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29 August 2007 @ 11:35 pm
[Fic] "The Transient and the Eternal: Remembering" -- Angel Sanctuary  
I'm doing thirtyforthree for Kira Sakuya/Mudo Setsuna/Mudo Sara from Kaori Yuki's Angel Sanctuary. There will be spoilers in nearly every theme -- given the characters, it's nearly impossible to avoid them! -- and a lot of potentially objectionable content. This is because the source manga has a lot of potentially objectionable content. If incest squicks you, or you know you'll be bothered by some strange and/or negative interpretations of Judeo-Christian theology, you're probably better off not reading these stories.

With that said...

Theme: #22 - Remembering
Warnings: spoilers!
Note: This ficlet is set directly post-manga, and I've taken some liberties with Lucifer's character as compared to his portrayal in vols. 15-19... but given his thoughts on a couple occasions in vol. 20, I think I have justification for my interpretation. (Also, I attempt to lay groundwork for the political situation Kurai describes in Surprise.)

The Transient and the Eternal: Remembering

Lucifer watched Sakuya's spirit fly after his -- their -- father, and quietly fed the boy a trickle of power, enough to keep him from fraying and fading in the mortal world. He considered opening their father's eyes so he could see his son's ghost, but then he saw their father's hand curve around the nothingness of Sakuya's fingers, and realized that no intervention was needed. Sakuya had learned enough from their time together to manage on his own.

Setsuna and Sara were alive and together, God was dead, and his erstwhile human family was as happy as possible under the circumstances. Rosiel was gone, Alexiel was... waiting... and sooner or later he would see Michael again without anybody else's agenda getting in the way. Was that enough? Had he done it right?

What did 'right' even mean?

There was no point watching further. He should leave Assiah and go back to where he belonged. "And where do I belong?" he wondered. Both he and the world had changed immeasurably since he had last been himself. He could easily take control of hell again, if he wished, but...

"You belong wherever you choose to be, my lord," Belial said, coalescing out of the shadows behind him. "If I may make a request, however, please return to hell. Lead us. All the survivors are waiting for our king."

"Why should that mean anything to me?" he asked, but he spread his wings and opened a gate to Sheol, to the remains of the palace the Satans had built around his illusory heart. Belial slipstreamed in his wake, shimmering like the scales on a butterfly's wings.

He emerged in a great, ruined hall, strewn with the wreckage of chairs, tapestries, and ornate gold chandeliers. Dried blood stained the floor, and a chasm gaped at one end of the room, echoing with wind and the distant murmur of water. No living creatures stirred, save flies and the barbed lizards that hunted them; all the demons had gone to the borders of heaven or gathered in hidden safe-holds to outwait the fighting. The setting sun shone blood-red through the thick air of Sheol, casting shadows that puddled over his shoulders and around his feet.

He sat on a stone block near the cliff's edge, pulled a candelabrum from the ether, and began to search his pockets for a lighter.

Belial coughed.

He stopped, his empty hand stretched before his face, and stared at his fingers. He snapped them, once, and black flames sprang to life, dancing painlessly over his skin. One by one, he lit the candles; the flames shaded to gold as they found natural fuel and burned free of his power. Then he set the candelabrum beside him and extinguished his hand.

"Humanity is a difficult habit to break," Lucifer said softly.

"So it seems," Belial agreed. "Hide that, my lord; this is no time for weakness or introspection. Adam Kadamon's blessing bought a momentary truce, but the third holy war is far from over."

He raised one eyebrow at her, his faithful butterfly, so sure she had found ultimate truth when she discovered the rot and lies at the heart of heaven. "We'll see. Now be silent while I summon the others."

He sent a call reverberating through hell, retuning his subjects' attention to his presence and desires. After millennia of artificial limitations, the effortless surge of astral power was deeply reassuring... and, when set against his memories of humanity, almost unsettling. Power corrupted; absolute power corrupted absolutely. That aphorism wasn't necessarily true -- power was, to some extent, an illusion, and other factors constrained its use -- but it was a useful warning to bear in mind.

