By the fourth week, the time spent inside was starting to take its toll on me. I had always spent a lot of time indoors when I was younger, either reading or playing video games, but I had never gone weeks on end without setting foot in the sunlight. This was completely different. For awhile we had started to forget that we were actually prisoners, rather than guests, but the reality was beginning to painfully set in.
The worst part of it all was the change that I was beginning to notice in Marc. He had begun training with Shatan daily, for several hours at a time. During that time, he would alienate Alan, who would simply sit and watch the two demons practice. Alan never complained, but I could tell that it bothered him. I approached Marc on his behalf, hoping to find a compromise. Instead I was informed by my lover that I didn’t understand what was going on, and I should mind my own business.
A normal person would have gotten mad, offended, maybe hurt by receiving that kind of reaction, but I had something that a normal person didn’t have. I could read his thoughts like a book, and what I found there didn’t cause me harm, just concern. Marc was confused, and had resorted to his default setting. He was following his instincts, just as he always did when he didn’t know how to react to a new situation. In my experience it had almost always led him to the right course of action, but this time I wasn’t so certain it would. He was pushing all of us away, and wanted to figure it out on his own.
When we were alone together, he was back to his old self; mostly. The wall that he was starting to build was still there, but at least he would stop building it while we were making love. He hadn’t completely shut me out, but I couldn’t fight the sinking feeling that it would only be a matter of time before I was the distraction from what he really wanted. He was consumed by the desire to beat Shatan, and I was quickly becoming secondary to that goal.
It came to a head the first day of the fifth week, when I woke to find him gone. He had slipped out without waking me; the first time he had ever done that. I knew almost immediately where I would find him, but I decided against going to the dojo. He had finally hurt me, and I knew going after him wouldn’t do me any good anyway. His obsession was bad enough that he wouldn’t even notice I had been hurt by his actions. I went to Keith’s room instead.
I knocked and did not receive a reply, so I assumed that he was still asleep. It wasn’t something I was used to. Keith normally woke up before any of us did. He had said it wasn’t because he was a morning person, but rather that his old bones didn’t like to stay put for long. We had all laughed at the time, but I wondered if there was any truth to his jest. I had taken to calling him an old man after he had told me he was over fifty, but I had meant it in good fun. I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that he probably felt as old as he was, not as old as he looked, but thinking more on it I had benefited from his wisdom more than a few times. He definitely acted more mature than most people I counted among my friends. Keith was definitely the person I wanted to talk to about my problems with Marc.
I sighed and sat down on the couch, closed my eyes, and tried not to let my doubts get the best of me. Being cooped up inside and having Marc start to bail on me were going to have a drastic impact on my ability to maintain sanity. I was about to get up to start pacing when I heard a door open, and I eagerly arose in anticipation of meeting up with Keith. Instead, Alan was standing in the room, blinking away the sleep he had just parted with. I tried to conceal my anxiety and disappointment, and I don’t think I would have gotten away with it if Alan hadn’t been groggy.
“Morning,” he mumbled and then walked to our dining area. I followed him with my gaze and found that the table had been set with food already. In my haste to speak with Keith I hadn’t thought to check on the breakfast that Verina would have brought in to us. I noticed then that there were only two clean plates remaining; the one that Alan was about to fill up with food, and the one set in front of the spot where I normally ate. The plates where Marc and Keith normally sat were dirty, and bore the remains of their respective meals.
My doubts came back full force, and I was suddenly sick to my stomach. Not only was Marc avoiding me, but Keith had left early as well. There wasn’t anyone for me to turn to that I had so far relied on, and I was starting to break down. It was then that Alan moved over to me and put a hand on my shoulder, startling me.
“What’s wrong, Damien?” Alan asked with concern, “You look totally messed up!”
I shook my head to try and clear my mind before I responded, but I knew I couldn’t keep the anxiety out of my voice as I replied, “Nothing really, I’m just starting to get really sick of being stuck in here. I’m kind of wondering if we should see about getting some fresh air. Do you think that Lucifel will let us outside?”
Alan smiled at me supportively, and then said with enthusiasm, “We’ve all been so busy since we arrived that I never told you about the tour that I had when I came here. It was when I met Belial and brought him back here. We went all over the ship, well, not everywhere, but almost. There is a hatch that opens up at the top that leads to the surface. I can take you up there if you want, though we might have to sneak around. What do you think?”
“Sneak around?” I asked, slightly put off by the idea of going behind Lucifel’s back. I did think that the idea of getting outside was too good to pass up though, so I quickly found myself nodding in agreement, but then I realized we didn’t have a chance of making it past Belial. “Are you sure we need to sneak?” I asked. When I thought it over, I didn’t think Belial would be much of a problem. “Honestly, I think that Belial would probably be willing to take us up there.”
