The training was only an hour. Hardly any time at all, really. By the end of it, she could pull her hooves back into feet, and the wings back into her shoulder blades. The red hair and eyes would take a great deal of practice, but at least she could go back to blending in normal society. She was also exhausted by the end of it, feeling her own sulfurous sweat running down her back. (At least that, Chemosh had assured her, mortals wouldn’t notice – their noses couldn’t pick up demon musk.”
She wrapped a towel around her shoulder and wiped her face. The training hadn’t been physically demanding, not in the way Kelly thought of the term. No running, no jumping, no lifting. It had just been simply telling her body it was in the wrong shape and forcing it into the one she had in mind. Oh, is that all? Kelly thought, grinning at her own logic. I can’t imagine why that would be demanding.
Chemosh chuckled and sat down across from her. “As you wish. So the story you know, the one in the bible – how do you recall it?”
Kelly thought for a moment. “God made the world in seven days. During the creation, Lucifer rebelled against heaven because he was jealous, took a third of the angels with him. They lost the fight because, well, omnipotence, and were cast down into hell. Lucifer leaves, heads up to the Garden of Eden, pretends to be a snake, tempts Eve and through her Adam into eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Humanity now knows how to sin, Lucifer goes back to rule in hell, and that’s that.”
“Well, that story is true in the broad strokes, but many of the details are outright lies.”
Kelly blinked. “I mean, I kind of figured that a lot of that was at least allegorical. The universe is like ten billion years old, right? But outright lies?”
“You know what they say. The victors write the history books.”
“Okay.” Kelly crossed her legs up onto the chair and rested her elbows on her knees with her head in her palms. “So, what really happened?”
“The Creator, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, whatever you want to call him – God works well enough, I suppose – created the cosmos. It wasn’t a week between creation and mankind, like you said. Fourteen billions years would be more accurate. Although it also was a week. Time doesn’t flow for the Divine the way it does for mankind. To care for the details, He created us, His first children.”
“Right, angels,” Kelly said.
“No.” Chemosh made sure he had her attention fully. “Demons. We were things that saw to the physical, the brutish, and the crass. The fires that burned in the hearts of stars, the order that governed chemicals bubbling in the primordial soup of a hundred thousand thousand worlds, the gravity that pulled together matter, and more. The laws that created physics. Angels came later. Their domain was the spiritual, the holy, the ephemeral. Art, music, philosophy, hope, love – that was what they saw in reality.”
He paused to take a drink from a water bottle. “For the most part, the Angels were above us, and we were content with that. The universe was nice and ordered. Then the unthinkable happened. An angel and demon fell in love. Ba’al, the greatest of us, and Kerubiel, queen of the Cherubim. Many feared God would smite them for their violation of the order, but he favored them. He even elevated us demons to allow for their love to be one of equals. In time, they begat a son. Lucifer, the Morningstar.”
He looked to see if Kelly had any questions, but she was far too focused on his words. Chemosh smiled and continued. “Lucifer was favored by God, being His first grandson. He was elevated to be above both angel and demon, the greatest being in His creation. For a time, he was second only to God, and for billions of years He saw it was good.”
“Then came the great Experiment. Mortal life, mankind. The creation of physical beings that would only rule one world. They were placed within the Garden of Eden to be watched and cared for, and being God’s youngest children, they were also his new favorites. Lucifer tried to love you all, but mostly he was concerned.”
Kelly coughed in surprise. “Concerned? For what?”
“Your lack of Sin. He felt that without it, you would never reach your full potential.”
Kelly rolled her eyes at that. “How convenient for him.”
Chemosh’s grin widened. “Tell me, Ms. Schmitt. What human is without sin?”
“Infants,” Kelly answered without hesitation. “I guess by the time they’re older, everyone’s committed some sin, even if that sin is mostly being an obnoxious little shit.”
He chuckled, but did not contradict her. “Now imagine an adult human without sin. Do your best. What is that person like?”
This took more thought on Kelly’s part. After several minutes, she answered. “Sweet, nieve, innocent. Doesn’t get to far because to push themselves would be Pride. Stays in shape to avoid Gluttony, but doesn’t do anything with their appearance because Vanity. They’d be calm at all times because Wrath, but never lazy so they won’t fall prey to Sloth. Friendly to everyone because they lack Envy, generous because no Greed, and if they’ve ever had sex, it would only be called making love to avoid Lust.”
“Yes. Now tell me, Ms. Schmitt. Can you see such a person ever accomplishing a great thing? Discovering some unheard of science, propelling mankind to new heights? Or does it require sin to do those things? Some combination of Pride and Vanity to believe you can achieve greatness. Maybe they’d need an insatiable hunger for something, be it knowledge or power or wealth in a form of both Gluttony and Greed. Perhaps they would require motivation through spite or to win affection, the combination of Wrath and Lust. Or, if all else fails, a unique form of Sloth where you create tools to be lazy later?”
