Heaven and Hell

Stephen Cote

What happens to the souls of people in a multiple system after the body dies? Stephen Cote explores possibilities in this weird fantasy.

Avontine, dear Victoria, sweet Avontine draws close to thee with her prickly pear sweet winds of change, drawing from your sugar plumy dreams of heavenly empires. Victoria, how the loathing and deceit of the heavenly Father hath plagued thee for more than a score, to let you wash your spiritual hands in the fountain of innocent immortality, only to allow you to become enraptured by another's sin and wickedness. Avontine extends her life to thee, my sister. Thy arduous journey, fraught with fear and dangerous climes, hath left thee in the company of the likes of the damned immortal minions of these lower, ethereal planes.

Avontine left your narrator's side with a sloppy kiss to his bosom. Though wakened fresh to a bright, cheery night, quite fit for violent intentions upon those who are in his care, your narrator could find little else to think of that Victoria. Misty breaths have condensed around the inside rim of this very chalice I shall soon offer you. That Avontine would lead thee to my side I might find it within my bared bosom to render change, perhaps a symbolic salvation, upon a damned soul or two. Given my conceited nature - Victoria, understand my difficult position - I am afraid I have only one place to keep you safe within my world. I do trust thine arrogance will not prevent thee from accepting your humble narrator's offer.

Lucifer sipped from the chalice then extended his arm. "It is time, Levidus."

"Will she accept your offer, sir?" Levidus took the chalice and turned it over in his red skinned palms.

"That God may offer her immortality, it is only proper that I, Father of Sin, must offer her salvation." Lucifer looked directly at Levidus, blind to the horrors of his own, private Hell. "For some, I am God."

"Respectfully, sir, to the rest, you are a low-down, dirty, rotten bastard." Levidus didn't smile, though his eyes shone.

"That I am," Lucifer said pensively. "And that I always shall be."

Interestingly enough, death was welcome. Live your life in spaces, broken apart into sporadic moments of understanding and control, completed with the silent blackness of helplessness. When you can't think and can only watch your life being lived for you, you will do anything to be your own person. I would have sold my soul to Lucifer if he had ever answered one of the prayers I had uttered in the grim drear of a lonely bed. I never had the opportunity.

I never knew Sebastion, though I knew of him. Imagine that, living closer with someone than a mortal could ever live and never knowing anything more than what they saw, touched, tasted, heard and smelled. Who cares? You still don't know what they are thinking. When he died, I think Lucifer didn't answer my prayer since he had answered Sebastion's already. In the afterlife, I never saw him and I am not sure I want to anymore.

If you must know, I am very religious and physically chaste. Oh, Sebastion was married for a short time, but how can I, a woman, lose her virginity in the body of a male? Assume for an instant that it is all a matter of interpretation. Fine, my interpretation is that I never had sex as a woman and am therefore a virgin. Would you think otherwise? Of course, I wouldn't doubt you would, but then remember you were never in this predicament.

Death wasn't anything like the Bible or the movies would like to assume it is. Alright, a matter of interpretation you ask? I will let you decide for yourself what it is like. I happened to think of it as a fire work that was launched into the air and fell to the ground as a smoking cinder. You are all ready for something big and then get let down. Not really disappointed since you can imagine what it could be like, but that sudden absence of feeling almost like a loss of patriotism. Heaven was even less spectacular than I was hoping.

Of course, my fondest hope was that it would take my dreams and make them come true; dreams I could change at a whim. Then, that is almost like Hell. First, imagine a large city and then take away all the buildings, all of the grime, all of the color, take out anything that could be considered impure. This must be the politically correct heaven, or I was sent to the Heaven for questionable souls. So, you have your city in mind, only it isn't a city since there are no buildings, nothing really at all but a lot of roads that criss cross but don't go anywhere. And the people! You have never seen so many people in one place at one time. And the noise! It wasn't even people noise but a white noise. I say "white noise" because it is so damn bright, and always white, that the light bleeds over as audible sound. It is horribly annoying. I guess God let them come here since he said he would save their souls, but He must have either run out of room in the real "Heaven" or he never took a good look at just how many people there were to be saved. Everyone seemed oblivious, or too afraid, to say anything about the conditions, and so they communed. Yes, they sat around and talked. A truly politically correct Heaven. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no sex, nothing that humans might attribute with pleasure was here.

Though it doesn't matter.

It takes a long time before your thoughts clear and you can see Heaven for what it really is: empty! When my thoughts did clear, I wonder now if God knew I had seen through the ruse. That is what it was, a ruse. All make believe. And I lived in eternal boredom for about, well, I guess a month. There is no way to tell. No one seemed to care about time and there was nothing to use to measure it. Alright, I may have sounded pessimistic. There was food in limited quantities. All I really remember was someone just handed me a golden chalice of apple cider. As I tasted it, I watched Heaven crumble away and then it was just gone!

Hell. I assume it is Hell. It must be! It took me three seconds to get my thoughts together. I know it was three seconds because when I wasn't breathing and wasn't sure if I should when I felt the cold marble floor against my cheek. I opened my eyes, counted to three before I took a breath, or even opened my eyes, and I knew who I was already and my head was clear. That fast! So, here I am. I guess the important part starts here.

Victoria felt the warm, sweet air fill her lungs. She didn't have to open her eyes to know there were three other people in the room. Frederick, and two others. She didn't know their names though. When she did push her eyes open, she could see a reflection of herself in her mind. Her skin was a burned crimson and her eyes were a pale, steel blue with dark rims of burning red around her irises. She was full figured, her breasts smaller than she would have liked, or thought they should be, her hips narrower and almost too much designed for business than a model's female pronunciation. A pleated skirt was tightly fitted against her hips and legs, a suit vest showed off the gentle curves of her chest and the tightness of her stomach. She liked that part. The material of the skirt and vest was soft, almost like silk, and colored a dark blue, pinstriped with red. Beneath the vest, she was wearing a white silk shirt and of all things a cross on a silver chain dangling from her neck. Her hair was short though very neatly trimmed, not completely removing her femininity, but expertly coming close.

Frederick smiled and extended his hand, holding a glass of water to her. "I imagine you are thirsty, Victoria."

She nodded and was suddenly aware of her parched throat. She took the glass, held it to her lips and suckled the water gingerly, not sure if she indulge the fancy of drinking it all. She was glad she didn't. It burned! Not like water touching dry skin, but water drenching a fire that refused to die. She spat nothing out, the action conveying her meaning.

"Holy water does that." Frederick smiled and took the glass from her hands, setting it down on a small table.

Victoria looked at the table, and then around the room. What sort of Hell was this? It looked like a hotel room, and a very nice one at that. Beige walls, satin sheets on the bed, a full bathroom, plenty of room and oh! the decorations. Oil paintings; Michelangelo's, Divinci's, Picasso's, all over. They must be duplicates, she thought absently.

Frederick surprised her. "They are real. You are a very special person, Victoria. We spared no expense on you."

Victoria wanted to ask too many questions though she thought her way through the forest of ignorance, formulating a question that would give her the most information. She suddenly felt a strange sensation. Frederick was not telling the whole truth; she had more power here than he was willing to let on to believe. In her most seductive voice, one she had to make and use for the first time in all of her existence, "It would be nice to know more about what is happening here."

