Puffs of smoke wisped from the smoldering blade as the tip of the sword dragged against the marble floor. Michael strolled through the chamber, his bare feet heavy, his head held low. He paused when he reached the front, his gaze slowly lifting toward the massive Victorian throne. It matched the rest of the room—all burgundy velvet and shimmering gold. His eyes met his Father’s, crystal clear and blue as day. He seemed at ease, slouched slightly, His eternally youthful face expressionless. Michael regarded Him with caution, unable to detect any hints of emotion. It wasn’t unusual… He never gave himself away. But today, of all days, Michael hoped to find something, some indication of what would happen next. Michael opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. It was pointless to try to explain it, anyway. Their Father saw all and knew all. He’d watched everything play out. A moment passed, then another of strained silence, before He finally spoke. “You did well today.
” Michael gaped at Him. “I spared a miscreant.” “You showed great compassion.” “Satan is still out there…” “No, he’s not. The dragon has been slayed.” Confusion crept through Michael. How could that be? He’d healed Serah, sparing her from eternal damnation in a split second decision fueled by weakness and lingering love, and he had been summoned straight to their Father the moment it was complete. He’d left Satan sitting in the middle of the deserted street, still holding Serah in his arms, the two covered in filth. Michael hadn’t had a chance to slay him. “I don’t understand.
” “I know you don’t, son.” Slowly, He raised his hand, swiping it through the air. Michael felt a rush of energy pass through him as his Father oh-so-easily cleaned up the bloody mess. The sun would shine again, the flowers would bloom, and life would go back to how it had been before. Except… now he didn’t have Serah in his life. “I’ve only ever tried to obey you, Father. I only wanted to fulfill my destiny.” “Your destiny wasn’t to kill him, Michael,” He said quietly. “That was never my intention. In fact, I’m not even certain you could.
There’s a reason he’s the one who originally sat beside my throne.” Those words cut Michael deep, striking a simmering human emotion somewhere inside of him. Jealousy. “I just wanted the hatred inside of him—the pride, the anger, the arrogance—to finally go away.” His Father motioned toward the chair beside the throne. Michael instinctively dropped his sword, the metal clattering against the floor, as he wearily stepped over and plopped down. It had been his seat for the past six thousand years, day after day, night after night, but he still felt like he was merely keeping it warm for somebody else. He still lived in Lucifer’s shadow, judged by Satan’s countless sins. “And has it?” Michael asked. “Has his hatred gone away?” His Father tilted His head to the side.
“I’m not sure.” Michael gaped at Him. Not sure? He was infallible. He knew everything. How could He not be sure about something like this? His Father swiped his hand in the air again. This time the room before them vanished, the deserted street of Chorizon coming into view. It was so clear, so close, that it was as if nothing but a thin glass wall separated them. “Your brother is a peculiar one.” “My brother?” “Yes. Lucifer.
” Brother. The word brought Michael nothing but heartache. His brother was dead. Wasn’t he? “Just look at him,” He continued. “He’s stripped bare, and it’s hard to know what he’ll become when he builds himself back up. But for now he sits there, cradling her in his arms—so protective, yet utterly defenseless. He knows, when she wakes, she won’t remember him, yet he doesn’t leave, because he loves her so much.” Michael’s voice was a whisper. “I loved her, too.” “You did, son.
And a part of her loved you. But there’s a reason those two were given the same name.” Morning Star. “What happens now?” Michael asked, staring at the projected image. Lucifer sat in total silence, clinging to Serah as she started to stir. “Should I return him back below? Imprison him once again?” “No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” He said. “Let him be.” Michael was flabbergasted. Let him be? “Yes,” his Father said, hearing Michael’s thoughts, sensing his doubt. “Let’s see what he does now that he’s free again.
” The massive forsaken castle was overrun with evil. Demons had flocked to it in droves after the apocalypse came to an abrupt halt, descending upon the last place on Earth where Lucifer had made himself at home. They considered it base and gathered there, waiting on word from their leader. He wasn’t in Hell, they thought, so where could he be? The Dark Legion, they called themselves. Fucking absurd. They looked more like a hoard of bumbling idiots, mindless, hideous drones just sitting around and twiddling their thumbs like the worthless fucks they were. Luce wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or frustrated. The vilest creatures to walk the Earth seemed to be completely lost without his guidance. Had Lire been around, he would’ve had them organized, like a real army, instead of the frantic scene he encountered when he arrived there. Too bad Lire met tragedy, going poof on the end of Michael’s sword.
Luce almost regretted not protecting the powerful demon more. Almost. It would’ve saved him this headache, that’s for certain. Luce strolled into the old castle. The demons immediately shifted out of his way, the crowd parting like he was Moses and they were the Red Sea. He wished he could drown them all, the pathetic excuse for an army. Luce always demanded they come to him in human form, but most now stood around with their true nature exposed, their eerie ugliness displayed for all to see. How easily they forget themselves. “My Lord,” a demon said, one of the few that looked like a mortal, the lone soul brave enough to step into his path and address him. Brave, or is it stupid? The demon bowed his head out of respect.
