To Reign in Hell was Stephen Brust's second novel, and it's a thrilling retelling of the revolt of the angels, through the lens of epic fantasy.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)|
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Descend, then! I could also say: Ascend! 'Twere all the same. Escape from the Created To shapeless forms in liberated spaces! Enjoy what long ere this was dissipated!
Primordial ooze. Flux. Chaos. Cacoastrum.
The essential of the universe, in all its myriad forms and shapes. Essence.
Any and all combinations of form and shape exist within this essence. Eventually, of course, cacoastrum may deny itself. Order within chaos.
How many times is order created? The question has no meaning. A tree falls in the forest, and the universe hears it. Order doesn't last; cacoastrum will out.
The flux creates the essence of order, which is illiaster, which was the staff of life long before bread had the privilege. It can't last, however. Conscious? Sentient? Self-aware? Perhaps these things exist for a timeless instant, only to be lost again before they can begin to understand. They may have shape; they may have the seeds of thoughtsnone of this matters. One of them may be a unicorn, another a greyish stone of unknown properties, still another a girl-child with big brown eyes who vanishes before she really appears. It doesn't matter.
But let us give to one of these forms something new. Let us give it, for the sake of argument, an instinct to survive. Ah! Now the game is different, you see.
So this form resists, and strives to hold itself together. And as it strives, cacoastrum and illiaster produce more illiaster, and consciousness produces more consciousness, and now there are two.
The two of them strive; and then they find that they can communicate, and time means something now. And space, as well.
As they work together, to hold onto themselves, a third one appears. They find that they can bend the cacoastrum to their will, and force shape upon it, and command it to hold, for a while. They build walls at this place where the three of them are, and a top and a bottom.
Cacoastrum howls, almost as a living thing itself, and seeks entry. The three resist, and then there are four, then five, then six, then seven.
And the seven finish the walls, and the top, and the bottom and for a moment, at last, there is peace from the storm.
• • •
The Southern Wall of Heaven stretched long and stark. It spanned six hundred leagues and more, fading out of sight above, where it met with the azure ceiling. Its length was unmarked; its width unmeasured; its touch cool; its look foreboding and ageless.
The Regent had built it in the days of the Second Wave, and expanded it in the days of the Third. He had built his home into it, and out from it.
The foundations of the Southern Hold were deep into the bedrock of Heaven, carved and scorched with the fires of Belial, made immutable by the sceptre of Yaweh. Plain and grey like the Wall, the Hold rose over grassland and stoney plain, even and unbroken until its northern wall ended abruptly and became a roof that sloped sharply up to the top. There it blended into the Wall, giving the impression that the entire affair was an accidental blister from the Wall and would soon sink back into it.
The only entrance was built into the northern wall of the Hold. Here were placed a pair of massive oak doors, with finely carved wooden handles.
A visitor to the Hold, no matter how often he had been there, would be moved by the stature of the hard grey edificelonely, cold, distant, and proud. Like the Regent of the South himself, some said. But once inside, the illusion was shattered.
The visitor, a medium-sized golden haired dog, padded through the hallway. Being a dog, and therefore colorblind, he didn't see the cheerful blue of the walls. But he noticed the brightness of the lamps of iron and glass, one every twenty dogpaces. The oil for the lamps, pressed from local vegetation and refined in the basement of the Hold, had been scented with lilac.
The dog continued until he came to an archway. There was a small chamber, with large green couches and overstuffed chairs. The north wall held a burgundy-colored buffet, with cups and bottles of cut glass and stoneware. The lamps were always low in this room, but the dog heard the sounds of breathing, and smelled a friend.
He leapt onto a couch, facing this friend across a table of glass. Neither spoke; the dog moved slightly toward the Regent, who was seated with one leg on the table, his left arm across the back of the couch, his right hand loosely holding a glass into which he was staring. The dog caught a strong, sweet smell from the glass.
"'Tis but cheap wine, milord," he said.
"It fits my mood, friend Beelzebub. I'm feeling cheap today."
"Hath thy mood a cause, Lord?"
"All things have a cause, my friend."
"Would'st care to speak on't?"
