A four part story of queer angels, old gods, syncretism, identity and social media tribalism. Mythic sci-fi?
(Read Part 1 here.)
The door doesn’t open. He comes right through it. Midnight, on the dot. The lights flicker and dim. The snakes arrive first, filling the air with their hisses, carpeting the floor with their black, iridescent scales. A dark river.
Always the showman.
He enters as a shadow, formless, featureless, emerging slowly from the night and coalescing into the familiar lithe form Gabriel had once known so well, had once loved as a brother. More than a brother, for a short time, until he’d understood how that light could burn. His light grows and grows until it floods the room, silver starlight. Breathtaking, captivating. It spills from his silver hair, from his gleaming skin, from his blazing eyes. He can’t hide it for long.
“The old cycle comes to an end, trickster,” he says. Through his light, Gabriel can make out the flicker of a smile. “And once more, you are the herald of the end times. All those years passed in His service, and you can’t escape your nature.”
His snakes crawl up the bed, surrounding Gabriel.
“You are on the wrong side, love,” Lucifer says.
Gabriel tries to look away, but the light holds him. The snakes slither up his arms, pulling them back, entwining his limbs so that he’s bound tight to the bed. Lucifer moves in concert with his creatures, his narrow hips swaying as he climbs onto the bed and leans over.
“Mi — ” Gabriel begins.
But Lucifer is quicker. His finger is at Gabriel’s lips before he can make the call. He can’t fight. He needs the First Defender.
“Come now,” Lucifer admonishes, “We have matters to discuss. We don’t need him spoiling things. There is an empty throne in Heaven. And you are here, on Earth, with your feet on the ground. Tell me, Liesmith, how has this come about?”
“That’s not my name,” Gabriel says. But it was his name, once. He remembers. He can feel that old form very close now. Lucifer is calling to him, dragging him up from the depths of history.
He needs… he needs something. Some of the old power.
Lucifer’s hair hangs like a waterfall over Gabriel’s stomach, brushing silken strands across his skin. Once, a long time ago, he had permitted this. He had given himself over to that awful light. The potential of its power waits for him now, ready to fill him and annihilate him. It would be glorious. The Morningstar’s fingertips brush across the bound muscle of his arm, across the snakes, across him.
The snakes. He begins an old chant, dredging it up from memories he thought lost, as his body changes, becomes smaller, faster. He slips from the grip of the snakes, too quick for Lucifer, and wriggles off the bed. Lets out a laugh, which becomes a giddy giggle. Raising his old staff, he summons the snakes to him. Two entwine the staff gladly, as if they’ve found their home, and Hermes feels the old magic surge through them and then through him. His own power, not someone else’s. It’s a good feeling.
Lucifer crosses his arms and shakes his head, but he looks amused. “Touché, trickster. I’m impressed.”
Is this what the Deceiver wants? Pushing him further away from Heaven’s glory, back into those dark old times?
“Do you really fear the past so much?” Lucifer asks, his hand stroking the bedspread, slender fingers tracing the shapes of embroidered flowers. “Come, boy. Talk to me. Once you watched my fall. Now I have watched yours. We have common cause.”
Hermes shakes his head, although it’s difficult to see what harm a little chat could do. Perhaps Lucifer does have something he wants, something he can take. The Morningstar isn’t infallible. He can be used like anyone else. And Hermes knows his flaws and weaknesses better than any other being.
He leans against his staff and sighs, letting show a little of the weariness he feels. “I tried to reason with Him, but He wouldn’t listen.”
“Of course not,” Lucifer says, immediately warming to his favourite topic. “He never did.”
Hermes sits down beside Lucifer, laying his staff by his side, still within easy reach. He’s aware of his smaller form, his skinny athlete’s legs sticking out from his tunic. Little wings fluttering on his sandals.
“For a while, He did,” Hermes says. “When He was the son, He listened.”
“After my time,” Lucifer says.
“But you met Him.” He’s not getting away with that one. “Everyone knows.”
