First ~ Second
As he ran, Genowrath tried to remember everything he'd heard about the General Bezaliel.
He was the lowest ranking of the Generals-- if a General could even be considered such. He was the seventh out of the seven, and he specialized in shadow magic. He was supposed to be eccentric; one of the more notable stunts he'd pulled was damaging any written works with his name on them on Earth. When asked why, he'd said it was so humans wouldn't bother him with that "summoning nonsense."
The Shadow Palace of Lucifer's 7th General, Bezaliel, was the lowest of the seven palaces. It had no towers or steeples reaching towards the infernal hollow sky, like General Shemsiel's, nor was it an enormous castle like those of the Generals Cambriel, Kasdeja, and Kochab. It wasn't hidden away across flaming rivers of lava like Yeqon's, nor was it brazenly out in the open, accessible from the main road like that of Armaros. Instead, the Shadow Palace was a low, creeping structure carved into the walls of the northern cavern, against the rock that bordered Pandemonium from the northwest.
It didn't look like a palace. It didn't look like a building. It looked like a black stain on the dusty red rock, splotchy and uneven at the top, some parts of the blackness smearing up the wall, like a cancerous tumor spanning from a rotten core. It was only at a closer distance that one could see the blackness was actually finely cut obsidian carefully placed in interlocking bricks reminiscent of a puzzle. Depending on where the observer stood, they could see images in the stone. One angle held of hordes of demons worshiping at an alter, another displayed an army of winged Archdemons fighting the armies of Heaven, and from a different perspective there were hundreds upon hundreds of winged eyes.
Oh yeah, Geno thought, running breathlessly to the gate. Watcher. He used to be a watcher.
Though the black obsidian of the Shadow Palace was visible from the street, the actual entrance was buried past a narrow crevasse made from black rock that went up, out of sight, but was only wide enough for a few people side-by-side to enter. At the narrowing, there was a black iron gate and a single, wingless, Archdemon guard.
"The General. . . wanted. . . to see me?" said Genowrath between gasps of air.
The Archdemon frowned at him. "Did you get an invite?"
". . . Can I see it?" said the Archdemon.
Genowrath opened his mouth, then closed it, panic-stricken. "I don't have it! I left it back home!"
"Ugh," said the Archdemon, rolling his eyes. "Imps. Whatever, fine, go in. Entry hall is right there, don't move until you're fetched. Don't cause any trouble."
Genowrath didn't have it in him to make any kind of remark; he was too full of blind panic. He scurried into the Shadow Palace, and the black doors closed behind him with a hollow clang.
The Solar Palace, the only other Palace of a General Genowrath had been to, had been specifically devised to display Shemsiel's devotion to the Sun. It had expressed that connection in the most blazing, brilliant way possible, full of gold and jewels, reds, yellows, oranges, as if the General had been trying to replicate walking into the sun with home decor.
Bezaliel's palace was nothing like it. The Shadow Palace was dimly lit and empty to the point of asceticism. The floor was polished dark stone, the walls were rougher, lighter rock that might have been cream or light brown, but looked pale gray in the weak light. There was no furniture, no tapestry or carpet. The only decoration were the reliefs set regularly into the walls, carved to look like they were framed, three-dimensional paintings. Like the images outside, they depicted the glories of the Archdemons, the war in heaven, and the personal symbols of the watchers. Genowrath examined them, trying to drown out the anxious beating of his heart that was pounding in his ears.
Some of the symbols he recognized. Some were entirely unfamiliar. Some of the angelic and infernal figures in the reliefs had symbols above their heads. Geno didn't know if that was to represent their names, their aspects or elements, their personal siguls, or if it was a fancy, Old Enochian way of insulting people in a yearbook.
Genowrath stood there, looking at the patterns on the wall, when a voice behind him said,
"Looks neat, don't it?"
Genowrath almost fell over. He whirled on the voice and saw a tall Archdemon standing there looking at him.
The Archdemon towered over him-- he had to be eight feet at the least, and that wasn't counting the extra foot or so added by the tips of his folded wings that peered over his shoulders. Maquasuel had been robed in white. This one was wearing black robes, but they were beneath some kind of spiky black armor. The figure had on a jagged black helmet that gleamed in the light, with two black, mirror-like holes where his eyes would be. His wings were feathered and black, and unlike Maquasuel who had only one set, this one had two.