His answer was silence. Beelzebub studied his friend as best he could in the dim light. The Regent was smooth shaven and somewhat dark of complexion. His hair was dark brown, almost black, perhaps a bit wavy, and curled over the ears. His brows were thick, his eyes narrow, yet wide-set, with shocking green irises and lines of humor or anger around the edges. His jaw was strong, his nose straight and pronounced; and he wore colors matching his eyes beneath a cloak that was full and gold. Brown boots covered his feet, and upon his chest was an emerald, as large as his fist, on a chain of gold.
Beelzebub studied him for a moment longer. "Perchance 'twould do thee good to speak, Lord Satan."
The Regent set down his wine glass, found a small bowl, and poured into it.
The dog moved forward on the couch, sniffed, but kept his opinion to himself. He lapped up a bit and managed not to shudder.
"What do you, friend Beelzebub, think of Yaweh's plans regarding the Fourth Wave?"
"Milord? Then it draweth nigh?"
"Who can say? It'll come eventually."
"Not that we know. But Yaweh wants to be ready this time. He wants to build a place that will be safe from the flux."
"Verily, have we not that now?"
"Not permanently. What he has in mind is a place that's complete by itself, and won't be subject to Waves at all."
"Hmmm. Ambitious, nay?"
Satan glanced at him sharply. "You sound skeptical."
"Thy pardon, milordwho is't shall build this place? They must deal with the outside, so they must needs risk the ultimate end. Who is't shall do this? Thyself and thy brethren? You are strong, but only seven. Those of us from the Second Wave? We're less than a score of scores; the task is beyond us. Those of the Third Wave? Aye, they can do't, milord. Will they? For they know naught of such things save the fear of them. They must needs see the danger ere they fight it, I fear."
"You have a way," said Satan, "of getting right to the heart of things."
• • •
"It cannot last, " says the first.
"We will make it last," says the second.
"We will build walls that are yet stronger," says the third.
They must be larger," says the fourth, "for there will be more of us."
That is good," says the second.
"Aye," says the first. "Let us begin, then, for I see the walls crumble before me."
And the evening and the morning are the Second Wave.
• • •
Thou seem'd befuddled."
"I was thinking. Sorry." He shook his head. "Maybe they do need a Wave before they can understandthat's what Yaweh was afraid of-but I don't think so. We, the Firstborn, didn't, and we are all of the illiaster. No, I think our brethren will aid us."
"Perchance, milord. An they do not?"
"Have more wine."
Beelzebub felt the hair above his eyebrows twitch, and he bent his ears forward. "I have not yet finished the dregs of this bowl thou hast poured. An they do not aid us, Lord Satan?"
"Perhaps some brandy, then. I've some as a gift from"
Beelzebub felt his ears lie back against his head. "Milord," he barked, "I crave an answer! Suppose our younger brethren aid us not? What then wilt thou do?"
Satan sighed and sat back. This time Beelzebub remained silent.
"All right," said the Regent at last, "what if they don't? What if we do nothing? I've been thinking about this for the last twenty days, Beelzebub. I haven't been able to find an answer I like. What if they don't help us, and we do nothing? What then?"
"The task will not see its end."
"And eventually another Wave will come. We'll lose more friends."
"If the angels from the Third Wave help with the plan, we can save tens of thousandsmillionsof our future brethren."
"So it is in everyone's interest that they help, even if they don't know it."
"So we have the right to coerce them."
"Or rather, I'm unsure. Yaweh isn't sure. Michael isn't sure. Lucifer is sure and Raphael is sure. We haven't spoken to Belial or Leviathan."
Beelzebub absent-mindedly lapped up wine from his bowl and then rested his head on his forepaws. "Meseemeth," he said at last, "that thou and thy friends have taken much upon you e'en to think on't."
"I agree," said Satan. He shrugged. "Nothing like this has come up before." He drained his glass. "I admit it, Beelzebub: I have doubts. I reassured Yaweh, but his questions have worn off on me."
Beelzebub looked up as Satan's voice rose.