Lucifer smiles wryly and runs his fingers through his perfect, silken hair. Did the Lord of Flies always take this shining form? Behind, he casts a faint shadow against the wall, the suggestion of another shape, something more bestial, more monstrous. There was a time when he didn’t exist…. What had he been before? A thousand monsters, a thousand demons. The unspeakable terror in the night. Untamed fears.
“He was such a good boy,” Lucifer says, voice heavy with implication. “Though, I was finding sand for weeks after in the most surprising places. Deserts, eh?” He laughs, sharp and abrupt, and there’s something hard behind his eyes, which reminds Hermes to be careful.
“What do you want from me?” Hermes asks.
“You’re one of mine, now,” Lucifer says, with certainty. “You fell.”
“Not all the way.” Gab — no, he needs to keep hold of this form. Hermes. He grips the staff as a reminder.
“There’s no way back, boy,” Lucifer says, a little cruelly, as if he’s enjoying delivering this particular truth. His bright eyes narrow. “Do you think if you help Michael, Daddy will forgive you and welcome you back with open arms?” He sneers. “The Messiah’s forgiveness isn’t for the likes of us. I should know.”
“You never repented.”
“Nor do you. I see your heart, messenger: the doubt, the seed of rebellion. You forget who you’re talking to.” Lucifer’s hand is at Hermes’ throat, pushing him back onto the bed. So fast. The light of his eyes fills Hermes’ senses, floods his mind, and he can’t think. The Morningstar straddles him, leans over and hisses in his ear. “Stop fighting. You’re mine.”
Hermes closes his eyes and says a prayer. One word. “Michael.”
Outside, lightening cracks. Inside, too. The whole room is electric. Somewhere, a crow caws.
“Fucking brat,” Lucifer curses, turning too late.
His mouth opens as a spear slices through his back and bursts from his chest, skewering him from back to front. The tip stops at Hermes’ chest, drawing a droplet of blood.
“Leave.” The voice booms around the walls. The voice of command, of the battlefield. His crows flap around him, their beating wings filling the enclosed space, and Hermes sees his saviour is not Michael, but Mars. And he’s glad.
Blood leaks from Lucifer’s mouth, but he laughs and pulls back, sliding his body up the spear, wiping the blood across his face. His eyes close in savage ecstasy. “Oh, how I’ve missed this. Just like the old times.”
Mars’s hand is in Lucifer’s hair. His fist tightens as he pulls him up so that Hermes can slide out and escape. Hermes slips off the bed as soon as he’s able. Mars’s foot is on Lucifer’s back, pushing him down to the bed. They are a million statues, a million works of art, in that moment. Time echoes and flattens, repeating into eternity — the old circle Hermes knows so well.
“Michael,” Lucifer says, spluttering blood across the bedspread. “Mars. Listen to me. You and I. We should talk.”
“You come to me on your knees or not at all, Deceiver,” Mars barks.
“Fuck you,” Lucifer spits. The air around him ripples as his body shifts, his limbs withdrawing, skin sprouting scales. He slips into his snake form and slithers off the bed, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. His brethren follow him. Only the two snakes on the staff remain. Hermes wonders if he can trust them. But as long as he believes they’re his….
“Mercury,” Mars says.
Mars stands by the bed, bloody spear in hand, armour gleaming, blood-red cloak falling down his back in generous folds. A crow flaps up and lands on his shoulder. He’s magnificent. Who could refuse him?
“Yes, Sir?” Mercury says. The change isn’t so difficult; it never was.
Mars’s lip curls up, and there’s something hungry about him, lupine. But Mercury isn’t afraid. They’re the people of the wolf, after all.
He goes to his general and offers himself. Mars is quick and firm, taking him in hand and using him as a tool. But Mercury doesn’t care. He welcomes it. For a moment, his busy mind quiets, the spiders stop spinning their knotty webs, and he knows his purpose so perfectly he could weep.
Read Part 3 here.