Alan looked slightly disappointed, but flashed me a disarming smile that made me forget my troubles just for a moment. His smile turned sly as he said, “That’s too bad. The sneaking would have been fun, but you’re probably right. Lucifel did say something about following the rules when we first came here. So, are we going to take a break from training today then?”
His question brought me back to my melancholy once again, and I shrugged helplessly as I replied with a shaky voice, “I guess so. After all, both of our teachers left without saying anything. I don’t suppose you’d want to skip class with me?”
My young friend nodded back and gave me a clap on the shoulder before turning back to the table. His stomach growled, betraying his feelings before he even had to share them. I laughed as I patted him back and said, “First things first though. Let’s eat, and then we’ll talk to Belial. Maybe he would even like to join us. I’ll go ask him.”
Alan agreed and I stepped out into the hall to find Belial standing stoically at the side of the doorway. He regarded me with interest as I waved him inside, but he followed me without question.
“What can I do for you, Damien?” He asked with a polite smile once we were inside.
“Well, first off, would you like to join Alan and me for breakfast?” I replied smoothly, nodding to the table and flashing him a polite smile in return. This was the first time we had ever done anything like this before, and I wanted him to feel welcome. I had liked the angel from the beginning, but Marc had remained unable to look past Belial’s heritage. The angel had yet to give me any reason to doubt him, which was a first for me among angels, though I had only interacted on a personal level with three so far, so it wasn’t saying all that much.
“I have already eaten,” he started to say, in an effort to decline. His body language betrayed him though, and I knew that he was refusing out of politeness and not wanting to impose. I stopped that as quickly as I could and pointed at the table emphatically.
“Whether you’ve eaten or not, you can still join us. Perhaps you’d like something to drink instead. Alan and I both agree that it’s about time we got to know you better,” I interrupted with a tone that said I wouldn’t have it any other way. While it wasn’t entirely true that Alan and I had agreed on anything other than the thought of inviting the angel to join us, from reading my friend’s thoughts I knew that he felt the same way.
“If you insist, I will sit with you,” Belial replied with a sigh, “Perhaps I’ll have some of the juice that Verina brought in this morning. I am very fond of many of the fruits of your world. Orange juice is one of my favorites, actually.” He moved to the table and stood by one of the empty chairs, but he waited until I was seated before he finally pulled out the chair and sat down. I smiled at him, and he returned the look. Alan was practically beaming at him, and that caused his professionalism to drop just a little, and for a moment I caught a glimpse of what a real smile looked like on Belial’s face. Alan seemed to have that way with the angels, and I silently wondered what his secret was.
Getting Belial to talk was easier than I had expected, though I had little to do with it. With his typical enthusiasm, Alan bombarded the security chief with countless questions. His enthusiasm was contagious, and he had Belial laughing whole-heartedly within a few minutes. It was almost enough for me to forget the anxiety I had experienced earlier when I woke up alone. Almost.
It wasn’t long before Alan was asking questions about Angelic culture. I was all ears at that point. The anthropological side of my brain was eager to hear more, and I had a few questions of my own. Within a few minutes of the conversation shifting, I became the one who bombarded Belial.
Belial explained how important things like religion were to his people. The beliefs were everything. They were what drove the angels to Earth in the first place. In their home system their star had been failing, and prophecies of Armageddon had run rampant. One man, Michael’s father and Belial’s grandfather, had convinced a large number of his people that he was a prophet, who knew a way to save them all. He convinced them to pour their resources into building the fleet of Heaven, which they did, and they evacuated the system just before catastrophe struck and destroyed their home world.
Their fearless and fanatical leader led the fleet away, preying on their anxieties and insecurities over having had their homes destroyed, and created an entire mythology about where they were headed. He said that they would begin searching for a new world, but not just any one would do. There would be one that would be a promised land, and it was their creator given right to find and settle it. Of course, when they discovered Earth from the fringes of the solar system, they thought that their new home had been found. Their leader had assured them that it was indeed the place that they would settle. It only became a problem when they found that the world was already occupied.
That led to the invasion. While the bulk of the fleet settled in among the asteroid belt, the soldiers came to Earth and began killing everything. The humans didn’t stand a chance. They had barely discovered agriculture, leaving nomadic lifestyles behind for the first time. The bow and arrow could still kill an angel, but it did little to stop them from being revived. The only people that stood in the way of the angelic invasion were the demons. They had powers beyond the angels understanding.
