New (Year) World Order

Authors’ Note: Today’s story is another ‘missing scene’ from Always Darkest. It takes place over holiday break. Ben has been acting as Chris’s research assistant for a while now. It’s mostly a front for the two of them working on the prophecy while they’re at school. But occasionally they have to do those jobs for real. The Georgia Guidestones are a real sculpture/monument/whatever about two hours from Atlanta. There are multiple conspiracy theories behind these creepy stones. But I like Ben’s explanation.

New (Year) World Order

Ben scrambled to pick up Chris’s notes, lest he lose the Professor on the way to his next speaking engagement. But by the time he got them all in the briefcase, he’d lost Chris in a sea of neutral tweed. “Is there any other kind?” he mumbled to himself around the pen between his teeth.

He walked purposefully up the aisle, turning up the volume on his powers a little to see if he could pick his specific professor out of this crowd of them. He didn’t slow down on his way to the nearest set of double doors to exit the lecture hall, mostly because he was pretty sure Professor Highly Distractible had already walked right out without him. 

It was probably owing to the devastating redhead who headed up the archaeology department for one of the host universities. Not that Chris had noticed the woman was gorgeous and definitely hitting on him. All he’d probably heard was her dangling access to their online archive in front of him. 

Ben made it into the broad hallway, looked around, and realized he had no idea which direction to even start off in. He scanned the crowd for red hair, since looking for one dark haired dude in a stereotypical jacket was an exercise in futility. 

He saw her a second later as she brushed past him, all but stomping on his feet in her sensible low heels, looking extremely disgruntled. He snickered under his breath. When Dr. Whateverhernamewas started talking to Chris before the presentation, Ben had thought to himself that he could never let Chris get in the same room with Aife based on his initial reaction to her. Then it became clear his interest lay only in the name of the university on her identifying lanyard.

Chris wasn’t exactly clueless when it came to women, but when he was focused on his academic interests, as he was today, Ben was pretty sure the woman in question could do a strip tease while dressed in the only surviving document from the Library at Alexandria, and all the man would pay any attention to was trying to read while she was unwrapping.

At least he had a general sense of where to look now. He headed that way at a brisk clip, hoping that maybe all of these people were headed to the same lecture, so it wouldn’t matter if he caught up. Unfortunately, they started peeling off the crowd for various doors. Damn it … Oh, well. He’s the one who left his research assistant in the dust, so if he doesn’t have his notes for the next round, that’s his own damned fault. 

Then Ben thought he caught sight of Chris rounding the corner up ahead. He called out, “Dr. Guerriero!” Not so much as a flicker. “Dr. G!” he called again, a bit louder. He thought maybe using the name his students all used for him would get him somewhere, but no such luck. He rounded the corner and in a fit of total exasperation all but shouted, “Chris! Hold up!”

Finally, the wayward academic came to a halt and turned around. “Ben! I’m so sorry. I was in a rush to get to the next room ahead of the crowd.”

Ben handed off the briefcase full of notes and papers. “Yeah, I gather you didn’t even slow down long enough to get that very attractive department head’s number.”

Chris grinned sheepishly. “I actually did. What are your plans for the evening?”

Ben tilted his head, a bit confused as to why that would matter. “Honestly? I was planning on hanging in the room….”

“We’re in Atlanta, on New Year’s Eve, no less, and you’re going to spend another night in our hotel?”

Ben shrugged. “I mean, yeah. Mal and I made plans to Skype later.”

“You’ve only known each other for a month. Is it really that serious?”

Ben pulled an elaborate frown. “We’ve known each other since the middle of November. And … yeah … no … I don’t know.”

“Your expression says you do know.”

Ben felt the temperature under his collar start to climb, and his face followed a second later. “Well, yeah, maybe I do. And whether I know anything else or not, I know I’ll be in our room when she calls later. And even though I’m way the Hell down here in Georgia, we’re still going to ring in the New Year together. I’d just travel the convenient demon way so I could see her, but I couldn’t exactly explain it.” Then he remembered what started the inquiry into his plans to begin with. “Why? What difference does it make?”

“Dr. Williams invited me out for drinks. She also invited her graduate assistant along so I thought perhaps….”

Ben snorted a laugh. “I don’t think she meant you should invite me, Professor Ruggedly Handsome.”

“What do you … Oh! Oh … Well, that does explain why she looked annoyed when I said I’d ask you.”

