River – Chapter One

Those who are left forge connections along with their new world. Drama With Occasional Romance, I-4 (Incomplete)

Lucifer leaned on the lip of a fountain and watched with some amusement as Belial and Arariel examined the Second Garden of Yggdrasil, each in her own way. Belial perched on a pillar, and Arariel prowled among the arches and benches. Neither of them seemed hugely pleased with the garden, despite what Lucifer considered a wild sort of charm to the place. Or maybe it was the prospective company that troubled them.

“Remind me again why we’re bothering to talk to anyone else about this little project of yours?” Arariel asked as she strode back to him.

He arched a brow at her. “As a group, they have the power to carry it off smoothly.”

She gave him a slightly pained look. “Am I or am I not speaking to the single most powerful being now alive in these planes? We don’t need them.”

Lucifer chuckled, quietly; Arariel’s bluntness was refreshing. “Not right at this very moment,” he agreed.

“Is he always this sneaky?” Arariel asked Belial, after a long moment.

“More or less.” Belial slid down from her perch. “One believes people are starting to arrive for the party.”

Indeed, one pair was approaching and a quartet had appeared in the distance. Belial stepped forward.

“Raziel-kun, how delightful to see you again.”

Raziel was looking older than Lucifer remembered him. Only a bit taller, but far more worn and a good deal less volatile. The boy nodded, warily, back. “Mad Hatter. Lucifer-san. And…?” He glanced, questioningly, at Arariel.

“Arariel,” Lucifer supplied. “She’s come to me just recently.”

Speculation and calculation flickered across Raziel’s face as he took in Arariel’s ice blond hair and bright, sea colored eyes—classic angelic coloring and form. “I see.”

Arariel tucked her hands in her pockets. “Pleased to meet you, Raziel-san. And…?” She tipped her head at Raziel’s companion, standing at his shoulder.

“Bodiel, one of the Anima Mundi’s subcommanders,” Raziel introduced her, taking a seat on one of the benches circling the fountain.

Lucifer listened to the tense amenities with only half his attention, much more interested in the four people nearing them now. Especially the shortest one.

Michael stalked up to him, stopping just far enough away that he could glare without having to crane his neck up. “All right, we’re here. What the hell do you want?” he snapped, radiating suspicion and aggression like heat from a bonfire. Lucifer felt the corner of his mouth quirk up. If he ever wanted to give his brother heart failure from sheer rage he would tell Michael that he was cute when he bristled.

Dangerous, but cute.

“Michael. Raphael.” Lucifer nodded to his brother’s companion, glance taking in the poised woman behind Raphael and the hulking aide standing a bit back from Michael. Wise man, that one. “I have a proposal.”

“Well, spit it out, already,” Michael growled. “So I can tell you to go to hell. I don’t want to spend any more time around you than I fucking have to.”

“Going to Hell could present some problems these days,” Lucifer noted, coolly.

Flames snapped around Michael before he got hold of himself, and Raphael gave Lucifer a dry look. Arariel had a hand over her eyes, and Belial was smirking. It was nice that he could always rely on Michael to defuse the tension. Well, aside from the tension between the two of them, of course.

“Besides,” Lucifer added, “we’re still waiting for one more.” Right on cue, the twining branches of Yggdrasil, off beyond the pillars and benches of the garden, rustled and a very tall figure emerged from them.

Arariel stiffened, and Lucifer nodded to himself. He’d been right, then. Uriel stopped at the edge of the pavement, looking unusually perturbed. And not, for once, by Lucifer’s presence.

“Ara-san,” he murmured.

Only Lucifer was close enough to notice the wavering breath Arariel pulled in before answering. “Uriel-sama.” She nodded to Uriel, but made no other acknowledgement and didn’t move from Lucifer’s side.

“You survived, then…?” Uriel asked, hesitantly, eyes flicking to Lucifer.

Arariel drew herself up. “When you disappeared the Order kept itself running reasonably well,” she reported, as if she were standing in front of a supervizor’s desk. “But the only one left to counter Sevothtarte was Gabriel-sama. I threw my support behind her. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done.” Her mouth twisted. “At least I understood enough of the situation to take who I could and run when Gabriel-sama went down. They never caught me, so I was never branded or formally outcast or stripped of my charge. It was easy enough to lose a few more people in Raquiah.”

Uriel’s eyes were sad. “Ara-san…”

Lucifer laid a casual hand on Arariel’s back, and she started like she’d forgotten anyone else was present.

“No wonder you brought Armaita along to ask your questions; especially that last one,” he remarked, and smiled to himself when Arariel relaxed under his hand.

“One never did get around to asking your rank, did one?” Belial mused.