"You think we can sit here asking ourselves if what we do is right, while the Storm rages out there? Do I think so? By what right do I argue the right and wrong of saving millions of lives? Answer me that!" Satan gave a short laugh. "Coercion? We are the ones being coerced. By that." He gestured vaguely southward.
"How so, milord?"
He shook his head. "Lucifer is right, as usual. We know that we risk all of Heaven, if we do nothing. Each Wave has come nearer to destroying us completelyLucifer proved it with numbers, somehow. Sooner or later, we'll have to do something." He laughed again, bitterly. "No, I shouldn't say that the flux outside is coercing us; what is coercing us is our own understanding. We can't know what the problem is, and know what to do about it, without acting. That is our curse."
Beezlebub watched him, his mind unclear but his heart filled with pity. "Thinkest thou to have no choice at all, then?"
"The greater one's understanding, Beelzebub, the less choice one has. For the love of Heaven itself, my friendif you can, remain ignorant!"
The dog lowered his head and his voice. "Then thou hast chosen, milord? An the hosts wish not to help thy plan?"
Satan stood. His eyes flashed green fires; his cloak shone gold in the flickering light. Two paces brought him to the buffet, where he grasped a brown stoneware bottle. He brought it back to the table, throwing the cork impatiently to the floor. He sloshed red-hued liquid into his glass, unmindful of the spillage. He slammed the bottle down, then lifted and drained the glass. He fixed Beelzebub with his gaze.
"Then," he said icily, "it is my task to make them."
• • •
Yaweh stood by the sword of Michael, regarding it in its glass case. He stood in a spacious chamber of white curtains, tiled floor, and silvery walls. Toward the back was a thronehuge and gold. Opposite the case was another case, this one holding a large sceptre, also of gold. A great arched doorway opposed the throne.
The room had been designed by Yaweh, who wished it to be bare and unimposing. Those who entered, by dress and attitude, set its mood; it had none of its own. Here, Yaweh could address the archangels, all three hundred, if needed. He blended in so well that he nearly wasn't there.
Next to him, regarding the case, was an archangel. He was of the Second Wave, and small, thin, and black-bearded. A brief glance would lead one to think his frame slight; a closer look would reveal chest and shoulder muscles confined within the frame as though trapped and held in place with iron bands.
Yaweh turned from the case to him.
"You build well, Asmodai."
"Thank you, Lord. I am pleased. It served well in the Third Wave."
"Yes, it did. As did my sceptre, and Satan's emerald, andbut why go on? I am pleased with your work. Now I want more."
"Anything I can do, Lord."
Yaweh smiled at him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you Asmodai. This means a great deal to me, and to all of us. Come, I'll show you what I want. It isn't small, I'm afraid."
Yaweh was overcome with a great fondness for the little craftsman, but that wasn't unusual. He had never felt anything but fondness for anyone, and the occasional enmity between angels left him sad and puzzled.
They turned from the Sword and left the room.
A wide, sweeping stairway of white marble brought them up and around amid paintings and sculpture in a large hallway of bone-white walls. Some of the art wasn't very goodbut Yaweh took delight in the joy of an artist whose work was placed here, so he rarely had the heart to say that a piece wasn't good enough.
They walked, arm in arm, until they came to a small chamber containing a long table covered with papers.
"Here, Asmodai. This is what we plan to make."
Asmodai spread the parchment and began studying it. By increments, wonder and amazement spread over his features. "My Lord," he cried, "but this is.…"
"Large?" suggested Yaweh, gentle amusement on his face.
"Aye, large! It's bigger than Heaven itself!"
"Many times bigger."
"My Lordwhere will we put it?"
"Outside, of course. It will exist amid the flux, just as Heaven does."
"How can that be?"
"It will be your task to discover this, my friend. It will require nearly everyone working together, and many days at that. And the longer we're out there, the more of us will be maimed or destroyed. So we must decide exactly how this is to be put together, what each angel is to do, so that we can spend the shortest amount of time at it. This is your task, if you are willing to undertake it."
"Lord! I cannot"
"If you cannot, there is no one who can. You know what it takes to build from raw cacoastrum, and that is what we need. Your name is tied to the Sword, the Sceptre, the Throne, the Star, and many more things. You are trustedand deservedly so. If you cannot, who can?"
