails scraped across the chalkboard of my soul. I could no more wake up then care for a human.

I heard something faint, the crunching sounds of shoes on sand. I stopped and listened, and they stopped as well. My breathing sped up, and I spun, trying to see who was following me. Through the mists, I saw no one. I resumed my course, this time at a brisker pace. And I heard the footsteps echoing. I stopped, and looked, and saw no one again. I was beginning to believe it was my own footfalls, the sound bouncing around in the heavy white mists. Such a thing was not unheard of.

I breathed heavily. Once. Twice. Three times.


I screamed.

A figure came out through the fog slowly, non-threatening. I stared, wide eyed, and then hoping that the figure was a Celestial, fell to my knees and pressed my forehead to the dry sand. Even if it wasn't, I didn't want to take the chance of being involuntarily rude and finding myself in combat, unarmed.

I saw the brown loafers stop a few inches from my head, topped with the bottom cuffs on khaki dockers. And he laughed, a low melodic sound. "You can get your head out of the sand."

My eyes rose to a leather belt, a tie dyed t-shirt covered with a white jacket, a kind face partially hidden by sunglasses with straight light brown hair pulled back to a pony tail. He was grinning down at me, with a hand extended to help me to my feet. I squinted my eyes, and felt confusion mixed with relief and a vague nagging feeling he was familiar somehow. But I had never met him.

"Come on," he said, hand out, "you can take it. I don't bite much. Nibble a little, maybe."

I reached up and took his hand. It was dry and smooth and soft. I looked down at myself, in my underwear, not even right for my vessel, and felt embarrassed. I wasn't sure who or what it was I was looking to do by coming into the Ethereal realm, but this wasn't it. In a second, he had me once again with the dry warm sand under my bare feet. Right before he pulled his hand away from mine, I resonated for Needs and received.... nothing at all, like I was holding the hand of a ghost or a non-existent being. I shivered, and involuntarily pushed my bangs out of my eyes as I pulled my hand away from his. I tried to smooth down my t-shirt, realizing I was showing more then a little through the thin fabric. Usually I have absolutely no body taboos, but I wasn't feeling right. I was feeling just off kilter.

"Walk with me," he said.

So I did, in silence, not knowing what else to do. And we walked. There is no time in the Marches. I was trying to work out if he was an angel or a demon or a what. I couldn't figure out if angels other then Eli wore tie dye. This guy wasn't Eli.

After a while, he said, "You don't look so good. Aren't you eating right? You look thin and pale."

I sighed. "It's been a lot of work, and an unbelievably bad six weeks. Um... sir," I added, hedging my bets. I hadn't realized I looked any different then I had for hundreds of years.

"I can imagine. Has it been hard on you and your colleagues?"

I felt confused. Who was he referring to? The Organization? The angels? Humans? Who? I decided he was talking about people back home, because I really didn't know who else to talk about. I just rattled whatever was bouncing around in my head. "Well, I don't think too many people, you know, servitors, really knew what was going on above them. Assignments were handed out, the city bosses acted like city bosses, the cogs in the machine moved just like always. As long as someone was there to make some sort of executive decision, everything worked. It was hard on us, we didn't have the power to do things we needed to do and had to fake it, but we got by. I think... I think it's almost over, sir."

He kept walking along, not looking at me. "And your Prince?"

I coughed politely in my hand, giving me a moment to get my thoughts in order, then crossed my arms back over my chest.

"You can talk to me," he said.

"I don't even know who you are, sir," I countered. "Or what you are, to be frank."

He laughed, that same low melodious sound. "You're forward and demure at the same time. It's a hell of a talent. I know you practice."

"But sir…."

"You know who I am, if you think about it for a while," he said. "Or maybe you'll figure it out better if you don't think so much. If you just let your consciousness drift for a while, you'll be surprised what you discover."

I shot him a very confused look. He had that relaxed, comfortable to be around people feel about him. That same feeling I picked up around Eli, except without the flamboyance. If I wasn't so nervous it would have put me at ease.

He reached out a hand and gripped my shoulder. "Maybe you should just enjoy the walk for a little while. I think you'll be happier with a little bit of silence."

I nodded my head, and stared at the ground. I realized I just wasn't feeling very well. It was a combination of the dissonance, the situation, and something else, something I couldn't put my finger on. Something was just outright wrong, and it scratched away at the back of my mind. I tried to grasp it, but it was elusive. Nothingness, like an itch I couldn't reach.

The mist and the ground blended together into the same bland grayness. He started to hum some song, popular on the radio, something with a catchy beat. He seemed happy to just be existing. I couldn't understand why. It had never been my way.

After a while, I realized he hadn't answered my original question. I dared to break the silence. "Sir? Can you at least tell me who you are?"

He chuckled, and ignored my question. "I think we've far enough. See?" He gestured toward the horizon. "You can see Blandine's Tower, a little, if you squint. It's too bad we didn't have some sort of life changing conversation on the way. But a little quiet does the soul some good as well sometimes. We'll stop here."

We stopped walking on the top of some sort of rise or plateau. I squinted. I could see the little black smudge on the horizon. I assumed this was Blandine's Tower, but there was no way to tell details at the distance.

I looked up at my companion, and he stopped grinning and the careless look faded from his face to become the hard visage of someone forced into several acts he did not wish to commit. He reached up, and took my shoulders, one in each hand, moving around slowly so that I faced him. I realized I still felt no Needs, and this bothered me deep inside. I should be detecting something, anything at all. I felt oddly empty.

Obscuring them, I thought. He's messing with my resonance and there's nothing I can do about it.

He stared deep into my eyes. I tried to flinch, but his grip was like a vise. I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. The strangeness of the situation was starting to work its magic on me. I felt oddly awful.