“So, call her and tell her you’d be happy to have drinks with the two of them. Just don’t bring them both back to our hotel. I plan on getting some sleep tonight!”

“I … I don’t … You really think…?”

“You’ll have to figure it out later, Professor. They’re about to introduce you.”

Chris turned to enter the lecture hall, then looked over his shoulder. “Aren’t you coming?”

“To hear you give the same lecture you’ve been giving all day again? Pass. Can you live without me to wrap up?”

“Certainly. Why?”

“It’s late enough in the afternoon that Mal’s probably done at the gallery. I thought  I’d head back to the room and give her a call and firm up our plans for later.”

Chris looked like he’d comment further, but a wave of applause swelled inside the lecture hall. He hurried away to give another rendition of his popular lecture series.

Ben got out his phone and summoned an Uber.

***

When Chris got back to their room, Ben was sprawled across his bed, TV tuned to an MMA pay-per-view fight. Several styrofoam containers were strewn all over the bed, and one rested on his stomach. “Hey,” he greeted absently.

Chris put down his briefcase and car keys. “You somehow don’t look like a young man anticipating a nice long skype session with anyone, least of all with someone important enough to send the Master of Expression stammering on a regular basis,” he observed in a lightly teasing tone.

“Mmm.” Ben took a bite of the hot wings that were the current version of eating his feelings. The cheeseburger and chocolate cake had proven inadequate.

“What’s the matter?”

Ben huffed a sigh, then wiped his hands on the napkin next to him. “Well … for starters, I’m starting to get the feeling that Mal’s bestie is not a fan of me.”

“How so?” Chris asked, sitting down on the edge of his bed.

“She threw a hissy when Mal told her she wasn’t coming to her New Year’s Eve party.”

“Mal doesn’t strike me as a young woman who lets her friends make her decisions for her.”

Ben smiled at that. “She definitely isn’t. But she felt bad about it. Even Teddy is going and he’s not a big partier. But it’s New Year’s Eve. I told her she should go. We don’t have to skype half the night. We can just talk for a few minutes at midnight. Then she’s not on the outs with her friends, but we still get to say Happy New Year to each other first.”

Chris looked at him for a long moment. “I’m somewhat surprised I didn’t find you here drowning your sorrows along with consuming the rest of the room service menu.”

“Yeah, well, I tried to, but I forgot my ID says I’m only twenty, so in addition to not having any beer, I also got a lecture from the lady who delivered the food.”

“For what?”

Ben managed a reasonably sincere grin. “For trying to underage drink on my dad’s hotel bill.”

“Would you like a fatherly lecture to cap off your afternoon?”

“Listen to you give another lecture? Haven’t I suffered enough the last two days?” 

“I suppose so,” Chris chuckled. “Do you want to go get a bite to eat out on the town? Distract yourself from your disappointment?”

Ben shrugged. “I’ve eaten my weight in most of the menu this afternoon, so I’m not really hungry. Besides, what happened to your fellow professor and her friend?”

Chris shook his head. “We met briefly, but you were right about her intentions.”

“So what are you doing here? I know you do the Catholic school teacher thing really well, and I know you take your faith seriously, man, but … In your heart of hearts, tell me you’re not still a Roman.”

“Ben, you know as well as I, that was a very long time ago, and–”

“And nothing. You still haven’t dropped your ‘Gifts of the Roman Empire’ assignment from your Freshman lesson plan, so don’t try to tell me–”

“Even if that were the case, and it’s not,” Chris said, looking so offended Ben almost laughed out loud. “Her ‘friend’ is perhaps twenty-three. She looks like one of my students.”

“Alright, dude. You do you.” He snorted another laugh. “In fact, I guess that’s what you chose for your evening plans anyway.”

This time Chris laughed. “Alright. Whenever you get … what is it you always say….”

“Salty?”

“Exactly. Whenever you get this salty, I know it’s time to do something to get you out of your own head.”

Ben sat up, putting aside his room service container. “I wouldn’t hate some distraction, but going out anywhere tonight is gonna suck. It’ll just be crowded and obnoxious.”

Chris opened the drawer of his nightstand and pulled out the plethora of tourist brochures the hotel provided. He started rifling through them. “What about Stone Mountain Park?”

Ben shook his head. “Nah. It’s only like 35 degrees this afternoon. I have no desire to freeze my ass off to look at a big rock.”

“I thought you, and I quote, ‘run hot’.”

Ben snickered. “Okay, you got me. It sounds super boring. Parks are for going running.”