Asmodai was silent for a long time. Yaweh knew what he was thinkinghe was thinking of the greatness of the triumph if he succeeded, and the magnitude of the failure if he didn't. But Yaweh himself had asked him toand that would make a difference.
"I'll do it, Lord," said Asmodai. "I'll try."
• • •
It rages, it cries, it tears and bites and burns. The first one is nearly overcome, but holds himself together despite the violence of the flux. The second is filled with rage, and it falls back before him. He causes a wall to be, and envisions his home extending from the wall. He doesn't see the scores of beings that come into existence as he rages and shapes, nor do the others see the results of their actions, except as their area becomes larger.
The third one goes to the aid of the first, but his help is no longer
needed. They stand near each other, and cacoastrum flares yellow and
red and blue, and dies, turning into illiaster, which shapes itself.
Some of the new ones are destroyed even as they come into existence. The first one, alone of the Seven, notices this and is saddened by it.
The sixth one is suddenly overborne. She cries in pain as her shape begins to slip away, but the fourth one comes to her aid. She remains alive, but her form is changed now, into something long and powerful. She creates water around herself, and it soothes her. She feels she should rejoin the battle, but as her head clears the water, she sees peace around her, and four walls, and more than three hundred angels who hadn't been there before. She realizes that, for now, it is over again. She dives to the bottom so that none can hear her cries of anguish.
The first one hears anyway, and sends to her aid the fifth one, who heals her wounds and soothes her, though her shape cannot be restored to her.
But she has the capacity to be happy with what is. She learns to enjoy the water, and life goes on.
• • •
Thrumb thrumb thrumb.
The Regent of the West heard it, distantly, through leagues of water, and recognized it at once.
Thrumb thrumb thrumb.
She rolled over, dived, and headed for it, her tail flipping and her enormous eyes alight.
Thrumb thrumb thrumb.
She broke the water and he was therevery dark, small, stooped, seated on a rock along the southeastern shore of her Regency. His head was covered with a small hat, narrow brimmed and of dark grey. His eyes were covered by a brown bandage, almost matching his skin. In his lap was a device made of mahogany from the forests of Lucifer. It was strung with silk wrapped over fine steel.
He heard her approach, and he began humming along with his playing. His fingers moved as fast as the Emerald of Satan, as his lips emitted a string of nonsense sounds that took her back to the brief moments before the Second Wave, when she had been whole and healthy, yet not aware of it.
She waited, perfectly still, and let voice and instrument transport her to places she'd wished to bethe Southern Hold, Yaweh's Palace, the meadows of Lucifer. Slowly, his voice faded, and his hands were still.
She sighed. "Welcome, Harm."
"Thank you, Leviathan. Been a long while."
It was strange, she reflected, but when he wasn't singing, his voice sounded harsh and raspy. "Yes, it has. Have you been happy, Harut?"
"Hard to say. Been making music. People seem pleased to see me. I think I'm gettin' better. Yeah, I guess that makes me happy. You?"
"I'm at peace with myself. It took me a long time, but I'm not bitter anymore."
"I'm glad," he said.
"Have you heard news?"
"Yeah. I visited with Yaweh himself a while ago, and with Michael, and an archangel named Asmodai, and an angel named Abdiel. They're planning something big, honey."
She was instantly alert. "Is another Wave coming?"
"I don't think so. It sounded more as if they were gonna start one themselveswell, not exactly, but something like it. All I heard were bits and pieces of the talk."
Leviathan was silent for a moment, then she said, "Harut, will you be seeing Ariel?"
"I see him from time to time. Pretty often, I guess."
"When you see him next, would you send him here?"
"Thank you." She relaxed. "Play me something, Harut. I think I'm going to need it."
His answer was not with words.
Thrumb thrumb thrumb.
• • •
An owl circled over the vast expanse of water, hooting loudly, and then flew back to the shore. Soon Leviathan's head broke the water. She looked around and quickly spotted the bird on the rock that Harut had occupied a few days before. A lash of her tail brought her close.
