It's the hundredth day of the age of the demons. One hundred days since they crossed the lockdown's border and the world changed. One hundred days since Naoya took his vengeance against the Lord, and despite the raging angels, he hasn't seen a hint of divine power since that day.
Naoya couldn't be happier.
They meet in Hiro's personal room rather than the main hall--this is a private celebration, just among the people who had been there at the beginning. Naoya strolls in a few minutes late, more out of habit than any real disrespect, and the others are already there, laughing and sharing drinks.
For all the importance of the person who lived in it, the room looks like a typical teenage boy's. Mari gets the sole guest chair, and Kaido is sprawled on the floor at her feet, back resting against the legs of her chair. Atsuro is sitting cross-legged on the floor. Hiro occupies the bed, and despite his youth, despite the mussed covers and lumpy pillow, it seems like more of a throne than any Naoya has seen in a castle.
Naoya seats himself seiza-style on the floor, his posture relaxed enough to indicate that he's not kneeling at Hiro's feet, he's just. Kneeling.
Qayin is young, and the world is new. He kind of hates that it's that way. It's not new in a nice way, like how his freshly carved sheep toy still holds the scent of the tree, or new like how the buds of spring are soft and bright green; it's new like the skeleton of the house Papa is building. It's new like the scar on Qayin's knee, where the skin is thin and shiny and he wonders if it'll crack open if he runs too fast.
It's new like the bulge in Mama's belly.
She spends most of her time lying down now, resting in the shade while Papa works and Qayin fetches things or stays out of the way. They don't notice him most of the time, so usually he just goes off exploring most days.
"Come here," Mama says, and Qayin does so reluctantly. She smiles at him, takes his hand, places it on her belly. "Feel this." Something moves inside, and he shouts, snatching his hand away.
"What is that?" he asks, wiping his hands on his robes, trying to make his hands forget what that weird rolling motion felt like.
"It's the child," Mama says simply. "You did the same thing when you were in here. Oh, we were so scared when you did that, but we think you were just moving around. Like rolling over in your sleep."
Qayin looks dubiously at Mama's belly. "I used to sleep in there?"
She laughs a little. "You were much smaller then," she says, and runs a hand through his tangled, dark curls. "But you've grown so much since then, and this one will grow, too."
Qayin frowns harder. "Was Papa in there, too?"
She laughs again. She's always beautiful when she laughs, even like this. Even when Qayin knows it's because he's said something foolish. "No, Papa and I were born a different way."
"And the…" Qayin begins, then bites his tongue. His Mama looks at him expectantly, so he takes a deep breath and just says it. "And the other people?"
He's said the wrong thing. He can tell by how Mama goes still and her voice lowers, like she doesn't want Papa to hear. "What other people?"
"Over the hill, there are big people who look like you, and littler people who look like…" He's saying the wrong thing again, he can tell by how Mama is frowning and grabbing his hand.
"Qayin," she says, squeezing his hand, and it hurts. "You are never to go near them. They're not real people, not like us. They're…" she trails off. Qayin has never seen his mother not know something, and that scares him even more than her warning.
"It's okay, Mama. I won't go near them," Qayin says.
She smiles again, but it's not her usual smile. It's spread thin and tight, like the scar on his knee. "Don't worry, Qayin. When your little brother is born, he will be all the company you need. You won't need to think about those others ever again."
Qayin nods and says he understands. He doesn't, really, but it makes his mother's smile become pretty again, so at least that's better.
The next day, Papa takes down the skeleton of their house and they march far, far away before building their home again. The place they settle is even more new, even more barren and empty.
When Hevel is born, Qayin thinks he's learned something about how important things are mixed with blood and pain and screaming, but he still doesn't understand it.
"Come on, man, you're like two drinks behind the rest of us," Kaido drawls, motioning with the half-full beer bottle in his hand. Mari giggles into her champagne glass, and Naoya can tell she's already half gone. Atsuro's not drinking alcohol, but he's got some kind of high energy soft drink in his hand, which is so typical of him it almost makes Naoya laugh.
Naoya reaches for the champagne--this is a celebration, after all. He motions to Hiro, who is sipping a can of juice, of all things. "What, you're not going to drink with us?" he asks.
"I'm underage," Hiro says softly, his face completely blank--at least, until Mari breaks into another round of giggles and the expression cracks, just a little.
