The Mind is its Own Place – Part Two

The world is changing for everyone, and everyone has to find some way to deal with it. Drama With Vague Romance, I-3

Character(s): Arariel, Lucifer, Mad Hatter

Belial liked to perch on top of the arches that bridged the city streets. The view was excellent, and se did like to keep abreast of how the city was running. It was rare that this observation moved hir to intervention, but se was wondering, now, whether it might not be advisable. Se suspected that if the two demons below annoyed Arariel any more the results could be… significant.

Belial sympathized entirely, of course. Se had never had any patience with strutting underlings, either. But it would mean a delay before Belial found out why Arariel had come, and that would be annoying.

“…kind of stringy, maybe we should start with the other one,” one of the leering idiots said, eyeing the very tense angel behind Arariel. Armaita, if Belial remembered correctly, not one se had known well.

Arariel’s eyes narrowed, and her wings unfurled, pure and brilliant against the stone of the city. Belial decided enough was enough.

“You will not,” se stated.

“Yeah, and who…” the demon choked as Belial slipped down from the arch. A cold, amused look sent both demons scuttling away, stumbling over disclaimers and apologies. Belial sniffed, and turned back to hir acquaintances in time to catch Armaita’s sigh of relief.

Arariel was wearing a rather crooked smile. “Thanks, Hatter.”

“Entirely one’s pleasure,” Belial assured her with a sweeping bow. “Might one ask what brings you here, though?”

“I got tired of waiting for you,” Arariel answered, eyes shuttered.

Belial’s brows climbed. “Indeed?” se murmured. “One does apologize for being tardy. You wish to see His Majesty, then?”

Arariel drew in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “Yes.”

“Hm.” Belial tipped hir head, watching Arariel for a long moment, but she returned the look without a single twitch or flinch. As expected, really. “Follow me,” Belial said, at last.

Se led them down boulevards, up stairs, through a hall, a garden and over the stepping stones of a large pool.

“Are you taking us by the scenic route?” Arariel asked, as they climbed the ramp that spiraled around the outside of a tower to reach the door on the roof.

“Not really,” Belial chuckled. “Lucifer-sama has a talent for finding hard to reach places. Fortunately there aren’t many with approaches quite this obscure. Ah, here we are.”

Lucifer was leaning against the arm of a chair, facing the door when it opened. He examined his guests and looked a question at Belial.

“Arariel and Armaita,” Belial introduced them. “I believe Arariel has some business with you.”

He smiled. “Business?”

“Just a few questions I wanted to ask you,” Arariel put in, quietly, stepping forward.

Amusement gleamed in Lucifer’s eyes. “Ask.”

“What do you require of your people?”

Belial, fading into the shadows to watch the show, paused in surprise. That was far more formal than Arariel usually bothered to be.

Lucifer’s stillness shed the lazy edge it had had lately. “That they obey me,” he replied. A thin smile crossed his lips, and he added, “And that they keep the body count from their internal plotting within reason.”

Armaita wrapped her arms around herself, shivering a little. Belial wondered why Arariel had brought her, and not someone like the ever-calm Nisroc.

“And do you protect your own?” Arariel asked.

Belial smirked. The last time Lucifer had been among them he probably wouldn’t have dignified such a question with an answer. Now, he pushed upright from his chair.

“I do.”

Armaita stumbled to the floor.

“Armaita!” Arariel gathered the other angel close and looked sharply at Lucifer.

Armaita shook her head, squeezing Arariel’s hand. “It’s true,” she said, a little shakily, and then laughed on a broken breath. “Very, very true.”

Belial started. And then se couldn’t resist the urge to applaud. “You brought someone who hears truth to negotiations! Brilliant, Arariel.” Se paused, judiciously. “More brilliant if it were less obvious, but still.”

“Shut up, Hatter,” Arariel told hir, exasperated. “This is too much for you, Armaita. Wait for me outside.”

Armaita shook her head, stubbornly. “No, Arariel-san. You need to know. I’ll be all right.” She cast a rueful glance up at Lucifer. “I never thought the Lord of Hell would speak so truly.”

Lucifer, who had watched the flurry silently, folded his arms. “Nanatsusaya left me some of its edge, I think. A double edge, of course.”

Armaita nodded, and turned back to Arariel. “I’ll be all right.”

Arariel sighed, and tightened her arms around Armaita. “All right.” She looked back up at Lucifer.

“Ask,” he repeated, evenly.

“If I bring my people under you, will you protect them?” she asked. “Even if I’m killed?”

“If they wish to continue to serve me, I will protect them,” Lucifer answered.

Armaita nodded. Arariel echoed it.