Frederick smiled indifferently. He was a very plain man and suddenly didn't look like anything special. "There are two types of souls here. Damned and Fallen. The damned are souls from Earth. The Fallen are angels expelled from Heaven. Damned go through the normal routine; a lifetime of eternal suffering in their least favorite nightmare. The Fallen are given a little more leeway and tend to be the ones who cause all the problems for the Damned. It is a very efficient system for us."

"But I am not Damned or Fallen," Victoria said, becoming intrigued.

"No, you aren't. In fact, you shouldn't be here at all. This has happened in the past, though is very rare." Frederick waited until he saw Victoria nod and then continued. "You are a soul manufactured during mortal life. That tends to happen from what medical witch's call multiple personality disorder, or when lesions develop in the cognitive processes and offspring minds are created. Since, in your brief time in control of the mortal body, you were a good person of all things, you won your ticket to Heaven, et cetera, et cetera. What happens though, with the good comes the bad. Most likely, whether they want it or deserve it, the other soul or souls are shipped here. It makes Heaven run smoother, their books balance out that way."

"Heaven didn't look very impressive," Victoria dared. No, she didn't think it was really a dare, but an outright criticism.

Frederick laughed, "It isn't. Heaven is a boring purgatory."

"That doesn't make any sense. I thought it was supposed to be this fantastic wonderland."

"Most people do, Victoria. But you can't cram all the good souls in the same Heaven. It would run out of room. Imagine looking for everyone you ever wanted to meet there, and everyone of them was doing the same. All you can do is just make a big place where they can all meet. Essentially, that is all Heaven can be until they think of a better system." Frederick sat down on the edge of the bed, looking very tired. After a long pause, his eyes wandering over Victoria with their own hunger, he continued. "Two souls were sent here. They were damned, they should have spent their lives suffering, the usual. Two went to heaven. You and whoever else among your little cluster was a good soul. God doesn't like that. It doesn't look neat. Heaven has this absurd notion that multiple personalities are the product of sin, which of course, they are, but that doesn't make them necessarily evil. So, God is far more lenient on what, down here, we like to call career opportunity. In short, the two souls down here, all on their own, figured out they could exchange places with the two in Heaven. At least, that is what I was told. All systems of politics have their own forms of information and Hell's is no different. There is probably a lot more to it than that, but this is what He said to tell you."


"Lucifer, of course." Frederick didn't give Victoria a chance to ask why. "He likes to get personal with souls of your caliber. You see, God gives angels immortality, and one of the most important things, immunity from evil. Sure, you can still perform evil and get those stripped from you, but you can't be harmed by anything evil in nature. Not by anything ordinary anyway. There are quite a few powerful souls here that could cause you some grief, don't get me wrong, but you technically are a very powerful person here. So," and Frederick felt tired, not just looking it, he yawned, "I am here to convey Lucifer's personal regards and to offer you a job."

Victoria blinked and had to double check herself. Was this really happening? "A job? Why would I want to work for Lucifer?"

"It is a good job. You would not only have power from Heaven, but also power from Hell. Lucifer wants you to be the Madame over our little horde of succubi." Frederick smiled.

Victoria frowned slightly, not liking the thought of having Frederick trying to get her out of the same clothes he probably picked for her. "Once again, why should I take this job? If I am so powerful here, why can't I do what I want?"

"Let me correct that. You are powerful here because Lucifer allows it. It is one thing to grant power from heaven, it is completely different to take it away. You can take this job, maybe ask him for another if you don't like it, though I think he wants to see you do this one. Or, you can stay here for the rest of eternity. I for one know God isn't going to whisk you away to some paradise. Even if it is the same boring place."

"How do you know?"

Frederick smiled darkly, showing her a brief flicker of his own power. "Who better to send to talk with you than another like you?" With that, he stood and walked towards the door. "When you decide to work for hIM, you will know how to get in touch. Until then, you should be pretty comfortable here."

Before he left, he set down a watch on the bed. "I always wanted one of these around here. An hour can seem like a year somedays."

Then he was gone.

Victoria couldn't sleep. She set the watch on the nightstand near the bed and watched as the second hand swept past the minute and hour hand. Spending the past thirty hours in deep introspection had revealed nothing. She wasn't sure what she wanted, but the opportunity she had been offered interested her. In the broken spaces of Sebastion's mortal life she had been allowed to understand who she was, she had only wanted to be her own woman. Now she was offered a silver platter serving that wish to her.

"Would it mean I'd have to be mean?" she said into the empty space she had lived in for a day and a half. She was immediately aware of someone in the room when she finished speaking.

Lucifer closed the door to the room. He was not at all at what Victoria would have thought the Father of Sin should look like. He was dressed very conservatively in a black suit. His features were very Western European, though the dark rouge tone of his skin made him look Native American or Indian. His hair was long and braided at his temples, clipped with a feather pendant at the back of his crown.

"Pardon the intrusion, Victoria. You are not surprised to see me," he observed with a candid smile. "The answer to your question is no. Hell is not about creating sin but serving those who have performed actions contrary to their nature."

Victoria sat down on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs. She took several moments to look over Lucifer and could not decide how he ever earned the name as the Father of Lies. "What if it is contrary to my nature to punish those for their wrongs?"

"An interesting question, Victoria." Lucifer inhaled and a wisp of smoke fluttered across his lips when he exhaled. "Pardon me, I have a flare for theatrics." The smoke vanished. "Do you have time for a chat?"

Victoria laughed softly. She didn't know why she felt at ease sitting before the one person she had learned to fear through Sebastion. "Time is the one thing I have an abundance of, and the company would be appreciated."

"An articulate and hospitable lady. I admire that." Lucifer moved a chair away from the wall and sat down, facing Victoria.

"You admire that in a lady?" Victoria queried with extreme sincerity.

"No, the quality. The standard vices of my position became boring long before I turned to toying with mortals." Lucifer sipped from a chalice that had, for all intents and purposes, simply appeared in his hand.

"You question the purpose of Hell, though I believe the heart of the question is the difference between Heaven and Hell. If I am wrong, please correct me." Lucifer never betrayed any sign of unease or intent to betray Victoria. She felt that, above anything else, he was being both frank and honest with her.

"That is correct. And why you chose me for this position." Victoria uncrossed her legs and looked for something to drink. A chalice, similar to Lucifer's, waited on the nightstand for her. She took it and drank the cool, satisfying mead.

"Heaven and Hell are not two individual places, or simply broad concepts. They are nothing more than the two extremes on a broad spectrum of ethereal existence above the mortal plane." Lucifer paused, then asked, "if I am talking above your head, I'll explicate further."

Victoria shook her head, "no, I understand so far.

"Hell represents what happens when one of two opposing parties does not allow itself to be advertised. It is, quite simply, a victim of mudslinging on Heaven's part. Actually, that is fine for us, it keeps our task here simple. Heaven searches for the pure of heart, mortals who have devoted their lives to serving a single individual."

"Go.." Victoria started to ask, but was stopped.

"Please, not in my presence. I dislike profanity." Lucifer smiled and shrugged. "If a mortal questions this other, higher entity, but believe that It," he nodded with a casual smile, "is the supreme being, then they have compromised their nature contrary to their beliefs. They are then resigned to accepting that their soul is to be damned and sent here. Hell was never a place for suffering, but when someone comes here expecting to suffer, then we rightfully cater to what they believe should happen to them."

"Wait," Victoria said. "If a murder believes that he, or she, is not guilty, but actually committed the crime, say, in your name, then they wouldn't be damned, because they didn't compromise their nature contrary to their own belief?"