"You're so full of it," Kaido snorts. Atsuro contents himself with throwing a pillow at Hiro's head.
"You always did have a gift for doing the right thing," Naoya says, more to himself than anyone else.
Qayin is a little older and knows he shouldn't be doing this, but the stalks of wheat are tall enough to hide in, and he doubts anything as small and foolish as the Belwis could be dangerous.
"Next line!" the Belwis says in its funny, reedy voice. "La lo si ta, ah ro ve ta."
Qayin sings back, "La lo si ta, ah ro ve ta." His voice is a little tuneless, but the notes, at least, are right.
The Belwis nods its approval, oversized head bobbling on its tiny neck. "Let's try those last ten lines together. Get it right, and you can talk with me a-ny-time you want."
They start singing together, Qayin concentrating on getting it right, and that's probably why he doesn't hear Hevel coming up behind him until his brother is only a few feet away.
"Who are you talking to?" Hevel asks, arms folded in front of him. "You know what Papa says about the Other People."
Qayin scrambles to his feet and brushes the dirt off his knees, blocking the line of sight between his brother and the little blue demon running the other way. "I'm singing," Qayin says, as if it were obvious. "To keep the birds away."
This throws Hevel for a loop, but then again, half the things Qayin says throws Hevel for a loop. That's one of the many reasons Qayin likes to speak to the demons. "I don't see any birds."
"Then it's working," Qayin says, proving his own point. "Just like when you watch your flock for wolves, you're doing your job when there are no wolves around. Or do you just sleep all the time?"
Hevel's sheepish look answers that question for him.
Qayin shakes his head. "He makes it so easy for you. Next time you speak with the Lord, tell him that bugs and rodents and birds need to be kept away from my fields as much as wolves need to be kept from your sheep." He points a finger at the sky. "Tell him I'm doing my part, but he needs to help, too, if he wants a good offering."
Hevel's not laughing. "You shouldn't say things like that."
"The Lord understands," Qayin says. He waves Hevel away. "Go on, now. Back to your flock. I'm sure the wolves have eaten half of them already."
"I trust that they're safe. Be careful of the birds, and the mice, and the bugs," Hevel says, and as he jogs away, Qayin hates him, just a little.
"Here's to our first hundred days," Mari says, lifting her glass. They all cheer and drink, and the bubbles from the champagne tickle Naoya's tongue. He never much cared for the drink, being far too sweet for his tastes, but this vintage has a pleasant, almost acidic taste to it, and he downs the whole glass.
"And to the latest battle," Hiro adds, and that prompts Naoya to pour another glass.
"Man, those angels didn't stand a chance," Kaido crows. "You guys should've been there."
"You didn't have trouble commanding the demons on your own?" Naoya asks, more out of professional courtesy than any real curiosity.
"Nah, not with these," Kaido says, tapping a finger to his brow, indicating his glowing red eyes. "Besides, my boys and I've got the same goal. Trust me, they want to follow orders when I'm the one giving them."
Enoch has been having dreams for as long as he can remember. Not normal dreams, not like the ones others tell him about. Not like his night dreams, where he is always running and his hands are coated with blood.
Enoch dreams when he is awake. He remembers things that never happened, knows how to do things he's never learned. He thinks, maybe, he could pick up his father's lyre and play a song.
He thinks, maybe, he killed his brother.
He thinks, maybe, he deserved it.
It's nonsense; his little brother is alive, alive and well and the favored heir of his family. Favored over Enoch because Enoch's marked eyes and confused mind make him a liability to the family.
He can't fault them for that, he understands, and his brother is so sympathetic about it. He hates his brother for it, just a little.
He's in the fields, tilling the soil and humming tunelessly to himself, when he remembers--when he dreams--a song that a little demon taught him when the world was new and the gates between heaven and hell were still weak.
He hums the first few lines to himself, stumbling over the parts he doesn't quite remember. As he sings, he feels stronger, his head clearer than it usually is.
He casts a look around--nobody is near, so he feels only slightly foolish when he kneels on the ground and sketches a circle in the dirt. He closes his eyes and starts singing, concentrating on getting each tone precisely right. He goes through the song three times, and begins the fourth when he hears someone clear their throat.