“Or sitting on benches and brooding?”

He laughed a little. “Or that.”

“Okay … Georgia Aquarium?”

“They’re gonna be closing like any minute. Besides, I went yesterday when you were at that speaker cocktail thingy.”

“Was it any good?”

“I mean, yeah, if you like fish.”

“Do you?”

“Not especially,” Ben laughed. “I mean, unless they’re battered, fully cooked, and on a plate. With fries.”

“The Fox Theater apparently has a performance this evening….”

“It’s the ballet. I already checked.” Ben glanced at the TV. “Besides, the card for the fight is pretty good. And you’re old enough to get us some beer, aren’t you … Dad?”

“I suppose we could just watch the … Oh, this looks interesting.”

“What does?”

“The Georgia Guidestones … It’s a bit of a drive, but … they have special hours this evening.”

“I thought we already covered that it’s cold and rocks are boring.”

“This doesn’t look boring at all. It looks … quite mysterious. There’s apparently a list of commandments written in twelve different languages. And no one knows why it was built or who commissioned it.”

Ben got up and went into the bathroom to wash his hands. He grabbed his sweatshirt off the back of the door and then went and got the keys to the rental car off the table by the door. “Alright, dude. Let’s go see these fascinating rocks.”

***

Ben hadn’t been wrong about the general business of the city. The closer it got toward evening, the busier the streets were. Ben wasn’t an enthusiastic driver on his best day, and he hadn’t especially wanted to drive while they were here at all. But in his effort to find something to distract Ben, Chris had managed to totally distract himself. Ben figured he was better off doing the driving and letting Chris dive down the rabbit hole of the Guidestones on his tablet.

Ben had to laugh to himself at how caught up in the hype his normally staid roommate got as they made their way up Route 77, deep into rural northeastern Georgia. He’d given up on listening to music after the first forty minutes of the two hour drive, because Chris was determined to educate Ben on the history and significance of the monument, despite how shrouded in mystery all aspects of it were. Ben didn’t bother to mention that he was well aware of the stones and where they’d come from. It was honestly more fun to see Chris gone full tourist.

“Back in 1979 to 1980, the Elberton Granite Finishing Company performed the construction and inscription, apparently for someone named R.C. Christian. He said he represented ‘a small group of loyal Americans’.”

“Oh good,” Ben observed wryly. “Things always end well when people start using language like that. Did they want to ‘make America great, too?”

“Mmm,” Chris mumbled as he continued reading. A while later, he spoke again. “The languages are an odd mix … English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, and Russian. Do you speak all of those?”

“And then some,” Ben said, pulling into a gas station. “Want anything?”

“No, no, I’m fine,” Chris replied without looking up from his tablet.

He didn’t look up when Ben climbed back in with Dr. Pepper and Twinkies either.

“There’s apparently quite a number of astrological and astronomical features built into it as well, not unlike Stonehenge. It is aligned to the 18.6 year lunar declination cycle … it marks noon each day with a hole drilled for the sun, which shows the date of that day … it has places to view the solstices and equinoxes … it has a place to view the North Star….”

“It’s a regular star gazer’s dream then.”

After a few more minutes, Chris spoke again. “The inscriptions are … upsetting.” When Ben didn’t ask what they were, Chris went on anyway. “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity. Unite humanity with a living new language.

Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court. Avoid petty laws and useless officials. Balance personal rights with social duties. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.”

“Well, Mal would be totally on board with all the reason stuff. And … Reduce, reuse, recycle and teach everyone Esperanto don’t seem too bad.” Ben said, knowing he was baiting Chris a little.

“Maintain humanity below five hundred million! Guide reproduction! Ben–”

“You didn’t let me finish.” Ben laughed. “The genocide and eugenics are a little problematic.”

“You’re being funny, but this is absolutely harrowing.”

“Yeah, well, there’s weird stuff all over the place.”

“But not all the weird stuff was built within the last fifty years by someone with a terrifying agenda.”

“True story,” Ben agreed. “And hey, you’re about to be able to judge them for yourself.” He pointed to the sign just ahead of them where another car was pulling in.

They parked and walked toward the strange monument made up of four tall flat pieces of granite and capped with another along the top. Ben had to admit, the size was impressive. But it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the small crowd milling around it. Or Chris’s reaction to them.

One woman squinted at the pamphlet she’d picked up at the entrance to the grounds and said to the man who was with her, “Some elegant gray-haired man paid a ridiculous amount of money for this place to be built. And the builders had to agree never to reveal his identity to the world.”