He reached up with one hand and push the bangs off my forehead. Then he sighed heavily. "I summoned you here to see the sights, so you would understand the brevity of the situation. So you would be… enlightened." He cocked his head to the side, running his hand back down my hair. He cleared his throat. "I am not interested in bringing you to your destiny or to your fate, for Enlightenment rarely does either and often brings both. I am not a warrior, I never have been, I do not wield a flaming sword for the sake of heaven, or the sake of hell. I'm about as interested in ideology and laws and boundaries as last week. I can only bring forth understanding, and for that I will not spare the pain." He took a deep breath, and ran his hand along my cheekbone, down beneath my chin. He cupped it in his hand, and raised my head slightly, gently. "I have been different for a very long time. My name is Raphael, but you knew that. I brought you here to see."

And I realized, somewhere deep down inside, that I did know, even though I did not understand what he had said. "You're dead," I whispered. "That's what I remember from the hospital. Someone saying that you are dead."

"In many ways," he answered. "But that's not important." His hand landed back on my shoulder, and he turned me, so my back was to him, hands staying affixed. He leaned down, and breathed in my ear. "Watch."

I watched. I had no choice as the warm onus of compulsion took me over for the moment. I could not look away any more then violate my own nature. I looked down into the valley below where we were standing, and for a moment the mist cleared, like I was looking down into someone else's dream. Below me I saw the writhing forms, and I could hear the sounds of metal on metal, the screams of the dying. The war was taking place below me.

The predators were waiting for their prey to appear in the Marches, one after another to report in like dutiful servitors, and slaughtering them there, or at least taking out their vessels. I could just barely make out individual figures, swinging their gleaming weapons. I could see the red blood soaking into the gray sand. Bodies swung in the misty bland light, alive and twitching, screaming in agony, impaled on tall spears standing like a small forest of red bleeding trees, crying out for release. The darkness, the evils of the War, the eternal war I hated.

I swallowed hard. Dana was down there somewhere. I prayed to a God I didn't believe in that we would both wake up in the morning.

"Nice, eh?" Raphael said in my ear. "Very nice, I think, although a little melodramatic. Very efficient, even if it won't do on a Christmas card. They're very good at what they do, the Malakim, when you get them all hot and bothered about something." He waved a hand, and his voice took a lofty tone. "The moral of the story, I believe, is not to get into a blood bath with Michael. It's a difficult moral to learn, but someone has to do it. Hey, the guy drips with blood and he likes it, he likes it! Almost more then Life cereal. That Mikey, wacky guy, he'll try anything once, even killing off his Angelic pals. Sometimes even twice. Ah, the bitter irony, up to the last."

I shivered.

He laughed out loud for a moment, different then before. It was a desperate, haunted, empty sound of anguish. It was terribly familiar. He gripped my shoulders and turned me to face him once again. "This is bad," he said, suddenly darkly serious. "This has spun way out of control."

"So now I know," I said. "I'll take the news back, and…"

"Oh, not so fast, kid." He let go of my arms and took a step back. "You're not just going home to say, 'Yeah, it's bad and ugly and nasty and some big mean Mercurian told me so.' It doesn't work like that."

I blinked a few times. "Okay, then what…" My voice trailed off as I watched him dig into his pockets and pull out a few shiny little globes. My eyes went wide, and I dropped all pretense of politeness. I wondered if the Superiors just traded my Geasa around for fun, or as exciting collectables, or what. Collect all of Daimonique's Fuck Ups! Ten in a set! "Oh dear God no. Oh, come on now. Why don't you just tell me what you want me to do? I'll do it, off the record, no sweat. Or, look, I'll do it for you as a favor…"

He looked up at me, and grinned, sort of the same grin he had on his face when I first entered the Marches. "Look, I'm really sorry. Think of it as working off some old debts. As Eli likes to say, you'll feel better when it's done."

I fell to my knees, trying the old standby, begging. To hell with my dignity. "Please. Please don't make me work for Heaven. I can't keep up with everything going on anymore. I'm starting to forget who I am. I'm starting to lose my mind."

He clucked his tongue. "Imagine, within confusion and enlightenment, therein lies the possibility of all sorts of visionary discoveries, often found on the road to sanity and insanity. I'm not the monster you think I am, you know. I'm not going to make you do anything you weren't already going to do in the first place. Think of this as sort of focusing your interests. And you'll have plenty of time, I think, so just take it really slow."

"I'll suck up the dissonance. I'll keep going, and I'll just deal with the pain," I said, my resolve finally starting to stick, but my lower lip quivering.

He looked down at me. "No you won't. It's not in your nature."

"Yes it is, and I've put up with worse."

"I know you have," he said, a little bit more subdued. "I know you have."

"I'm very loyal to my Prince, you know," I said, trying to get out of this predicament, and thinking up nothing but very lame arguments. "And, uh, someone will be cheesed, I'm sure. They need me down there, they need me to keep the wheels in motion. I'm the Mediator, for Christ's sake! I can't just run off and work for any dead Archangel who happens to just show up with a pocketful of Geasa! I have responsibilities!"

"I know this as well," he said. "I know this very well, more then you believe. You've been commendably loyal, my young Lilim friend, far more then would be expected of any demon, less a child of Freedom. But there comes a time when the favor has to be called in, and things have to change. Besides I've been doing it for a while now."

"I will fight it."

He sighed. "You're every bit as stubborn as your father."

I took that as a slap in the face. "I'm absolutely nothing like Andrealphus. Such an insinuation is an insult."

"Did I say Andrealphus? Anyway." He held up the first globe, and I saw it glittering in the grayish mist. "You'll have plenty of time to work with these, so take your time."

