For the Terribleminds challenge, “Another Ten Words“.
Even when he was human, he never cared for funerals. Death was an uncomfortable subject for many mortals, and funerals tended to bring an individual face to face with the specter of mortality, especially in violent circles. He stayed back from the front of the church’s sanctuary, where family members both intimate and extended slowly filed past the casket to pay their respects. He had no desire to show a lack of respect; he’d simply said everything he needed to say at their last meeting.
“This lot never cease to captivate me.”
He didn’t have to turn to know a statuesque woman was standing behind him, uttering those words. It was a presence he’d felt many times.
“I warned him about this. I told him he was pushing too hard against the Gates.”
“And now he is gone. Has all of your deceit been worth it?”
At that, he did turn to face her. She had been a beautiful woman by mortal standards; looking past the skin, he could barely withstand her glory. Part of him shrank, fought to run, pleaded to hide, to be forgiven; he crushed the sentiment under his heel.
“Why are you here, Raziel?”
She smiled. “Have I become so like you that I need an ulterior motive to see you?”
“Absolutely. Next thing you know you’ll be bathing in brimstone.”
Raziel made a face. “I don’t think that’d help my complexion.”
“Somewhere in the canyon Below, Beelzebub is recovering. It may take time, but he will return.”
“In the meantime, you can consolidate your power. Rally your troops. Get things in order before the balloon goes up.”
“I’m curious. Why did he choose that vessel? He must have known it was dangerous.”
“He was always fascinated with the way humans quote-unquote ‘organize’ their crime. He wanted to see that world from the inside. I was, naturally, obliged to follow. And you know for a fact that we are not common clay as they are.” He gestured at the funeral-goers. “It takes a bit more than a few little punctures to send us back from whence we came.”
“It does take some doing to rip the demon out of the flesh.” Raziel examined her fingers. “It’s almost an art.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.”
Raziel looked at him evenly, then at the rest of the funeral. “I wanted to see the aftermath. Witness mortals facing their mortal nature. Record what choices they make.”
He smirked. “That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Their choices.”
“No, wait, hear me out.” Belial began to pace. “Lucifer wanted for us – you and me – the same thing that God gave to humans. He wanted us to be able to choose. But, think about it. Lucifer fell. And we fell with him. We did make a choice. But whereas the choices humans make do not essentially change who or what they are, we were changed. Disfigured. We no longer have your grace and glory; we have only malice and terror. We remain as awesome as you in countenance and presence; yet humans run towards you away from us.”
“That is, at best, a broad generalization. Not all mortals make that choice. Some reject the notion of Heaven as a place to be sought and opt to make deals with your kind. Others eschew metaphysical planes entirely and believe that there’s nothing but the dirt and themselves.”
“Doesn’t that just reinforce my contention that humanity’s free will, and the choices born of it, does not fundamentally alter them?”
Raziel thought for a moment, reaching out with her hand to examine a willow branch protruding from a bouquet near the exit. “Is that why you want to usurp Lucifer?”
Belial winced. Even the mention of the nature of his plan made him anxious and paranoid. Still, he pressed on. “Think about it, Raziel. It can go back to the way it was. The Satan is supposed to be a complimentary role. The point is to test humanity, not stick it to Heaven over a grudge. Heaven is the carrot; Hell is supposed to be the stick. Lucifer is angry, angry enough to still want to end the whole thing. Global cataclysms, gatherings at Armageddon, the Horsemen, all of it.”
“And you’re not?”
“Would I be working with you if I was? Raziel, something changes about us, on the atomic level, when we make the choices that define us. Humans can define and re-define themselves at the drop of the proverbial hat. How can they do this? Why were they made so malleable? I need to know the answers to these questions. I need data. I need to experiment.”
She crossed her arms and leaned against the font of holy water near the back of the sanctuary, the one used by incoming parishioners to cross themselves. “So make deals and observe the results for yourself.”
Belial shook his head. “Too inefficient. A deal can take decades to bear viable data. If I control more demons directly, I can observe more results. This is the logical conclusion.”
Raziel studied him, and to his surprise, smiled a little. Even more surprising to him was the reaction from his body.
“That is what this is all about then? The mere result of an equation you’ve processed already?”
“For the most part, yes. There are fringe benefits, of course. Like seeing that pompous ass Beelzebub get kicked back downstairs. Nice work, by the way.”
“Darling, one doesn’t become the Keeper of Secrets in Heaven without learning how to silence those who’d disseminate those Secrets.”
He looked at her, deeply, for a long wordless moment. “That’s why you’re here. You want to know if I’ll betray you now that Bub is out of the way.”
“It’s a logical conclusion to make. You are a demon.”
“Yes, but I gave you my word that our bargain is ironclad. You know how seriously we take such things.”
“Perhaps we should discuss that more.” Raziel smiled again. “Over dinner.”