"Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

- Job 42:6

And I'm sitting here, with my head in my hands, and listening to Star prattle on and on about monogamy and love and wonderfulness and how great humans are, without taking the slightest notice of the world around her. Sometimes I wonder if she has ever really met Eli, not just bumped into him, or ever been invited to one of his wild hedonistic parties. Monogamy? I had been to a few in the last couple years. The ones I had been invited to, they had blown my mind. I had been assured that those were tame. It sort of changed my views on angels permanently.

I closed my eyes, and thought several extremely demonic thoughts in her general direction, an act of which left me feeling more then passingly filthy. I ended up feeling better and worse about myself at the exact same time, a trick that only I can pull off. It's much like immersing myself in some nice comfortable muck. It's insulating and warm, but I know eventually it'll just pull me down to the bottom where I'll drown under the black morass, a deserving death for a deserving selfish being. Although I like feeling nice and warm. I like feeling familiar. I like sitting down and conjuring up traps and pranks and pain to enact on this poor Mercurian who doesn't know any better, and laugh and point when she hurts and cries.

But I won't. The temptation is incredible, though.

Enlightenment, Erlithan said once, sometimes comes at an amazing price of pain. I miss Erlithan. The pain has taken up root in my chest. I should have gotten on that bus, but I was Geased, and that was that. There's no arguing, and the path I'm on is the only way out of it. It's horrible, but it's true, and thus is life.

I rub my temples, and I realize I have done to Star what I have done to every other Creationer I have met and loved. I've gone ahead and dragged her down with me. Instead of saving me, I've damned her. Instead of making me more like her, I've made her more like me, and last I checked I was pretty goddamn fucked up in the head. I damn myself. I damn myself over and over and over again. I repent in pain and dust and ashes.

I don't know. I really don't know anything, actually. I'm college educated. I have four hundred years of field experience. I've felt the highs and lows of just about every emotion there is, and I still don't know anything worth speaking about. I don't know any essential answers, I can't tell you if God exists (he doesn't) or what is Evil or if one really should use that packet of ketchup that's been sitting in the drawer for over a year. All I know is I'm one scared and lost little being in a rather large nonsensical cosmos. I also know that I can't do anything myself, I'm not an island, but I'm too proud to ask or beg. I'm too used to being in total control. I'm too used to being Daimonique, the biggest baddest motherfucker on the hill.

I could talk to Maxwell. He wrinkles his nose when I walk by, with his sense of honor giving him a protective shield from me, but he might listen. He did once before.

Or I can talk to Dana. Or I can sleep with Dana. I keep having those thoughts, too, and it takes much of my energy to fight them off. None of my thoughts lately have been particularly good for my continuing existence.

I release my control, and my muscles spasm with relief. The active Geasa hum in my brain like some sort of screaming locomotive urging me onward although I know I'm as close to the right track as I can get without doing several incredibly suicidal acts. I'm nervous and tense, and my hands shake. I know the Malakite above will summon his Superior eventually, and that his Superior will kill me. I fear death, and it grips my stomach like a vice.

I want... I need to be Needed. I've heard many times of people like myself who make it about half way and self-destruct, because something essential was missing. Suicide among Renegades is high, and I don't mean the 'being captured by the Game' sort of suicide. I'm Needed by my Organization, I'm Needed by my friends. Is it worth it to throw everything away and go home? Can I let Eli down like that? Can I let anyone down like that?

Oh God, I just don't know. I just really don't know. But I want to go home so badly. I'm still loyal. I swear. Even with traitorous thoughts and traitorous deeds and hanging around with Angels and Archangel Geas, I swear I'm still loyal.

I swear I swear, oh God, I swear. You have to believe me.

I am loyal to my Prince. So I have said many times.

I squeeze my hair between the fingers of my hands. I know that I just don't know. I'm terrified, and I don't know what to do. But I can't run. I can't hide. I can't give up. They might not Need me, but I Need them. My God, do I Need them.

The Archangels

"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all wrongs."

- Proverbs 10:12

He walked around the corner for a moment of peace, and leaned against the wall. He was breathing heavily, not from exertion, but from stress. Not since Uriel has he felt such agonizing pain, and even then it was only the pain of a loyal servitor seeing the downfall of his Bright Lord. Even then, he was only one servitor among the thousands, one of the many Word Bound who had lived to see a dark day. He had the comfort of his compatriots, the sympathizing presence of his comrades in arms. Bravely, he could face that horror, and it had not been alone.