"I can't go to heaven. I can't even go to hell anymore, I don't think," I said. "I'm not entirely sure."

"But you have Earth and the Marches. The humans make do, so can you. And I guarantee you," he said as crouched down so he was level with me, "I guarantee you that you will be returning to Hell at least one more time before you will be going to Heaven. Prophecy really isn't that bad when you get the hang of it. But, down to business. For your first task, I order you to end this fighting, through speech and demonstration. It has to come to a sudden grinding halt."

The geas in his hand flashed, and I felt the onus of the command settle down deep into my soul, wrapping me like a warm blanket. My mind didn't wipe out all at once. I held my consciousness, but I knew that it would continue to egg me on, keep me going, bother me deep into the nights.

"I can't do that," I gasped.

"You will find a way," he answered. "I've given you five angels."

Yes, I knew I would find a way. I had no choice. I was caught in a web of bitter irony. A servitor to my Prince, to the last.

"Secondly," he said, another in his hand, "you will continue to demonstrate against the War as you have done so before. Now, more publicly and more vocally. Bring the knowledge of the pain to those who cause it, and the understanding of the victims." The geas disappeared in a flash. A new one appeared in his hand, as did others. "Oh, and don't get caught, okay? You're no good to anyone dead." And he smiled down at me as I wept on the gray sand.

And oddly enough, none of the geasa invoked, those and several lesser, were deeds any different then anything I had already planned to do.

Kezef - Plans in Motion

To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? See, their ears are closed, they cannot listen. The word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it. But I am full of the wrath of the Lord; I am weary of holding it in. -- Jeremiah 6:10-11

With a swish of robes on the marble floor, he finished waving his fingers farewell at the small congregation of Bishops, with whom he had been holding council. The humans were so simple to manipulate, it almost amazed him. Almost, but not quite.

His servant closed the heavy oak door as last, the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, left the room, the old man leaning heavily on a servant of his own. Kezef leaned his head down and tucked his hands up into his sleeves.

After a nice luncheon and a quiet chat, he had assured the holy men that the recent crop of so called miracles in Michigan were no more then the work of several deranged young people, malicious pranks which were designed to do no more then discredit the Church. If the news was to be believed, and he had his doubts, the police were already hot on their trail. He had pointed out the extensive problems they had with the young man involved out on the west coast, and his minor confrontations with the Church there. The young man, he said inwardly to himself, would die. One way or another.

Kezef, while holding court with the powerful Churchmen of North America, took that moment to suggest, as an offhand request, the entertaining concept of indoctrinating the 'deans of justice', their own small private police force, to take care of such minor problems as these, a group of well trained humans who would see to the interests of the Church. They would, of course, involve the local police of the legal system and involve them completely, nothing short would be tolerable. The plan had not gone over as well initially as it had in Southern Europe, but when he pointed out the use of such a troop to sway the courts in the matters of interest of the Church, they were a little more amendable. Just imagine, he said, we would be able to help the courts in dealing with those terrible, awful drug dealers who corrupt our youth. And we could help teach the abortionists. They will come around to our way of thinking, with just a little encouragement. The Bishops were simple to persuade once they were shown the way of the Truth, and now they took back to their homes words of encouragement, whispered to the priests to take to the congregations. These miracles would be shown to be frauds, and they would see himself as a beacon for progress at the end of the twentieth century.

He smiled to himself, and turned to leave the large meeting hall. A new Inquisition burned in his mind, one which would purge the Earth of all evil, and bring a new dawn for the Church upon the land. And when he was done, he would lead his holy army into Hell itself. There the sinners would be shown the sword of Judgment, for once and for all.

Through the hallway, and down a back set of stairs, he moved in relative silence. The servants knew better then to disturb him, and on the upper levels they were all human. On the lower levels where few dare to tread, as he spun down into the depths, was a different matter.

He was momentarily lost in thought. The War above in Heaven was a masterpiece. He grinned deep inside, not allowing his emotion show on his face. Years of subtle manipulation, carefully constructed commentary, seeded opinions in the minds of high placed servants with no more brains then a gnat had finally borne fruit. In the matter of months, his Lord Dominic would be slaughtered on the axe of Archangel Michael, and Heaven, he knew, could not continue to exist without some sort of checks and balances system. Ever since the Fall, there has been a slowly creeping evil seeping into the hearts of the Angels, corrupting them absolutely, driving them to the Pit. He was prepared, with his troops, to offer his cleansing powers to burn those who were not absolutely pure. He would destroy those who did not bend their knees to the Light of God, and he knew he would find those who were disloyal. There were always those who were disloyal.

His Lord would die the death he deserved, and Kezef himself would return to the grace he earned. The grace he deserved.

He would return to Heaven triumphant, and take his place as the new, better, more efficient Archangel. No more rogue Archangels running about unchecked. No more insane celestials babbling prophetic nonsense to humans in the desert. No more foolishness. No more allowing the War to run unchecked. He would return Heaven to the days of Uriel, to the days of purity, to the days of dominance.

He allowed himself momentarily to grin, but only momentarily, as he passed by the first of his servants, both cloaked in black. Both bowed low. Neither were human, and he ignored them.

He swept down the linoleum tiled hallway, between white cinder block walls, under the dimly flickering dirty white neon lights. His long robe swept back and forth behind him, swishing quietly along the floor, the only noise. He turned a corner, passed through a door, and began to pass past heavily locked white iron doors, shimmering strangely in the pallid light. There were small barred slits about two thirds up. Behind some doors came the sounds of whimpering, others the sounds of moans, and others, dark deathly silence.

