Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 11

“All I know is that what we think the rules are, as opposed to what they really might be, could be two different things.” She set off down the sidewalk again. “If Zeeviel doesn’t know for sure, well. Best to keep our options open, right, and look for possibilities we might miss if we get hidebound.”

Anthony stopped short as a demon with gigantic genitals passed in front of us, yanking a human along by a leash. The human was decked out in what looked like exquisitely painful bondage gear, arms lashed tightly behind his back, a ball gag cutting into his face, and a cage encasing his own genitals. Whip marks decorated him all over, and blood leaked down his legs from an anus that had clearly been violated far more than once by something far too large. He blubbered from under a blindfold.

“Wait a minute,” Anthony said. “I know that guy.”

Derek gave him his patented grin, all teeth and no humor. “Do you?”

“Yeah! I–” He stopped and stared at the ground. “I killed him.” His brow creased, and his shoulders squared. “And you know what, I’m not sorry. He needed killing.”

“Anthony.” I sighed. “That judgment is not given to you.”

“No?” He rounded on me. “Then who? Do you know what that guy did? He ran an underage prostitution ring. Little kids. Some as young as seven, and he partook of his wares. Often. Human authority wouldn’t do anything about him, because he had so much blackmail material on people in high places they’d be cutting their own throats. So you know what? I took him out. He had failsafes in place in case someone did just that, and a bunch of those assholes landed in prison.”

“He would suffer the torments of Hell regardless, as he now is,” I said. “Human authority might be slow, but Father’s judgment does unto them in the end.”

“Yeah, you know what? I improved the world by taking him out of it. Sooner was better. There are children not being abused, and monsters behind bars, because he’s dead. No one even put a hit on him; I did it on my own time. I’m supposed to be sorry for that?” He bared his teeth as his gaze followed the man down the street. “Looks like he’s getting his just recompense too.”

“Thou shalt not murder, Anthony.”

“I always understood that ‘murder’ in that context meant first-degree murder the way we understand it. Killing in self-defense, or the defense of others, isn’t the same.” He refused to drop his eyes. “Little kids, Zeevi. Seems to me there’s something about children and necks and millstones in there somewhere too. Maybe I was God’s hand on Earth at that particular point.”

He had an argument I wasn’t sure I could refute. “Perhaps. Perhaps that one was justified. It is not for me to say. Or you. But the others? All of them?”

“None of those guys were good people. And I probably wasn’t either, at the end of the day. But sometimes it takes a bad man to take out other bad men. And I guess if I’m going to burn here because of it, well. I’ll take comfort in knowing they’re burning right beside me.”

“Oh, Anthony.” My heart swelled. These humans that Father gave us were so complicated. Loving them was easier than breathing, since I didn’t need to breathe, but I sorrowed, too, because all the justifications in the world couldn’t blot out what he’d done.

Or, at least, that’s what I understood. Humans weren’t the only ones who saw through a glass darkly. Father didn’t tell us everything.

“Oh for–” Derek said. “Stop it, both of you. Anthony’s in Hell because he belongs here. Ditto me. Just stop.”

“And why am I here?” Freddi said. “Besides a clerical error, that is.”

“I got no idea, honey,” he answered. “Maybe to take some of my more arrogant big brothers down a notch. Maybe it’s part of Daddy’s vaunted Plan. Or maybe you belong down here too and none of us knows it.” He raised his hands. “Granted, no human has ever wielded the kind of power you do in this place, but that might just be because no one knows better. No human’s ever shown up with their big strapping Guardian before, either.”

“Behold, He does a new thing,” I said.

“Nah, bro. He’s still pulling strings and playing Dance Puppet Dance with all of us. Free Will aside.” He snorted. “Still not sure I believe in that.”

I did. I knew down in my bones what would happen to me if I forced a human to do anything, even if it were for their own good. That was a Falling offense. Try to convince a demon of that though–especially one whose stock in trade was persuading people to give their souls away for material gain. Demons didn’t labor under the same strictures as angels; they didn’t have to worry about Falling again, after all, and so possessing a human wasn’t off the table for them. Hopefully Derek had never violated that particular rule, especially since possession wasn’t as easy as human pop culture made it out to be.

“I wish–” I started, and stopped. I wished he could forgive me. I wished I could forgive myself. I wished I knew how we were going to get to the river with our skin intact.

Derek’s lips compressed into a flat line. “Doesn’t change anything, does it? Wishing?”

“Not particularly, no.” I bristled my wings. “But there are things I don’t have to wish. I don’t have to wish that Father has all in His hand, because He does. I don’t have to wish for His love. And I don’t have to wish I love you, or Anthony, or Freddi.”

“Can you not, with that?” Derek said. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Facts don’t care about your feelings, brother.”

“The fact is that you all left me down here to be tortured after they captured me.” His bitterness knifed me like a blade. “So your love, and Daddy’s, doesn’t actually mean anything at the end of the day.”

“I would give anything to go back and fix it. You know this, right?” Nothing in my very long life, other than Lucifer’s initial rebellion, had hurt me more deeply than Derek’s Fall. I still blamed myself for failing him at that critical moment. Every day. I wasn’t sure I deserved his forgiveness, though I craved it.

His irises turned red, and he opened his mouth to say something hot and injudicious–then deflated. “You’re a good egg, Zeevi. Better than Heaven deserves. Better than I deserve. I really hope you come out of this with that big heart of yours still intact.”

I slowly tilted my head and looked him up and down. “Maybe Freddi is right and you’re not beyond saving. Wouldn’t that be something.”

“Oh, for–You know what, detour time. I need to show you something.”

“Show us what?” Freddi asked warily.

“Oh, you’ll see. And then you’ll understand why this project you have of redeeming me–” He practically spat the words. “Is stupid.”

Derek took off at a fast walk, and after glancing at one another, we had little choice but to follow. He led us on a circuitous route through dank alleys and smelly back roads. On the outskirts of the city, unfortunately nowhere near the river, he stopped beside a shack, shoved the door open, and invited us in.

“This,” he said. “This shit is what happens when one of us tries to repent in front of Lu’s face.” We stood frozen.

The poor demon wretch was staked through his wrists to a table. Spiked chains bound his ankles, and his wings had been irreparably shredded. At least fifty rats gnawed on him, while other demons took turns whipping him, burning him with hot pokers, cutting him. Laughing while they did it, taunting him. His eyes were missing, and his tongue. He couldn’t even scream anymore, which made it worse.

“You see any feathers on him?” Derek demanded. “You see any sign whatsoever that Daddy honored his desire to repent? Or do you see him suffering worse torments than any human soul in this place?”

Freddi and Anthony backed away, turned around, and vomited. I spread my wings above them, trying and failing to be a shelter.

Derek slammed the door shut and crossed his arms. “So let’s not have any more idiocy about repenting demons, all right? It makes me tired.” He spun on the heel of his Italian leather loafer and strode away, expecting us to follow and firing “We call him the Prince of Darkness for a reason, you know,” over his shoulder.