A flicker of Arariel’s grin returned. “No, you didn’t. But don’t think this means I’m going to spar knives with you just because I technically outranked you, once upon a time.”

Belial made a disappointed moue, and Arariel looked at her old leader with renewed calm. “I survived, Uriel-sama, and so did the Order. Not,” she added, “that the judges are seeing much action these days.”

A smile tugged at Uriel’s mouth. “I’m glad you did, Ara-san.”

“Fascinating,” Raphael murmured, leaning against a pillar. “I do have to ask, though, whether we could get on before Mika-chan actually explodes from sheer spleen.”

Michael transferred his concentrated glare from his brother to his friend, and Lucifer recalled himself and turned to Uriel.

“Are you aware that Abe’s growth has been impeded?” he asked.

Uriel’s dark eyes sharpened. “I am. Do you know why?”

Lucifer’s mouth twisted. “If I say the blockage is centered in Briah, that should answer the question, shouldn’t it?” His gaze swept the lot of them and returned to Uriel. “I want to break that choke point before Abe becomes,” he flicked his eyes to Yggdrasil, “twisted and stunted.”

“Out of the goodness of your heart, no doubt,” Raphael suggested, examining his nails.

Lucifer raised a brow. “Have you not noticed that my people live here, too, Raphael? I hadn’t thought you were quite that oblivious.”

Raphael coolly declined to answer the jab and settled back, watchful. Michael wasn’t nearly as restrained.

“Shit! You really are, aren’t you? You’re really trying to take over the fucking heavens! What the hell makes you think I’ll help, you son of a bitch?”

Lucifer didn’t even try to deny his brother’s charge; it was more or less right, and explaining the whole plan would take too long. Instead he showed his teeth in a wolfish smile that excluded everyone but the two of them. “Because it will give you a chance to destroy a couple preciously civilized cabals and the supercilious bastards who run them. Raze them to the ground and leave those sneers smoking.”

Raw want flared in Michael’s face. He leaned into Lucifer’s words, fists clenched. “Yes,” he hissed. Lucifer didn’t think he even realized he’d spoken. They were related all right, he reflected with dark amusement. Though it lightened a bit when Michael’s lieutenant, Khamael if he recalled right, examined his leader and heaved a large though silent sigh of resignation. Clearly he understood exactly how Michael would respond to the promise of striking back at the smug bureaucrats who had ostracized him for so long.

Raziel’s warm voice, rather sardonic at the moment, broke the fierce focus between Lucifer and Michael. “You’ve chosen your lures with care, Lucifer-san. So tell me, what inducement do you have lined up to ensure the Anima Mundi’s compliance in this plan of yours?”

Lucifer laughed. He’d been sure someone as wily as Zaphkiel wouldn’t have chosen a successor without a sharp mind, and was pleased to be right. “None,” he told the young angel blithely.

Raziel raised his brows, seeming a bit wary of the edge to Lucifer’s smile. “Are you that sure we won’t interfere? That sure what you do is in the best interests of us all?”

The boy had an edge of his own, all right. Lucifer eyed him with approval. “I’m very sure you’ll agree with me, yes, but that wasn’t why I invited you to hear this. I thought you might take some personal interest.” He paused, but Raziel didn’t bat an eyelash. “One of the choke points we’ve mapped is the labs.”

Fury blazed up in Raziel’s green eyes, brighter than even Michael’s had, and his face froze in a deadly calm.

“As you do, I see,” Lucifer murmured.

Bodiel was chewing on her lip. “Raziel-sama.” She laid a hand on his arm, shifting forward more urgently when he made no acknowledgement. “Raziel-sama, please!”

“Peace, Bodiel,” he said, at last, very evenly. “I have no intention of abusing my authority by ordering anyone into this affair.” She relaxed, slightly. “At the same time,” he continued, “I won’t deprive those who feel the same way I do of the right to be present for this.” He turned his head to look at her, and she flinched back from his hard eyes.

After one more tense moment, Bodiel bowed her head. “Yes, sir. Though I don’t want to think about what Oriphiel will say to this,” she added, under her breath.

“If Oriphiel has any wisdom left, he won’t say anything,” Raziel snapped. “Not if he wants to keep his position.” His lips curled into an unnerving smile. “We will, after all, need to coordinate this, and an emissary to Michael-san’s people would probably be a good idea.”

Bodiel winced. “You’re getting more like Zaphkiel-sama every day,” she sighed.

Given the fey, chill curve to the boy’s lips right now, Lucifer could only agree.

“Actually,” Arariel put in, “I might have some people who could help you with coordination.” Lucifer wondered whether the gleam in her eye meant worse for their temporary allies or for her own subordinates. “I’m sure Tabris would fit in just fine with your people,” she said to Michael, “and from the sound of it Maion might be of assistance to you, Raziel-san. And they could both use some external diplomatic experience.”