One hand fingers poking out the slit, between the bars. "Please," came the hoarse voice, forced through dry parched lips. "Please let me out. I have done no wrong."

Kezef swept by, never hesitating in his stride. Humans, Soldiers, Angels and Demons, it made no difference to him. All have sinned at some time. Those who did not conform to his laws would be punished.

He pulled a keycard out of his robes, and slid it into the slot next to the door at the end of the hallway. The lights flashed, and there was a loud pop as the bolt shot. He pulled open the door and passed through between more guards. He ignored them as well.

A few more twists, and a pass through a few more doors led him to a large room, lit by a spotlight in the center. He passed around back, climbed a few steps, and sat behind the high podium of the judge's bench. Below him was another level of bench, behind which sat the poker backed Triad, loyal to the death, and finishing their trial. He picked the gavel up in his hand, and gestured.

Into the spotlight was dragged by two large Celestials in passibly human vessels a huddled, winged figure, tawdy singed feathers held in futile defense about the thin shivering body. Once blond, the hair hand been burned away in spots. Fingers were curled and mangled. The face, when it looked up from its pained misery, once full of Mercurian pride was ruined. Around the neck glinted the gold of the relic, binding the creature into its vessel to experience the maximal amount of pain. It was difficult to tell if the figure was male or female, but in the end, it hardly mattered. It shook, and knelt hopelessly on the floor.

Kezef looked down upon figure in momentary pity. It once was a beautiful creature. He looked down at the file before him, placed in his absence. His fingers ran over it slowly, almost lovingly. Then he spoke, his voice full of Wrath and the Fires of Damnation. "Astal, Mercurian of Creation, your actions have been found wanting of those of an Angel of Heaven. You have cavorted with humans, promoting lascivious and lewd behavior. You have been found wanting."

"I have done..." the angel gasped on the floor, exhausted from endless torture. "I have done nothing..."

"You have admitted to cavorting with the creatures of Hell. You have admitted to attending their dark sabbats, and associating in their rituals. You have admitted to assisting demons in numerous acts of perversion, nothing less then terror, rape and murder. I have your signed testimonials before me."

Kezef waiting for a good, long dramatic pause.

"Astal, you are no longer fit to be an Angel. I have found you guilty of breaking the Laws before the eyes of God. For that you will die."

The large Celestials moved to hold the angel, who fought back weakly with the last remaining drained strength. Kezef pulled a relic out of his robes, an ancient relic of lost times, and grinned. Another angel force stripped, and this one he might even enjoy.

Daimonique - Emptiness

It is always consoling to think of suicide: in that way one gets through many a bad night. Beyond Good and Evil, ch. 4, aph. 157 (1886)

Everyone who has ever built anywhere a "new heaven" first found the power thereto in his own hell. The Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3, aph. 10 (1887)

-- Nietzsche

A long time ago, but not so long ago as to be a part of a different life, I sat among the stacks in one empty disconsolate tower of the Archives. There was a Balseraph, named Azza I believe, who was flitting around, chattering endlessly about nothing at all. He was supposed to be 'helping out with research', but mostly he was there to keep an eye on me, to make sure I didn't do something cheeky. He was probably hoping for a little Lilim fun on the side, otherwise the assignment struck me as punishment, as it probably had been. I had finally become irritated with him and his endless babbling, and pressed upon him a question, expecting a lie in response. "So tell me Balseraph, why are we here? What is the point of our existence?"

And he answered me, without even a hesitation, "To serve ourselves, of course."

I had replied after some thought, "Yes, we do that from habit, but that's not it." I waved my pen. "That's not it at all."

I wasn't sure why I was thinking about that incident while sitting on the front step in front of a Tether of the Sword in Howell, Michigan. It had just popped in there unbidden, and was sloshing around with the rest of the refuse.

I held my head in my hands, and listened to the angels bicker endlessly behind me. What to do, where to go, where to turn to next. I had no answers for them, and even if I had, they would hardly listen to me. Why would they? I was a crazy broken demon who wasn't much more then a trouble magnet. Useless to myself and to others. And now I had all these other compulsions driving me onward.

I figured I was quickly reaching about as low as I could go.

Dana was angry, I wasn't sure exactly why. She wouldn't tell me, but I had not expected a lasting friendship with an angel, let alone a cop. It wasn't that I couldn't maintain friendships with angels, I had been close to Minnie for a handful of decades. It was just, when I really needed it, it wasn't there and I never quite knew what I did wrong. I could make some educated guesses, but I couldn't really know.

I wished they would just tell me what they wanted instead of giving me looks and expecting a certain amount of change or a certain set of words to come out of my mouth. I was tempted, passively, to break my promise to Maxwell and geas one of them into just being forthright with me, just for a little while. The temptation was almost too large to pass up, but I had made a good, strong attempt at being honorable, and I wasn't going to break it unless pressed.

Star, well, Star seemed the same. She had forgiven me of saving her from doing something incredibly foolish earlier in the morning, and other imagined trespasses upon her honor which weren't clearly spelled out in any way I could readily comprehend. I had stopped attempting to think about it myself, after a while. But at least her change of opinion was comforting. Maybe there would be a little hope. Maybe I was just very wrong about what was happening, and she wasn't Falling and wasn't getting screwed up. Maybe I wasn't toxic death to every Creationer I happened to come across.

But then she had mocked me, and as some little part of my heart broke, I swept all of my small hopes away and just accepted the reality. Just like a demon to not care, accept and move on.

