If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?
– Luke 11:18
He wandered through the house, chuckling. The house was almost endless, full of cozy nooks, libraries of fascinating books, and, of course, play rooms. But it was still hard to pretend he didn't know exactly where the little boy was. He was, naturally, atuned to him, and to all children everywhere. It made it hard to play fair at hide-and-seek.
He rounded the corner and almost stumbled into the female form standing there. She was equally surprised. As she recovered composure, he did the same. How could she have surprised him? Well, it wasn't as if she was really a demon.
"Christopher," she said, "you Owe me." The Archangel of Children nodded, scowling. Many times, he had taken a geas in return for getting her to forego some crib deaths. She hated babies, and always had. That's why all her own "children" were made full-grown. "I want it all," she said. "Now. In Essence."
His eyes widened. The scowl returned, then faded. At least it was the end of the debt. "Okay," he said. He reached forward and prodded her shoulder. "Tag. You're it."
She breezed through the flap of his tent without any call of permission. Also without being noticed by the guards. Michael looked up from the map and raised an eyebrow. "You Owe me," she said. "Payment time. In Essence."
"Fine," he said, standing up. And up. He was huge. She was briefly conscious that, should he object, there was no possibility of winning – or surviving – a physical fight. But he just turned from her and rummaged in a pile at the back of the tent. He threw her the Sword of Joshua, the Spear of Longinus, and the Holy Howitzer of Heschel. (Not all great celestial weapons are famous on Earth.) "Those will render down to enough. Keep the change. And good luck on your move. Confusion to the enemy and all that."
The weapons vanished in her hands as she picked them up. Her face paled at his last words. "You know?" Michael smiled. "Who else in Heaven knows?"
"You want strategic intelligence?" said Michael. "What's it worth to you?" He grinned. She vanished.
Novalis, deep in her bower, eyed the greeny-gold rose beetle with suspicion. It grew and expanded into a woman-shape. "You Owe me," she said. Novalis nodded, agreeing. So often, in the interests of peace and mercy, it's necessary to cut a bit of a deal. "I'll take it in Essence." The Archangel of Flowers nodded again, still without speaking. All around her, the fragrances grew, thickened, doubled and redoubted. Her intruder breathed deep, sighed in satisfaction, and was gone. The air was left clear.
An embryo hurricane spiraled over the west coast of Africa. Above it, where no bird should be able to fly, an eagle flew. It was the size of a 747, and blue. Another eagle, normal-sized and green, swung up out of the clouds and called to it. "Janus! You Owe me!"
"Do I?" Eagles can't smile, but the tone of voice in that short reply positively grinned.
"You know you do!" called the other bird, flapping hard to gain altitude.
"Then take it," replied the Archangel of Wind. He winced a little as the maelstrom around him calmed, just a little, very briefly.
"That's not a tenth of it!" called the green eagle. "Where's the rest?" The giant eagel only laughed. She reached out again, but there was definitely no more geas to pull in. She sank back into the clouds, wondering if she would do any better when she collected from Valefor.
The pride of winged lions that was Jordi dropped a bloody mass before the woman's feet. "There," said one of the lion-mouths. "Your share. Take it." If he hoped to gross her out, he was disappointed. She had been a ravening hunger in the dark since first she struck out on her own. She devoured the meat and left.
A window opened on Jean's terminal. He read the message and grunted. Then he entered the command
TRANSMIT ESSENCE followed by a very large number and an infernally complicated identification key. The Archangel of Lightning paused thoughtfully, then entered many more commands – commands like
Zadkiel looked the prisoner up and down. "Well, well. It's been ages. Let her go," she told the Malakim. The trespasser fumed. How had Zadkiel intercepted her? Well, if anyone could, it would be the Archangel of Protection. And there had been a lot of times when protection involved cutting a deal with someone who could influence the aggressors. "I'm here to collect," she told her hostess. "All of it. In Essence."
Zadkiel nodded. "Fine. I've got it laid by for you. It's with Marc." She smiled. "Protection money, you could call it."
Marc reached into the wall safe and drew out two bags. He plopped both on the desk before her. "Here's Zadkiel's," he said, "and here's my own. Very convenient, for us, you wanting it in straight Essence. No conversion costs that way." He smiled at her, very sweetly. Too sweetly. Hardly anyone in Heaven hated her more than he, the Archangel of Trade, Mr. Fair Deal. Word friction. "Want to count it?" he asked.