“Welcome back.” Luce pushed past the creature, not bothering with a response, as he made his way straight through to the golden throne. He plopped down on the seat, glaring, eyes taking in the sea of monsters, as he motioned toward the large double doors. “Get out.” They didn’t waver, pushing and shoving to get out of the room, not wanting to face the wrath they could hear in his voice. The creature that had addressed him lingered, eyeing Luce curiously, as he took a few hesitant steps away. “You,” Lucifer said, pointing at him. “What do they call you?” “Volac,” the demon said. “You take Lire’s post while he’s on sabbatical,” Luce said. “Keep the others out of my hair, and inform me when Michael closes in.
” “Yes, My Lord,” the demon said, bowing. “Anything you wish.” Luce waved him away. “Now go.” He sat there, trying to hold everything inside, as he waited for the castle to clear out, for the creatures to take leave, before exploding. Energy purged from him in waves, the ground shaking like an earthquake struck, the sheer force of it enough to blow out what was left of the old stained glass windows. The glass shattered into millions of tiny fragments, sending them flying for miles like jagged bullets, slicing and dicing everything they struck. Blackness overtook the castle, the sky above a mass of dark clouds, lightning flashing as rain pelted the earth around it, incited by his bitter rage. Luce’s eyes stung. He once told Serah he could cry, but that he didn’t.
After all, what would Satan have to cry about? Nothing. But nobody ever said he was honest. No matter how hard he fought it back, tears fell from his eyes, the bitter, salty wetness staining his cheeks, fueling his aggression. This was how it had to go—she was a sacrifice he had to make, collateral damage in his quest for retaliation—but this wasn’t how it was supposed to end. He wasn’t supposed to lose it all. She wasn’t supposed to mean so much to him. Luce destroyed the castle in his rampage, bringing the medieval structure to its knees, as the other towers toppled around it like dominos. Built for a king, but it was no match for the King of Hell when he unleashed the beast. It crumpled, the stone turning to dust, blown away by the hurricane-force winds his fury stirred up. He didn’t stop there.
The ground around it was annihilated as if ravished by tornado, trees uprooted, life ruined. He would bring down half the world if it meant eradicating these feelings. He hopped from place to place, destroying, desolating, and pummeling towns to nothing before moving on to the next. Over and over, it went on for hours, one day morphing into the next. He apparated back to the remote area deep in the middle of Europe around dawn, the same place his rampage started, where the castle once stood. Or rather, where the castle still stood. The structure was back in place, tall and sturdy, exactly as it had been before he demolished it. Even the stained glass was once more in tact. He glared at it, his tears long ago dried up, his rage waning to exhaustion. His Father was cleaning up his messes again.
Everything he harmed, everything he killed was brought right back to life, healed and fixed as if he hadn’t tainted it. As if he hadn’t touched it. Everything except for her. The world reset, the slate wiped clean again and again, but Serah was still gone, lost to him. “Why?” he screamed, so loud everything around him shook again. “What do you want from me?” An orange glow swaddled the land with warmth and brightness as the sun started to rise. As Luce’s voice echoed through the sky, flowers popped up through the grass around him, blooming as if to send a message. The pinkish-purple stalks blanketed the land, a peculiar unpleasant odor filling the air. Grimacing, Luce reached down and yanked a stalk from the ground. Cleome serrulata.
Spider Flower. The last time he saw one, Serah had brought it with her to the gate and held it through the barrier for him. It had been the first time he touched her, the first time he felt that tingle beneath his skin, the tightening of his chest that he knew she felt, too. The memory of that afternoon struck him hard, worming its way through his skull no matter how hard he tried to forget it, his own words haunting him. He couldn’t escape it. “Our Father of ered more freedom to it than he did us,” he told her, staring at the devious plant through the gate. “This thing does what it wants with no regard, grows where flowers aren’t supposed to grow, takes over fields and smothers everything else that lives there, killing it, and yet it’s hailed as one of His magnificent creations. A fucking plant is given more leniency than me.” “A plant doesn’t think,” she said. “It doesn’t make conscious decisions.
” “And what about mortals? His beloved humans, His favorite creation. He absolves them for everything as long as they ask. Why wasn’t I shown that same mercy? I wasn’t even given the chance to apologize.” Serah gaped at him. “Would you have apologized?” “No. I did nothing wrong.” Luce laughed bitterly to himself, clenching his hand into a fist, crushing the flower before throwing it to the ground. Message received. But if God were waiting for an apology, he’d be waiting a long fucking time.