One God had been more than enough. Adam Kadamon had sacrificed the opportunity to replace God, choosing instead to die and give the realms one final blessing. Lucifer had no intention of following that path, but he thought he could, finally, manage to keep from becoming the creature he'd spent so long fighting.

His surviving Satans appeared first: Leviathan coiling like a hungry dragon among the stones; Beelzebub pacing and humming tunelessly; Mammon in his ostentatious jewels, eyeing the others like a vulture; Astoreth looking lost without Astarte's serpent form twined around him. Lucifer noted her absence, and the other two missing demons. Barbelo -- Baal -- had died at Kato's hand. Asmodeus, though...

"The count of lust shielded me from Wormwood with his body," Belial whispered in his ear.

He nodded. "Unsurprising, but wasteful."

"My lord?" Belial's voice was husky with the anticipation of insult.

He didn't feel like obliging. "He should have sent a vassal to guard you instead of sacrificing himself. I didn't create the council of Satans so you could throw your lives away without my permission." He reached over his shoulder and closed his hand around Belial's fingers, drawing her around to face him. She knelt, her painted jester's mask not quite hiding her confusion. "You should have arranged for your own guard to start with. You are a Satan, named to that rank by my personal decree. The position means something, Belial, whatever your opinion of its occupant."

Belial opened her mouth as if to protest, and then thought better of the impulse. "My lord," she said again, with less certainty. He released her; she moved back to stand with her fellow Satans.

Behind them, the hall filled with the denizens of hell, spreading back and up until they spilled out through the crumbled walls and roof to throng upon the shattered plain that surrounded this remnant of a vast palace. Electric lights, fires, and magical lanterns pierced the deepening night with a ruddy, flickering glow. Broadcast links and scrying spells transmitted the gathering through all the levels of hell, even into the broken remnants of Anagura and Stomach, for those who couldn't attend in person.

A dragon flew overhead. Lucifer looked up at the rush of wind, and wondered why the glimpse of Princess Kurai's silver hair made him want to smile.

Finally, he stood and raised one hand for attention, enforcing the gesture with his will. He spoke into the sudden silence, sending his voice out on subtle tendrils of power. "God is dead."

The roar of victory and disbelief rocked through Sheol, shaking stones loose from their precarious balance. He waited. A minute or ten was nothing, compared to the millennia through which he had learned patience.

"God is dead," he said again, quieting the last of the celebration, "and heaven is in chaos. The third holy war is over. We have won. However, without any ruler in heaven to surrender or to arrange the terms of peace, the victory is not -- cannot be -- official.

"I have no further enmity toward heaven," he continued into the hungry silence. "The one I opposed is gone and I have no wish to take what was his. I have no love for heaven either. If you want to keep fighting, I won't stop you.

"God's law was predestination. His will decided the shape of the universe and controlled our fates, each and every one of us. That is what I fought against. Therefore, while I claim your fealty as lord of hell, I won't set aside whatever rulers and laws you've raised in my absence. Do what you will."

In the corner of his eye, he saw Belial make an aborted motion. Wait, butterfly, he thought; it will come clear in a moment. "Realize, though, that your desires may conflict with those of your fellows. You may settle conflicts amongst yourselves however you want. Your desires may also conflict with mine. If that occurs, I'll give you one chance to stop your actions or persuade me to your point of view. If you fail to convince me, I retain the right to kill you.

"That is my due as lord of hell and your king. If you disagree, you can leave my realm or challenge me now."

Lucifer spread all four of his wings, letting power well up from the depths of his soul and spill out to wash the shattered plains and mountains of Sheol until he felt, faintly, the distant twist where space and time curled to form the edges of this plane, a fragile bubble of reality floating in primal chaos.

There was a long, nervous silence.