Now it was different. He was supposed to be the biggest, toughest guy around. Or at least that's what he told himself most of the time. Leader of God's Armies, shining beacon of honor, strength in the face of adversity. He was the sign of nobility, the patron of Christianity, the lord of the Sword.

And now he closed his eyes, and had absolutely no idea what to do. His best friend and the angel he admired the most above all were at war, and it was becoming rapidly clear that the only way either would stop is when the other was dead. Bodies were piling up the Marches, servitors were in fear, blood ran freely across Heaven. Not since the Fall had such atrocities been committed in the name of God.

He pulled himself up from against the wall, steeling himself to face another round of questioning servitors, and he would once again tell them he had no answers. He was worried about Gabriel's madness, and the possibility that she will take advantage of the current chaos to do something unpredictably destructive. Jean, though, he had a plan...

He had started to walk down the empty hallway of the Spires, heart heavy with his duty. The ever shining sun passed through stained glass, and cast long shadows on the walls. He held his head high like a proper soldier, solid in his resolve, ready to face more of the pain and agony which grated on his soul.

"Yoo hoo!" He heard calling down the hallway in a cheerful female voice, clashing madly with his dark brooding mood. He stopped, and turned slowly. He frowned at the bouncing blond figure clad in bright Hawaiian prints and Birkenstocks, and made a big show of making sure she knew he was not approving of this in the least.

She stopped in front of him, almost head shorter, and planted her hands firmly on her hips. "You weren't going to go and face more of that war all alone, were you?" She waved a chastising finger under his nose. "Well, you better not be going to pieces on me too, Archangel Laurence, or you'll be next on my spanking list. And let me tell you, it's getting pretty long."

He grunted at the cherub in reply, and crossed his arms. "I doubt anyone will let you 'spank' them, least of all Archangels."

"Well, that's to be seen," Novalis said with an irate motherly tone in her voice. "I can dole out a pretty mean spank." She stuck her chubby finger index finger right into the center of his shining breastplate. "You cannot do this alone. You can't hope to save the entire universe on your own recognizance."

"I am the leader of God's armies. It is entrusted to me to end this fighting and bring order back to Heaven. It was given to me and me alone to keep the peace among the Archangels, and," he continued with the hard tone of one with the power of conviction, "I will do so as was ordered me by God himself. I will bring an end to this madness."

"Oh, so you and you alone, huh?" She looked at him doubtfully, and poked him again, solidly, in the chest. "And what are the rest of us? Chopped liver?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "Those who have not already taken sides are those who do not have interest in such a conflict. David, Gabriel, Janus..."

"Are out there showing off that they can hack up angels just as well as demons," Novalis said with an obvious cross tone. "That's no way to end this conflict, and you know it. Hmph." She grabbed him by the arm, and started leading him down the hallway the same direction he had been previously walking. "I'm not going to let you suffer through this alone, Mr. Big, Bright and Shiny. I know," she said over his protests, "I know you don't want any help, you don't need any help, I've heard it all before. You Malakim are all the same, all action, no lovin'. But I'll tell you, bub, every once in a while you just take help when it shows up with a great big smile, even from Mama Novalis."

He reached down and extracted her hand from his arm with delicate force. "I do not need your help, thank you very much. I do appreciate your offer."

"Yeah? And how are you going to achieve peace? By killing everyone around you? Military action?" She put her hands on her hips. "Now let me tell you, you big silly, you need me to temper your young hot blooded knee jerk decisions. I don't care how honorable you are, you need me. I know peace. I know how to bring it about."

He sighed.

"You're letting me in on everything," Novalis said, still looking angry. "I'm telling you to do this, I'm not asking. I'm much older then you are, and I know things. You listen to me, now. If everyone listened to me, we'd all be much happier."

He had a sudden flash of Heaven and Hell settling their personal differences and thousands of years of conflict over a pleasant game of Go, and shook his head. No, that was just a little too ridiculous. "Why can't you just stay out of the way of the combat, for your own safety?" he asked.

"Because," she said, "God made me a meddling busybody, and that's just the way I like it."

