AN: Throught this story superhuman beings like Angels, Demons and God have no specified gender. After much thought, I decided to use Ze/Zir/Zir pronouns for all of them, in order to avoid confusion with "They/Them" plural vs singular forms.
Chapter I: Presage
It had been a particularly arid season and the summer heat could still be felt lingering around the cloister as the Head Priest hurried to clean it. He poured buckets of water on the dusty granite tiles covering the floor of his Monastery. Joined by voluntary arms of his Brothers in faith, he scraped at the floor with all his might, as if cleansing his very soul from capital sins. They worked hard till late in the evening when the mosquitos came out to feast on their sweaty skin.
'We should call it a day,' the Father finally said, sensing that the others might be nearing their limit. 'We have made good progress today.'
He had only recently moved to this once-abandoned tiny Monastery on the edge of the map of his known world. Shortage of Priests meant that there were plenty of similar areas in need of restoring. He didn't really have a choice, when the red cloaked Cardinals had summoned him to the Endless Palace and ordered him to take all of his belongings out of the Academy's dormitories and move to this far-off land.
Given his most recent papers, he had foreseen that something like this would happen. The higher ups of the strongest and most influential religious movement in the Country had not liked his philistine research, as they called it. He had been forced to publicly declare his work to be blasphemous and burn all of his publications on the subject. As if that had not been enough, his superiors had judged it wise to send him away, isolating him from the rest of the community. Some time off in the countryside, in close contact with Nature and Its Creation would do him well, they had claimed.
Yet more than punishment, the bold Priest had seen it as a blessing: moving away from those eyes always watching him, checking on his every move to make sure he upheld to the Church's strictest values. What better outcome could he have asked for?
Thus, he had been charged with reforming a decadent Monastery back to its former splendour. A task requiring a non-negligible amount of effort and time.
The building itself was in shambles, with many of the rooms in unsafe conditions due to the devastation that time and lack of care had left on them. When he first had arrived, he was the only clergyman in the area. Part of the cloister was cluttered with debris and most of the rooms were unusable. In addition to that, he had been unable to find shelter and spent two nights sleeping rough in the abandoned church. After about a week of excavating and moving stuff around on his own, he had received the first visit from one of the villagers. They had heard noises and came to check up on the church, thinking it might be the work of a ghost.
After the initial surprise, the old man had offered his sons' help to clean up the sacred place. The Priest had accepted, making a note to repay their kindness in the future. And so, a few weeks later, he had been joined by five part-time workers at the Monastery, two of which aspired to become experts in spiritual matters. He had appeared as a ray of hope to them, they had said.
Indeed, the Priest learnt that before being abandoned, the Monastery had been a bustling research centre, with a well-furnished library and plenty of scholars. Yet, a vicious fire which spread quickly over the span of a single night had destroyed everything and killed everyone who used to live there. Since then, there had been no more sighting of religious figures in the Village and it seemed as if the main Church had forgotten about them.
This was great news for the Priest, at least in part. But he could not let that show in front of the youths, who had felt dejected at the lack of interest in them shown by those whom they believed should care about them the most.
Father Emmanuel wiped the sweat off his temple and walked up to sit on the edge of the well situated at the centre of the cloister.
'Would you like some water, Father?'
The one who had asked was a young lad from the farms in the Village. He had a round, puffy face since he ate many grain-based meals and was very fond of bread. Despite being only fifteen, however, he was one of the strongest teenagers in the Village and a real help at the Monastery. His given name was Randolph, but everyone called him Rufus because of his reddish hair and freckles.
'Thank you,' Father Emmanuel replied. The freshness of water was blissful on his parched throat after a full day of work.
'You should return home soon. It's getting darker sooner these days,' the Priest pointed out.
'It's not like we are little kids, Father,' joked one of the boys. He had black oily hair and an olivine complexion. His green eyes were piercing, and his height made him look slender than the others. His name was Marcus, and he was the son of the miller.
'Mountainous roads are dangerous even for experienced witch-hunters, if they let their guard down.'
'I thought witches were a legend of the past…that no-one can use the forbidden knowledge anymore.'
'That may be so, but wolves and vixens are very much still a thing in this area.'
'The Priest does have a point, Jacob. We should not make our parents wait for dinner.' The last one to speak was the oldest of them all; a chestnut-eyed boy with soft lineaments but a firm gaze. He was the son of the metalworker down at the Village, and the older brother of Jacob.
'Fine. I get it. Let's go, Scruff!'
A small dog with fluffy fur appeared from behind one of the scattered bricks. He had heard the call of his owner and hurried to his side. 'At least with you we can face wolves if they show up,' the youth joked.