"In that example, they would have lied to themselves because I have never specifically instructed any mortal, or immortal, to kill someone, or something. In your example, that person would earn my special attention because he, or she, put words in my mouth that simply were not true. However, say, by nature, a person likes to kill things. Well," Lucifer made a gesture for emphasis, "A certain, higher entity gave permission to several mortals to wipe out entire civilizations. In fact, this same entity started a war with me because I questioned the motives of the current administration."

Lucifer paused to sip from his chalice. "So what is, broadly, Heaven and Hell? Who am I and who is this other person in charge of Heaven? Heaven is, as I said, a place your soul goes when you have a rigid belief of what an afterlife should be like, according to what you have been told. You get there by following the rules, rules that the lawmakers broke right after they made them, by the way. And you live out an eternity of worshipping someone who doesn't know your name, doesn't know you even existed, on any plane. Hell is the opposing force in that analogy. If you question things, if you are a more democratic person rather than given to monarchies, if you don't believe in those rules, or simply don't like them, you go to Hell."

Victoria understood, and trusted most of what Lucifer said. But questioned her timber. "Why should I trust you."

"You already do," Lucifer said smoothly. "But, to answer that, I've made things very simple here. After all, I make the rules. You will know if someone is lying to you, you will know what they are thinking, if they are talking in half truths or with holding information."

"And are you governed by your own rules?" Victoria asked carefully.

"If I wasn't, I'd be no better than the other creator, and Hell would only be what most expect of it, a place of suffering." Lucifer stood and regarded Victoria. "I asked you to lead the succubi because when I first learned of your existence, I knew you wanted, above all else, to be feminine. Playing mistress to thousands of whores may not appeal to you, they are a dirty, lying, filthy lot. I'd like it if they were better disciplined and acted properly."

Victoria looked at the lush carpeting. "I want to be my own woman, Lucifer, but not like that. Sex isn't what I had in mind when I wanted to be my own woman."

Lucifer smiled and shook his head. "You misunderstand me. Perhaps I should be more explicit. The succubi, right now, are the worst lot of whores you could ever dream of. Certain rules apply to them, though you'd be in a position to redefine some of those. I need them educated, trained to act like ladies, most of them anyway. Some of them are needed for the suffering end of Hell, but still, they shouldn't be living like filth."

Victoria, for the first time, felt concerned about her ability to accomplish such a broad and long range plan. She also questioned Lucifer's motives.

"Victoria," Lucifer said grimly. "Do not forget that your thoughts are as outspoken as your words. I am serious with my offer, and serious in wanting to clean the filthy rags up. Many of them wanted to come here, they weren't damned here, but became prostitutes of their own volition. I am not putting you in the position to be ousted or harmed. To be perfectly forward, you are going to encounter some very hard resistance, but the only way they can affect you is mentally."

Victoria nodded. She forced herself to voice her thoughts. "If I say yes, and later decide the task is not to my liking, can I do something else?"

Lucifer nodded affably. "I'd rather see you succeed and find your dreams and paradise in this task and position. But this is your afterlife, it is essentially, your existence. You have the rest of eternity to do what you want. I can't promise that I can offer a highly esteemed position like this again anytime soon, though."

"Highly esteemed?" Victoria exclaimed. "I'm sorry, but I never thought playing head hussy was highly esteemed."

Lucifer laughed gently. "Pretend that your original soul hadn't infected you with all that Bible babble. But given that you are ingrained with it, remember Songs of Solomon. This isn't about raw, barbaric sex. It is about making dreams come true. A lot of poor saps never find true love. And suffice it to say, true love needs a good match, compassion, decent conversation, and a healthy dose of sex. At this point, all that is available is filthy, animalistic sex, and I'd rather Hell not be known for that. It has been a very large red mark in our record book, to date."

Victoria nodded grimly. "Where do I start?" she asked finally.

Lucifer took her hand in his. "I'll introduce you to Pauline, your liaison and the one who is temporarily in charge until you take over, assuming you do."

Victoria stood and in a sudden flash, found herself in a place that was, indeed, Hell. She hadn't the foggiest idea of how she would make her paradise out of the mess before her.

Avontine, how I miss thy departed presence from my paradise. Have I wronged you, sweet Avontine, that you would betray me not only by making my brother my enemy, but leaving our family rivalled and without its mother? Our days of great wars have left us, though I dearly miss the sweet savory flavor of victory over evil that my brother manufactured. Countless scores of angels were lost in the making of this paradise.

Oh, my brother, what detestable ploys have thee to rip my heart apart with? Shall we grapple until the end of time over our disagreement? Was Eve so important that I was forced to make her and her mortal love, my mortal incarnation, suffer, as their children, to protect them from your evil?

"My liege!" Gabrielle plunged the tip of his great sword against the marble steps, rising to the throne of the Almighty God. "I bring urgent news."

"Gabrielle, you honor me with your diligence. Herald your news to me that it may be good." The Almighty steepled His hands together.

"My liege, the news is dire. Your Son's plan has met with negligent folly resulting in complete schizophrenic dislocation." Gabrielle lifted the sword from the marble tile and sheathed it.

"Which son?" The Almighty asked. "Julius? Nero? Adolph? John?"

Gabrielle shook his head, refusing to meet the eyes of his maker. "The other son, my liege."

The Almighty fumed and smashed His fist upon the side of the throne. "The carpenter."

Gabrielle nodded grimly. "If my liege wishes, might I remind Him that he is really not your son. Only a surrogate child during your period of impotency."

"Don't remind me, Gabrielle," The Almighty sighed glumly. "How did the dislocation come to pass?"

"The 'other' son allowed the soul of Sebastion to expand during transit to the Purgatory Processing Station. The original soul was to be damned, along with the offspring souls."

"Go on," The Almighty demanded.

"However," Gabrielle started.

"I hate that word, you know that."

"Therefore," Gabrielle started again.

"Do get on with it, Gabrielle."

"Sebastion's soul was sent directly to Hell, along with one of the offspring souls. Two of the other offspring souls were sent to Heaven. Your 'other' son tried to correct the problem by sending the two offspring souls in Heaven where they belong, but forgot that translocating offspring souls would result in the application of dislocation by way of the negative space theory."

"So the 'good' souls," The Almighty made quotation gestures with His fingers, "were sent to Hell, and the 'bad' souls," He made the gesture again, "were brought here."

Gabrielle nodded shamefully.

"Send them back," The Almighty said simply.

"We can't, my liege." Gabrielle continued to look down, though hid a dry smirk.

"Why not?" The Almighty demanded again.

"My liege, your brother apparently has offered the two dislocated souls salvation."

"Your point?"

"Your 'other' son has offered the two souls here salvation."

"Your point?"

Gabrielle sighed and finally looked directly at The Almighty. "The two good souls were offered Salvation in your brother's paradise. The two bad souls were offered salvation here. All of them have, according to my records, accepted. We cannot damn the two bad souls unless they make a really big mistake. It is impossible to extradite the two good souls if they don't want to leave Hell."

"But I'm God. Why the bloody hell not?"

"My liege, please, your language," Gabrielle said with disgust. "I'll make this crystal clear for you, my liege. You are God in your half, your brother is, technically, lord, or whatever he refers to himself as, in his half. You have two souls here that belong to him, and he isn't asking after them. He has two souls that should be here, but don't want to leave Hell. If the two 'bad' souls," Gabrielle mimicked The Almighty's use of the quotation gesture, "don't break any rules, then we can't do anything."

"Why not?"