"Why are you here?" the Archdemon said, its voice seeming to reverberate in the walls and floor.
"Th-the General," Genowrath squeaked. "He wanted to see me?"
The Archdemon removed its helmet. The face beneath, an open, honest, oddly human-looking face, smiled at him.
"Oh hey!" the stranger said in a voice that was much lighter and entirely friendly. "You must be Genowrath! Didn't realize it was you! Name's Bezaliel-call-me-Bez-Howayadoin?" The stranger put out a spikey, black-gloved hand for a handshake.
"Uh?" said Genowrath. He looked at the extended hand like it was a snake.
"Heh, sorry. If I talk too fast, lemme know." The stranger flicked his eyes down at his hand, then back up to Gen. "I don't bite-- promise. That costs extra. Ha! Just a joke."
"Uh." Genowrath shook the hand, still uncertain. Bezaliel's hand suddenly clasped over his, and the kept on clasping like a vise. There was a flash of burning pain unrelated to the pain of having his hand crushed. The pain streaked up Genowrath's arm and down his back. He yelped and tried to pull his hand away. Bezaliel watched, his eyes cool above his unchanged smile. He held on for a moment longer, then released Genowrath's hand.
"Sorry, sorry," he said, not sounding apologetic. "Just a quick scan, nothing to worry about, checking for bugs, you know how it is." He gave a little what-can-you-do-am-I-right? shrug. "Come on," he said, turning away from Genowrath, who was still slightly hunched and cradling his hand. "Walk with me, talk with me."
"Where are we going?" Genowrath said.
"My office. One of them. The safer one. I've got a few-- you know how it is with Generals."
Genowrath didn't, but nodded anyway and followed after.
"Don't mind the mess," Bezaliel said as they approached a tall set of double doors. "Little experimenting going on."
Genowrath's jaw dropped as he entered the room. The only sign that the place could ever be considered anything remotely office-like was a single, large desk in the middle of the room, and two chairs. Every other inch of the room was filled with weapons. Demonic daggers on racks and in displays. Axes and spears held on the walls. Swords of different makes and different shapes cradled in hangers and inside holders that looked like they were made of stone, but probably weren't. To get to the chairs in the middle, the two had to weave their way past what felt like hundreds of different weapons. Bezaliel dropped information about the weapons unbidden, seeming to know exactly which ones Genowrath was staring at.
"Careful with that. That one's coated in poison. Won't kill you, probably, but it'll wreck your day."
"Jade dagger of the moon. Very pretty. Can make eclipses happen. Doesn't seem like a good melee skill, but who am I to judge?"
"Ooh, that one's nice. It's made out of this material that steals souls. No, you'd better not touch it; you're made of different stuff and will probably cease to exist."
"Ha, yeah, that's human bone, alright. Not very good, but makes an impression on some folks, you know?"
"That one shoots lightning."
At one point an oddly tart, strangely familiar smell caused Genowrath to stop at one of the tables. He peered at the swords laid there, and blanched.
"Are those--?" he said.
Bezaliel glanced over his shoulder. "Angelic weaponry? Yep. Finest celestial steel this side of the cosmos-- literally, as nobody else around here has any but me. I mean, some of the other Generals might have some too, but not as high quality, I assure you. Snagged a couple blades a while back off Remiel. Got his wallet and belt, too. Funny story, I oughta tell you sometime."
Bezaliel dropped into his chair on the opposite side of the desk, and leaned back. He appeared entirely relaxed. Genowrath, on the other side side, sat so upright and still that his back began to ache after only a few moments. Around him, he was painfully aware of the number of different things that could kill him.
Silence stretched between them.
"Excuse me," Genowrath said eventually. "But why am I here? Uh, that is, why did you want to see me, sir?"
Bezaliel moved his hand, and several things happened at once. The door left open slammed shut behind Genowrath. The strung-up curtains fell closed. And Hebdekios' black dagger, the one that had made killing Masaquel and the others so much easier, flew from his belt sheath and stuck itself into the center of Bezaliel's desk.
Lazily, Bezaliel plucked up the dagger and examined it. On the table in front of him was a green amulet Genowrath hadn't seen there before, and had no idea where it came from.
"Nice to see you've been taking care of it," he said. "Is that ding there from you or Hebdekios?"