A kid from another group who looked to be around Ben’s apparent age chimed in, “I heard that it was the Illuminati.”

Ben was going to stay quiet, but decided egging on the crowd would be more fun. “Now, see, I read that it was the Rosicrucians. That’s why the dude who commissioned the place went by R.C. Christian.”

“Oh wow!” the kid said like Ben had offered the most profound piece of information he’d ever heard. Then his face went blank for a second. “Wait. What’s a Rosicrucian?”

Ben was spared answering by the teenager with the first couple who’d spoke about the monument as they approached. “It wasn’t any of those. Ted Turner did it. Fuckin’ globalist,” she spat.

“I’m guessing you watch a lot of Alex Jones, huh?” Ben asked. His opinion of Infowars and its host were pretty obvious from his tone and he wasn’t even sorry. 

“That’s where the real news is at,” said the girl’s father. “You need to open up your eyes to the truth, boy.”

The woman took a slightly aggressive step their way. “You won’t think it’s funny when the New World Order decides you’re not on the list to be in that five million people, son.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “Five hundred million.” 

She puffed an annoyed sigh, heaved dramatically for their benefit and walked away. 

Ben spoke quietly aside to Chris, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, they honestly think CNN is trying to take over the world.”

Chris led him away to look at something. When they got out of earshot, Chris chastised him slightly. “You really think challenging people like that is a wise idea?”

“Yeah,” he nodded seriously. “I actually do. That kind of crap leaves people ripe for a deal. Or for going in a bad direction until there’s no turning around. The road to Hell isn’t just paved with good intentions, Chris.”

“Alright. I see your point. But maybe let’s just do what we came for instead of trying to save the local Fox affiliate’s viewership from eternal damnation.” His eyes twinkled. “Since it’s already a foregone conclusion.”

“I thought you were serious!” Ben cracked up. “Are you sure you shouldn’t be teaching in the Theater Department?”

Chris bowed with a flourish worthy of The Globe Theater. “Are you ready to let that family go wherever it is they’re headed?”

“Sure. They seem kind of beyond my help anyway.” He made a halo of his hands and held it over his head until Chris laughed at him

They walked around the monument a little more. Chris looked over the various inscriptions, listened to the conversations others were having, and peered through the astronomical openings on the monument. “You know,” he said, eye up to the North Star locator. “This is really remarkably engineered.”

“It would be remarkable if it hadn’t been built in the late 20th century. Instead it’s just big and faux-creepy.”

Chris stood and looked at him in the fading light. “You seem to be taking this awfully lightly. And you’re the only one here doing so, you may have noticed.”

“Because I know it’s bullshit, Chris.”

“You’ve been here before.”

“Yeah.”

“For Hell?”

Ben snickered. “For weed. And, you know, company.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I was in Atlanta for a music festival a while back. I hitched a ride with a group of college kids. Wound up crashing with them for a couple days.”

“And?”

“And the girl was pretty, the weed was decent, and the guys were kind of a hoot. Couple of real conspiracy buffs. They wanted to come out here, so I said, ‘fuck it’, and tagged along.”

“You weren’t impressed the first time either, I take it.”

“Their baked-off-their-asses theorizing about an insidious global cabal were almost as funny as yours on the way here,” he smirked.

“You thought it was funny listening to me express concern over a plot to exterminate all but a fraction of the world’s population was funny?”

“Only a little,” Ben laughed. 

Chris took in Ben’s easy smile and relaxed posture. “So they aren’t from Hell?”

“They’re from some dipshit who thinks he’s gonna do the world a favor by … I’m not entirely sure.”

“Is he from Hell?” Chris asked, wincing in anticipation of an affirmative.

Ben laughed heartily. “No. But I guarantee that’s where he’s headed when the deal that got him the money to build this crap comes due.”

Chris blinked as though the answer startled him. “But what about whatever plan was behind it? You don’t think he–”

“Not a chance. Hell likes souls to keep filtering its way, regular like. A big global disaster without a heavy hand from them? They’d never let it play out.” 

He grinned and squared his shoulders. Then he paced a few steps back and forth in front of his audience, grin morphing into a smirk when Chris folded his arms in amused mock-irritation at the near perfect impression Ben was currently giving of the professor’s teaching style. 