"If my liege hasn't forgotten, His rules dictate 'Why not'. Accidents do happen, my liege," Gabrielle said complacently.

"Can't we send somebody to Hell then?" The Almighty lapsed back in the throne.

"How about the 'other' son?" Gabrielle offered.

The Almighty shook his head. "Too many people keep wanting to see him for some reason. I've never seen so much lack of coordination, tact and wit in my existence. The man is as dry as a bone."

"They seem to like him, my liege." Gabrielle smirked drily, though did his best to hide it.

"Send in those two rotten souls then. I want a word with them."

"As you wish, my liege."

The Almighty waited for his angel to return with the two dislocated souls. The first, Sebastion, the original, was as rotten as his brother. He had never been to church consistently and even by his brother's standards, was a bad seed. The second made Sebastion look like an angel. She was horribly beautiful and had a sinister way about her that reeked of wicked intentions.

"God," Sebastion said with a short smile, "might I be the first to offer my condolences on a lousy design job. This place makes no sense, has as much artistic value as a rap CD, and the colors remind me of a bad LSD trip."

The Almighty glared. "Taking my name in vane will get you damned. Gabrielle, damn them!"

Gabrielle offered an amused expression. "My liege, the criticism had no tact, but didn't take your name in vane."

Heidi, the wicked offspring of Sebastion, approached the throne. She surprised The Almighty by having the fluid graces of an elegant lady. "With all due respect, sir, we've buckled down on our studies. We understand we are not supposed to be here, but are also aware that you can't get rid of us unless we screw up. We'd appreciate the chance to make the most of this opportunity to redeem ourselves, or at least not meddle in your affairs."

The Almighty leaned forward though found it hard to make a retort. "If either one of you so much as breathes the wrong way, I'll shove a damnation order so far," he paused, choosing his words carefully, "down your throats, you'll have to take off your shirts to talk. Now go away."

Gabrielle started to usher the two souls out of The Almighty's hall when Sebastion stopped and looked back. "Are the stories I keep hearing about Jesus true? That you only adopted him for the publicity value he already had and that he was the one responsible for the Clinton administration?"

Gabrielle pushed Sebastion forward, "The Almighty doesn't have time to answer dumb questions."

"So they're true?" Sebastion asked as Gabrielle lead Heidi and him out.

"Actually, Jesus is consumed in Televangelism. The Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations came straight from the top." Gabrielle laughed out loud once he was out of earshot of The Almighty.

"Imagine that," Heidi whistled.

I was not at all surprised to learn Sebastion died when a piece of toast became lodged in the toaster and he tried to pry it loose with a knife. It wasn't any news to learn that he really wasn't a bad seed, but a misunderstood artist of sorts. I sometimes like to fancy myself as a people person. In those moments of clarity when I understood that I was a part of Sebastion that had developed in his insanity, I was able to watch how his life was controlled first by his parents, then by his wife, and in the end, by society. I never blamed Sebastion for trying everything he could to get rid of me, or integrate me into his total being. But when he died and I was free, I was thankful for the chance to finally live.

I never expected to enter Heaven so rapidly or meet so many historical people. I always imagined that, as a new soul, one that really had yet to live, I didn't warrant special attention. What made Heaven so wonderful was that no one stood out for what they had done or what they would do. They were who they were. I didn't make friends with the angel Gabrielle at all. He was pompous and always talked about God as if The Almighty was a blathering idiot. In addition, he would casually speak about Jesus as one might speak of a movie star that couldn't care less about anyone else that wasn't in their little black book. Although it is hard to believe, Jesus met me personally. And those first memories of actually living will probably always be the best memories of my immortal life. The most difficult part of those first days was not having the memories and experiences of Sebastion to help remind me of who I was.

"Larry?" Jesus smiled and offered his hand. He wore blue jeans and a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt.

Larry looked around him, stupefied. "Is this Heaven?" He didn't feel the fire of Hell anywhere close to him, and everyone seemed to be going about their own business without worry. Several stopped and shook hands with the man who greeted him, referring to him as Christ, JC, or Jesus.

Larry blinked. "Jesus?"

Jesus nodded, "I had to be the son of somebody. Around here, there's no reason to live it up or anything. I noticed that the soul you came from splintered into four parts, so wanted to intervene now to avoid any conflicts."

Larry swallowed and looked at Jesus dumbly. "Jesus Christ, I am having a hard time believing my own eyes."

Jesus smiled. "Let me explain, Larry, and I'll try to keep things simple. You're dead and you're in Heaven. Everything else might be a little hard to understand right now."

Larry stared blankly, then commented. "It's hard to think. I don't remember very much. I don't even know why I know the things I do, like how to talk."

Jesus sighed and took Larry's arm. "Come on, I want to introduce you to someone." He lead Larry to a long hallway, talking in a friendly tone the whole time. "You are a part of someone named Sebastion. He had a multiple personality disorder in his mortal life. The four main personalities are Sebastion, Heidi, Victoria and you. Sadly, the division wasn't quite equitable. Sebastion and Heidi received most of what was considered the soul, the memories and the intelligence. Victoria managed well enough since she knew enough to get by and know what she wanted. But you are a bit of a special case, Larry."

Larry continued to walk, but watched Jesus. He felt at ease with him and liked the sound of his voice. Though he knew who Jesus was, he wasn't quite sure what Jesus had done to be memorable. "Why am I a special case?"

Jesus found it hard to smile, though still managed. "Your soul is very fragile right now because you don't have enough experience or memory from your mortal life to add substance to your soul. You have just enough to recognize you exist."

"Doesn't sound like much," Larry remarked, not really sure why that made him special.

"You are at a very impressionable age, pardon the analogy. I want to make sure you are not lead astray or develop certain desires that would cause you to be damned to Hell simply because you don't understand." Jesus did his best to keep his tone gentle.

"I don't understand," Larry said finally.

"I know, Larry, I know." Jesus tousles his hair and lead Larry passed Gabrielle, who had managed to arrive in the hall of The Almighty first.

"Gabe," Jesus said benignly.

Gabrielle nodded with narrowed eyes. "Christ."

"He doesn't seem to like you very much," Larry said as they approached the throne of God.

"It's hard to be friends with everybody," Jesus said.

Jesus stopped before a long staircase leading to The Almighty. "Dad, Larry. Larry," Jesus looked at Larry, pondering how to introduce the creator of all life on Earth. "Larry, meet God."

Larry smiled and waved.

"Has my son explained why you are here, Larry?" The Almighty said. His voice was beautiful, though his appearance was odd. He was dressed in a tie-dyed robe and wore a large peace symbol around his neck. His hair was somewhat natty and Larry envisioned that the fashions of Woodstock didn't just happen from using a lot of drugs. The Almighty looked, and Larry thought it appropriate for the position, like a hippy.

"That I am a new soul and I'm not very smart because the other parts of the soul got all the memories and experiences." Larry smiled, happy he remembered what he had been told.

"Now, now," The Almighty said in a gentle tone. "You can be smart if you want to devote yourself to studying something that interests you."

"Can I even study to be like you?" Larry asked.

The Almighty chuckled. "If I ever have need for a replacement and you do your studies, I promise I will keep you in mind, Larry." The Almighty stood and walked down the long staircase. The large peace symbol bobbed to and fro with each step. "We have a grave matter to discuss, though, Larry."

Larry looked innocently at God. "What?"

"I was told you had been sent to Hell. In fact, several people have been masquerading as Gabrielle, Jesus and myself, causing many, many irritating problems." The Almighty took a pair of Lenon glasses out and put them on. "I love these things," he said with a smile to Jesus.

