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50 Shades of Bureaucracy: Endings

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“You’ve really made a project of this, haven’t you?” The playful lilt made the chill of the voice terrible to hear.

“My King.” Beelzebub rose slowly to receive Lucifer, suppressing a shiver.

“You’ve been enjoying yourself…” Lucifer mused as he passed slowly through Beelzebub’s Earthly residence. He wore his beauty annointed by a crown, almost too magnificent to gaze upon. His very presence sucked in the sparse light of the place, a gleaming, horrible tear in the world. “Not too much, I hope?”

A loveless smile spread across Beelzebub’s face. “The work never endzz.”

“You always did have a penchant for the temptations of lust. And gluttony. I cannot fault you for that.” The Infernal King walked with a dread purpose incompatible with the mundane trappings of the mortal-style residence, every footfall a threat.

“Gabriel has proven a powerful will to break. Hizz loyalty to the divine is strong.”

“You’ve been so… patient.” Lucifer considered Beelzebub a moment with crimson eyes narrowed. “Twenty years? I thought you more capable than that, Beelzebub.”

“Does my work displeazze you, my King?” That crimson gaze twisted their insides not with fear, but an unshakable desire to provide whatever it desired.

“Hardly, darling. Hardly.” Lucifer considered a sculpture of tormented rebar upon the wall. “Only the Dark Council grows restless.”

“Do they not have enough to keep themselvezz bizzy with?” Beelzebub had seen to it that they did.

“Oh, there’s plenty with all the holy wars going on up here on Earth. The dissolution of the United States, the anarchy spreading into South America. Plenty of work. But you know…” Lucifer finished his tour of the room to draw close to Beelzebub and lifted their chin with ice-cold fingers. “They long for a powerful Fallen angel to invigorate the ranks.”

“Yezz, my King.” Beelzebub swallowed. “I am aware.”

“So you will deliver.”

Beelzebub smiled. “In short order, my King. The procezz haz already begun.”

“I noticed. The Dark Council complains of your tardiness, but…” Lucifer let his fingers brush down Beelzebub’s lapel. “I understand Gabriel well. He is as loyal as he is a fool.” A blood-curdling smile spread across the Infernal King’s lips.

“He will fall before the end of the year, my King.”

“Oh?” Lucifer mused with pleasure. “So you are in the final stages.”

“Yezz,” Beelzebub buzzed with promise.

“You’ve done well to intercept the divine messages. He suspects nothing?”

“As you zzay, he izz a fool,” Beelzebub said lightly.

“Keep up the good work, darling. I imagine we’ll be seeing each other again soon.”

Beelzebub bowed deeply to Lucifer as the Infernal King vanished in a caress of shadow. The Lord of Hell returned their vacant gaze to the dismal view out the window: broken eyed windows staring back, stained facades, crumbling pavement. This neighborhood had always been a slum, but it had fallen into further neglect in these war-torn years. The ragged residents shambling nervously on the streets reminded Beelzebub of Hell. Suffering and despair above, so too Below.

The first year after Gabriel’s punishment by the Ultor had passed quickly for Beelzebub in Hell, broken up by only two additional visits. Their time away had the added benefit of setting a precedent for how often they would visit Gabriel. The Lord of Hell kept themself busy in the following years--started a new campaign of religious unrest to make up for the failure of Armageddon. Holy wars were always a good way to cheer up the demons, make them feel useful after they were robbed of their Great War.

It kept Gabriel busy, as well, as the appointed Messenger of God. He took as much pride in his new line of work as he had in his old. He was rarely still or in one locale for long. Because of the restrictions of his punishment, he spent a lot of time in transit. Instead of dreading the endless flights and changing time-zones, he seemed to get a kick out of flying the human way. Gave him time to listen to audiobooks and further familiarize himself with human culture, he’d told Beelzebub. Beelzebub told him he was going native.

Beelzebub didn’t miss him. It was better to keep reiterating that to themself. Both Gabriel and themself agreed it was better to limit their meetings. Even if Heaven and Hell were aware of their relationship, there was no need to tempt fate. The less they saw of him, the better. The less they saw of him, the longer they could draw out delivering him to the Dark Council. The less they saw of him, the less they would corrupt his Heavenly essence, bit by bit. So slowly Heaven or even Gabriel himself wouldn’t see it coming.

But it would happen. Very soon, now. Beelzebub would strike the final blow in Hell, reveal to him that his messages from Heaven had actually been laced with malicious intent. Very soon Gabriel would know that the growth of the holy wars, the destruction, chaos, and mass graves over the span of two decades, thrived by his word.

The guilt would destroy him, the unintentional double-agent, the blind fool.

For now, though, they could see him. The scales had not tipped just yet. For now, Beelzebub had time. Gabriel had time. The demon drifted away from the window and touched their hellphone screen to check the time. Gabriel would be landing soon, back in England.

Beelzebub wondered what his wings would look like, now. The Lord of Hell exclusively groomed them--not because they particularly enjoyed the task, but to keep Gabriel from seeing the growing patches of gray, the few black feathers dark as void in his previously pristine plumage.

His Fall had already begun. It was inevitable. Ineffable.