'Be careful, Joan.' The Priest kindly looked at him and his brother as they left, followed by Scruff the dog and Rufus.
'Are you staying behind, Marcus, Philip?'
These two were those who had expressed sincere interest in taking up religious studies under his guidance and he had promised he would take care of them once the Monastery was brought to a more decent state.
'If you don't mind, Father.'
'I don't. Let's go prepare your rooms. It will be dark soon and we need to revive the fire.'
Inside the Monastery it was cold. The stony floors and walls did a terrible job at keeping the heat, which easily escaped through the minute cracks running through them. Yet, the young boys didn't mind. As long as they could listen to the Priest's stories before going to bed they would be fine even sleeping outside with just a blanket.
Father Emmanuel, however, could not allow that, and he made sure that the two were warm enough for the night every time they slept over. Even if it meant giving up some of his personal space to share the only working firepit.
'What are we going to learn tonight, Father?'
'Mmm, let's see…' said the Priest poking at the embers burning inside the metal container. 'We have covered the basics of how the world came to be, thanks to the kindness of our God. Shall we speak of how Demons first appeared?'
'But Father, aren't Demons just the manifestation of human's ill thoughts?' asked Philip.
'No. Those are Ghosts. What I am talking about here is human-like transcendental creatures who camp in Hell and roam the Earth tormenting humans with their barbaric actions. Their powers extend way beyond that of mere Ghosts and they are sworn enemies to God.'
'How do we defeat them?' Marcus asked with keen eyes.
'For me to answer that question, we first need to understand how they were created.'
'Oh. Ok…but if God created everything, would this not imply Ze also created Demons, Zir own sworn enemies?'
'One question at a time…you will understand much better after listening to my story. Shall we begin then?'
'Yes please,' the boys responded in unison. Their faces betrayed their eagerness to know in the warm light of the fire.
'Listen well then, this is the ancient tale named "The fall of Lucifer":
'God, who resides in the Heavens, does not dwell there alone. Ze is accompanied by hoards of Angels, acting as Zir agents, carrying out duties for Zir. Each one of Them has a specific role at God's court, and They are ranked according to prowess and duties.
It was many eons ago when, after setting the Creation of the Universe into motion, God realised Ze would be needing help in managing it. Thus, Ze brushed Zir chin and waved Zir hands, and many humanoid creatures appeared before Zir.
Such beings, created out of need, were granted the ability to speak and think for Themselves. They had white feathery wings to fly between the realm of God and that of the Earth. In addition to this, They held powers which go beyond human comprehension and an unshakable reverence for Their Creator.
The humans called these beings Angels. Many records of Them walking the Earth to perform Their duties are kept in the Church's Archives. Most importantly, it is well-known that one of Them in particular was very much loved and blessed by God. Indeed, Ze had radiance unrivalled among the others and paved the land for God's followers. However, with time Ze grew unsatisfied of Zir role, next to the other Archangels, the cornerstones to God's Creation. Ze was restless and began harbouring negative feelings against God. Pride was Zir sin when Ze rose against Zir Creator and challenged God about Zir role.
"I am better than the others, you should allow me alone to be by your side," Ze claimed.
"Lucifer," God said. "There is no better Angel, you should get along with your Siblings."
"I am the better Angel, you made me so. I am radiance and guide your followers to you. You wouldn't have so much power if I were not hoarding it for you all the time."
"Lucifer!" A note of warning resonated through God's tone, yet Lucifer ignored it.
"God, I am not here to question your authority. I merely want to be acknowledged by you."
"If acknowledging you means granting you more power, then my answer is no." God adjusted Zir position on Zir throne, eyes calmly scrutinizing Lucifer's face. Zir chin rested above Zir clenched fist as Ze waited for a reaction.
Lucifer clicked Zir tongue at the statement, white eyelids flickering in annoyance. Ze did not like God's attitude but could do nothing against it, for now. "You will see…" Ze muttered under Zir breath before leaving.
And God let Zir go, because God is magnanimous and very much loved Zir Angels. "Gabriel, keep an eye on Zir," Ze ordered to another one of Zir Children.
And Gabriel, the Angel with golden locks and clad in a sky-blue tunic, watched over Zir sibling Lucifer. Ze saw Zir harness power and use Zir charm to provoke a revolt against God.
"They are coming over here," Gabriel warned God.
"Michael, I wish to avoid a bloodshed. Will you take care of this for me?"
Michael, the dark-haired Sword of God appeared before Zir. The Angel's red sash hung loosely from Zir white tunic, Zir sword already unsheathed. "Of course I will, God. Consider this matter settled." Zir white wings fluttered and Ze rose into the Heavenly Sky, flying over to the Podium where Ze met Lucifer.