He could nearly taste the fear as his demons, so few of whom survived from the days of the Fall, realized viscerally who he was, what he was, and why none of the Satans had dared to challenge his authority directly through the long millennia of his absence. Not absolute power, but as close as anyone living -- save Alexiel -- could come to that mirage.

"Very well," he said softly, drawing in his wings. "I expect you to swear fealty, either in person or through the proxy of those who hold you as vassals. Messengers will contact you over the next weeks. Beyond that, for the first time since the creation, you are all free.


The crowd began to disperse, quietly, and then in growing tumult as they realized he was not going to strike them for a bit of noise. "You stay," he added to the Satans as he sat back down on his stone. "We have matters to discuss." Leviathan's tail swished defiantly; Beelzebub and Mammon fidgeted; Astoreth shrugged, apathetic; and Belial twirled her hat off the tip of one slender finger, letting it spiral away into the night.

"What sort of things, my lord?" his butterfly asked. "Our domains need organization in the face of your return, and it would be a shame to lose our tactical advantage in heaven for lack of attention."

"If your army isn't organized enough to withstand scattered angels, you deserve the challenge of rebuilding your position," he said. "Don't test my patience, Belial. As for what we have to discuss..." He pointed to the stones at his feet. "I told you I'm renewing oaths. All five of you, kneel and swear."

Belial promptly sank into a deep curtsey, ending on her knees with one hand pressed to her heart. The other Satans shifted, clearly out of practice submitting to anyone's authority. Lucifer understood the feeling, but mere empathy changed nothing; order had to be established. He raised one hand and let a whisper of power dance, flame-like, between his fingers.

His Satans bowed and renewed their fealty.

"In return, I swear to hear your grievances and to defend you against other realms, should you be attacked without provocation," he said, completing the ritual. "I'll be busy for a time, but in two days I want you here to report on your domains and vassals, and to witness others' oaths. Go."

Mammon, Beelzebub, and Leviathan departed with amusing haste. Astoreth, however, lingered. "In the old days, you never bothered with warnings," he said, sounding thoughtful. "If we tested your patience, we felt the lash. You've changed."

"And if I have?" Lucifer asked, leaning back against the rubble.

Astoreth shrugged. "Then you've changed. It means nothing to me -- you're still too strong to challenge. I just wish Astarte had lived to see this."

So Astarte, too, was dead. "How did she die?"

"Your son Abaddon impaled her," Astoreth said, his voice tight and even. "She released your spell and took the damage on herself and the snake, sparing me." His fists clenched, and then he visibly controlled himself. "It's fortunate that Barbelo is dead. That saves me the trouble of killing her and you the trouble of punishing me for her execution."

"I see." It seemed he wasn't the only one who'd changed; neither half of Astaroth had ever been so clear-minded in the old days, too maddened by hatred, despair, and the confusion of sharing one body between two souls. The partial separation bought by his spell had moderated the twins' insanity, but only barely. Now, finally, Astarte's death had shocked her brother out of his blood-tinged world. "She died of her own will, but managed to cheat God. Under his laws, self-sacrifice is morally different from suicide and does not annihilate the soul. Perhaps she'll find you again without the pain of her previous life."

Astoreth bowed his head, his hands sliding up over his face. "Perhaps. But I doubt it." He opened a gate, stepped backward, and vanished.

"Grief becomes him," Belial remarked, gliding into the pool of candlelight with a mocking smile. "He sees more clearly as well. You have changed."

Lucifer glanced down at his rack of candles, the tiny, flickering tongues of fire so fragile in the darkness. "Does that bother you? Have I upset your illusion of eternal truth?"

Belial frowned. "My lord?"

He sighed. "In all my lives, I seem to find myself surrounded by impetuous fools. Michael, Baal, you, Kurai, Kato, Sara, and almost every one of Alexiel's incarnations, especially Setsuna. If I were the person you imagine me to be, I would have killed you all long ago." He called Belial's hat to his hand and beckoned her close. "I don't lust for you, butterfly. I never will. That truth is safe. But there are other bonds, and not all desires are carnal."

