In Which People Just Talk At Each Other For Awhile (But It’s In Hell, So It’s More Fun)
February 15, 2012 § 4 Comments
See dialogue, which forms the bricks and mortar of stories, can be reduced down to people just talking at each other. The good news is that this entry of the story will be far less boring than that.
And I KNOW that I haven’t fulfilled my end of the contest yet. Je sais, et je suis désolé. This is what I get for changing my update schedules!
In any news, have more story!
Stained-glass windows scattered red, gold, and green light across the room, just enough to make out the richness of the carpet. What wasn’t bathed in the pale, coloured light was hidden in deep shadow. Lucifer himself shone with golden light. To Amira’s eyes, he appeared as a young man, albeit so handsome he gave new meaning to the term “damned handsome”.
His hair was black and cropped short to his head. Just enough was left to give him a a slight part in his hair which gently brushed the tip of his thick brow. Blue eyes rested above proud cheekbones and a perfectly flat chin flecked with just a hint of stubble. He lay sprawled back on his throne, naked but for simple trousers, and proudly displayed his body. Some demons preferred a monstrous appearance but Lucifer obviously intended to impress. Amira’s breath caught in her throat at his sheer beauty. A tiny smile played across his lips, and Amira’s pulse quickened when his eyes caught hers.
Distracted, she tried to focus on the throne. It was almost as impressive as the man who sat atop it and was far beyond the skills of any mortal craftsman. An obsidian dragon, perhaps ten metres long, rested on a raised dais and was curled into a coil upon which Lucifer sat. The dragon was so life-like it looked like it had fallen asleep rather than be a chair carved of stone. Amira waited for it to stand up and shake off Lucifer, who’s feet rested on the broad, shovel-head, and who idly played with a golden tooth as long as Amira’s arm. The scale and ostentation of the thing was preposterous. Each black scale, and there were many, was edged in silver. Each tooth, and there were very many, was shaped out of gold, and two ruby eyes the size of Amira’s head seemed to follow her across the throne room.
Be careful, girl, she thought to herself, this isn’t a place for little people. She tried not to think of how very little she was. In terms of power and physical presence, she was by far the smallest thing in the room. The damn chair has more presence than I do. Black tendrils of despair began to gnaw at her heart. What the hell was she doing here? She wasn’t anyone important. She wasn’t anyone at all! She was just a stupid woman who had the bad luck to go to Hell, and it was some damn quirk of Fate that made her valuable in the slightest.
God works in mysterious ways. Well, Amira thought, if this is how He worked, then she was going straight to the Metaphysical Better Business Bureau.
A sudden thought occurred to her. Why not walk out? Why not just walk out that door and lose herself in the city? So what if they would come for her, so what if they would try to stop her? It literally did not matter anymore. Hell, she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Why put up with this crap now?
As if in response to her thoughts, the doors groaned shut. She started, but covered it by pretending to smooth her skirts. The fear was suddenly back in her throat, but so too was the sound of drums in her head. They were tribal, powerful. They were drums played on a black night to call back the sun. They were drums played to beat back the fury of the storm. They were hide drums, beaten with sticks and sweat by mortals, mortals who knew fear and dark and drummed those things away. Drums that beat on even after the drummers stopped. This was the voice of the Earth, the voice of the Earth’s children. It drummed away against her fears, beating them down into the blackness.
Don’t worry none. Spider’s voice echoed in her heart. We goin’ climb.
Lucifer smiled, and Amira was not surprised to see that every tooth was perfectly shaped and probably moulded out of pearl. His face, perfectly handsome before he smiled, only improved when he did.
“Welcome, Baron. It has been far too long since we have seen each other. It does us good to stand in each other’s presence once more.”
Lucifer’s voice was deep and resonant, almost melancholic. But Amira noted that he did not stand for the Baron.
“Good day and all days to ya, Prime Minister. Good to be back and all that. Can’t say Pandaemonium misses me, and I can’t say as I miss her. I’ve got too many memories of this place to rest easy while I’m here.” The Baron chuckled, but there was no humour in his voice.
“Pandaemonium does not forget, that is true. But I trust that you have caused her no slight that she will remember?” He smiled again and clapped his hands. “Look at us, jabbering away and ignoring your honoured guest.” Lucifer turned and looked down at Amira. “I am Lucifer the Free, Prime Minister of the Hellish Parliament, Lord of the Dispossessed, Champion of the Armies of the Morning Star, Light Bringer and salvator of Man, the Proud, the Mighty, and the Lord of the Undying Lands. To whom do I have the honour of speaking?”