Behind me, the topic of conversation changed from mediation to Rigziel to Horton to Kezef to finally someone they felt they could take on and do away with permanently. Oddly, they decided this was Terry and his yet unspoken legion of demonic media cronies. I closed my eyes, and pressed my hands to my ears. I didn't really want to listen to a group of angels discussing in detail how they were going to murder my closest friend, even if I doubted it was possible. I could have gotten up to leave, but where would I go? I only had a few bags of clothing right now to my name, no transportation, no allies, no hope, almost no essence, and the knowledge that Dana had called the Game.

When there is nothing else to do, it's time to admire the endless irony of the situation. I had painted myself into one hell of a corner. I started to giggle a little to myself, as I heard the angels shuffle around, murmur among themselves, and move through the back door to the inner rooms. I was up to something more like a chuckle by the time the door swung closed for the last time and their voices drifted away. I pressed my head fiercely into my hands and did one of the best Kobal impressions of my life, the dissonance and the wailing of the active geasa wrapping around my last functioning neurons, and letting out the gasping anguished desolate laughter at the unerring, endless, hopeless comedy of my situation. It's not funny when you get a paper cut, but damn is it hilarious when someone drops a piano on your head and you die in a big squishy mess. Good comedy is pain.

I made a note that those last neurons needed to drown slowly in something intoxicating as soon as possible. God help me if they still held something useful.

I pressed my forehead harder into my hands, and gave myself up as the hysterical laughter was starting to become hysterical sobs. I hadn't exactly done my best, but I was screwed, so screwed up, I didn't know where to turn. For the first time in my life, I wanted very badly to pick up the phone, and talk to Eli. Archangel or not, there was someone there who seemed to understand pain better then average Celestials. He was the one I wanted to talk to, over my friends and lovers from the Organization, over loves from the past or friends from back on the west coast. It was an odd compulsion, I didn't know why I wanted it, and I felt sad that I had no number, no place to go. I didn't want to explain it, I wrote it off to Raphael's bizarre requests of me, more freedom oriented then anything else I could explain.

Maybe what I really wanted was someone to come out, put their arms around me, and tell me it was all going to be alright. I would have gladly given up geasa for that one moment of warmth.

My shoulders shook and I bit my lip to hold as much of the emotion in as I could. I wasn't doing a very good job. I was getting lost in the desperate depression caused by the dissonance. I missed myself. I wasn't the person I was a few hours before, let alone that one lone crazy wacked out creature who was trying futilely to convince others that Hell wasn't the best, or only answer, but neither was killing each other. Although we forgive Christ for his fraternization with evil, I had said to them, we find it intolerable to forgive ourselves for equal trespasses. If the ultimate good is to emulate his life, then should we not accept our own weaknesses within ourseselves and our fellow beings as he did himself?

"You don't sound very good."

I jumped, dragging my head out of my hands, and twisted around at the waist. The Malakite Seneschal was leaning against the door jam, his arms crossed, staring down at me. My heart leapt into my throat. I quickly dragged the sleeve of my shirt across my eyes, and reached down to gather up my bags to my chest. "What?"

"I said," he said, "that you don't sound very good."

I nodded and closed my eyes. It was true, I didn't sound very good. I sounded like I was having a nervous breakdown, which I didn't doubt. I breathed in and out heavily, trying some of that Yoga that Minnie had been shoving down my throat for the last few years in an attempt to relax my tense body. I had been told that it was far less painful if one was relaxed when you were impaled on the sharp pointy weapon of your choice then if all your muscles were humming like bow strings. It wasn't working. I sat tense while I waited for him to yell "Demon DIE!"and stick something cold and metallic through my body. I felt nauseous on raw fear.

The boards of the porch shuttered under my body as he walked across them. They were still for a moment, and then gave out one more big long creek. I kept my eyes closed, waiting for the end of my vessel and wondering vaguely what happened to someone in my position when they became traumatized. Limbo, I think, unless I popped up in Shal-Mari next to my hopelessly cracked Heart. But there was no sudden piercing pain, no final last shuddering breath while I came to terms with my ultimate failure. I sobbed hoarsely a few more times.

I took a chance. I slowly opened my eyes. He was sitting next to me on the porch, holding a western style handkerchief of blue and white out to me. I took it tentatively and wiped my face. "It's that lame demonic self-pity," I muttered, mostly to myself, making up excuses for my display of emotion. "I can't seem to shake it."

"So I figured," he said.

I sat there and stared down at the cloth handkerchief in my hands as my nerves rang out like bells. It shook in my quivering hands. "Aren't you going to kill me?" I asked quietly. "Being demonic and all that."

He shook his head. "No. Stop resonating on you, definitely. You're giving me a headache. But kill you, I don't think so. If I was going to kill you, I would have done so yesterday. I had ample time." He shrugged. "I was initially tempted. Dirty Malakim jokes, indeed. I should have killed you just on general principles. They weren't, to be honest, very good."

"But I..." I protested, confused.

"Changed vessels." He nodded, misunderstanding me completely and putting words in my mouth. "I had noticed. Why don't you come inside, where it's at least a little more comfortable?"

"I, um..." I started to protest.

He put his hand on my shoulder. "Come on. I don't want to be sitting on the porch, where it's easy to be spotted."

I looked in his eyes, and I didn't resonate for Needs. I didn't really want to know. I nodded after a moment, a jerky movement, and let him help me up and guide me wordlessly into the main front room of the shop. I looked around at the long weapons hanging from the walls with some sort of sinking dread, more distantly connected to discord then a fear of death. I allowed him to press down on my shoulder lightly, pushing me down into a chair in the corner by a small table covered with pewter envelope openers and small covered lamp. I put down the bags at the leg of the chair and dropped my hands into my lap, head bowed and eyes closed. I carefully slowed down and controlled my breathing, until the sobbing had stopped and I was starting to resume something that resembled control.