Enoch opens his eyes, readies an explanation, and is immediately scrambling backwards, grabbing at his tools, anything to defend himself.
It wasn't his brother, or his family. It wasn't even the little Bilwis from his memories--dreams. It was like a man, but his skin is a sickly shade of green and his hair is long and golden. His hands end in long, thin claws.
"You…" Enoch begins.
"Very nicely done on the summoning," the demon said, his voice oddly smooth and pleasant.
"Thank you," Enoch says, automatically.
"And how nice of you to summon me without any contract or restraints," the demon says, and with one swipe of his claws, slices open Enoch's belly.
Enoch looks at the blood spilling out of him, over his hands, and thinks, wildly, that he hates blood, the metallic stink of it, slippery and hot and sticky, how could anyone want this? How could this be a worthy sacrifice?
The demon has shifted its appearance to that of a handsome human man. He looks bemusedly over the fields, shielding his eyes with one hand. "Now, let me see, the village is…"
Enoch reaches out, grasps the demon's ankle in his hand. "The village…my family…" he gasps, drunk on the pain and stench of blood.
The demon gives him a light look. "I suppose you'd like me to spare them?"
Enoch grimaces. He can feel the blood seeping through his teeth. "My brother." He locks eyes with the demon. "Make sure you get my brother."
"What an interesting request!" The demon laughs and walks away. "My name is Loki, cursed child of Adam. Remember it, next time we meet."
Dying is like falling asleep, and Enoch does so with the knowledge that soon, he will wake again, stronger and smarter in each life.
"Just hold off a few days until I finish evacuating the southern islands," Atsuro says, giving them an apologetic headtilt. His eyes are dark--he's the only one of them who hasn't become part demon. Hiro and Kaido have gone all the way, and Mari still has the scent of Kresnik on her, but Atsuro is still one hundred percent human. It gives him an advantage, of sorts, when negotiating with the rest of the human world, like he's still one of them.
"Troubles?" Naoya asks, as if he couldn't know.
"A singer?" Naoya guesses, and scores a hit from the look on Atsuro's face. It was either that or a defender of justice, and he'd been wondering about that loose end ever since Haru's sequencer hadn't been found with her body.
"I just need a little more time," Atsuro says. "I know I can convince them, and the fewer bystanders in our way, the easier it will be, right?"
Shad is standing at the top of Babel tower, watching his plans fall down around him. The king of Bel has fallen, too--broken, rather, and he's sure the tower will soon follow. Most of the demons have already abandoned it. A Murmur stand stoically in the corner, an anxious Lilim flits in and out the window. Loki is lounging as best he can in a broken chair--he looks like a handsome, light-haired man, but Shad knows what he is.
The tower tilts, dust falling onto his hair, and he grasps at a pillar to keep from falling to the floor. Shad has no illusions about Loki lifting a finger to help him, not if the alternative would be more 'interesting.'
"Who would have thought?" Loki muses to himself. "I knew that Bel would fail, but to break apart into so many pieces? How many were there, six?"
"Five," Shad says between gritted teeth--he's actually not sure, but he's feeling disagreeable.
"Five," Loki repeats, "and not a one strong enough to challenge the Lord." The demon sighs and pulls at an errant strand of hair. "Does this mean you're going to give up this quest of vengeance against the Lord?"
"Of course not," Shad snaps. "It's taken me thousands of years to get to this point, and I'm going to make Him feel every one before I--"
"Brother?" someone asks. Shad almost doesn't recognize the voice, it's so quiet and broken. Loki sits up in his chair, interest piqued.
"Abe--" No, that's not right. Shad catches himself, reminds himself that this is just a half-brother, and the world is no longer new. "Abednego," Shad corrects himself. "What are you doing here?"
"Brother, did you, did you really do all this?" Abednego asks. There are tears in his eyes.
"How did you--" He glances at Loki, who looks too innocent for words. "I see."
"All those people, Shad!" Abednego cries, and the tears trace muddy paths down his cheeks.
"And us, too, now that you've decided to climb a falling tower," Shad says, more lightly than he feels. "So now we've both made poor decisions today."
"Brother…" Abednego takes a deep breath. "Cain." Shad freezes. "Are you really him? Did you really kill me, before?"