“You see, Class, what most people on Earth fail to recognize is that very little of what they see everyday is as it seems. The wildly mysterious is often hopelessly mundane, such as this overpriced monument to one billionaire’s ego. While the apparently average college research assistant might actually be a nobleman from much further south than his enrollment paperwork would have led you to believe.”

“Are you sure you shouldn’t change your major to Theater?” Chris asked.

“Save your questions for the end, young man!”

Chris chuckled. “How long are you planning on keeping this up? Because if you don’t wrap it up pretty soon, we’re not going to make it back to the room for you to take Mal’s call.”

Ben gestured, his expansive hand movements a spot-on imitation of Chris’s lecture conclusions. “The lesson I want you to take away from this trip, Professor, is….”

 “Yes?” Chris asked with an amused raise of one eyebrow.

Ben smoked. “Sometimes a pile of rocks is just a pile of rocks.”

“Very funny. Anything else?”

“Yeah, money is seriously wasted on the rich.”

The Eleventh Day of Fic-mas …

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For Auld Lang Syne

“Looks like I win by default.” The tall figure dressed in a simple, yet elegant, black tunic with subtle dark red piping, smiled. The sunrise flooding the glade with color seemed to reflect and dance in his eyes. To say he was handsome, or even pretty would be a gross understatement. He was quite possibly the loveliest being in all God’s creation. And he knew it.

“That’s not how this works. In fact, as I’ve said far too many times to count, Morning Star, I don’t need you or your brother here in order to do my job. I’d quite prefer to be left alone with my task.”

“Come now, Ashor,” he said, sounding entirely reasonable. “It’s only proper for you to allow us to witness the weighing, and to make our respective cases should any question arise.”

“Proper? That implies there’s something improper in my ignoring you, which no law or even custom would give you. Polite, perhaps. I’ll give you polite. Necessary? Not even a little. You both know it, too. I honestly think you do it just to annoy me.”

“We don’t try to annoy anyone. There are things that Michael and I are destined to …”

“Oh, look,” Ashor interrupted. “Speak of the …” He grinned and raised his eyebrows with amusement. “Devil’s brother.”

“Charming,” Lucifer observed with a raise of a single eyebrow. Amusement was not behind the expression.

Ashor smoothly ignored him. “Michael,” he called out. “Lovely to see you, as ever. I trust your Father is well,” Ashor said with a distinct twinkle.

Michael exchanged a look with his brother. “Um … well … Yes, of course, He’s well. Why would He be otherwise?” His feathers ruffled, indicating that offense was taken whether it was intended or not.

Ashor ignored the gesture. “Good, good. I was somewhat concerned. Heaven … and of course by that I mean God,” he said with a nod and a wink. “Seems to have taken an unusually keen interest in my work just lately.”

Michael cleared his throat. “We … that is … He felt it best, seeing as how Lucifer never misses one.”

“Suit yourself,” Ashor shrugged.

He turned his back on them and began the steep ascent up a mountain path. He didn’t have to, could have very easily just blinked into existence at the top, but he always enjoyed the walk. The snow crunched under foot, breaking the silence of the crisp early morning. Or rather it would have been breaking the silence if the two angels following him weren’t already bickering like children.

“Gentlemen, if you would be so kind.”

“What?” Lucifer inquired.

“Shhhh,” Ashor said, putting a finger to his lips.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Michael said quickly. “Is it time? Do you need silence for this?”

“No. You’re just very annoying.” Lucifer snickered. “Both of you.”

Ashor turned away as silence fell.

Smiling to himself, he continued on his way up the increasingly steep path, full of switchbacks and small rockslides, piles of snow and spots of bare ground where the tree branches overhead were too thick to allow much to collect beneath them.

The early pre-dawn light was faintly pink on the sparkling sparkling white that dominated most of the view. Ashor enjoyed observing how the plant life changed as he climbed higher and higher.

They were nearing the top where where most of what was left were ferns and evergreens. He paused for a moment in a field of cairns. Anyone who didn’t know the place would have thought he was among many graves, but quite the opposite.

This was a place the living came, either by the trail he had or as they passed through on a longer trek, to build the small rock monuments to mark an important event, celebrate a new beginning, even just say they’d been through, and yes, sometimes to mark a loss. But it was, above all, a place of life. And it was a crossroads, too. The sign right before it declared it as such.

Behind him, the brothers whispered, and he gave no indication that he heard every word as he stacked up a small pile of stones himself. Michael asked, “Is this the place?”

Lucifer replied, “No, it’s further up. He just does this. Every damned year.”