Kelly had to think about that even more, her frown deepening. “I mean, innovation doesn’t seem like it should be called sinful. I can see the virtues motivating someone – Charity to improve the life of your fellow man, Courage to push yourself ahead, Hope that you’ll succeed, etcetera”
Chemosh nodded in agreement, to Kelly’s surprise. “They can push mankind to new heights too, yes. But those aren’t traits you ascribed to your sinless individual. Virtues are obtained in part through resisting the temptation of Sin – the two are mirrors of each other, yes? If you lack Sin, can you truly be Virtuous? Or are you just a machine doing what it is designed to do?”
“I guess I can see both sides of the argument there,” Kelly said.
“So could Lucifer. He argued that you should be given Knowledge, even though that would lead to Sin, because it would also lead to Virtue.”
Kelly held up a hand. “Wait, hold on, that’s a contradiction. You said he was worried we lacked Sin.”
“He believed that progress required Sin. God disagreed. His proposal was to grant Knowledge to let you all decide for yourselves.”
“Ah, okay.” Kelly motioned for Chemosh to continue.
“When he was refused, he decided that was too much. That you must be given Knowledge. First there was the war in heaven over that. We lost, not because of God’s omnipotence – it’s not as all-encompassing as it’s been made out to be – but because we were outnumbered two to you. Then there was the temptation of Eve, and for those two things those who followed Lucifer – all of the demons and a smattering of angels – were cast into Hell. Our punishment was, for the rest of eternity, to only interact with the worst of Humanity, those of you most steeped in Sin.”
“That…” Kelly swallowed, “that makes an uncomfortable amount of sense. So heaven is objectively better than Hell?”
Chemosh shook his head. “What do you need to be free of to go into Heaven?”
“Sin,” Kelly said promptly.
“And what do they call eating the fruit in the Garden?”
“Sin?” Kelly half said, half asked, wondering where he was going with this.
“Exactly,” Chemosh nodded. “And we know that fruit conferred Knowledge upon Humanity. Now tell me. You have the rest of eternity ahead of you. Would you rather do it without Knowledge?”
Kelly considered what it would be like for a moment. Literal ignorance is bliss, for the rest of eternity. It made her want to vomit. “No, I suppose not.”
“And that’s why we tempt people to sin,” Chemosh said. “To spare them that destruction of the Self.”
“So,” Kelly turned over his words in her head. “We’re not the good guys or the bad guys, we just disagree about how to best spend Eternity?”
“I suppose you could see it that way, Ms. Schmitt,” Chemosh said with another chuckle. “I suppose you could.”
Kelly needed a couple more minutes to mull it over. “Do souls that end up in hell get torture? That seems rather excessive.”
“They get punished for the crimes the committed in life, but the punishment fits the crime. Petty thieves do not get boiled alive, liars do not have their tongues cut out. We’re wardens, not sadists.”
Kelly smiled. “Well, at least I feel better about helping Shannon get a one way trip there. I’ll bring her buy Monday, an hour before class? She’s dying to meet you.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Chemosh said, standing up as he did. “Oh, you did promise to tell me why you didn’t feel all that guilty about condemning her when you thought it was all torture and fire and brimstone.”
“That’s easy.” Kelly also stood up, ready to start cleaning the place up before enjoying getting to go to the store without needing to worry about her damn hooves. “She wanted to do it, so badly she nearly cried when it occurred to her I was joking. It was her deepest, darkest desire. And even though being tied to you guys has kinda been hell, if you’ll forgive the pun, it has been the most interesting weeks of my whole damn life.”
Chemosh regarded her closely. “And?”
Kelly sighed. “You all really don’t go for allowing people to have their illusions, do you?”
“No.” Chemosh grinned. “I just told you we were all about shedding them, after all.”
“Yeah, fair enough.” Kelly shrugged. “And I want someone I can talk to about this who isn’t my judgemental brother or, well, you.” She saw Chemosh’s face and rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to break confidentality, Chemosh, and I already get I can’t tell her any of what you just told me. But I can talk to her about my own transformation and demonkind and all that.”
“Good. As long as we understand each other.”
“Perfectly.” Kelly rubbed her temples. “I’ve got to clean up. Thanks for clearing that up, Chemosh.”
“Happy to finally be able to. One more piece of advice, free of charge?” Kelly nodded. “Have a care. Sariel may not be able to directly harm you, but he can make your life a living hell if he sets out to.”
“Thanks. See you Monday, Chemosh.”
“Of course.” With that, the demon was gone, and Kelly was left to fumigate her studio and wonder what new powers she’d gain at midnight this time.