The owl spoke. "O mighty one of salty sea, word has come you've need of me."
"Hello, Ariel. Yes, I'd like a favor. And your scansion is off, by the by."
"This life would be both hard and droll, took everyone the critic's role."
"I suppose. Well, I've heard strange things are happening in the center. I'd like you to find out what you can and, in particular, why no one mentioned it to me."
Ariel snorted at this last. "If your time were spent upon dry ground, perhaps you'd be more easily found!"
She shrugged with her eyes and lashed her tail a bit. "I'd suggest you get help."
"Your every wish and whim to please, I'll speak to Mephistopheles."
"And you might want to consider some form other than rhyming couplets. They do get dull, after a while."
Ariel ruffled his feathers with displeasure, and cleared his throat.
"The judgments that you tend to pass,
On poets you wish to harass,
Would give me to swear,
Were I unaware,
That you are naught but an asset to the Heavenly throne, wherefore I leave you alone."
And, having gotten in the last word, he spread his wings and departed, just too late to miss a deluge of sea water.
• • •
After the Second Wave there is a pause, and a naming of names. It is a time of creation. The Seven Firstborn, called Yaweh, Satan, Michael, Lucifer, Raphael, Leviathan, and Belial, fear another Wave, but can only wait and watch.
They are given tasks, by each other and for each other.
Yaweh takes the center of Heaven, where he can took out at everything during the Waves and influence the illiaster everywhere.
Michael stays nearby, ready to protect Yaweh with his strength and power.
Raphael also stays near the center, for it is her task to heal those who are injured by the flux and save those she can.
Leviathan is given a Regency in the West, most of which is her sea.
Belialindrawn and quiet, yet nearly as powerful as Michaeltakes the North to watch, and finds pleasure in the barren rocks and crags there.
Lucifer, during the Second Wave, found himself in the East, and had accidentally discovered how to make the soil of Heaven produce things that grew. Now the eastern lands are covered with grasses and shrubs, which are spreading to the rest of Heaven. So Lucifer takes the East, and he is content.
Satan was in the South, where the battle was thickest. It is the most populous area of Heaven save for the very center, because so much was done there that many were created.
It is a time of learning, and the beginning of art. It is found that those who came from the Second Wave are weaker than those who came from the First, and have less control of their own illiaster. It is also found that as time passes, all use of illiaster is limited. It is, at least in part, due to this that the angels stop varying their forms, unless there
is some need to change.
Lucifer discovers that many of the growing things of Heaven, when eaten, bring sustenance to angelsrestoring illiaster to those who are tired. Eventually, farming becomes a major occupation in Heaven.
Raphael discovers that those damaged by the flux cannot be fully healed, or resume their old shapes. She travels among them, healing as best she can, but the maimed remain maimed.
Asmodai, who came into being during this Wave, discovers how to shape the textures of Heaven. He envisions Michael, who has more raw power than any other of the Firstborn, cutting through the cacoastrum and leaving a wake of illiaster behind him. He creates a tool for this.
Others see and admire it, so Asmodai makes more, and is still making tools when the Third Wave begins, with no warning, as the southeastern side of Heaven begins to yield.
The Sword of Michael does as it was intended. Yaweh holds a sceptre, which forces shape and order upon chaos. Satan bears an emerald, which turns cacoastrum in upon itself, burning until it is consumed. And other tools are used, as well.
The Seven Firstborn lead the hosts into battle.
• • •
Mephistopheles strode up to the doors of Yaweh's Palace, an almost-smile upon his lips. Inside, he found a page and asked said page to announce him to Uriel, who dwelt within. The page scurried off, pagelike; Mephistopheles placed his hands behind his back and studied the huge entry-way of the palace.
The archangel Mephistopheles wore only black. After Bethor had invented whiskers he had adopted the custom. He sported a thin mustache that curled just a little around his lips. His face was high and angular; his eyes slanted upward a bit beneath thick black brows that nearly met over his nose. As he waited, he began whistling tunelessly between his teeth.