The two stared at each other, measuring Their opponent's power.
"Bold of you to confront me, Michael"
"God has decreed your actions unfit of your Angel's status and asked me to settle this."
"Yeah, I know you wouldn't be here unless it was for Zir orders ."
"Please stand down and accept your punishment."
"Punishment?" Lucifer retorted angrily, Zir wings shining brightly against the morning sky. "I don't see how God is going to punish me, now that I have my own sect of followers." Ze waved Zir hand behind Zir, pointing at the arrays of Angels who had sided with Zir, which were currently busy slaughtering God's supporters.
"For the last time, stand down Lucifer. This is a war you cannot win" Despite being threatened by Zir, Michael still cared for Lucifer.
"Oh, and who will stop me? You, Michael?" Lucifer's tone was mocking.
"Bahahaha." The Angel of light broke into a laugh, so dark that it made Michael's skin crawl.
Michael witnessed a change in Zir sibling. Zir eyes changed from light blue to scarlet red, then violet as Ze was progressively overcome by Zir sin and madness. Zir wings, once perfectly white and bright, tuned to onyx, translucent grim emanating from them. Zir skin was no longer radiant with life force. Instead, it irradiated the Heavens with maliciousness, causing the Skies to turn black.
"Oh, Michael, do you not see that I am superior to you in every manner and way, in splendour and glory?"
"I see, Lucifer, that your light is burning too brightly and has melted your brains," Michael said as Ze charged.
They exchanged blows, sword against claws.
Michael had never seen such a thing happen before and, for the first time, Ze feared Ze would lose.
Steel appeared to not work against the new-born Demon's skin, whereas Lucifer's claws were very effective on Michael.
Panting, the Angel stopped mid-air and the two stared at each other again. Transparent blood trickled down Michael's arm; the blood of an Angel is not red, but like water it is colourless. A few droplets hit the blade Ze had reclined next to Zir leg to preserve Zir strength.
Lucifer attacked again. This time, however, Michael's weapon cut through Zir skin. Cries of pain reverberated through the skies, reaching God's ears. The Supreme Creator frowned but said nothing. Gabriel, on the other hand, watched the scene unfold, dutifully documenting it.
"I see you are vulnerable to my blood, Lucifer," Michael said, eyes shot red and a dark expression on Zir face. "This is farewell, Sibling," Ze said before plunging Lucifer down, through the Earth.
And thus, the birth of the first Demon happened. And all of the others Ze had brought with Zir to challenge God's authority fell with Zir, trapped in an unescapable place named Hell.'
Father Emmanuel paused there. Taking time to regain his breath after such a long speech. The young boys watched him wide-eyed. They had never heard this tale before, having grown up in the isolated mountains where rural superstition takes priority over canonical beliefs.
'So is a Demon just an Angel turned bad?'
The Priest's bows twitched. He had better be careful with his words when explaining things to his disciples. 'Basically, Lucifer was the first and only documented Angel to fall down that path. There are theories stating that it was God's plan all along to create an opposition, a duality, so that it would be clearer for us humans which route we should take to reach Grace. But those are questionable and not widely accepted by the Church. No, you should not consider Demons as former Angels. Only one, Lucifer, went through that transmigration. The rest were born out of Zir malice.'
'What about those who fell into Hell with Zir?'
'Those were forsaken by God, but not all turned into Demons. Many perished and their remains are part of Hell itself as evil sediments. Other simply turned into fiendish creatures, Lucifer's minions, whom Ze controls at Zir pleasure.' Father Emmanuel threw another log onto the fire, which had regained strength and was now lively enough to comfortably warm the three of them.
'Can Lucifer get out of Hell?' Marcus asked.
The Father gave him a long grave look before replying, 'According to common knowledge, Ze is trapped there. However, there have been instances of contact with Zir. For example, Ze could send one of Zir messengers to wreak havoc on Earth…you are too young to remember, but about fifteen years ago there was a great earthquake which devastated one of the major cities in the central area of the country. High Priests sent by the Church to investigate the events found out that it had been caused a minor Demon who had gotten out of Hell and stomped hard on the land.'
'Why was that?'
'Apparently, it was a message from Lucifer. Only the houses of those who had put marks of a five-pointed star on their walls were spared and managed to stand during the quake.'
'A five-pointed star…?'
'That's Lucifer's mark. Zir name means "bringer of the light", yet Zir story is very much akin to that of a falling star. Five stands for imbalance: there is always a top side to a five-pointed star, and that's where Lucifer wishes to sit.'
