“I’m not the angel I used to be. I showed you my dirty little secret back at the hotel for a reason. The truth is that my wounds are getting worse, not better.”
“And you don’t want Mason or your generals to see you getting weak. I get that.”
“When Father threw us out of Heaven, all he gave us was a hole in the ground. I built Hell out of my sheer will, the same way he created Heaven. But now I’m falling apart.”
“And so is Hell.”
“The king is the land. The land is the king. The dying king is the death of the land. It’s an old story.”
“If you want a damned doctor, why don’t you go to Kinski? He has God’s divine-light punch-bowl glass. Wouldn’t that help?”
“Uriel is just sentimental enough to help me. That’s why he fell for you people in the first place. But the truth is, I’m not looking for that kind of help. What I want is to go home. But I can’t simply abandon Hell. The fallen are my responsibility. I can’t leave them to Mason and chaos and self-destruction. When I’m gone, Hell will need a new Lucifer.”
“If this is going where I think it’s going, then fuck you and every other blackhearted angel in the universe.”
“Careful with those curses. Don’t forget. You’re one of us now.”
He laughs at his own joke and stubs out the Malediction.
He says, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going home to fall on my knees and beg Daddy for forgiveness. I still believe in the argument. Angels shouldn’t be slaves to God or man. But I regret how I made the argument before. All the slaughter. I won’t ever be one of Father’s sycophants like Michael. I’ll be the thorn in Heaven’s side as much as I ever was. But I’m not a child anymore and I don’t want to burn the house down.”
“The way Aelita does?”
“You know about that?”
“She told me. She was practically bragging about it. She said I set her on the right path when I manifested a Gladius.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“That I hadn’t expected.”
“So, you want to go home and help out dear old Dad. Who’s the sentimental one now?”
Lucifer’s lips curl into a weak smile.
“Whatever else happens, I don’t want Aelita and the Sisters of Perpetual Smugness taking over. She’s such a bore. My war with Heaven had some style to it. You should have seen my golden armor. It was brighter and more beautiful than the sun. So bright that even after Father blasted the golden metal with a thunderbolt, driving us rebels into the dark, I still shone like the morning star. I was the light that the other fallen followed as we plunged from Heaven to the bottom of the abyss.
“Aelita’s war, on the other hand, will be drab and vicious, and Heaven will be worse than Hell if she wins. If Mason wins down below, then there will be all-out war between Hell and Heaven, and when it’s over there won’t be enough of either left to matter. Do you think this fragile world of yours can survive that? Can Alice and all those other helpless souls up there strumming their harps?”
“Thanks for the offer, Dad, but I’m not really interested in going into the family business.”
He looks at me, his eyebrows creasing.
“Good lord, boy. Do you seriously think I’m your father?”
“It’s obvious. My father is an angel. You’ve helped me over and over, when I was Downtown and now that I’m here. Now you come back to L.A. and invent some lame excuse that you need a bodyguard just to keep me around. And you’ve never for one minute stopped messing with my head. That sounds like a father to me.”
“First of all, considering that you just pulled a knife from my side, your ‘not needing a bodyguard’ argument falls spectacularly short. And second, if I helped you it was just to occasionally nudge you in the right direction. You did the rest yourself. If I ‘messed with your head,’ it was to challenge you to get past any obstacle in your way. You’ve seen Hell, so you should understand that ruling and surviving there takes cunning, insight, creativity, a little bit of luck, and a fair amount of ruthlessness. You had the kernel of all those qualities, but you lacked focus. You needed training.”
“You’re my Mr. Miyagi.”
“I’ve been called worse.”
“I’m not through with Mason, but I’m not interested in being you.”
“Too bad. It’s a package deal. Whatever you decide, I’m going home. None of my generals is equipped to run Hell on their own. It will fall apart in months if one of them takes my place. There are only two candidates with the power and knowledge to take over: you and Mason. One of you will live and lead. The other will die. I’m on your side, James, but if Mason is better than you, I won’t be able to stop him from taking over.”
“If you’re not my father…?”
“Uriel is your father, you imbecile. But you always knew that. I know your mind, James. You liked the idea that I might be your father because it fit your image of yourself and would let you continue to cultivate your anger. You have to stop fighting yourself if you’re going to survive what’s coming.”
My mind ices over for a second. I shake it off. Now’s not the time to think about any of that.
“If I’m not your son, why does this come down to Mason and me? Is Mason your little monster, too?”
Lucifer winces and touches his side. There’s blood on his hand when he pulls it back, thick and so dark it’s almost purple.
“Hardly. I’ve had a million children over the centuries and they’re all like Mason. Even when I’ve had them with good, smart, kind women, they always came out the same. And no, none of them are nephilim. Not the way you are. Whatever the deformity in my blood that produces such little bastards also makes my progeny human. Powerful humans, but nothing more than mad, cruel little Caligulas. They’re more the way the Church has painted me than I ever was. Isn’t that funny? I wanted to keep this transition in the family, but none of them was ever worthy to take the throne. That was truly humbling. I’d been God’s favorite. More than Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, or even your father. But I couldn’t produce a single heir who wasn’t a miserable piece of scheming human excrement.”
“What you’re really asking me to do is clean up your mess.”
“No. I’m going home to clean up my mess. I’m giving you a chance to save your world.”
“This isn’t my world any more than it’s yours. I’ve changed and everything is different. Nothing is solid. The world is all motes of light. Random nodes vibrating on long strings of existence. Fireflies in a jar. Who could love that?”
I almost want a cigarette. Stark screams in my head. I have to concentrate to keep him locked in the dark.