The Habballah appeared directly at Dominic's side. At least, it looked like a Habballah, but the many eyes in Dominic's hood held only surprise and concern. "My lord!" the creature cried to the Archangel of Judgement. "Asmodeus has left Hell!" The tattoos and ritual scars melted off the shape as it spoke, revealing Dominic's champion undercover Elohite.
"Left Hell? The Gamesmaster himself is Renegade?"
"Yes, my lord! I am deeply ashamed that I could give you no warning. I should–"
"Compose yourself, good and faithful servant. You were set to spy upon one who is second only to the Father of Lies himself in deception."
"That is true, of course, my lord. Th- thank you. I fear I may have been thrown off balance by my role and... and by recent circumstance. I said Asmodeus has gone Renegade, but it is more accurate to say he has seceded. Asmodeus, Malphas, and Saminga have formed a triumvirate and founded the realm of Dis. Belial, Nybbas, Vapula, and Lilith are with them. Kobal and Valefor are, I think, wavering. This was all I could discover before I fled. I thought you should know at the first opportunity."
"Marvelous! You bring magnificent news!" The hooded, possibly humanoid form melted away. Judgement uncoiled itself in its true seraph shape, a huge length of untarnised silver scales and searingly white wings. Its lips curved in a rare smile. "Hell has brought judgement on itself."
Dis is the new realm of the damned. Officially, it is ruled by the Triumvirate – Malphas, Asmodeus, and Saminga. Saminga is styled "Emperor" and the other two are his "Co-Regents."
It was Malphas's idea, of course. Such a secession would strengthen the Word of Factions as nothing had since the Fall itself, which was too early to do any good. The hard part was enlisting the aid of Asmodeus, but the spirit of the Game is not far removed from treachery, so eventually it was done. Probably. It's not like the two arch-traitor princes trust each other.
Saminga, on the other hand, trusts them completely. He's always "known" he was the supreme evil, and now these two clever princes have acknowledged him as Emperor of Dis, supporting him as his two "Co-Regents." Saminga was won over quickly and easily, once Asmodeus and Malphas allied, and he certainly does not realize that he has not one but two Powers-Behind-the-Throne in "his" new empire.
Saminga and Belial supply the military muscle for Hell's new competitor. Belial is always bloodlusty, and almost as easy to manipulate as Saminga (he was won over by promises of certain mayhem to strengthen and delight his Word), while the Death Prince's Word just grows stronger when he takes casualties, making it easy to whip up replacements. One of the major internal problems for the two Black Eminences (as Malphas and Asmodeus are now being called in private corners) is heading off competition between the destructive Words of Death and Fire.
Vapula was won over by appeals to his Habbalite nature: this civil war will be such an elegant device for the wicked in Hell to punish each other. And the Black Eminences promised to let him try out all manner of military technology that Lucifer panned. But the Black Eminences know almost as well as Vapula himself how free of allegiance is technology, so they watch him carefully.
Nybbas was won by promises of fame, and by the challenge of composing the propaganda necessary to hold Dis together. And Lilith, Princess of Freedom, was won by the chance to be truly free of Lucifer at last.
It cost her dear, of course, as she knew it would. She has one hell of a gease to Lucifer, if you'll pardon the expression, and no one can pull on them like he can. Of course, no one can manipulate a geas like Lilith. Still, power drained out of her as from a mortal wound. Naturally, the first thing she did, once free, was try to re-build her strength, hence the round of debt collections, not only in Heaven, but in Hell, and quickly, before the protective confusion ended.
Not just Princes and Archangels owed her, of course. Huge numbers of celestials, mortals, and souls have suddenly had to pay, often losing Forces to the Princess's hunger. But at least they are free, now. Hardly anyone owes Lilith anything anymore.
The Lilim, as a group, rather feel that Mother owes them. She has put all of them in hot water. No one trusts them, now, and they don't even trust each other. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of every servitor of the Princes of Dis and, to a still smaller but significant degree, every demon in the pit. Trust, never common in Hell, is at an all-eternity low.
("On the contrary," murmurs Kobal. "This has happened before. Remember Nergal? Ialdabaoth? Ahriman? I do. Perhaps I and Lucifer alone, but we remember the other rebels.")
Lucifer hasn't heard yet from Kobal or Valefor. Lucifer can't find Kobal or Valefor. Neither is of a mind to join Dis. Both are contemplating going Renegade. If not, they will show up shortly with plausible reasons for their delays. Beleth has re-affirmed her allegiance, and promptly retreated to her dark tower, there to contemplate relocation into the Far Marches, because, of course, the former Angel of Fear is afraid – afraid to stay and face a civil war, though likewise afraid to go Renegade.
For Heaven, it's a once-in-an-eon opportunity.
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