He shook his head. Beaten, by Novalis of all people. He knew his emotions were clouding his judgment. "Fine. You can involve yourself in the peace process, if there is to be one, but listen to me, we'll do this honorably above all else. No meddling, and no spanking. Right now we can't get Dominicans and Michaelites in the same room without it breaking down into a fight."

"I can't guarantee either of those," she said, her tone softening. "We all work in our own ways. My way happens to stick my nose were it doesn't belong. It complements your need for honor nicely."

He closed his eyes, wishing this were all easier. "All right," he said. "But I'll be keeping close tabs on everything that happens."

She seemed to deflate a bit at that. "We're in agreement. For once, on something."

"Well, not on just this one thing," he said. "I thought we were in agreement on a few other topics as well."

She shrugged. "Maybe. If you remember them, Mr. Honor."

So he leaned down, gathered her in his arms, and kissed her, in the colored stained glass light of the eternal sun. Momentarily, they weren't Archangels anymore, trying to stop their compatriots from killing each other. Love and War.

The Kobalites

"Woe to you, O destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, O traitor, you who have not been betrayed! When you stop destroying, you will be destroyed; when you stop betraying, you will be betrayed."

- Isiah 33:1

Daimonique laughed. "No no no... wait. I have one. An Impudite, a Lilim, and a Balseraph walk into a bar..."

Keros had been surprised at the format of the files, as he and Kanah had flipped through them in a hurry, attempting to discover the most crucial to rescue. Although they were carefully ordered and well indexed, Daimonique had taken her time to carefully write all of her notes from her twenty odd years of service as Kobal's Mediator in code, one in which they had not had the time to break. They had made guesses at the worth of various memos, notes, and forms, and confined many files to a certain paper death.

An hour ago, they had lit remaining files on fire, and stood there before the fireplace in the Boss's bedchambers, watching as years of work went up in the smoke of flames. She had made some comment about Belial, and he had smiled, but it was a smile torn of pain and hate. Then, as fast as he could, he handed Kanah the packet containing the Mediator cloak, the badges of office, and the trappings of the titular Head of the Organization. He handed her over to the Gluttonous, to hide for a time under the steam tunnels below Shal-Mari, and emerge into the relative safety of Haagenti's side of the tracks. "Until I come to get you," he said. But he was relatively positive he would not be seeing her again. He left that out of the instructions.

Now she was gone, handed over to Lester, the old Calabite of Gluttony, for safe keeping, the last high placed Lilim who could be relied upon to continue the tradition in the name of the Prince. Keros, for one, would not let the Principality fall to the Game of all people. He was motivated by pride, such as it was, for a demon.

Keros giggled, and crept around the upper floors of the Palace. He was setting traps for the invaders to trip. Another line of wire, another banana peel, another giggle. He crept across the landing, and tested the bucket of hot tar over the doorway, and the associated down pillows jury-rigged to a fan. He was beginning to feel a bit like that kid from Home Alone, and this caused him to giggle even more. He clamped a hand over his mouth so it wouldn't get out, but it leaked out a bit anyway. He imagined some of the traps going off, and it turned into more of a chuckle, or even a guffaw.

Realizing he was alone, Keros tried a nice big evil laugh, and that seemed to work. He tried another one, and he was convinced it was better then the first. He decided he was getting quite good at sounding evil, although he had lived several centuries to work on actually being that way.

He crept silently down the back stairs, down a dozen flights or more, to the heavy steel door which either kept people out of the Hearts, or kept the Hearts in. He was never overly positive what the case really was, but it no longer mattered. He pulled out a long jingling set of lockpicks and other such sundry devices, on loan from a group of Thieves who had suddenly been far more charitable then ever in the past. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Keros had done his dealing, and now they were letting him past the steel barrier.

Keros was intending on smashing Hearts, his own among others. He focused on his new nemesis's in particular, just to push him into incredible disfavor with his new Master. That little prank struck him as entertaining. Keros crept silently through the racks of cages, hundreds of them hanging there on the walls. He had heard, multiple times, that the Kobalites had the largest army deployed Earthside, but now he believed it. The Hearts were uncountable. He had no idea how he would find one among the thousands. Although, oddly enough, he could certainly find his. It was up and off to the left a bit.