Uriel appeared behind the page, saw the dark angel in his usual carefree attitude, and didn't quite gnash his teeth. Mephistopheles saw big, somber Uriel in his purple and silver, and didn't quite laugh. Nor did he quite hide his desire to do so.
Uriel dismissed the page with a nod, and led the way to a small sitting room with a pair of comfortably padded beige chairs against walls of mushroom. He offered wine because it was expected; Mephistopheles accepted to be difficult.
"Cool," he announced, as he tasted the wine, "and yet it warms the heart. Sweet, and yet an almost bitter aftertaste."
Uriel was stubbornly silent.
"It reminds one of Heaven, nearly."
Uriel opened his mouth a couple of times, but didn't say anything. Mephistopheles decided that he was trying to find a way to say, "What do you want?" that didn't sound quite so rude. He took another drink, closing his eyes to further enjoy the coolness and the sweetness.
"This place is a bit degenerate, you know," he remarked. "I mean, not to cast aspersions on anyone in particular, but one would think that a few things worth doing would get done from time to time, rather than this continuous revelry"
"You don't consider our studies worthwhile?" interrupted Uriel.
"Ah! So you can speak after all! I'd started to wonder."
Uriel's lips compressed. Mephistopheles continued. "As to studies, I don't know. It depends. What are you studying? For what purpose? To satisfy idle curiosity?"
Uriel scowled. "Who are you to belittle the efforts of anyone? So far as I know, you haven't done anything of any benefit to anyone since the Third Wave."
"As opposed to whom?"
Uriel shrugged and looked away. "I doubt any of this was what brought you here."
"Why shouldn't it be? I just thought I'd stop by and find out how you and my other friends are." Uriel opened his mouth as if to say, "What other friends?" but didn't. "I thought," continued Mephistopheles, "that I might give you news from other parts of Heaven. Did you know, for example, that Lilith had been seeing Lucifer since"
"Enough!" cried Uriel, the shadow of pain crossing his features. "If all you came to do is distribute and collect petty gossip, you may leave again. I have no wish to hear such things."
Mephistopheles's face softened, and he bit his lip. His voice was lower as he said, "I'm sorry, Uriel. I'd forgotten that perhaps you wouldn't wish to know how Lilith fares just now; after all"
"Certainly, my friend. I have no wish to torment you."
"No, I mean it. I enjoy bantering, but I don't want to hurt anyone." He stood and crossed to Uriel. The big angel looked up at him, suspiciously. Mephistopheles sat in a chair next to him and touched his shoulder.
"I know I joke too much," he said. "Maybe I do hurt people, but I'm not maliciousat least, I don't think I am. I'd forgotten aboutthingsor I wouldn't have brought up what I did. I hope you can believe that."
Uriel's eyes softened, but he still said nothing.
"Perhaps," Mephistopheles continued, dropping his voice still further, "I'm a bit jealous of you. I try not to be, but here you are, always next to Yaweh, seeing Michael and Raphael every day, getting in on their plans, speaking to them all, while I always seem to be on the outside andnever mind. I guess I'll be leaving now."
He stood up, but Uriel held out a hand to stop him. "Please," said Uriel. "I overreacted."
Mephistopheles paused, half-turned toward the door. Uriel touched his arm, and Mephistopheles nodded and sat.
"You have little cause to be jealous, believe me," Uriel continued. "Yes, I live here, but Yaweh spends his time with Asmodai of late, and Lucifer and Abdiel, as well as those others you mentioned."
Mephistopheles studied him. "Do you feel left out, Uriel? I doubt that you should. I'm sure it's just that his plans require"
"Oh, I know that. No, I'm not hurt. And yes, there are good reasons for it. Lucifer understands more about cacoastrum than anyone else; Asmodai will be planning the construction of the globe itself. And Abdiel is helping to organize it."
Mephistopheles appeared uninterested in these details. "You have your role, though, do you not?"
"Oh, yes. I am content. I'll be working with Satan."
"Ah! That will be good. I'm told that he's pleasant to work with."
"I expect it will be well. Although, to be honest, Satan has been worrying of late. His task, and mine, is to make sure that everyone involved in the work does his job, and Satan worries that we may have to coerce some of the younger angels."