He placed the hat gently on Belial's hair. "Consider it. And leave me for now."

Belial touched her hat, clearly not grasping his point, but she sank into the shadows and left him with only his thoughts for company.

The solitude was familiar -- he had been essentially alone for nearly all his life -- and yet, just as in Rosiel's palace, something felt out of place, setting him on edge. Lucifer grimaced, and banished his candles. He had never felt lonely as an angel or a devil, or even as a sword and then a disembodied spirit. He hadn't felt lonely as a human.

Of course, as a human, he hadn't been alone. He'd surrounded himself with people -- or let them surround him -- and even when he'd held himself aloof, when he'd reminded himself he wasn't one of them, he'd still felt that he belonged. He'd felt that somebody cared about him for his own sake, not for his power or rank or symbolic value.

He'd felt loved.

He stood abruptly, letting a wash of power change his leathers and cape into jeans and a t-shirt, the sort of clothes he'd grown used to in Tokyo. Then he summoned globes of light to hover in the corners of the ruined hall -- Sheol had no stars, and, contrary to popular rumor, opposition to God didn't grant the ability to see in total darkness. He didn't care to trip over rubble or fall down the chasm while he paced.

Lucifer had seen the parody of love and friendship other angels gave to him in heaven, and concluded that all such emotions were false. Yet he'd left the battlefield rather than fight Michael, and he'd trusted both Jibril and Belial. He'd seen angels break God's laws to serve their own selfish desires, and concluded that compassion and altruism were only threadbare illusions. Yet his own desires, while selfish in most respects, included a simple wish for Alexiel's happiness.

In retrospect, his own hypocrisy was blinding.

He had never felt lonely in heaven. Of course not. A man who had never tasted honey, never seen a rainbow, couldn't possibly know what he was missing.

He was still himself -- any changes were simply the realization of potential that had always existed within him -- but his other lives had freed him to start over, to see the world in subtly different ways. He knew what friendship meant, now, and how love could be soul-shakingly real instead of a festering lie. He knew the taste of happiness.

Lucifer stood in the ruins of the palace his Satans had built for him, and laughed. All he wanted was to find people willing to treat him as an equal, or at least to ignore his power and history. All! Such an impossible wish for the king of hell.

Setsuna had managed to make people see him instead of Alexiel or a faceless Messiah. But that was Setsuna's gift, a distillation of Alexiel's knack for drawing people in. Lucifer pushed people away. Sara had forced even her fellow elemental guardians to see her instead of Jibril, and won their respect anyway. But Jibril had always known how to touch hearts. Lucifer never had; he saw breaking points with icy clarity, but bindings eluded him.

"Absolute power," he said to himself, and laughed again. Nobody had that -- not even God, as events had so dramatically proved -- and he knew exactly how short of that illusion he fell, exactly how constrained he was.

"What have you done to me, Setsuna?" he murmured into the shadows of hell. "It was bad enough when Alexiel claimed me, but then you found that crack in my soul and forced me open. You and Sara, Kato and Kurai, and even Belial in her backwards way... You made me care. I can't root that out of my heart without destroying myself." Nor did he want to. He didn't want to lose the understanding he'd won so painfully.

"All this time and trouble and I'm still not free," he told the darkness, ruefully. "I'd kill the person to blame, only this time I seem to have bound myself."

In the ruins of Sheol, Lucifer smiled.

Then he turned his attention to rebuilding.




Cross-posted here on thirtyforthree.


I am continuing to post on the lj version of this community (rather than the Insane Journal version) because I am a creature of inertia and I don't want to bother setting up accounts on other journal sites. I have too many internet accounts and thingywhatsits to keep track of already -- another set is the last thing I need. *shrug* YMMV, obviously.
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