Ashor seated the final small stone, shaped like a little pyramid by the elements alone, on top of his pile, rose, and continued on his way. The path became less distinct, more difficult to follow, but he was enjoying the chill in the air, the way the crystals in the now and ice were starting to spark in the growing light, he was even getting to enjoy relative peace and quiet as the brothers hissed back and forth at each other out of even supernatural earshot. But Ashor was more than supernatural, or so he supposed he seemed to them. It was nice anyway. Michael was actually a welcome addition to this morning’s excursion. He kept Lucifer distracted, which saved Ashor from having to talk to him.

He was glad to be spared the effort. He loved this part of the day. There were huge glacial rocks up here, little scrubby mosses, even some lichens. And the trees suddenly gave way to a stunning view. Ashor stepped toward a rocky ledge. In front of him, the stars in the western sky were slowly fading, and the valley spilled on for miles to the north and south. If he’d turned around, he would have seen the sky to the east growing rosy with new dawn.

From behind him, off to the side, he heard Michael whisper, “I thought we’d be in the cave, where the veil is thin.”

“I thought so too when I first started coming, but no, every year, it’s up here at the dawn of the day. Such a strange out of the way place for it. I’d choose Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid or something grand. But that’s Ashor. Odd as you please, since time out of mind.”

Ashor cleared his throat dramatically. “Gentlemen, now I will have quiet, if you please.”

They became stone still and silent immediately.

Ashor stood, his eyes closed, as the morning sun cast the first rays of the new year in his chosen place over the valley below. Ashor opened himself, the entirety of his being, to the world, letting the collected thoughts and deeds of humanity wash over him. He took it in like water, like breath. After not more than a minute or two at most, he smiled, nodded, opened his eyes and turned to walk back down the mountain. “Lovely. Balance holds.”

“Wait, that’s it?” Michael asked his brother incredulously.

“I know. Kind of disappointing if you ask me,” Lucifer agreed.

They gave each other a very serious look and started after Ashor, catching up in a moment. “So, Ashor …” they began in unison.

“Don’t start again. The Balance is upheld, so there’s nothing for you to say. No case for you to make.”

“But, surely …”

“I know you both believe the child of prophecy has been born. And I know you’re both already scrambling after any scrap of information like it’s the Keys to The Kingdom.”

“We … I …” Michael began to protest.

“Has she?” Lucifer asked pointedly. “Been born, I mean, Keeper.”

Ashor raised a single eyebrow. “If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.” Both their faces fell. “What I will tell you is … And this one’s on me, no charge at all … You’ll have your answer soon enough, boys. Happy New Year.”

He snapped his fingers and a sound like thunder knocked both angels onto their backs in the snow, but didn’t so much as rustle a tree branch or disturb the cardinal parked on the nearest one over their heads. Both brothers concluded, rightly, that it had been undignified magic just for them. They helped each other to their feet.

“What’s with him?” Michael asked.

“Who knows? The guy’s got issues.”

“I suppose. But, if he knows we’re aware of the prophecy, knows we’re looking, he probably sees that as us trying to stack the deck for our own sides.”

“We are,” Lucifer said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.” He frowned, thinking.

“Are we still in agreement?”

“Come again?” Lucifer mumbled absently, clearly lost in his own head.

“Our agreement regarding the Scion and the implications of the situation.”

“Oh, that. Of course, brother. I will follow our agreement absolutely to the letter,” Lucifer replied with a sly grin as he popped back to Hell.

Michael stood there for a moment. “I’m going to have to take another look,” he murmured to himself. “I hate it when he smiles like that.” It could mean anything from he’d thought of something funny to he was about to start a war, he thought sourly as he walked back toward the ledge, thinking to enjoy the view of the sunrise over the pretty little valley.

He frowned at the dirty haze of woodsmoke hovering low over everything. The grating sounds of traffic had begun to rise to grate on his ears as well. He shook his head. “Happy New Year, mortals,” he spat. “Another year stretches before you to destroy this gift you’ve been given. Most favored, indeed,” he huffed dismissively.

Michael turned and walked back down the mountain, though he didn’t have to any more than Ashor or Lucifer did. Though he’d never admit it, long walks on Earth were a balm to his troubled spirit. It was such a beautiful place, so full of promise. It was a gift none who made their home here seemed to appreciate. Well, perhaps some did, but … free will and whatever. Michael’s musings were interrupted.

Raphael was trying to contact him. He was needed in Heaven immediately.

Enoch was at it again.