“Then I only have one more question. Will you lead us, and not abandon us, even for Alexiel when she returns?”

Lucifer looked thoroughly startled for a moment, before his mouth twitched and he raised his eyes to Belial’s. Se wound hir arms around hirself and gazed back. It was the one thing se had never asked him—had never dared. He sighed.

“Alexiel draws souls after her,” he said to Belial and Arariel both, “and there will be times when I’m gone, no doubt. But I won’t abandon you.”

A shudder passed through Armaita, and she nodded, vehemently. Arariel relaxed, and Belial was mildly disgusted to realize that se had as well.

“All right,” Arariel said, tone decisive, and stood. She hesitated, one hand on Armaita’s shoulder when she wavered a bit.

Belial settled beside Armaita and offered an arm. The truth was to be valued. Armaita leaned on hir readily.

“Thank you, Hatter-san,” she murmured.

Arariel grinned down at them, eyes sparkling as Belial gave her a cool look. “Seems I really did catch you pretty well,” she commented. “Only fair that I’m caught in return, I suppose.”

“Are you caught?” Lucifer wanted to know, as Arariel approached him.

She snorted and knelt before him. Snagging his hand, she pressed a kiss to the back of it. “I’m yours,” she told him, quietly.

Belial laughed silently. That, now, was more the sort of formality se expected from Arariel. In hir arms, Armaita shivered and looked up at Lucifer. Slowly and deliberately, she nodded. His expression warmed a shade as he returned it, and tugged Arariel back up.

“Groveling bores me,” he told her. “Don’t bother.”

She grinned as he went to stand over Armaita. Belial felt a moment of surprise when he held his hands down to Armaita and she took them without hesitation and let him draw her to her still shaky feet. Se didn’t think se had ever seen anyone trust the Lord of Hell so simply. Then se caught sight of Arariel’s smug expression, behind Lucifer, and had to hide a smile under the brim of hir hat. Arariel was a sly creature, to offer such bait to one who had been betrayed by his creator and reviled by his people because of it.

“Very clever, Arariel,” Lucifer said, without looking around.

“I thought so, yes,” she agreed, without even the grace to look abashed.

Lucifer directed his amused smile down at Armaita. “And where did you come from?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted, softly. “Gabriel-sama took me into her household very young. I never found out whether I was a Forbidden Child, or intended to be like this, or simply an… anomaly. But that was where I met Arariel-san, and when Gabriel-sama was struck down Arariel-san took me with her and escaped.”

“That’s like Gabriel,” Lucifer noted. “And like Arariel, too,” he added, glancing over his shoulder at his new subordinate. She met his eyes calmly.

“Your assistant, here, should make it easier to convince your people to accept my rule,” he observed. Arariel shrugged one shoulder. “How easily could you convince them to move?” Lucifer pressed.

Arariel arched a brow at him. “Here, I take it? That probably depends on just how much your heart is set on rubbing us in everyone’s noses.”

Lucifer’s eyes were hooded. “I am very dedicated to a stable world for all of us, but I’m doing it out of spite towards the dead. I’m not going to kill you off with unwarranted optimism.”

Armaita twitched a little and looked up at him reproachfully.

“Always and only the truth,” he told her before turning back to Arariel. “There’s a new area of the city no one has moved into yet. I would prefer you didn’t have to leave a trail of bodies behind you when you walk down the streets, but I do want you closer.”

Belial considered that. It sounded as though se was finally going to have some company in hir attendance on hir lord. Se eyed Arariel, who was eyeing hir back. Lucifer leaned back against his chair, out of the line of measuring looks, and waited.

“If the second war taught me nothing else,” Arariel spoke at last, “it taught me what loyalty means.”

Another two edged statement, that. But Belial was willing enough to trade away a little of hir freedom to betray in return for one more person who would not betray Lucifer.

“One understands the principle, as well,” se answered.

“I think the question is whether you’ll apply it,” Arariel said, dryly.

Belial returned a nod. “I think the answer is that I will.”

Se appreciated Arariel’s diplomacy in not checking the statement immediately with Armaita.

Lucifer smiled, faintly. “I’ll leave you two to settle the details, then.” He laid a hand on Armaita’s shoulder. “Come. I’ll show you the new quarter while they fence with each other.”

Armaita muffled a laugh and ducked her head, following him out.

Belial and Arariel both snorted and exchanged a speaking glance. Arariel joined hir at the window, and Belial obligingly moved over to make room on the ledge. They looked out over the city for a while, in comfortable silence. It was Arariel who eventually broke it.

“Alexiel,” Arariel pronounced the name like the answer to a question. “Tell me about her.”