It wasn’t just the powers though that drove the angels mad for demon blood. The angels and the demons were almost exact opposites in how they lived. If there had ever been a pair of enemies crafted for each other, it would have been the angelic hosts and the demon armies. Angels were creatures of logic and order. They were methodical in everything that they did, and they were blindly obedient to the will of their leader. Like ants, they were extensions of one mindset, rather than acting as individuals. The law was everything, and it was not to be questioned.
The demons on the other hand were chaotic. They didn’t follow any orders at all, and instead did what was best for them. In the case of the war with the angels, however, there was strength to be found in numbers, which led them to work together. They had the advantage when it came to combat, because it happened on their terrain. They also had the advantage because they were unpredictable. Every single demon had to be treated differently, while the same was not true in the reverse. The demons were winning, and easily.
Drastic measures were taken. Dissent was starting to form among the angelic ranks as they began to lose faith in their promised land. Though they were never able to trace who had done it, the prophet was assassinated, and the fleet was thrown into chaos. Only Michael was able to gain control enough to stop a full civil war from erupting, and he cemented his rule with an iron fist. Once he had the complete backing of Lucifel as well, the ranks were once again of one purpose, even though some still remembered the time that faith had begun to fail them.
The angels redoubled their efforts, and under Michael they tried new tactics, and found weaknesses they had not exploited previously. They found that by targeting the humans they could draw the demons out of hiding and trap them. Other ways of tricking the demons became the norm, rather than the straight offensive that they had employed before. The angels began to turn the tide in their favor, and the demons began to get worried.
That was when they sent Shatan on his mission to assassinate Michael and Lucifel. That was when things began to change overall. With Lucifel no longer fighting on the side of the angels, the mastermind behind their new tactical advantage was gone, and Michael was forced to revert to his old methods, or try something new. It was then that he figured out his master plan. He was going to recreate what his father had done. He made the humans into fanatics by using religion, and he finally began to gain control of the world.
When Belial reached that point in the story, I was certain that it was true from his perspective. It matched all the same facts that Marc and Keith had explained to me, with only the points that would be matters of opinion showing any difference. It hadn’t quite answered all of my questions though, and so when he stopped for a moment I asked, “So what is the whole deal with homosexuality? What exactly do they have against us?”
“To be honest, I don’t really know,” he replied with a shrug, “I assume it was just another tool that my grandfather used in order to control the people. Or maybe he just really hated the concept himself so he instilled that in their minds? It’s just one of the commandments that have been part of our laws since long before I was born. I wonder if my mother remembers a time in which it wasn’t. It certainly isn’t the only law that is bullshit.”
“Like what?” I asked, and then clarified, “What other laws do you disagree with?”
Belial laughed a little nervously and but then answered, “Honestly, I’ve only shared some of this sentiment with my brother, and that was thousands of years ago. I don’t voice this kind of thing around other angels, even the devils here, because there are still many who agree with a lot of the points, but I will explain it to you. My people are prudish. Sexual sin is really big to them, and almost all of it is about control, and not anything else. I think in the case of some of it, we have these laws as a means of population control because we were stuck on the ships for so long. Nudity is frowned upon, polygamy is outright outlawed. We are a very monogamous people, and believe that outside of having an actual partner frivolous sex should also be banned. Homosexuality will get you killed. Rape will get you killed faster. I agree with that one by the way. There are some good ones even in the rubbish. Outside of sexual transgressions, we don’t really frown on anything here in Hell. Heaven on the other hand, is a very different matter.”
“In Heaven the word of Michael is law. It doesn’t matter what it is, but if he gives an order, you follow it to the letter. As I’m sure you’ve experienced here with different lawmakers over time, when you put any one person in power, you end up with a lot of bullshit laws that reflect their views on things,” he finished his explanation with a shrug and then added, “Anything else you’d like to know?”
“No, I think you’ve got it covered,” I replied with an appreciative smile. “In all this good conversation though, I almost forgot the question that we were originally going to ask you. We want to go outside. Alan tells me there is a hatch on top of the ship that leads to an area where we can get some air. Do you think you could take us?”
From the way his face scrunched up as he was thinking, I could tell that it would be more trouble than he admitted when he said, “Yeah, I think we could make that work. My mother said to keep you inside and safe, but I think that if anyone can get around that order it’s me, especially since I’ll be with you the whole time. Let’s do it. I don’t have a problem with it, really.”
Alan smiled wide and I let out a quiet sigh in relief. Even with our bonding we had done I wasn’t sure he would go for the idea. Within a few minutes we were ready to go and walking out the door. Belial led the way while Alan and I walked side by side, occasionally sharing an excited smile. We kept close behind our guard, but we did our best to make sure we gave no indication of our delinquent intentions. Belial assured us that if we kept our cool we would probably get away without anyone questioning us.