Genowrath wanted to say, please don't kill me, but instead he said, "It was like that when I got it."
The amulet on the table, already green, flashed bright green for a moment, then settled back to its usual duller jade. Bezaliel nodded. "Figures. Hebdekios was careless. He was a gamble, but I still expected a little better." He sighed and scratched at the nick with his nail. "I'll have to buff this out, I suppose."
Questions and thoughts rattled in Genowrath's head, tumbling over one another, fighting for which one would leave his mouth first. "Hebdekios worked for you?" he said.
Bezaliel sniffed. "'Course he did. Who do you think gave him this pretty little toy there?" He pointed the knife at Genowrath in a way that was probably not meant to look threatening, but managed all the same. "The plan was I hire him to do some dirty work, he gets ranked up a few times, takes out people I need taken out, I get bumped up a notch and he gets to be my new right hand man. You can imagine my surprise when I heard he was taken out by a lesser demon in the frigging cafeteria. You can imagine how much more surprised I was when that demon who killed him went on ahead and started ruffling Shemsiel's feathers."
Genowrath's heart stuffed itself into his throat, preventing him from breathing, speaking, or doing anything aside from hoping not to die. Through the fear choking him, he squeaked a noise akin to, "Oh." Then, a more frightening question arose. "Why. . . why are you telling me this?"
Because you won't live to tell anyone else, was the reason his brain supplied.
Bezaliel stuck the knife back in the table, stabbing it into the same spot as before. "Because I like your moxie, kiddo."
"You do?" Genowrath squeaked again.
"Of course! That's kind of go get'em attitude we need around here."
"Pfft. Maquasuel." Bezaliel waved his hand, as if brushing the word away. "He is a stick in the mud with no people skills. Or was, I guess, thanks to you slugger. No ambition. No vision. He was afraid you'd gone kill crazy and power hungry and were stabbing your way up the corporate ladder. But that's not why you did it at all, is it?"
Relief flooded Genowrath's chest. Was someone finally getting it? "Not at all!" he said. "I didn't even know I was doing it until Maquasuel told me."
Again, the amulet flashed green. Bezaliel didn't even look at it, and shot him the finger guns. "Bingo. You know, I could read it on you the second you came in. I said to myself, I said, 'this is not an insane demon. This is not a power-hungry lunatic.' You've got that goal-driven single-mindedness that looks like it to those idiots out there who don't understand, am I right?"
"Yes! Nobody gets it! I've tried explaining to my neighbor, to Maquasuel-- he called me a corruption because I wasn't interested in being powerful."
Bezaliel chuckled. "Heh, yeah, I admit, it's still hard to swallow that part, but I get what you're saying, and I respect it, and I respect you, Gen-- may I call you Gen?"
"Uh. Yeah, sure."
Bezaliel leaned across the desk. "Gen, buddy. Inquiring minds are dying to know; what is it you're after here? Go ahead and tell me, and I might be able to do you the favor."
"I want Dave," said Genowrath.
Bezaliel blinked. This time he did look at the lit amulet, then back to Genowrath. "And Dave is. . .?"
"He's the mortal I was bound to." Genowrath took a deep breath. "He sold me his soul in exchange for the usual. You know, helping with spells and curses and stuff. But he dumped me and went shopping around for other demons to work with. I want him back." His heart beat faster as the words poured out. "I want him. He's mine. I want to own him. That's why I killed the others; they all agreed to work for him, and I couldn't let that happen. He's mine-- no other demon should be allowed near him. I tried to tell them off, but they wouldn't listen. He's mine, and they didn't respect that! I don't know why it's so hard for everyone to understand! They freak out when people touch their stuff, and yet none of them get that it's like the same thing! None of them ever stopped, and the only way to get them to stop was to stop them. So, uh, that's why I did it all," Genowrath finished off lamely. "You asked, so, uh, that's why."
Bezaliel picked up the amulet, which was practically burning green. The light faded as Genowrath stopped talking. Carefully, the General put it down, then he steepled his hands and inhaled deeply. He exhaled and clasped his hands.
Then, the smile was back. "Gen, buddy, that is quite a unique prerogative you've got there, and I respect that. I really do. And this might be a crass question, and I apologize in advance, but may I ask what is driving this goal of yours? What do you intend to do with this Dave character?"