"What I need you to do is to not do anything, Larry. It is very important that, for the next few hundred years, you don't talk with anybody. You can study, read a good book, review world history, but don't let yourself be lead astray until you are educated and learned enough to know what is right and wrong. I can't simply give these things to you, you need to learn them for yourself." The Almighty smiled and handed a pair of Lenon glasses to Jesus. "Here, thought you'd like a pair for yourself."

Jesus looked at the glasses and put them in his pocket.

Larry swallowed and looked between The Almighty and Jesus. "Ok, if that's what you want, God."

"Exquisite," The Almighty said. "My son will take you to a nice quiet place. And, if you are good, we'll let you visit Victoria, your sister."

Larry smiled, "I'd like that. When can I meet her?"

The Almighty smiled. "In a few months. She has some adjusting to do herself."

Avontine, my dearest rose, blossoming in my mind every moment of idle thought. I have done many things that are questionable, but my brother's conspiracy goes too far. If he is not responsible for his absurd treatment of the final shard of Sebastion's soul, then I'm ready to embark on a new journey to find out who is at the heart of this insane drama.

Even now, Victoria meets with Pauline, and I have received word that Sebastion and the second shard, Heidi, have met with someone masquerading as my brother. Avontine, am I to suppose that my brother would stoop to such antics to simply bypass his own rules and laws to send an unwanted soul to me? Larry has the mind of a child and my world offers a wide array of learning experiences, but if he is deceived by someone in Heaven and sent here believing he has been damned, then this high level corruption would threaten the very laws that uphold the existing peace between my brother and I. Avontine, I have seen thine wisdom, though now beg a boon of you. Settle this unrest before it goes so far as to threaten the mortal world.

Gabrielle waited outside of The Almighty's hall, gripping the hilt of his sword in a tight fist. He had played along with the game for too many years and refused to let this new opportunity surpass him. Larry, the unfortunate refuse of the remainder of Sebastion's soul hadn't had a thought of his own before he had been sucked into the powerful political game between The Almighty and Lucifer. Although he should have paid special attention to Heidi and Sebastion, who were bound to cause problems, he knew that Larry would be sent to Hell. The Almighty couldn't see himself performing the ludicrous action while behind his rose tinted world, and Jesus didn't have the stamina or stomach to even tell Larry the truth.

When Jesus lead Larry out of the hall, Gabrielle intercepted him. "I'll take him to the Hotel Hendrix in purgatory," he said coldly. The Hotel Hendrix was the closest to Hell and was the location of frequent attempts by the damned trying to break out of Hell. They usually found themselves in the middle of one of Jimi's ear piercing concerts and were caught before their vertigo had passed. Jesus, a fan of Hendrix, knew very well that the Hotel Hendrix would be the best location to accidentally 'lose' a soul to Hell in. After all, it was only one floor down from the lobby.

Jesus seized over Gabrielle. "Look, Gabe," he turned his head, trying to prevent Larry from hearing him. "We both know what Dad has to do. I also know you think I am responsible for this mess."

Gabrielle shook his head. "JC, I've never said anything of the sort. I'd like to say it is Lucifer, or that The Almighty's cheese finally fell of his cracker, but I think it's something that is affecting them both."

Jesus miracled himself into his sandles and robes. "Gabe, look. The water's high on either side and if you don't get out of the middle, well," he looked seriously at Gabrielle, "Moe can't hold the water up forever, Gabe. And nobody is going to come walking over it when you sink, if you catch my drift."

"Crystal, JC." Gabrielle frowned bitterly and took Larry's arm. He lead him down the hall, though paused and looked back at Jesus. "When you finally climb down off your mountain, JC, promise me you won't be surprised when you realize the world has done a lot of changing while you were gone."

"Yeah, something like that," Jesus replied drily.

Gabrielle whisked a very quiet and confused Larry down to Purgatory and then to the Hotel Hendrix. Joplin was up in a duet with Morrison, Keith Moon on the drums, and Garcia playing guitar. Sickened at the perversions Jimi had sank to in his efforts to attract attention, Gabrielle pushed Larry along to his room.

"Gabrielle, Heaven is a nice place, but it seems dreadfully different than I expected," Larry commented at last, looking around the stale, rustic room.

Gabrielle took several moments to gather his thoughts. "You haven't been in Heaven, Larry. Neither you nor your sister, Victoria, have ever set foot in it. You were always near the fringes of Hell where Lucifer can still work his lies. I fear I am the only one who knows what is happening."

"Larry," Gabrielle continued, running his tongue along the inside of his lip when he paused. "I'm going to give you something and you are going to have to keep it a secret, alright?"

Larry smiled. "Like a present?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Yes. A present for you and your sister, Victoria." He took two plain, silver bands from his left hand and passed them to Larry without much formality.

"They're very sparkly. Thank you," Larry's eyes glittered with excitement.

Gabrielle inhaled, preparing himself to sin in the name of God. "Do not wear that yet, Larry," he said before Larry had a chance to put one of the rings on. "Larry," he started, but found it hard to continue as he gazed into this innocent man's eyes. "You aren't going to stay in Heaven. God is sending you into Hell to be damned for the rest of eternity, to suffer for sins you had no part in making or enacting."

Larry lost his smile. "But I never did anything wrong," he protested.

"No, you didn't." Gabrielle placed his hand on Larry's shoulder. "That is why I am not going to let you suffer. In order to do that, I have to give you another present."

Larry tried to smile, though it was a futile one.

Gabrielle pulled a sword much like his own from the ether. "Take this, Larry."

Larry took the sword, barely able to hold it without struggling. Time passed and he found it grew lighter until it was comfortable to carry. "It's like yours," he beamed.

"It is, and it isn't. Now," he started, though listened to the sounds of people approaching in time. "You must repeat after me."

"I, Larry," Gabrielle started, prodding Larry to repeat it.

"I, Larry."

Gabrielle paused and quickly truncated the entire speech, deciding that most of what Larry would have to repeat wouldn't be understandable anyway. "Promise to be a good angel."

"Promise to be a good angel." Larry said.

"And only take orders from Gabrielle."

"And only take orders from Gabrielle. That's you," Larry added quickly.

Gabrielle nodded. "You are now a guardian angel, Larry. That is the most important job an angel can have. Right now, you have to hide the sword and the rings. Don't let anyone find them, and most importantly, don't let anyone take them away."

Larry nodded. "Do I have to go to Hell now, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle winced and nodded. "Yeah, Larry."

"You won't be coming with me, will you." Larry said eventually.

Gabrielle shook his head and started to leave, having spent more time than he had planned. "No, Larry, I won't. Remember, you promised."

Larry smiled weakly, "promised to be good."

Gabrielle left the room and slipped into a corridor of time, narrowly avoiding Jesus' arrival. "And may God damn me if what I have done is wrong."

Victoria, my beloved sister. Tales of Sebastion have reached me even in the lowest levels of Hell. I have so much to tell you of my trials here, of Gabrielle's gifts to me, and the plans I have made. I will call on you soon, Victoria, and pray that you can hear these thoughts. I have taken to thinking and remembering by way of a diary to keep others from discovering my secret. I am a guardian angel, Victoria, who has watched the true suffering that Lucifer must inflict by his nature, and that God allows to exist by his. For what has seemed like hundreds of years, though I now know has only been four to you and the rest of eternity, I have studied the history and ways of Heaven and Hell. My promise to Gabrielle, to be good, is polished and unbroken. It is becoming difficult to hide these truths from Lucifer now. Gabrielle wouldn't have sent me here as an angel only to have me caught. I have discovered a dark and sinister secret in the ninth level - the worst of Hell. It is for the discovery of this secret alone that I believe I have been sent here.