I felt empty inside. I had not felt that generally bad in a very long time. It wasn't so much the horrible black depression of Jelial's death and subsequent fall that had dragged on for a blur of years I could hardly recall. It was more like the intermittent times when Andre had felt the need to invoke an old geas to bring me to his side, and when I came to I realized that he had enjoyed himself immensely and I was feeling used and dirty. But I didn't feel used and dirty. I just felt empty. I needed time to think and get my head together and come up with some sort of coherent pattern of thought. I had been doing pretty damn good, pretty stable and almost confident until the mess at the shopping mall and everyone took off. I could get fairly stable and coherent again.

I'm the damn Mediator, I thought. I'm supposed to be stable and coherent and rational. I'm supposed to sound like I know what I'm doing. It's my job. And I've done more then that for a long time now. If I'm not coherent and rational, who will be?

I looked up as the Malakite came through a door behind the counter, carrying what looked like to be a blanket and a cup full of dark liquid. I watched him through confused eyes as he put the cup, more obviously full of tea as he set it down on the table next to me, and shook out the blanket to place over my shoulders. I blinked up at him, completely uncomprehending.

"Darjeeling," he said. "The tea. That was the flavor I had in the cupboard. I had heard that tea was soothing for nerves, so drink up."

"I... I..." I reached up and clutched the blanket around me, mostly in terror. I gave up on trying to keep up my poise. The effort was becoming exhausting.

"Go ahead. I didn't put poison in it." He nodded his head at me.

"Aren't you going to kill me?" I blurted out, my voice trembling. "Aren't you just going to stab me over and over again, and then come after my Celestial form, and hack me up until I'm dead? And then brag how you defended your Tether from me. That's what you do, isn't it? That's your oath. You would what, even get back essence." I felt suddenly embarrassed, and my cheeks burned.

Much to my surprise, he began to laugh, a deep down belly laugh. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought, Gee, if I was a Bound servitor of my Boss, I would have just avoided dissonance. And I wasn't even trying to be funny.

"From you? I don't think you're going to be causing much havoc here," he said. "You don't look particularly dangerous. Oh, I took an oath, certainly. 'I swear never to suffer evil to live.' And I won't, I assure you. When the evil shows up, I'll be the first one to slay it."

I blinked.

"I must report you to my Superior, you realize," the Malakite said. "He'll be very concerned to say the least. We haven't had one such as you pass through here in a very long time, and even then it was only one before you. An Impudite gone Mercurian, if memory serves. If there wasn't combat going on above, I would summon him now, and we'd be through this. Are you ready to repent?"

I blinked again. "What?"

"Repent your former sins and go Bright. That's what is happening, isn't it?" he asked, a little too earnest. He was probably wondering what I would end up looking like. I wasn't in any hurry to find out.

I just stared for a moment, clutching the blanket around me for security. "I... um... " I felt uncertain, the fear inside me churning.


"Repent? Go Bright?" My voice sounded weak. I furrowed my brow, and felt like I was treading on thin ice. "I can't do that." I closed my eyes, feeling the proximity to the Tether proper pounding away at the back of my mind like a second heartbeat. I opened my eyes again.

His face had darkened, and I saw his hand reach back, toward the sword laying on the counter.

"I'm under geas!" I added hurriedly. "I can't change until it's all over. And it's just begun. I have no idea what I'm going to end up doing."

"From your dark Prince?" he growled. "Committing potentially dishonorable acts in the name of Hell?"

"Uh..." I looked uncertain. "Fish."


I shrunk back in the chair. "That's the best existential answer I can come up with in the face of an angry Malakite with a sword when I don't have an answer. I don't know. It's just some guy."

"Just some guy." He wasn't looking quite as friendly all of the sudden.

"A very Archangel-ly guy," I said faintly. "You know, big white fluffy wings. Shiny halo. Big sense of purpose."

His hand moved away from the sword and he crossed his arms. "So let me get this right. You're a demon, excuse me, a Lilim, who is hanging around with a pack of angels. You are under compulsion from an Archangel, presumably doing work for Heaven. You resonate very strangely, not dishonorable, but not a glowing beacon of honor either, although I can tell you've been up to some rather un-demonic things lately. It rings of potential for honor in the future. It's a strange enough mix to make my head pound. And I'm to assume that you aren't going Bright." He shook his head. "Any other Band of demon would have redeemed by now. I absolutely do not understand your kind."

"Likewise," I said quietly.

We stayed there in silence for a while. My ragged breathing started to come back under control. I reached up and pushed the bangs out of my face.

"The tea is getting cold," he said finally.

I reached over to dutifully pick up the cup. It shook in my trembling hand, and I drank a little. The warm liquid was soothing, calming enough that I could concentrated on the pounding pain of the Tether in my head. I suspected he had laced it with something, even if he had claimed otherwise. It was a little too soothing.

"I need to speak to my Superior," he said. "About what happened down here today with the cops and your friends and all that. It's part of my position as a Seneschal."

I nodded. "Just what I need. Another Superior interested in me. I'm the original Superior magnet. It has to be the cologne. Or my socks. Or something."

"When I get a chance," he continued, ignoring me. "It might be a wait. After all, there are problems above. There is a living area downstairs with a TV and some books and that sort of thing, if you're interested."

"Thanks," I murmured.

He nodded and waited expectantly.

"You want me to go downstairs?" I asked, arms and blanket tucked around me.

"If you're interested," he said in a tone that meant I was interested. I was getting a feeling that I had pissed him off somehow, and now he was going to go do something about it.

I gathered the blanket around me and put the cup down. I began to stand, picking up the bags in one hand. "Okay, fine," I said weakly, "I'm interested."

"No geas hook?" he asked.