He tripped over the legs of the prone form, landing with uncanny comedic timing on his face on the floor with a slight oomph. He turned over, straightened his tie, pulled himself into a crouch, and peered at what had hit him. His eyes opened wide.

"Erlithan?" he asked.

The figure made no noise to respond. It only continued to stare blankly at the ceiling high above. It blinked when hot breath passed over his its face, but made no other movement.

Keros leaned forward, and waved his hand in front of Erlithan's eyes. He frowned when there was no other movement then a blink and a new small line of drool. "Blessed..." he cursed. "You got killed, didn'tcha? Well, good timing, man. That was smooth, let me tell you. And I bet it was sure funny for someone." He sat back on his heels, and was disappointed when the other Impudite didn't respond. "I bet that someone was Javan, wasn't it? Well, he's gone and played a bastard of a joke on all of us." Keros giggled slightly to himself. "He's gone and crowned himself King! Well, not King, precisely. More like the head Balseraph, the big Kahuna, the jerk among jerks."

Keros was not daunted. He figured he could deal with this minor problem, no sweat. This, he figured, was just another prop to add to the show. He could foil the bad guys, beat up the Foozle, and save the, well, fallen Prince or Baron or someone all in one blow. Excellent.

"This is going to hurt your pride more then it's gonna hurt mine," he whispered to the prone Impudite. "But if you drool on my suit, buddy boy, I'm gonna drop you on your ass." Then he giggled, said, "Drool" again in a way that sounded particularly amusing, and began to heave the other Impudite on his shoulders, balancing him on his shoulders. Keros made an angry noise, and heaved. It took him a bit of twisting around flailing limbs to get everything situated to his pleasure. Realizing he wasn't going to be able to carry Erlithan forever, Keros giggled again, and started to plot. He needed something to carry the body in, and he was thinking back to the kitchens, or maybe a laundry chute.

Keros dragged Erlithan over to where his own Heart was, and he gazed up the rack to the glowing orb. It called to him. It sang to him. It gave him comfort. And it had large gleaming cracks running right through the center. "Well," he said out loud to himself, "So, what do you think? Should I break it? Does that sound good to you Erlithan? Huh? Oh, that's right. You're dead. That's probably for the best. Keep your opinions to yourself." He laughed a little, and set the body down. He searched around in his pocket until he came up with the small hammer he had procured from the black markets in the Shal-Mari streets and the ring of lockpicks from the Thieves. A few seconds later it was done. Javan's new Master wouldn't be able to find him when they finally took the Palace. That was for the best. Someone had to command the troops from Topside, and maybe later he could follow someone back down, when all was settled.

He felt terrible, like he was betraying his Prince. And when he thought about it, he was. But it was okay, right? It was all part of an elaborate, multi-year Prank, one that never seemed to end. One that was being played on him, personally. One that made him want to die.

Keros tried that laugh again. It didn't come out as well.

He squinted up at the racks, trying to locate Javan's Heart. But like everything else in the Kobalite Organization, it was disorganized, unlabeled, and there was no little map hanging on the side of the rack with a 'you are here' arrow. Unless he went through and systematically broke every one of them, something Keros momentarily and strongly considered, then he would never know if he got it right. He sighed, and realized this part of his master plan was a lost cause, and put the hammer away.

He leaned down and heaved Erlithan back over his shoulders. He wasn't sure how long his superior was going to be Traumatized, he hoped it wasn't too long. This was an added complication, but he was a resourceful sort. His Malphasian and Lilim contacts who were waiting for him at the rendezvous point would be happy to see a titular head in which to hang their revolution on. Or maybe they would see an extra burden. Who knows.

He started walking again, awkward, clumsy, and slow. He furrowed his brow. A war in Heaven, and a... something in Hell. Not a revolution, just someone taking advantage of a messy situation while everyone else had their attention elsewhere, very quietly, very precisely. Asmodeus was just cleaning up some unfinished business while the other Prince's attentions were diverted. The Game was being played, and he knew they needed a King to even come to the board. In the madness, someone was going to live and someone was going to die. Keros just hoped that when it all went down he was sitting on some beach with a couple of large breasted well oiled women wearing scraps on either arm, far away.

He closed his eyes, and stumbled on. There was no way the other three Princes of the Shal-Mari would let this go through. Something was going on, something he couldn't understand. But come on now, it was all very funny indeed. Wasn't war grand?

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.