Bezaliel held up his hands. "Not judging, just confused. Logistics wise. In this grand plan of yours, what do you intend to happen? Are you going to drag a still living mortal into hell-- which is not entirely unprecedented, Bee-Tee-Dubs-- and just keep him in your room like a puppy you're hiding from the college admin? Do you want him thrown into the pits of torment to watch him suffer gruesomely until he dies of old age? That can also be arranged. Or did you intend for him to stay on Earth and you pop in once in a while to play bingo and eat Cheez-Its? Don't get me wrong, unrelenting possessiveness is a fine trait, and I want to help you with your goal, but I need more specifics. So," Bezaliel flicked his wrist and a notepad and pen appeared out of thin air in a small tendril of fire. "What, exactly, do you want? I'm all ears."
Genowrath stared at the table.
"I want his soul," he said at last. He kept his eyes on the table, knowing full well how audacious his request was. "I want him to stay on Earth, but I want his soul." The rage and hurt that had cooled quietly since the day Dave had cut him off suddenly flared up. "I want to hurt him. I want him to know he belongs to me. With his soul, I can keep him alive for as long as I want, and when I let him die, I'll still have him. I want to keep it in a jar in my room and take it out and look at it. Hurt it. Keep it. And he'll know. I want to be the closest thing to God he'll ever see."
He looked up and saw Bezaliel beaming. The notepad was full of Enochian scrawl.
"Gen, I say this with full sincerity; that was beautiful. I mean it. That there is a dream echoing the very goal of His Infernal Glory, and it just. Brings a tear to the eye." Bezaliel mimicked wiping away a tear. "It's a tall order, no question. Highly ambitious of you. Our dark lord, Eternal-Is-His-Wrath-May-He-Burn-Forever isn't really keen on the idea of souls being out of his immediate presence, you dig?"
"I know," Genowrath said miserable.
"But! But! But! There's no need to look so sad, Gen, because there is a bright side to this."
Bezaliel leaned in close. "I can make it happen for you. Probably. There's just an eentsy-weentsy catch. "
Genowraths heart pounded. "What?"
"You'd have to do me a favor."
Bezaliel grinned and sat back in his seat. "I thought you'd say that. It's not a biggie, no trouble for someone of your recently acquired-- yet still expert-like-- skillset. I need you to kill Shemsiel."
"Don't ask why," Bezaliel said, apparently having not heard. "It's top secret General stuff. I know it's a big risk, but I believe in you--"
"I'll do it."
"--and I know that it might go against the grain; lower demons have been basically conditioned to revere their Generals, but--"
"When do you need him dead?" Genowrath said loudly.
Bezaliel blinked. Then the smile returned. "Preferably this weekend. I mentioned that Hebdekios was working with me? Well, we had a setup for this Saturday. Me and an august personage, who will not be named, arranged for there to be a solar eclipse on Saturday. Shemsiel will be significantly weakened, given his connection to the sun, and will make for an easier target. If you miss that, then we're out of luck and will have to workshop another plan."
"And you'll really do it?" said Genowrath, desperation leaking into his voice. "You'll let me have Dave? You'll give me his soul?"
"Gen, champ, if you manage this for me, I'll entreat His-Infernal-Excellency to give you a bucket of souls. You could start a whole human zoo down here. Just one thing?" Bezaliel's face became stone cold. Genowrath could swear the temperature in the room dropped a little.
"Don't get caught. Don't let anyone know I had any part of this. If you do, then you'd better pray that Shemsiel kills you before I can get my hands on you. Am I clear?"
Genowrath suddenly became very aware of the different weapons he was surrounded by, and wondered briefly how many different ways of killing him were in this room alone.
"Can I use the dagger?" he said.
"Sure thing," said Bezaliel, suddenly cheerful again. He plucked it from the table and tossed it over. Genowrath caught the handle and stood.
"Can. . . can I go now?" said Geno.
Bezaliel laughed. "Eager! Love it. Go, go on. Don't get caught."
Genowrath nodded and left without another word. He picked through the piles of weaponry and let the doors close softly behind him.
He wasn't all too concerned about Bezaliel's threat. Some part of him knew he should be, but that wasn't the reason his hands were shaking. It took physical effort to keep himself from grinning like an idiot as he made his way out of the Shadow Palace.
He was going to get Dave back. Soon.