"I never looked for Needs," I admitted. "I didn't really want to know."

"Probably for the best," he said.

I walked over to him, next to the counter. He opened the door behind. He reached over and turned the lights on and white light flooded from a lamp at the bottom of the steps. I looked down into the short stairwell. I could see the edge of a red rug, a small end table and the arm of an overstuffed chair. I looked up at him and he nodded down the steps.

"I feel like a captive," I said, voice trembling. "I've got no other place to go right now, although I need to be somewhere. I just don't know where. And feeling like a captive..."

"Runs contrary to something or other," he finished for me. "If you don't want to be here, you can always walk out the door. If you were a prisoner, then there would be special arrangements. You're safe in the Tether for the time being. I will send your friends down when they are done."

"I know," I said.

I pulled the blanket tighter around myself and walked down the stairs. The door swung shut behind me, and I looked at it for a moment over my shoulder, the sound of it closing sounding disturbingly final. Then I entered the living area.

It wasn't very big, the refurbished basement. There were neat shelves on the walls filled with books, an old worn living room set, a television, a table with a few magazines in the center of the room, all set on the red rug. I looked at the titles of the magazines, and they were appropriately of the sort I would imagine a warrior would own, mostly of the gun and assorted weapon variety.

Off to either side were open doors, one leading to a small bedroom, a small kitchen niche, and the other open door leading to a small bathroom. It was to the bathroom with the bags of new clothing I headed. Behind the closed door, I started to strip down to nothing, preparing to change vessels. The few notes of essence I would blow into the air, the last few I had, would be hidden by the Tether's activity.

Clothing off, I stared at myself in the mirror. A little imagination, and I could darken my hair, change the color of my skin, and add small horns on my temples. Identical to my celestial form in my mind, I blinked a few times. My eyes were red and swollen, I looked pale. I didn't look very well. I closed my eyes, and ran a long hand along my left shoulder blade, rubbing a little life into the stiff muscle. A little bit of my control was returning. The bout with the dissonance was passing, and now I was decently safe, although thoughts of suicide were starting to bounce around in my head.

Warm lips on my cheek, my neck, my breast, the memory came unbidden. Slowly lightly kissing with subtle passion. I laughed, one of those happy melodious sounds I made when I was intensely pleased. I stretched out on the bed on that lazy afternoon, curling my toes into the sheet. I ran a hand up and deftly undid the first few buttons on his shirt. "I would be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of what you kept in your pants, my Lord," I said. "With good reason."

He lifted his head from where he was certainly enjoying himself, and grinned up to me. "I'm just going to keep you guessing for a while." He ran his finger down my belly. "You know how I like to tease."

I wiped the tear off my cheek with the back of my hand, and tossed some essence into the ether. My body changed, and became more familiar as I settled into the same vessel I have had for almost a century. I reached down and started to slide my clothing back on. Shirt, jeans, socks... I was starting to feel almost normal. I pulled the small cheap gold cross on the even cheaper chain out of the pocket of my jeans, and slipped it around my neck. I ran my hands through my unruly hair, did a quick sideburn inspection, and left the bathroom, my detritus in tow.

It took a few minutes of searching, but I found a small nylon backpack, the cheap kind that comes for free with a magazine subscription. I threw all my clothing in there, not sure why, just knowing that I was preparing for some sort of trip. For a few minutes, I let the fierce grip on my mind go, and it felt good to just give into the compulsions and run completely on automatic. One thing about the onus of geasa; when they are active, unless forcing oneself to think and act, it is like having someone else grab the controls of one's mind and you can just sit back, like watching a particularly good movie. If Raphael had told me to walk naked in traffic, I would go ahead and do so with a smile on my face and not a care to the wind. But he told me to fight the new war, and like the others I had experienced that were not completely clear in their means, it felt more like a massive urge I couldn't satisfy then turning me into a mindless automaton. Or maybe it was just the invoker. It was difficult to tell.

I would rather have walked naked in traffic. I wished for the funny geasa, the ones that got me to dress up as a high school football mascot and make sexual gestures during halftime or go around and paint big smiley faces on the serious visages of Christ writhing in pain on the cross. These kind, the serious ones, suck, in my opinion.

Done dashing around and realizing I couldn't get any farther, I curled up in my misery on the couch with the remote control and turned on the TV. I started flicking through the channels madly, not knowing what I was looking for. The back of my mind wondered if I should just walk back up the stairs and goad the Malakite into doing something momentarily interesting with his sword, and put myself out of my misery.

I put down the remote after two passes through the channels, and reached over to the end table, where sat a telephone. I picked it up, and dialed Erlithan's cellphone number. It rang and rang and rang, but no one ever answered. I furrowed my brow, and tried my apartment. The phone picked up on the second ring. "Hello?" asked an unfamiliar voice.

"Is Erlithan there?" I asked.

There was a momentary pause, and the voice returned with some hostility. "Who is this?"

"Who is this?" I asked back.

There was another pause. I figured he was confused, since I had asked for Erlithan by his true name, instead of asking for myself. "Phorsiel," came the reply.

The name was unfamiliar. "Can you elaborate on that?" I prodded. I didn't know anyone named Phorsiel that I could remember.

"Yes I can," came the instant reply. "Of Judgment. But I need to know who this is."

That answered it. "What's it worth to you?" came the automatic reply, like clockwork.

"Ah," came the voice on the other end of the line. "Sir, we would like to talk to you-"

I hung up the phone, and leaned back on the couch, eyes closed. I wondered what had happened to him.

On the television, CNN played quietly to itself. The news rolled over again, and the stories replayed themselves as I curled up and chewed thoughtfully on my bottom lip.