"Oh, but that's foolishness, isn't it?"
"I think so," said Uriel. "Who could fail to want this? A safe, permanent haven from the flux? A place large enough for, literally, hundreds of billions of angels? But come, this isn't what you came for, Mephistopheles. What can I do for you?"
Mephistopheles shook his head. "I really only came to see how you were. I had no particular errand."
"Are you sure there isn't anything I can do for you?"
"Yes. But thank you, Uriel."
Uriel stood. "Certainly. And, about our problems before"
"I'm sorry. It was my fault. Don't think on it."
"Thank you. I'll walk you out."
"That won't be necessary. I'll see you soon."
"And I, you."
Mephistopheles strode evenly out of Yaweh's Palace. As he left to report to his friend, Leviathan, a small, cynical smile came over his lips; a dry chuckle escaped his throat.
• • •
"Ah! Kyriel! What is this I hear of you and Bath Kol?"
"I don't know, Sith. What is it?"
"Be that way, then. Where are you going?"
"I'm helping out the Lord Michael, around his home. You know, keeping the fires going, and all."
"He's away, then?"
"Not gone on a trip, if that's what you mean, but he's spending most of his time at the Lord Yaweh's palace. I hear there's something big going on."
"I have heard that somebody is planning something. I haven't heard what, though."
"Neither have I. How are things with Raphael?"
"Slow. Just as well, though. I'm glad to see the illiaster wear downnot so many getting hurt."
"I suppose. Well, Sith, duty calls."
"A pleasant day to you, Kyriel."
"And to you. And if you hear any more about the big doings, let me know, will you?"
"Fare you well, then."
• • •
Satan and Beelzebub met Lucifer and Lilith in a small, wooded area amid the grasslands near the southern border of Lucifer's dominion. For a while they walked in silence along a shallow stream, or through thick woods. Satan strode next to Lucifer, the former's long easy gait matching the athletic stride of the latter. Lilith held Lucifer's arm as Beelzebub trotted along beside her.
Lucifer was tall and strong and bronzed, and most of the mysteries of Heaven and creation that were known, were known because of his work.
He had explained how the angelic bodies had formed in response to the conditions of their creation, how illiaster had a tendency to become stagnant and thus rob them of their powers, and why it required two eyes in a single direction to see properly. It was through the arts of Lucifer and the devices of Asmodai that light had been brought to Heaven.
Lilith was small and darklithe, yet full-bodied. Her eyes, as black as Mephistopheles's, shone with energy and enthusiasm. Where Lucifer was indrawn and contemplative, she was outgoing and exuberant. Lilith it was who had invented differentiation of genders, and then taught the angels why. It was because she was female that most of them chose to be male.
After some little while of walking, Satan seated himself on a rock in the middle of a stream. He found a small stick and began tapping it on the stone.
Beelzebub looked up at Lilith and whispered, "Certes, he'll be at it, anon." She nodded agreement.
For a moment, the only sounds were the tapping of the stick, and the soft burbling of the stream. Then Satan gave a sigh.
"I'm not sure how to begin this, friend Lucifer."
"Is it about the Plan?"
Satan continued tapping the stick. Lucifer sat facing him in the middle of the stream, the clear water running over his crossed legs. Lilith sat behind Lucifer and rubbed her palm over his back. Beelzebub sat next to her, and occasionally leaned down to lap up water.
Satan began again. "Actually, it's about my own role in it."
Lucifer nodded. "Go on."
"I've been given the task"
"I know. It suits you."
"Eh? Explain that."
Lucifer shrugged. "You may not know it, but you're the most respected of the Firstborn, excepting Yaweh himself. To have you leading them"
"Leading them? I'm not leading them. I'm"
"It amounts to the same thing. As I was told, you're to keep account of the work and make sure each angel does his job. That means that they'll be looking to you for guidance and inspiration"
"And a good kick, when needed."
"Yes, that too."
Satan was silent for a moment, tapping the stick against the rock. "I admit, you make it sound better than Yaweh did."
"That's natural," said Lucifer, somewhat amused.
"To hear him describe it, I'm supposed to sniff around finding angels who aren't doing their job, and do whatever I have to do to make sure they perform."