Still, as we climbed into the lift that would take us to the highest level, I noticed that Belial’s stance grew more cautious than it had been before. There was a little more going on than he let on, but for some reason he was still helping us, so I figured that whatever it was that bothered him, we would be okay.
When we stepped out of the lift, he motioned for us to be silent, and then began walking cautiously down the corridor. We followed him just as closely as we had been until he motioned us back a few feet. We didn’t see anyone until we saw two angels in red standing by a doorway. Belial let out a sigh of relief, and I surprised myself when I did the same. I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath in at all.
“These men are some of my closest. We shouldn’t have any problem with them selling us out,” Belial explained as he walked down the corridor toward the two angels. They both turned to him and their eyes widened in surprise when they saw Alan and me following behind. They turned their questioning eyes to Belial even as they saluted him with hands raised to their chests.
“We just came for some air. My charges have been kept inside for far too long, and it’s time they experienced the sun again,” Belial explained as he returned the salute.
One of the guards nodded but replied, “Well, you know I’ll follow you commander, but Shavethal is up there. He might report this. Of course you know that the visitors aren’t supposed to be in this part of the ship without Lucifel’s direct permission.”
“Of course, Mephistel. Don’t worry about Shavethal. I’ll handle him. At least it’s not Asmodal. He would go running to my mother as soon as he saw me. Not like my mother would do anything to me. Even if she finds out, I’m sure she’ll be okay.”
I watched in confusion, not recognizing any of the names being tossed around. I put it out of my mind though, because it was clear that Belial had it under control. He was standing easily now, and that allowed me to relax as well. A few seconds later, the door was opened and we were climbing up a ladder with sunlight streaming down from above. Belial took the lead again, but I was quick on his heels.
When our heads popped out of the hatch, my eyes were painfully greeted with the full effect of the sunlight, and I had to close them in pain. I hadn’t seen that level of light in over a month, and for a moment I was blind. I could still hear though, and the conversation between Belial and who would have to have been another angel caught my attention.
“Commander, you know that these visitors are not allowed up here without prior authorization. I have not received any such notice from the Lady Lucifel,” said the unknown voice.
“Shavethal, do you not trust my word? My mother was in her laboratory when I asked her for authorization. She figured that my presence alone would be enough authorization, and saw little need to expend her precious time by informing you,” Belial replied, lying smoothly and effortlessly. I realized then that he had figured out what he would say well in advance of our arrival. I smiled at his ploy when he added, “I suppose you could notify her in her laboratory if you would like…”
I was finally able to open my eyes in time to see that the other angel was visibly shaken at the thought. He stammered as he replied, “Not necessary. Your word is good enough commander, I’m sorry that I questioned you. Please, carry on.” He walked a good distance away where he began patrolling. I noticed three other angels doing the same thing. It took me a moment to realize what was different about these angels than the ones in the ship. All of them were dressed as security guards and looked human. I turned to Belial just in time to see him switch on his projector and change him into something completely different.
Belial’s human image was astounding. He had the smooth and flawless face of a god, and the white hair he wore long framed his face perfectly, accentuating every detail perfectly, down to his beautiful bright green eyes. The suit, that the change gave him, fit the way he stood and walked as if it had been made for him by the greatest tailor in the world, and the darkness of the cloth contrasted with his brighter features in a way that made him look perfectly balanced. If I hadn’t known that it was a false image, I would have fallen in love with him on the spot.
The angel could see the effect that his image had on me and he explained, “I spent months crafting this image. When I’m out there in the real world, I can almost forget I’m an angel some days. This is what my inner human is. I wonder if Lumial still uses his almost perfect match. His only difference was that the eyes were blue. We built them together a long time ago. My mother hates that I use it still, but I told her that she would have to deal with it. I’m not going to give it up just because she can’t handle the memory. We’ve compromised, which is why I can’t use it inside the ship.”
“I wouldn’t either,” I replied smoothly. I took a moment to look at Alan, who was staring at him like he was the god he appeared to be. I put a hand on his shoulder and he turned wide-eyed to look at me. Once he realized it was me, he shook himself and simply mouthed the word “wow”.
Belial laughed and shook his head. I shrugged and smiled back, shyly. Then I finally turned to survey my surroundings. We were on top of a hill, overlooking the dry countryside. It was fairly warm for January, but I didn’t complain. I was just happy to be breathing the fresh air.
We stayed like that for almost an hour, walking around the small fenced in compound and looking out at the scenery. We were about to head inside when Belial let out a word that I could only assume from his tone was an expletive in his native tongue. I was about to question him when I simply followed his gaze and saw Lucifel standing at the top of the hatch, her arms crossed and a look of disapproval on her face.
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