Shad takes deep breaths. Abednego's using the names from the stories, so he doesn't remember, not really. Shad smiles coldly. "Yes, I killed you, and I was punished for it, far more than was fair. And I'm going to keep fighting the Lord until everything is fair again. You see, little Abel, this is all your fault."
He expects Abednego to deny it, or accept it, or just look hurt. He doesn't expect the knife.
"I'm sorry, brother," he says, and lunges at Shad.
Shad doesn't defend himself, too stunned at the idea that Abel would attack first. The only thing that turns a killing blow into a glancing slice off his ribs is the twisting of the tower, tilting the floor and stealing the ground beneath their feet.
They slip towards the open sides. Shad scrambles against broken stone and glass for something to stop his fall. Loki is gone at last. His brother is braced against the window, barely holding on. Shad sees a handle jutting out from the wall, just within his reach.
He grabs his brother, instead, drags him with him, and they both fall together.
"Don't worry," Naoya says. "You should be able to finish the negotiations within five days."
"Is that what your Laplace Predictions say?" Mari asks, and Naoya is thousands of years too old for that sleepy-eyed, knowing look to work on him, but damned if it still doesn't look good on her. Kaido's grip tightens on the leg of her chair.
"Is that what they say, Atsuro?" Naoya throws at the boy, who has the decency to look flustered. They both know he's been poking into Naoya's programs whenever he gets a spare minute. He spares Atsuro further embarrassment, saying, "No, that's just my intuition. Don't you trust me to know what I'm doing?"
Jean is in a soda shop in Ginza-cho. There is jazz on the victrola, the macca bubbles in the drink tickles his nose, and he is discreetly using every language he's learned over his lives to eavesdrop on the patrons.
He's learned more about demons and binding techniques in this one week than he has for the whole century before.
A young, blond man sits beside him. He's a foreigner--of course, half the people in the bar are foreigners, Jean included. "Enjoying the city?" he asks in perfect French.
"Japan is very interesting," Jean replies neutrally, also in French. It's true--he wouldn't mind being born here, in his next life. They have very unusual thoughts about demon summoning, but they are very private, as well.
"Isn't it so?" the blond man says, and smiles into his drink. Something about that smile makes Jean's hands twitch--it reminds him of Loki, although if this is Loki's new disguise, he's not following his usual physical type.
They're interrupted by a woman's bubbling laughter. She presses a hand to her chest, saying, "And that's when the Gozuki tripped, letting me knock him a solid blow on his noggin! And oh, with all the treasure I got from that encounter, I feel like a regular Queen of Sheba!" She laughed again, the floating tones grating against Jean's ears. "I swear, from the day I was born, I've been the luckiest person in the world."
The blond man notices Jean's sneer. "Is it the demons or the laughter you disapprove of?"
"The luck," Jean replies. "As though having an unearned advantage is something to be proud of."
The blond man laughs at him, but it's a pleasant sound. "So, you've no interest in improving your luck, or, perhaps, taking it from others?"
This, at last, catches Jean's attention, but when he turns to ask the stranger what he means, the seat is empty.
Jean spends the next few weeks chasing rumors of a luck-stealing insect, and the next decade regretting getting caught up in the chase, getting caught in the crossfire of someone else's vendetta against God, and having to start fresh in another life.
"Are you good at figuring out how things ought to end, too?" Hiro asks, and Naoya is puzzled.
"What do you mean, Abe--Lord Bel?" Naoya corrects himself.
Hiro smiles at him, gently. "That's fine. You can call me Abel if you like, Qayin. It's who I am, after all."
Naoya is a teenager working on his programs, and the code is beautiful. He thinks this is it, this is the time, the level of technology needed to bring technology together to form a new Babel, but he still needs to find and convince one of the Bels to join his side again.
It doesn't matter which; he just needs a Bel. Wait. He just needs. A. Bel.
Naoya starts laughing at the ridiculousness of starting a revolution with a pun, but he's still calling his cousin before the night is out, just to see how he is doing.
Naoya freezes at the sound of his original name.
"Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel?" Hiro asks. His voice is simple, plain, like a normal teenager relating a story, but they've all gone silent. "They say God punished him with a long life so he'd have the time to repent and save his soul, but how likely do you think that is?"
Naoya remains silent.
"Not very, right? Of course, I think there could be other ways to end the story. For instance, what if Abel did something so he and Cain were even again?" Hiro mused.