"I'm sure there's truth in that, also."
"ButI guess it bothers me that he, and you too, think we might need it. It never used to be like that. We fought when we had to, to survive. No one had to force us to do anything. You remember how it was."
"I remember," said Lucifer softly.
Once again, for a while, the only sound was the stick, tapping rhythmically against a rock.
Twenty of the archangels fall in the Third Wave. Many others nearly do, as the Seven guide and rally the hosts. Yaweh is nearly overcome again, hut is saved by Cherubiel, who is lost in the flux. Harut is pulled from the fray by Leviathan, but when he recovers, he finds that he cannot see or hear. Later, with great effort, Raphael restores his hearing.
Far to the North, Belial and four archangels are overcome. He survives by forming mountains above him and taking a new shape. The four archangels perish. Enraged, Belial lashes out. In his hate, he preserves his Regency, but such is the power of his fires that those who are newly created near him Are destroyed immediately. Later, alone, Belial will curl himself up under the mountain and remember Seraphiel, an archangel who fell by his side, who was one of few Belial had considered a friend.
Ariel is fighting near Raphael when he is suddenly taken by the flux. Raphael sees this and grasps at his life thread. By main will, she holds him together. Only a small part of Ariel is left by the time he is safe, so he takes the form of a creature of the air and flies from the battle to the protection of Michael.
Michael walks slowly forward, his great arms swinging, and each time his sword cuts through cacoastrum, his companions pull in the new ones thus created and nurture them to life.
Abdiel is isolated in a small area of the Eastern Regency. All alone, he cries in terror, but somehow the flux doesn't find him.
Satan is everywhere, laughing in the face of the flux throughout the vast Southern Regency. His emerald flashes upon his breast, and cacoastrum burns, turns upon itself, and is gone. He comes to the aid of his friend, Beelzebub, almost too late. Beelzebub holds himself together, taking a new, smaller form, but he survives. Everywhere that spirits are flagging and angels are near to giving in to the flux, Satan is there, and the fight is renewed.
Yaweh is near the center, and from this distance, sees and directs allfor with the full power of illiaster present, his reach is all but endless. When, in the heat of battle, a structure is erected that ought to stand, he raises his sceptre and at that moment it becomes fixed.
Lucifer holds a single position, near the wall of his Regency. His eyes are closed and his brow is furrowed. Around him trees are springing up. He occasionally makes remarks to Junier, who stands placidly at his side, oblivious to the chaos around them, calmly noting discoveries that Lucifer makes, to think upon later.
Like the universe, the Third Wave seems to go on forever. But, like the universe, it doesn't.
• • •
"Tell me this," said Lucifer. "How would you feelare you listening?"
"Eh? Oh. Sorry."
"How would you feel," Lucifer continued, "if the Fourth Wave did come, and half of our new brethrenor morewere destroyed, and you knew you could have prevented it? By my figuring, that is just what will happen if we don't accept the Plan. How would you feel then?"
Satan studied the rushing waters at his feet. "I don't know."
"It's worth thinking about."
"You don't have any doubts at all, do you?"
"Not of that kind. I have knowledge; that implies a duty to use it. But let me ask youhave you spoken to Yaweh about this? It seems to be the next step, if you're still unconvinced."
"I suppose it is. But it was Yaweh who first had these doubts, and I tried to reassure him. If I'm wrong, Yaweh is the last one I should talk to; I'll just shake his confidence in the Plan, without getting any closer to having my questions answered."
"I see the problem," Lucifer admitted. "But what else can you do?"
Satan shook his head without answering. After a few minutes, he stood up and began walking back upstream, his eyes on the waters, his feet kicking small waves up onto the banks.
Beelzebub watched him, then nodded to Lilith and Lucifer.
"Dost thou know"
"I understand," said Lilith. "It's all right."
Beelzebub ran to catch up. Satan continued walking, occasionally shaking his head. At length, he cursed softly and tossed the stick ahead of him. Beelzebub wondered at his sudden desire to chase it.
Copyright © 1984 by Steven K. Zoltán Brust