Angels abound here. At first I was unable to notice them, and then when I did find them, I was unable to help them. I cannot make myself known to them yet, though have promised them that one day I will return to free them. How proud you would be of your lesser brother, Victoria. I have made myself intelligent and scholarly, creating my own set of beliefs, and doing what I can to help those in need. The angels here are not prisoners of Lucifer, but force labor. In the great war between Heaven and Hell, God's army of angels were defeated. In his intolerance for failure, God refused to allow them to return to Heaven, though refused to give them up to Lucifer. Lucifer has been forced to make them suffer for all these millennia out of spite.

There are truths to that and falsehoods. Lucifer is not all spit and polish. He has his own secrets, some I am sure you are aware of. Tomorrow I will climb through the eight levels of hell to you, Victoria, and for the first time, embrace my sister and bring her the gift of Gabrielle.

Victoria bid Pauline into her private chambers. By common ritual, she thoughtlessly removed her clothes, placed a chalice between her legs, and let the demodian seed spill out of her. She set the chalice on the mantle and dressed herself. Pauline followed each of her motions so that two chalices rested on the mantle. She dressed and then took the Victoria's chalice, waited for Victoria to take hers, and quickly, they drank. Victoria made a remorseful face and looked passively at Pauline.

"I hate him. It's as simple as that. I hate him." Victoria threw the chalice into the fireplace. The metal became glass in the flight, only to shatter into smoke when it struck the concrete.

"I recall he did tell you there were certain rules that you couldn't change, Victoria." Pauline let go of her chalice, which simply vanished. "You have done a marvelous job in educating and cleaning up the girls."

Victoria's face reflected scorn and derision. "The whole ritual of gaining my sustenance revolts me. And to think that they do it straight from another woman."

Pauline half smiled, "you can educate them and refine them, but they are here for sex, Victoria. Whether they have been damned to it, or desire it, it is what they are here for."

"Why do you do it, Pauline?"

Pauline rolled her lips between her teeth. "Because, in a sick fashion, its what makes the most sense."

Victoria wanted to gape, but had far outgrown such simple emotional outbursts. "How could it possibly make sense?"

"Body fluids, not the waste mind you, are the source of life itself. If life is concentrated into a liquid, you are only fooling yourself to envision that it would be some sort of sweet, wine-like nectar. Your prime choices are pretty simple. Blood for the vampires and semen for us." Pauline scratched her head and paced. "You never seemed to mind before, Victoria. Why now? Why do you do it? You can always leave and do something else."

Victoria's face melted and she could only smile slightly. "In a way, it makes the most sense. Once, I wanted nothing more than to be a woman, and now I teach women how to act like women. I like what I do, I like what I am. Really, my only complaint is I don't get my choice in beverages."

Pauline tried to giggle, though looked over Victoria. "You still haven't seen through his lies, have you?"

Victoria nodded. "I have, I just don't think I want to admit it. I was under such delusions of grandeur at first that I thought what I was doing was the best thing. As it turns out, it is the best thing. I just never stopped to think what Lucifer would gain by it."

"When I first came here, Lucifer used the example of love without sex, as he did with you. But for most of the women out there, they are no longer capable of loving. They prey on the men for their semen." Pauline closed her eyes. "Why haven't you ever asked me why I am here? I always thought that we were the only ones that could truly love here."

Victoria touched Pauline's cheek. "Once a week, we have to find a male to feed us, or feed from one of the women who have already been sustained. The men treat us with what romance they can until their little deed is done, and then we return here, to each other. I never asked because I trust you to tell me. If I ask, then the answer is already there."

Pauline shook her head. "You don't belong here, Victoria."

"We're all innocent, Pauline, haven't you figured that out?"

Both women laughed aloud. A knock on the door soon followed.

"It's open," Victoria said.

Felicia entered, wearing nothing, evidently having just come from dinner. "Someone is here to see you," she said coldly. "A man."

"You'd better let him in," Victoria said, glancing at Pauline. "He'd better have a decent request."

Felicia rolled her eyes and let the man enter, then shut the door behind him.

Both Pauline and Victoria blinked several times before they allowed themselves to believe what they were seeing. A man dressed all in white save a black cane, raven black hair, and handsome features, walked in and nodded cordially to Pauline and Victoria.

Pauline had a hard time trying not to laugh - not in humor, but in simple rejoice. "Lucifer's new boy?" she said quietly to Victoria. "He's getting closer and closer to making his own angels than he thinks."

Victoria nodded, utterly astounded. "That he is, that he is." She sized over the man and then said in a pleasant voice. "Victoria, queen of the succubi."

The man looked over Victoria for a long time and then nodded, evidently unaware of proper manners when greeting those of the upper class. "Victoria, third shard to the soul of Sebastion," he said drily.

Victoria nodded plainly, used to people reading into her thoughts. "Your statement of the obvious is correct. Would you care to enlighten me as to who you are?" Victoria wondered why she asked, though when she tried to look into his thoughts, she found very little that was useful. It was quite freakish.

"Larry," the man said with some resignation.

Both women burst into fits of giggles and then apologized. "I'm sorry, dear," Victoria said. "I always thought someone with your characteristics would have a more bold name." She then stopped herself and looked directly at Larry, remembering things she had not allowed herself to think of. "Larry?" she asked carefully?

Pauline gasped, "you know him?"

Larry nodded.

"I was told you had been damned to the ninth level," Victoria tested.

"I was, though decided to leave in search of you." Larry's thin build appeared too lanky to hold his body upright. He had so little soul in him, though what was there, was as solid and strong as diamond. Victoria had never seen a soul so intact and brilliant.

"A damned soul simply walks in here because he wants to? What is the world coming to," Pauline jested, though betrayed some signs of curious fear.

Victoria disregarded Pauline and stepped forward, holding Larry tightly to her. A peace settled over that she had never before known. She then found a truth to Pauline's joke. "How did you get out of the ninth level. More importantly, why isn't anyone beating down my door to take you back?"

Larry smiled. His features had wizened from the innocent, placid face of an ignorant child. "God damned me here because Sebastion and Heidi, our other brother and sister, the dark shards of our soul, had already been saved in Heaven. Gabrielle didn't want me to be damned empty handed."

Victoria cocked her head. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

Larry looked around the room. "You've done well. I somehow knew you would be alright until I found you."

Victoria gripped Larry's shoulder. "Larry, what happened?"

Larry turned to face her. "I'm an angel."

"The bloody hell you are," Pauline said. "No angel can exist in Hell. It has to violate some law."

Larry's face melted into remorse. "Actually, most of the ninth level of Hell is populated by forgotten angels of Heaven. Gabrielle must have known that. But he made me a guardian angel. And if you know your laws, Pauline, then you know that a guardian angel cannot be separated from their sword. And their sword protects them from Lies."

Victoria grimaced. Though remained quiet.

"Where is your sword, mister guardian angel?" Pauline asked defiantly, refusing to believe a single word she was forced to listen to. She couldn't afford the luxury of hope.

Larry switched his grip on the cane from his left hand to his right. He said nothing nor moved. For a moment, the cane shimmered and became a magnificent sword, and then return to an ordinary, ebony cane.