“Really,” Raziel murmured, taking in Arariel’s steady look. “Very well.”

Michael shrugged, irritably. Arariel grinned for just a moment before recovering her composure. Lucifer stifled a chuckle; Tabris in Michael’s orbit was a slightly alarming thought, but if it made Arariel happy…

Raziel turned back to him, where he had been leaning on the fountain and enjoying the show. “I can gather some of the codes, from the minds of the guards or scientists, to open the labs for Michael-san and his people, as I assume you had in mind.” Lucifer nodded, silently. “But I doubt I can get all of them; there are too many and no one knows more than a handful.” His lips were pale and tight, probably with memory.

Belial stirred. “If one goes with you that will not present an insurmountable problem,” she said, carelessly.

Raphael jerked upright. “The hell you will,” he exclaimed, urbanity breaking down abruptly.

Belial slanted a look at him, mouth unsmiling. “One is no danger to Lucifer-sama’s brother.” As Raphael’s second edged a little closer to him, Belial’s lips gained a slight crook. “Nor to you, now, it seems. It took you long enough. One doesn’t think anyone else ever reacted so badly to having the blindfold ripped away, and yet lived. One’s compliments.”

Raphael snarled, and Lucifer intervened before Belial could answer the sharp swirl of icy wind with something sharper. “Enough. Play your games another time, butterfly.”

“As you say, my lord,” she agreed, demurely.

“The other strong candidate is the High Council Hall,” Lucifer continued, turning back to Uriel. “Yggdrasil seems to be trying to break through there.”

“I can well imagine the remaining officers and Councilors have been doing their best to hold that off,” Uriel growled. “It would be helpful to have someone to keep them off me while I work.”

Arariel crossed her arms. “It would be… most efficient… if I joined Uriel-sama there.”

Lucifer examined her hunched shoulders while he considered that. “Ah. That would give you both earth and water, wouldn’t it?”

Arariel nodded, silently, without looking up.

“Water?” Raziel asked, voice soft again as his eyes rested on the clearly unhappy Arariel.

“I have charge over mortal waters,” she answered. “I can only command the waters of these planes when I’m inside the influence of the Angel of Death.” She glanced up at Uriel and back down, dodging the concern in his gaze. “It’s an effective combination.”

Lucifer eyed her for a long moment. “Fine, if you’re willing. No one can command you to do this, Arariel.”

She blinked at him. Because, of course, they both knew that he very well could command her; that was one of the terms of her allegiance to him. Her eyes cleared as his message penetrated, though. He would not command her, and no one else had the right, now. She belonged only to the Lord of Hell.

Her mouth twitched. “You have a strange way of comforting people, you know that?” she said, for his ears only.

He shrugged one shoulder. “It works.”

She chuckled, and he could see her relax. “I’m willing,” she said, raising her voice again.

“That’s the two major contenders, then,” he said, releasing her.

“Should we take it that you don’t actually know where the key point of the blockage is?” Raphael asked, sounding rather jaundiced.

“Yes, you should.” Lucifer smiled coolly. “With these two out of the way, I expect it to become more obvious. That will be my business.”

Everyone stilled for one moment, reminded of Lucifer’s power. Michael broke the tension with a snort.

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Lucifer-sama,” Barbiel interjected, ignoring Michael’s look of absolute betrayal at her respectful tone in favor of squinting upward, “did you invite anyone else to meet here?”

“No.” Lucifer followed her gaze, picking out what looked like a dragon, spiraling down towards them.

It flapped down to land in the open space beyond the garden’s pillars, and two women dismounted. He recognized both of them and had to wonder what Kurai and her guard captain were doing out here. It didn’t look like an accidental meeting. Kurai stalked toward them, swept the assembly with glare and planted her hands on her hips.

“I’m going to kill Jade,” she declared. “I don’t know how it can be done, but I’ll find a way!”

Belial was smiling brilliantly. “And what, one wonders, is the Queen of Evils doing here in the garden of Yggdrasil?” she purred.

Kurai’s glare got even sharper. “That is absolutely, positively none of your business,” she stated, very firmly.

“Hmm.” Belial’s presence flickered from Lucifer’s side to Kurai’s back where she could drape her arms around Kurai’s shoulders. “Such vehemence from you to one’s humble self could only mean…” she paused, artfully. “Husband-hunting again, already, sweet Queen?”

Kurai turned red and made a sincere attempt to bury her elbow in Belial’s stomach. “Shut up!” she hissed. Belial slid aside with sparkling eyes.

“You asked the seer dragon something that personal?” Lucifer’s brows climbed. “You have even more guts and less sense than I gave you credit for.”