'I see…' The boy intently stared into his cup of tea. They had eaten soup while listening to the Priest's tale and were now sipping chamomile before sleep.
'Why didn't Michael's sword work?'
'Probably because Ze was facing the first-ever Demon in history and Zir weapon had not been designed for that.'
'But Zir blood did!'
'Yes. That is one of the Sacred Mysteries and a story for another time.'
'So, if we want to beat a Demon all we have got to do is get some of Michael's blood?'
'You make it sound so easy, Philip,' Marcus said, almost laughing at the younger boy.
'Of course, I know it is not. Otherwise we would have overthrown Lucifer long ago, wouldn't we?'
'There is that, and the fact that living humans cannot access Hell.'
'Oh. What about Saint Anthony?'
Father Emmanuel scratched the back of his head. That was one of those old legends which kept faith alive in the uttermost remote regions. According to the common folk, the island of Strigia, just off the eastern side of the country, used to be a frigid land, with no vegetation and iced plains. At some point after the Revelation, however, a pious man named Anthony sailed over there with his little pigs. The people who lent him the boat warned him that the land was austere and that his pigs would not survive there, but he still headed to the island, claiming it was "God's will".
After three days of walking through the ever-present fog, he reached the entrance of a cave. He could hear chattering and songs coming from behind a stony wall, but he could not enter. No matter how hard he tried, the rock obstructing the entrance would not budge.
Tired, and with the pigs wailing because of the cold, he slid against the wall and offered a prayer to God. It was then that a vision appeared before him and, in an instant, he knew that that was one of the entrances to Hell, and that the reason why the land was so barren was because of the Demons feasting on the other side of the wall. They had stolen the Fire from that region and turned it into a wasteland.
Getting back up, he looked at his little pigs, bent down to them and whispered, "I need you to be good boys now and do your job well."
Then he straightened his back and knocked on the wall.
"Who is it that disturbs us at this hour?" A throaty voice enquired.
"It is but a mere traveller with his three little pigs seeking a shelter from the ice. I am very much cold and very much poor, Sir, but I can offer good company."
"We are not interested. Go away."
"I beg you Sir, to open the door just a little bit so that I may at least warm my hands up before heading back from where I came."
The Demon was bothered and was about to brutally turn him away when Zir companion shouted, "Let me see this man."
The rocky door creaked a bit and the disfigured red face of a monster appeared from behind. Two pairs of black eyes looked at the tiny man standing outside the cave and the Demons made a face, mocking the man. However, as soon as the rock had moved, Anthony had stuck his wooden staff between the door and the mountain edge, allowing his pigs to sneak inside. It was not long after the Demons had closed the door on him that he heard them curse and scream in archaic languages he could not understand.
"Take your pigs back!" One of them shouted.
"Only if you let me inside for a little bit."
"Grrr…Ok then, come on in."
With a smile, Anthony waltzed inside, sat on a chair and hit the ground with his staff three times. Immediately, the little pigs stopped causing a mess and settled at his feet. The bigger of the two Demons grabbed him by his collar and threw him out of the cave together with his pigs.
Cleaning his vest from dirt, the man got up. It had gone unnoticed by the Demons, but he had trapped some fire within his staff, which was made of a very special kind of Ferula wood. Cheerfully he walked away with his catch, until he reached the next village. One can imagine the joy of the inhabitants as they saw the sparkle hidden inside the wooden staff. They held a feast for him and since then every year , at the end of winter, giant fires are lit up in his name.
'He never made it inside Hell, he only stepped one or two meters past one of the external doors,' Father Emmanuel pointed out.
'Oh.' Philip's eyes betrayed his disappointment.
'It is a fortune, as well, that we cannot enter Hell so freely. Imagine how many would fall into it by accident.'
'You would need to be an imbecile do that,' Marcus commented.
'Perhaps,' Father Emmanuel acquiesced with a warming smile which extended to his eyes. 'But one's Vigilance can falter even when one has been trained for years.'
'Have you ever seen a Demon, Father?'
The Priest's eyes darkened slightly. 'No. And I wish to never have to face such ominous entities.'
'Fair enough. I want to take them down.'
'Are you suggesting we should wage war on Lucifer?'
'It is not a battle us mortals can fight alone.'
'But we have God on our side.'
'Even then, you should not be so reckless as to assume that the Ruler of the Demons will stay still, waiting for you to strike Zir with poisoned arrows.'
'Michael's blood is like poison to Demons. In your grand plan you would need to include an endless supply of that and a way to use it at distance. Hence, poisoned arrows.'