I decided at that point I had finally found Hell, and it was not a place, it was deep within myself. I thought black thoughts of death. They kept me company.

"In Washington D. C.," the voice over said, "Cardinal Georgio Biotti of Italy met today with several of the country's prominent Church figures..."

The Gods Themselves - Do the Gods Themselves contend in vain?

The idealist is incorrigible: if he is thrown out of his heaven he makes an ideal of his hell. Miscellaneous Maxims and Opinions, no. 23 (1879)

- Nietzsche

He waited patiently in the darkened booth in the back of the restaurant until his food arrived. He had arranged and rearranged the table settings twice, in a distracting and disturbing manner, trying to discover the exact configuration which would be most pleasing to the eye and interesting to the intellect. His friend on the other side of the table watched him with interest, and occasionally made helpful comments, most of which were about aesthetics and certain artistic style. And, unfortunately, required that most of the condiments come out of their bottles to add 'texture', something he wasn't willing to do in the name of boredom or even in interest.

Thankfully the food arrived before he had to go through the ritual a third time. But it didn't help much.

"What is that you ordered on the pizza?" he asked, looking at the slice which the waiter had placed on his plate with trepidation and a critical eye.

"Chicken," his companion added cheerily. "And some peppers and a few onions. It's all the rage. I have this girlfriend who says that having these barbecue chicken gourmet pizzas is the way to go now a days."

He reached down, and arranged the little pieces of spicy, grilled chicken into a parody of a grinning face on the slice with his fingers before he decided to eat it.

His friend watched him. "That's really weird," he said with his mouth full.

"The road between insanity and truly understanding what is going on is but a short hop," he said with a lofty air. He turned the slice crust out, and grinned. "Oh no, Master!" he said in a false falsetto. "Don't bit me in the head! I have served you well, and have toiled long for you inside the burning hot oven!" He then ate the slice with a relish, probably a little too over enthusiastically for his own good.

Between the two of them, they polished off the pizza, a pitcher of Pepsi, and some breads, mostly going about in stranger and goofier ways. Some of the patrons in the booth next to them looked over curiously, and they laughed, encouraging them to do the same. "Seize the moment," his friend said. "And never turn down a chance to be creative."

"And funny," he added.

Finally, the food was gone. He sighed. It was time to get down to business. "The first steps have been taken," he said.

"Well," his friend answered, "things had been getting out of hand. We couldn't just sit back and enjoy it."

"Out of hand?" He lifted an eyebrow. "I would say the fact that I'm running around on the loose is out of hand. We're beyond that stage, to the point where we should be seriously concerned about the welfare of Man."

"You've always been running around on the loose. Maybe you should have put it, 'Now that I've calmed down and become clued...'"

He snorted. "I would say I've been a damn sight more successful then you have been in the past."

His friend laughed. "You remember that little thing called the Renaissance?"

"I was there," he said.

"So was I. So I think we can stop one upping each other." His friend waved at the people in the next booth as they got up to leave. "Humans are cool. It would be terrible if childish squabbling started to really hurt them."

He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a handful of globes. He counted out a few in his hand, and passed them across the table. "Here, I think this is the amount you asked for."

They disappeared off the table and into a pocket. "Did you use them?" his friend asked.

"A few." He shrugged.

His friend frowned.

He replied, "It had to be done. I know you didn't like it, but there wasn't much choice. Otherwise we would have been waiting, and then it would have been too late by the time anything happened. So what do we, personally, do now?"

"Not interfere?" His friend looked momentarily hopeful.

"We've come this far, and we've interfered already. I don't think that's an option," he said, and then leaned back. "Things were easier when we knew which side we were on."

His friend shot him a suspicious look. "And what side were you on?"


His friend laughed. "Ah yes. Only you would be able to make paradise out of Hell."

"Hell is a state of mind. If you don't let it get to you..." His friend looked more suspicious. He laughed. "Okay, okay. You're making your point." He waved a hand of dismissal. "It still doesn't say what we do next."

His friend picked a slip of paper up off of the table. "I would say, pay the bill. And then afterwards, we send them a little help to make things go smoother."

"I have the covered."

"The bill?"

"No, the help," he said.

His friend dug around in his pocket until he came up with some bills. He noticed that his friend also made a point of leaving a generous tip. The both fell silent.

"I'm lacking inspiration," he said.

"It'll come," his friend said. "In time."

Finally he closed his eyes, and spoke about some plans he had, and some things he had done, or not done. His friend nodded, and made some helpful comments. The best laid plans, he thought.

He shifted his weight, and looked around the restaurant. If things spun out of control long enough, all of this would be gone. While that made some of his comrades pleased, it did not please him. The War seemed to be wearing on them all, but Heaven's Fall was not something that he wished. It was not something he had in his wildest nightmares.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples as they got up from the table and discussed the next time they were to meet. Everything was falling apart. He had no wish for a Holy War. But Heaven had become detached from Earth. They were forgetting why they were there in the first place.

No man, he thought, can be redeemed for a sin he has not committed. It is through our greatest sin that we find true redemption. And that is what I have learned.

He was an idealist, always had been, always would be. He knew, even as he parted from his friend, that there were heroes out there. There were times, he knew, when good had to stand aside and allow evil to do it's handiwork. Sometimes, the best possible goods appear originally in evil form. But it had to be watched, maintained, and carefully monitored. Too many evils have slipped by and stayed evil.

He stuck his hands in his pockets, and walked down the street, in the cool night air, humming some tune he had heard on the radio the day before.

Flaming edge graphics from
Our Domain Gallery of Graphics
The "In Nomine" and "flaming feather" graphics are
(C) 1997 Steve Jackson Games, Incorporated.
Used with fnord.