“I think about the Mithras more and more. I’d solve everyone’s problem by releasing the first fire and burning down the whole universe.”
“I tried that with Heaven, remember? Talk to your father before doing anything rash. Unless you want to be exactly like Mason.”
I look over at Ritchie.
“What are we going to do with him?”
“Nothing. He’s dead.”
“And you don’t even have his soul. He’s on his way to the Jackal’s Backbone.”
“I’m perfectly happy to let him wander and rot for a while. I’ll have his soul eventually.”
“You can’t go back to the Chateau. I’m using your room to finish things with Koralin Geistwald.”
He shakes his head and tries to stand. He doesn’t make it.
“I wasn’t going back there anyway. I need to return below and ready things for my departure. Do you think you might take me through the Room? It’s the quickest way and I’d like to rest before leaving Pandemonium. The elevator is out of service and it’s a long walk up to Father’s place.”
“The Druj Ammun controls the Drifters. Is it true it will control Hellions?”
“I expect so.”
“That could be a nice weapon if I decided to take you up on your idea.”
“It could be, but don’t count on it. Magical weapons have a way of revealing a fatal flaw at exactly the moment you need them the most. The Druj is powerful, but don’t ever get dependent on a single weapon. Who knows? You might not be able to keep it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You figure it out, nephilim.”
“Am I still being trained?”
He pushes himself up and manages to stand this time. I put out a hand to steady him.
“Consider it a last homework assignment before graduation.”
“Hold on to my arm and I’ll take you through the Room.”
He pulls me back.
“Don’t leave the athame lying there. Just because you shouldn’t rely on weapons doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have as many as possible.”
I get the athame and slip it in my coat next to the black blade.
“That goes for my armor, too. At some point you’ll need it. If Mason has it, you’ll have to take it from him.”
“I’ll only need it if I go back to Hell and I’m not. Ever.”
“No. Of course you aren’t.”
“Let’s take you home, old man.”
“Thank you for this, James.”
“I’m not James.”
“I know. But I liked James better. I hope I get to see him again someday.”
I LET HIM through the door, but I don’t go in with him. He’s on his own Downtown. I honestly don’t know if I want him to make it to Heaven or not. Like me, he’ll have to rise or fall on his own.
Only one of the angels will die by my hand, Aelita said. She was coming here, so she had to have meant Lucifer, right? But she didn’t come.
I dial Kasabian. No answer. I dial Kinski and the call goes to voice mail. Shit. I should feel something more than this. Fear. Rage. But I don’t. I just see the microscopic elements of the universe vibrating. The clockwork wheels turning behind the stars.
I can go and look for them or I can go back and deal with Koralin. I suppose Lucifer was right about some of the things he said about me. Especially now with these angel’s eyes, ruthlessness seems like good common sense.
I step through a shadow and back into the hotel lobby. A few of the hotel guests, who were bitten but not completely eaten, are awake. Adorable baby zeds. I herd them into the elevator, punch three, and take a few of them into Lucifer’s hotel suite with me.
Aki’s eyes go wide when he sees us.
I tear the tape off his mouth, cut one of his hands free, and give him my phone.
“Don’t worry. The Drifters won’t bite. For now. Call Koralin. Tell her where you are and that her prodigal son is going to be tonight’s all-you-can-eat buffet if she doesn’t get her ass down here fast.”
When he’s done, I tape him back up and go through a shadow to Vidocq and Allegra’s place. I need to get things ready.
KORALIN STEPS THROUGH the clock and into the room slowly, like she’s expecting a firing squad.
I turned off most of the lights, just leaving on the ones that illuminate Aki and the area by the sofas.
She spots Aki.
“Rainier, darling, are you all right? Has he hurt you?”
“I didn’t hurt him, but the genius shot a hole in his own foot.”
She starts to go to him, but I cut her off.
“He isn’t taking visitors and he isn’t Rainier. Don’t call him that.”
“He’s my son. I’ll call him whatever I like.”
“Your son is dead. So’s your daughter. I know. I killed her.”
She looks at me for a moment like she doesn’t believe me and then turns back to Aki.
“That was a terrible thing for you to do. Still, she was lost to me a long time ago.”
“It’s funny you should say that. You’re the last thing she talked about. She wanted me to tell you that she was sorry. She said that you scared her and her father and she wanted to get you back for it, but now she was sorry. What was she so sorry for? Taking the Druj?”
“She was always her father’s daughter. They were just alike. Always weak and worried. Always apologizing.”
“But not Rainier.”
“Rainier was a good boy. He was strong like his mother. He understood how the world was and what was necessary for the family.”
“He was that important and you let him die. Take you off the mother-of-the-year list. What happened to him?”
She walks back and forth, looking past me at Aki. But she doesn’t try to go to him.
“It was an accident. Rainier was reckless and headstrong, like all children. He went to a chemical plant and stole a large amount of ammonal, aluminum, and ammonium nitrate. He was going to use it to blow up the Springheel home. Can you imagine? It would have been such a merry thing, ending that ancient family line not with sorcery, but with something so mundane. But Rainier didn’t know how to properly handle the material. There must have been a spark or a flame. Perhaps one of his witless friends lit a cigarette. There was an explosion. That was the true tragedy of his death. It was so common and petty as to be obscene. It was a human death.”
“That’s got to be a bad way to go for you.”
She turns to me, looking every bit the ironclad matriarch that frightened Eleanor so much that she’d rather be a bloodsucker than a daughter.
“It’s the worst possible way for a Geistwald.”
I look at Aki and back at Koralin.