'Oh. I see!'
'Now then, if you were at the capital, you would be severely reprimanded for even suggesting that.'
'Oh. But why?'
Father Emmanuel averted his eyes, avoiding the boy's gaze. 'Those from the higher ups there…they do not like certain ways of thought. Anyway, it is getting late, and you have had much to think about for one night. We should head to bed.'
'Yes, Father. One last question. What would happen if Michael turned into a Demon like Lucifer did?'
Father Emmanuel's greenish blue eyes widened. It would be disastrous, he thought, but did not say. Instead, he replied, 'Something like that could never happened. I am very much fond of the school of thought which argues that Lucifer had a special predisposition towards becoming a Demon and that is why it happened.'
They went quiet, tossing their covers over their shoulders. Father Emmanuel felt restless, however. So, he got up and wandered off through the labyrinthine corridors of the Monastery, until he reached his personal cabinet. Despite not having cleaned everything yet, he had manged to empty a small room with a closet where he seldom sat to write notes. The room was bare, except for the wooden desk and a few drawers. The only window had no glass, but the moonlight fell through it quite nicely as the Father sat at the scriptorium and started scribbling notes.
His thoughts, which had been repressed for so long after his sentence, had finally erupted free. His fingers flew on the papers faster than they had before as he poured his soul's doubts into ink.
What would happen if Michael were to turn into a Demon?
Those words had shaken him. He had been conducting research, on the subject of Demons' birth and their link to Angels. Why was it that only Lucifer had turned out to be the odd one? Couldn't just any Angel pretty much turn into a Demon? And how different was an Angel from a Demon anyway? They both were superior to humans, both immortal and both closer to God than any human could ever be. From his perspective, some of the actions committed by Angels under God's orders were worse than those committed by Demons. Could the Church really justify such actions as "Holy" on the grounds that they were endorsed by God? And what could he do to challenge such views?
He had been researching, seeking answers. But the Cardinals had feared his discoveries and had cut the wings of his flying ship before it could set sail.
Were they right, those ancient populations whose historical records reported no Angels, nor Demons, but superhuman creatures who, just like humans, had emotions and impulses? If so, then why had Lucifer's punishment been so drastic? How exactly had Ze escalated things to the point of being cast out of Heaven?
Father Emmanuel did not know the answer to his questions, and the more he tried to dig into the mystery, the more he felt lost.
Eventually, his energy ran out and he slowed down, re-reading his notes rather than adding any more. He felt drained.
The moon sneaked a peek on him, quietly. His eyes focused on the night light as he, pensive, relaxed against the back of his chair. His hands still held papers and pens, but he let go of them, ink splattering on the floor as he jumped up, heart thundering.
He rushed to the window and looked outside, scanning the trees. A gentle breeze caressed his forehead, messing his hair. He had thought he had seen a shadow move in the distance. Too big to be a bird, yet impossibly agile for it to be a human. He wondered if his tiredness was playing tricks on his eyes. Then he looked down. Right next to his left hand, a white lily stood on the windowsill. That had not been there before.
Puzzled, he reached out, hesitantly picking it up. It smelled fine, as if it had only just blossomed. He turned it between his fingers, pondering what could have brought it there. Surely, not the wind? It was too heavy for the gentle breeze to have carried it all the way up there. Then, he thought of the shadow and his eyes narrowed. He couldn't help but think that the two were linked.
"I wish to never have to face such ominous entities." He had said. Was it a Demon? He thought. Quite an odd way for a creature of Hell to greet him.
He sighed, tiredness finally taking a toll on his body. With slow steps he staggered back to the room where the boys were already sound asleep. He let himself fall onto his own folded covers, lied his head against the softness of his pillow and watched the white lily in his palm. Quietly, he whispered a short prayer to God. Then, he closed his eyes and fell into slumber.
Lucifer: Originally the brightest Angel, now the King of Hell.
Archangel Michael: Sword of God.
Archangel Gabriel: observer, and messenger of God.
Blood of Michael: only known poison to defeat Demons.
Cardinals: important people in the Church hierarchy.
Endless Palace: main site of the Church, where important people are.
Heavens: metaphisical realm beyond the human realm, not accessible to living humans but Angels can move freely between the two.
Hell: metaphisical realm created when Lucifer fell, it is owned by the King of the Demons and houses hellish creatures. Anything but Demons needs Lucifer's permission to enter.
Demon: Lucifer or a creature from Hell.
Angel: God's adjutants.
Ghost: metaphisical creature born from human's strong emotions. Similar to Japanese folk spirits.
St Anthony and the three pigs: folk legend from Sardinia, Italy.