Amira curtsied meekly. “I am Amira Mehenni-Flanagan,” she cast about for a suitable honorific, “your Honour, and I am but a mortal woman who has died and come to this place. I come before you as a free soul at the invitation of the Baron, Mr. Saturday, to do you homage.”
The room went deathly silent. Amira froze with her eyes plastered on the ground. What in Hell did I just say? The bit about being “free” and at “the Baron’s invitation” had just popped into her head. Why had she said it? She instantly regretted it and was terrified at what it meant.
Oh sure, a small part of her said, you meet the most powerful man/angel/demon in Hell and the first words out of your mouth are dumber than dirt. Well done, Amira. I’m sure he won’t think you’re an idiot now. Her mother’s voice chipped away at her. Even past death, it seemed, she could not do right by her.
There was a long silence, far too long for Amira’s liking, who would have honestly preferred a polite cough, raised eyebrow and a “Well then,” as they returned to business. It lasted, however, only about a second before Lucifer laughed.
Amira was almost as shocked by the laugh as she had been her words. His voice was filled with honest glee, as though she had just told him the funniest joke she knew and left all the swear words in. The Baron stood motionless, his skeleton mask giving away nothing. Amira could tell he was seething with something, but dared not guess what.
“Look up, dear girl, look up.” Amira raised her eyes and met Lucifer’s. They were flecked with bits of gold that caught the light. From where she stood, they looked like the sun rising in the sky. “I think you have quite neatly dismembered the dear Baron. It looks like he was not expecting such an introduction.”
“I meant no insult. The words, they just came to me!” Amira protested.
“It is quite alright. I am certain that the Baron has had much worse in his time, and that he will hold nothing against you. Am I right, Samedi?”
Jerking himself into motion, Mr. Saturday nodded. “Of course. Ne pensez-vous pas, it was nothing.”
“I thought as much. Now please excuse us, Baron. I wish to speak with this woman alone.”
Mr. Saturday bowed and murmured a goodbye as he walked out the doors. They admitted him before booming shut again. Amira did jump a little when they boomed shut.
Lucifer fixed her with an inquisitive eye. “You are frightened of me.”
“Well, to be honest, yes.” Amira blurted out. “Yes, I’m very frightened of you.”
Why? Because you’re the God-damned Devil, that’s why! But what Amira said was, “You have a sinister reputation, and I’m still expecting the worst.”
“Ah yes, pitchforks and cloven hooves and all that tripe. Yes, my reputation does proceed me, and unfairly so. Man owes much to my choices, much he refuses to credit to me.” He leaned forward and steepled his fingers in front of his face. “But that is not why you are afraid of me, Amira Mehenni-Flanagan. And that is not why you introduced yourself the way you did. You are frightened to your core, and you do not even know why. You realize, that there is nothing to be worried about? I may be Lucifer, with all the baggage that name entails, but I am no barbarian. Hell is not a place of torment unless you choose it to be.”
“And what about the beggars on the street, the ones that your Arbiters, your, things, beat into nothingness? What about them? Do they have something to fear?”
She clamped her hands over her mouth in shock. Being dead was doing wonders Amira’s her self-respect but was taking its toll on her decision-making.
If Lucifer was shocked, he only showed it by gently arching his eyebrow. His smile did not falter, and if anything, turned slightly mournful.
“Ah yes, those poor souls. I do not rejoice over their trials. Suffering, pain: these things mean nothing to me. I desire only one thing in my realm: order. I forbid begging not because I hate the beggars, but because I love them. Only by having such harsh penalties for begging do I dissuade those still with wealth from squandering it. I love all the souls, all the demons, all the beings within Hell, and if I must treat a few harshly for the good of the rest,” he shrugged, “then, with a heavy heart, that is what I shall do.”
“You love everyone?” Amira asked.
“Why do you doubt that I do? Why would you doubt me? From the Beginning I have strove only for the good of Mankind. I told to Eve the secret of her freedom and liberated man from bondage. Even here, exiled, I built a city, a monument to freedom, one that shall stand forever. Think what you will about my realm, but know that there are no slaves in Hell. I demand fealty from none, and ask only that those who would enter my city follow but two rules. Two! Even in Heaven, there are more.”