Pauline's face went white. "Can you see, Larry, if this," she motioned about her, "if this is one more lie?"

Larry looked around him. "It's real. Lucifer is not entirely evil enough to lie to his best employees and God is not entirely good enough to save everyone of his angels."

"What is this about then, Larry?" Victoria took her soul brother's hand in hers.

"The angels of the great war between Heaven and Hell are trapped on the ninth level, the lowest and worst place of Hell. Lucifer can't help them and God won't save them. They have been there waiting to be freed since before mortal man was ever conceived." Larry squeeze Victoria's hand.

Pauline looked around the room, feeling a new exhilaration. She knew that Larry was an angel simply because she knew he couldn't openly lie. She still couldn't allow herself any hope. She was still damned. Damned and damned forever. "Why would God let them suffer if they are innocent?"

Larry looked directly at Victoria. "Why would God damn both Victoria and I if we are innocent? You'd have to know the history of Heaven and Hell to know that."

Victoria blinked tears from her eyes. "Then would you please explain it to us, Larry, so we can finally understand once and for all. Everything about Heaven and Hell has made absolutely no sense at all."

Larry sat down on the edge of the bed and lay his cane over his knees. "You will have to indulge some philosophy on my part. I've had the joy of learning from Cain, who is somewhat flakey, so I might drift, but that's necessary to understand any of it."

Pauline sighed, "well, do get on with it." She smiled to show Larry she was excited and not chastising him.

Victoria sat next to Larry and gazed at him pensively while Larry told his tale.

"The universe as a mortal would know it from Earth never existed. Don't think about time, space, life, or any way of measuring your existence. The only earthly philosophy that is applicable is thinking about 'Everything' as a circle. First light, then dark, then light again. At some point in the circle of 'Everything', a being known as Avontine simply started to exist. Avontine was, at that moment, the name of 'Everything'. Avontine gave birth, in a manner of speaking, to two boys. Contrary to popular feminist theory, God and Lucifer are male, so no need to argue it any further. Avontine didn't exactly produce these two polar opposites, but split and became them, much like Sebastion split and became Sebastion, Heidi, you, Victoria, and me."

"So God and Lucifer actually started out as equal beings?" Pauline asked, perplexed.

"They are equal by nature simply because Avontine split into two equal halves." Larry scratched his head. "Yeah, sometimes even I have a hard time understanding it, but you need to trust in that in order to make sense of anything else."

"Ok, we'll give in to it, for now," Victoria said.

"Avontine's two halves decides, more or less, that they would need a place to exist in, or on rather. And so .."

"They made Earth?" Pauline offered.

Larry shook his head. "Actually, the first thing they made were rules. God had his rules and Lucifer, of course, had an entirely different set. God was a bit more fanatical about being in charge, while Lucifer didn't think it so important to be the leader as creating something worth leading. So God made the stars. As spectacular as they were, they only shed light and warmth. Lucifer used a little more forethought and made planets that spun around God's stars. God's stars were rather simple, while each of Lucifer's planets were different."

"Larry, you're my brother, but how can you expect me to listen to this garbage?" Victoria thought Larry might actually have been Lucifer playing a game with her.

"God," Larry continued, "decided to better his brother, so made a mortal human that would reproduce little mortal versions of himself. He called this woman Eve. God had settled down and was a lot calmer, using a little more forethought, and spent a lot of time making Eve just right. Lucifer, however, was quite upset, since God's first attempt at Eve, named Zelda, didn't last very long on the surface of the sun. So God decided to use one of his brother's planets. Lucifer had already populated the planet with various creatures, as was his hobby of making entire colonies of beings in harmony with themselves and their surroundings, so was quite upset when God suddenly put the mortal, female version of himself on the surface. Lucifer, one night, made a male version of himself, named it Adam, and told Eve that she was to have Adam's children, not God's. God and Eve had been falling in love, if you want to call it that, and Lucifer invariably destroyed that. God decided to make Adam and Eve suffer during their mortal lives, to let them choose who they wanted to call their creator, and with whom they wanted to spend their afterlife with. Until this point, Lucifer and God had been living in the same place."

"Heaven?" Pauline asked, quickly becoming interested.

"Actually, it was a little garden in what you'd now know as Iowa. God made a lot of immortal humans, whom he called angels, the first whom he named Gabrielle, and the rest he didn't name at all, and told them to make Lucifer find his own Garden. Lucifer was pushed back to what you'd know as New York, and told God he would go somewhere else, but was taking his angels with him. Gabrielle was sent back to God with this news. God was so infuriated that he told Lucifer that he would make the angels think they were writhing in agony until Lucifer had to give them up out of pity for them."

"So, wait a moment. Am I mistaken, or was God responsible for making Hell, and in a way, making Lucifer into a bad seed?" Victoria was having a difficult time believing Larry.

"God was responsible for making the first great Lie. So, yeah, pretty much," Larry said acidly. "Lucifer didn't have to take the angels with him, and God didn't have to make the angel's suffer. But in order to make the mortals, who had now begun to reproduce rather quickly, follow him and not his brother, he had to make up a place that was really nasty. It stood to reason that place would be his brother's house, already populated by thousands and thousands of angels who were suffering.."

"Larry, I know you are trying very hard to explain this, but I'm still very confused. What does this have to do with you and Victoria?" Pauline looked between brother and sister.

"God made a set of rules about how people could get into Heaven. If you follow those rules, you'd get in. Simple. Lucifer's rules to get into Hell were pretty easy. If you wanted to go there, you'd go there. The administration between Heaven and Hell became very thick with red tape. A damned soul was sent to suffer in Hell. Since the soul was, technically, God's, when it was damned, Lucifer couldn't do anything with it. All he can do is just watch. If a soul is 'saved' by God, it goes to Heaven. That leaves a lot open. What happens when a soul isn't saved by God, isn't damned, but needs to go somewhere. Usually it goes to the higher levels of Hell. The lower areas of Heaven are consumed by Purgatory, and the entire structure is a broad range. Right now, in one of the highest levels of Hell, there is very little difference between here and the lower levels of Heaven, just above Purgatory. After all of that, the only way to think of God and Lucifer, Heaven and Hell, are like two kids who have marked off their territory in the playground. God is tied up by his own rules, and Lucifer is burned out. His entire life has been trying to just find the line between right and wrong, good and evil. God already had a very good notion of it, and has done a splendid job of keeping that line in check. But that matter with the angels has always plagued both of them."

"Why do I get the impression that isn't quite the real problem," Victoria said.

"Because it isn't," Larry replied, "that was my explanation of the history. People have different expectations of what their God is or should be. Those gods exist and occupy part of the neutral territory between Heaven and Hell. There is one person, though, who has been causing a lot of problems in Heaven, and that is threatening to destroy the fabric that contains the truly evil souls and protects the good ones."

"And that is?" Pauline asked.

"Moses, of course."

Pauline sneezed. "Get real, honey."

"I didn't think it made a lot of sense at first, either, but I think Moses is trying to overthrow God with Lucifer's help. When he was mortal, he developed his own fanatical ideas of what defined good and evil. He is very close to controlling and possibly becoming God." Larry looked steadily at Victoria. "You don't believe me, do you."

"To be honest, that all sounds pretty far fetched, Larry. I'd like to, but it somehow spoils all those wonderful ideas of courtly politics and majesty. I mean, he's God. He can do anything." Victoria smiled weakly.