Kurai bared her fangs at him. “Yeah, and look what a wild goose chase she sent me on! Taken,” she pointed at Lucifer, “hopeless,” at Uriel, “obsessed,” at Raziel, “taken,” at Raphael, “and you’ve got to be kidding me,” with a sneer at Michael.

“Kurai-sama,” Noise sighed, rubbing her forehead.

Lucifer could feel a smirk taking over his mouth. Raziel was sputtering and Michael twitching at this cavalier dismissal. Uriel and Raphael, for once, looked equally speechless. Barbiel was looking smug, and Arariel was laughing so hard she had to lean on the fountain to stay standing. “I suppose,” he mused, “she might have thought you didn’t give your last marriage a fair chance.”

Kurai opened her mouth, closed it again, inhaled mightily, and broke off to whirl and yell at Belial instead. “Quit laughing! That was all your fault!”

“Indubitably,” Belial agreed, with a sweeping bow.

“Perhaps,” Khamael rumbled, tightening his precautionary grip on a fuming Michael, “we should return to the question of Briah.”

Noise raised a brow. “At least one person here has his head screwed on straight,” she muttered.

“Briah?” Kurai asked, suddenly serious. “What about Briah?”

Lucifer took in her white-knuckled hands and tight lips. “You’ve felt it, haven’t you?”

“The… the blight?” she whispered, and shivered when he nodded. “Yes. It’s like Gehenna was, when Assiah’s poison covered it.”

“Abe’s growth has been blocked. We intend to break that.”

“As soon,” Raphael put in, “as the Lord of Hell, here, figures out where the keystone is.”

Kurai looked up at Lucifer solemnly. “I can find it.”

“Majesty!” Noise exclaimed. “That’s too dangerous!”

Kurai waved her concern off. “I’m the dragonmaster, Noise, I’ve been one with them before; it won’t hurt me now.”

“But in such a dangerous place…! I won’t be enough to guard you while you’re—” she broke off, shooting suspicious looks at the listeners. Particularly at Michael, Lucifer noted.

Khamael seemed to be the one who understood why. “Our people were not involved, Captain. We took no part in that massacre. You have my word. If you wish assistance guarding your queen in Briah, we will give it.”

Noise looked at him, expressionlessly, for a long breath. “I accept your offer,” she said, at last. “I’ll be in touch about that.”

Kurai rolled her eyes, started to say something, and paused. She looked from Noise to Khamael and back, and a huge grin slowly took over her face. She clapped her guard captain on the shoulder. “You do that, Noise, I’m sure it will make you feel better,” she said, magnanimously

“There, now, you see how much fun it is?” Belial murmured.

Kurai shook a finger at her. “You be quiet! Don’t even think of messing this up!”

“One wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Looks like everyone will be in touch, then,” Lucifer observed, dryly. “This should be good for a laugh, if nothing else.”

Arariel had finally stopped snickering and caught her breath. “We’re done, then? Lovely.” She linked an arm through Belial’s. “Then you can come have a drink and tell me exactly what you meant when you said I reminded you of Her Majesty.”

Belial went along gracefully enough. “To be sure.”

“Lucifer.” Uriel came just close enough to both speak quietly and loom effectively. Lucifer’s mouth twitched; he knew perfectly well what this was about.

“Let me guess,” he suggested. “If Arariel comes to harm you’ll wind my guts around your scythe handle.” Not that he thought Uriel would actually do it. He was too soft hearted.

“More or less,” Uriel agreed.

“After you hurt her already?” Lucifer prodded.

Uriel’s eyes turned cold. “I know that she was hurt by my abandonment of my place in the heavens. If you, knowing that, hurt her the same way again, I will come for your soul myself. And not to stuff it in a sword, this time.”

Lucifer was moderately impressed by the sincerity in Uriel’s flat tone. He smiled slightly, looking around the small group as it split up again. “I gave my body and blood to make Hell habitable to those who followed me and were cast down with me. I didn’t abandon them willingly. Besides,” he shot a sideways glance at Uriel, “you give Arariel too little credit. She gave me her loyalty; she also demanded mine in return. She’s nobody’s fool. It’s why I accepted her.”

“Very well,” Uriel said, after a long moment.

Lucifer shook his head as he followed his gossiping lieutenants back toward the way home. If his brother believed, after watching this Rube Goldberg alliance in action, that Lucifer truly wanted absolute rule over every faction of Abe, he would think a lot less of Michael’s intelligence. However good a life Setsuna was having in Assiah, Lucifer couldn’t help wishing Alexiel would hurry up and wake. Intimidation and keeping people guessing worked well enough, but Alexiel’s careless compassion worked better.

TBC (eventually, maybe, sometime)