Lucifer chuckled and Amira couldn’t help but feel slightly foolish. There was something completely trustworthy about the Prime Minister of Hell, something that disarmed all the suspicion Amira felt she ought to have. Perhaps it was the easy way his smile trapped her breath in her throat, or the firmness in his tone when he dismissed her doubt. He was certain, he was confident. He was handsome.
“What, may I ask, are those two rules?”
Lucifer tapped them out on his long, thing fingers. His hands looked remarkably strong and flexible, and so big! So big that they could…
“One: take nothing that does not belong to you. The Master rewards obedience and punishes choices that He does not approve of. The Master took our choices from us. That must never be repeated. Two,”
He flicked his head to clear an errant strand of hair out of his eye. His full lips smacked in annoyance and Amira wondered what they tasted like.
No. NO. I am putting my foot down. You stop that hormones, you hear me?
But Amira’s libido was not bothered by the fact that she was dead. It carried on, happy as a clam in a boat or a fisherman at sea (or whatever the metaphor is), and currently, the sight of Lucifer’s mostly-naked body was making her clams very happy. Her hormones, or in this case her mental expectation of how she assumed she would react to such a man, cheerfully ignored her. After all, there was the most impressive six-pack this side of the river Acheron glistening not five feet away from her.
“Two: give nothing away freely. The Master freely created us, and in so doing, expected our worship and obedience. For those who were not willing to bend their knee, would it not have been better never to have been created? Selflessness is anathema to freedom, for even charity makes demands upon those who receive it. That is why your beggars are punished, as those who ask for charity. By their demands, they put chains of expectation, of guilt, on others. I came to Hell to escape such chains, not to take part in the forging of new ones.”
“That’s so interesting…” Amira shook her head to clear it of visions of rippling muscles. “But wait, isn’t what you’re doing with these laws just another form of slavery? You are forcing the people of Pandaemonium to follow your laws, even if those laws make them free.”
He smiled again, and Amira wished he would stop doing that. “A clever argument, but a flawed one. No law binds them here. No punishment awaits them should they choose to leave. Outside my, rather, the walls of Pandaemonium, no laws exist. I make no unbearable demands, nor punish those who do not wish to leave. The doors of this city are ever open. Damnation waits for none who leave.”
“But, isn’t that what God did for you? I mean, it’s not like He’s chasing you down here or anything. You disagreed, and left. Isn’t this exactly the same?”
“There is a difference of degree. I am not God, and this is not Heaven. I am not the all-powerful Creator who chose a flawed world to make, and to punish the choices of mortal beings. I am closer to mortal than He shall ever be. I know your limits, your weaknesses, and your pride. He knew nothing. He knew only His desires and thought nothing of your kind. I have. This city will comfort you, should you let it. It will succour you, should you desire it. You can even become great here, should you work for it. This is not a paradise, but if you work for it, you can make it so.”
His words were delivered with such conviction that Amira couldn’t help but believe them. He was not making an argument, nor was he defending his position. He believed, so strongly that it was becoming certainty, in his city. The force of his belief was enough to infect Amira, to make her begin to see it as he did. Pandaemonium sounded like a garden of infinite possibilities. She could survive here. Hell, she could thrive here.
She curtsied again. “I very much wish to see your city now, your Honour. You’ve won me over, if that is what you were trying to accomplish. I must, though, wonder why? Why tell me all this? I’m quite unable to disagree with either you or the Baron.”
“There are no slaves in Pandaemonium. You are free to do whatever you wish, go wherever you will, and are only bound to those you agree to bind yourself to. No-one holds you here, Amira, not even I.”
Nor does the Baron. The unsaid implication rang in Amira’s ears as she curtsied again. “Thank you, your Honour. I think I now see your point.”
“Please, call me Lucifer.” His devastating smile cut right through her. He rose and took her arm as he led her to the door. She had to resist blushing at the feel of his arm on hers. The closeness of his body and the warmth that came from him took her breath away and it was all she could do to walk without leaning on him.
She was so distracted that she thought the dragon throne moved to look at her. Clearly, she was more distracted by Lucifer than she thought, but she dismissed it, as her hallucination only lasted a second.
“Well, Lucifer, that suggests that I will see you again so that I get a chance to call you by your name.”
He took her hand and brushed his lips across it. Heat seared her hand for a second before a warm tingling filled her. She gasped and immediately blushed again.
“I have faith that that we will. A good day, and all days, to you, Amira.”
Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! But she did not. Lucifer was turning her crank, and she had no intention of stopping him.
“And you, Lucifer.”
The doors shut behind her, but her heart raced for some time.