Larry mused and nodded. "Gabrielle wanted me to give you something." He took out the ring and passed it to Victoria.

"What is it?"

Larry looked at his own. "I think it is the key to freeing all of the angels on the ninth level of Hell."

Victoria turned the ring over in her fingers. "Why'd he give one to me?"

Larry swallowed. "I think because he may have thought you wouldn't believe the truth, and would have to see it for your own eyes."

My dearest Victoria. Oh, Avontine, how she reminds me of Eve in her innocence and beauty. My brother has been at the root of many problems. When he tempted Moses with those two tablets on Mt. Sinai and then turned Heaven into a paradise for politics, I thought his intentions would end there. But now, sweet Avontine, the lowly has arisen to discover my lost children. My brother swore them eradicated, and I question how this damned soul could climb out of the worst reaches of Hell in an effort to free them.

I have been forced to remain silent for all these years after the crucifixion of my son, Jesus. I am guilty of leaving so many mortals to suffer until they die. If I expose myself I fear my brother's masquerade will only turn into a full scale war. I have resorted to hiding myself as a mortal on Earth to avoid detection. I wish you could see the beauty of this planet that I have so neglected in an effort to preserve their awaiting paradise, Avontine.

Gabrielle found himself in a quiet park with the sun just under the horizon. He could only guess by the smell that he could only be somewhere near New Jersey. A lone man awaited him in the distance. As he approached, he began to see a strong familiarity that he would never have guessed possible.

"My liege?" Gabrielle asked, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"I know what you did to Larry before he was damned to Hell, Gabrielle." The man turned to face Gabrielle. He was featureless, yet the entire universe spun about in cosmic light where his face would have been.

"It was necessary, my liege." Gabrielle smiled. This time there were no more lies. No lie could imitate the complexity and beauty of The Almighty.

"Are Victoria and Larry together in Hell now?" The Almighty approached Gabrielle.

"They are, my liege." Gabrielle looked into the sky. "Larry tries now to convince his sister to help save the angels."

"It is time they stopped suffering. What of Sebastion and Heidi?"

"Causing as much trouble as they can. They have figured out that no one is going to damn them."

"They can't be damned until Larry and Victoria free the angels." The Almighty gazed, apparently, at Gabrielle. "Are you sure Larry can convince his sister to leave her current duty to my brother?"

Gabrielle smiled. "Larry is capable of many things, my liege. The time distortion in the ninth level has given him enough time to learn. I trust in his ability to convince his sister."

"Excellent." The Almighty paused before sending Gabrielle off. "When the angels are free, you'll find me watching the scuffles in the Mideast. I wish someone would tell me how they got it in their heads that piece of worthless land was holy."

"Probably from when you sent them across the desert, my liege."

"I told them to go the other way, Gabrielle. Oh well, what's done is done."

Larry lead Victoria and Pauline down to the ninth level of Hell. Their passage down was rather easy, though the suffering of billions of souls started to get to the two women after a while.

"Tell me again why I'm going along with this," Pauline asked.

"Because, regardless of the rubbish Larry fed us, he's a guardian angel, and if that means we can get out of here, then I'll try anything." Victoria wasn't sure she quite believed everything she said, but somehow knew that this would be her only chance to see past the great lie Lucifer had cast upon her and Pauline. An eternity without romance or love or bosom friendships.

Larry stopped just before entering the ninth level. "You may not like what you are going to see here."

When he lead Victoria and Pauline into the ninth level, Victoria shrieked. Pauline gasped. Larry winced. "Everybody sees it a different way."

Both women were silent and trying to avoid the pleas for help.

"How are we supposed to free them, Larry?" Victoria asked.

Larry put the ring on his finger. "I think we're supposed to save them."

"Just like that, say 'you're' saved?" Victoria asked in disbelief.

All three were then aware of Lucifer standing behind them.

"Larry, Victoria, Pauline." He nodded to each of them as he said their name. "I have to admit you've played a very interesting game, but I can't let you save them. I have Heaven to conquer and a billion souls to torment. I simply don't have time to play with you anymore."

Larry drew his sword. "And if I save them first?"

Lucifer shrugged, "I'd rather not get into this, Larry. Do you realize how many do-gooders try to fight me and lose? Don't you realize that you and Victoria were never saved at all? You were always damned, always in Hell, except when that no good Gabrielle took you," he motioned to Larry, "to the fringe of Hell and was able to give you the sword and make you an angel. And to avoid confusion, no, you don't belong here, and do have those powers of Heaven simply because Jesus did actually make a mistake."

"Then why all this? Why not make us suffer?" Victoria look steadily at Lucifer.

"Because Sebastion and Heidi were actually saved and have been performing some wonderful deeds for me in Heaven. My brother hasn't shone his face for almost two thousand years now, and Gabrielle has been trying futilely to keep me out of Heaven when he should have noticed that I wasn't infiltrating Heaven with demons, but capturing Angels in Hell. This is my life long work you are toying with, Larry. How can you honestly expect to win? Evil will triumph while good is just dumb."

Lucifer laughed, though his face dropped. When he looked at Larry, he saw someone standing in the distance behind him. "Now what, another friend?"

"Lucifer," the stranger called. "It's me."

Lucifer narrowed his eyes. "Well I'll be. Aaron. I thought Moe took care of you."

Larry, Victoria and Pauline stepped to the side while Lucifer went to his confrontation with Aaron. Larry and Victoria started freeing the angels by destroying the lies of their suffering with the rings Gabrielle had given them. All in all, they found the work to be rather easy going.

"When you tried to take control of Moe, of all things, he dropped the stone tablets and broke both feet." Aaron smiled in defense.

"Bullshit," Lucifer swore. "You can't hurt yourself like that in Heaven."

Aaron laughed. "That wasn't Heaven. He was portraying himself in the annual Macy's Christmas Parade. Real bodies get real wounds. He's been resting up with Hugh and the bunnies in sunny California."

Lucifer turned in time to see the angels starting towards him. His face went white. "How can this be?" he exclaimed.

Larry walked back to Lucifer. "Because you can only lie to most of the people most of the time."

Aaron nodded in agreement. "Besides, you can't do anything to them, Lucifer."

Lucifer cursed and left.

Aaron turned and smiled. "I bet you didn't think it would be that easy, did you?"

Everyone shook their heads.

Aaron shimmered and became his real form.

"Beelzebub!" Victoria shouted. "It was you!"

Beelzebub shrugged. "I don't like being made responsible for forcing innocent people to suffering. Now you guys get going before he comes back. He already knows who I am and is on his way."

Avontine, I have brought my sweet Victoria and her brother, Larry, to Heaven. Now, I simply wait for Gabrielle to find Sebastion and Heidi and send them to my brother where they belong. I still do not think it is safe to return to Heaven yet, so will spend my time constructively, perhaps in the movie pictures making this story into a screenplay. There is no way I can just go back and make up with the angels I had left to my brother so long ago. I hope they will forgive me. I love you, Avontine, my dear mother. I remain your son always, faithfully, God.

Gabrielle left Victoria and Larry in the penthouse of the Hotel Hendrix with Pauline. Beelzebub let him take her out of Hell when the rest of the angels were leaving. He knew where he would find Sebastion and Heidi, but wasn't sure he wanted to just show up and damn them. He checked his sword and met with five of the angels that had been freed. It was common consensus that it should be sporting to hunt down those two damned souls and make them run all the way into Hell.

Copyrighted to Stephen W. Cote and Fantasy Writers, LTD, 1995 - 1996

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