"Like what?" Naoya asks. His mouth is dry.
"Do you remember Babel, the first time?" Hiro asks.
Naoya feels fear grip his heart for the first time in so long, but under that, he feels strangely proud.
It's the last day of the blockade, and the first true day of Naoya's vengeance. Naoya brushes the dust of the fallen towers off of Hiro's shoulders and grins when Hiro shows no reaction. "Don't you look the very image of the demon king," he says, and it is true, and it isn't.
Hiro is dirty--no, that was an understatement. Hiro has seven days' of filth on him--dust, sweat, blood, some of it his, most of it others'. He is dressed like a normal teenager, jeans and scuffed trainers, and when he closes his eyes, he seems painfully young.
When he opens his eyes, Naoya's heart catches in his chest, and he has to tuck his hands into his sleeves to prevent them from shaking with excitement.
Someone is plucking at his shoulder. Naoya turns--it's Atsuro, with Kaido a few steps behind him. "Is everything--" his protégé begins, voice stumbling. "The time limit's almost up," he says instead, anxiety pressing on his voice.
"And he may be fine, but we're not immune to that electric blast thing, so…" Kaido adds, more impatiently. He bares his teeth when he talks, and it is so easy for Naoya to imagine them pointed and sharp, to imagine tiny horns hiding under Atsuro's hat, to imagine a world like. Like nothing Someone had ever intended.
"Do you know what to say?" Naoya asks Hiro, who nods and gives him a funny little eyeroll, like they when they were five years younger and Naoya was reminding him about his lunchbox.
And together, they walk.
Hiro doesn't make any grand gestures. He doesn't command, or beckon, or say much of anything. He just walks, calmly, down the street, and when he passes a demon, it follows him.
A Moh Shuvuu is the first to follow, fluttering its way around Hiro's head and cooing prettily. A pair of Kabuso join next, waving their paws, dancing and cheering behind them. A Culebre and Seiryuu leave their master and fly overhead in long, looping patterns.
Naoya almost laughs when he notices a trio of Heqet running around Kaido's feet, nearly tripping him up. He does laugh when he sees Atsuro's face as a Rangda sways close to him and coquettishly lays a sharp-fingered hand on his shoulder.
"Qayin!" a Bilwis yells, waddling up to Naoya and wrapping its arms around his leg in a bizarre hug. "You're here!"
Naoya pats its head, then grips it none-too-gently by the horn and removes it from his leg. "Hush," he says, a little fondly, and the Bilwis is content to waddle beside him, beaming broadly.
They are hundreds strong when they reach the overpass. It's almost laughable--a few dozen men with guns threatening a demon army, and through it all, Hiro barely acknowledges them, never pausing in his path. He walks forward, towards the boundary, steps even and measured.
A red-haired woman steps forward, gun pointed downward, though it would take less than a second for her to bring it to ready position. She keeps her eyes focused on Hiro, but he can tell she's monitoring the entire situation. "Halt," she says boldly.
"It's alright, Izuna," Atsuro says. "They're all under our control."
Naoya snorts at what 'our' could possibly mean.
A Garuda drops from the sky, staring nose-to-nose at a soldier whose fingers twitched on his gun.
Hiro continues to walk forward, pausing only to give a sharp look at an Ogun who was having too good a time poking a guard with its mop. It immediately slides back in line.
"I'm still going to have to ask you to wait," she says.
"The demons will not harm anyone without my command," Hiro says, and his voice sounds young. Simple. "In return, you will evacuate the remaining humans in the city and disable all electromagnetic devices containing the program. We can discuss the rest of the demands later."
He continues to walk forward, almost at the barricade.
"Our demands are that all demons remain within the confines of the city," an older man says, stepping up to stand beside Izuna.
Kaido laughs loudly. "We're not talking about your demands, old man."
And when Hiro brushes past the line of soldiers without comment, surrounded by hundreds of laughing and screeching and crying demons--
When he gives Naoya a sidelong glance, eyes glowing and sly in a way Naoya has never imagined, Naoya thinks--
This is the most wonderful thing he's ever seen.
"Don't worry," Abel says, privately, when the others have left. "There won't be any blood."
Naoya takes another sip of champagne, almost by reflex, and grimaces at the taste.