Present Day, Dallas
Samael crouched instinctively, letting his clawed hand cup the crystal that had fallen from the disintegrating form of his elder. Oh, Vassago, he thought as he held it, you followed Belial into the future as blindly as you possibly could.
There was no telling how long it would be before a being as great as Lord Vassago would once more be born into the universe. He had been Samael’s teacher, and Belial’s, and was father and mentor to so many others. Samael could remember being a fledgling now, a hundred thousand years past, and sitting at Vassago’s side, meditating under the branches of Aeselus, the world-tree of The White City.
The White City, Lifetimes Ago
Like many of his age and wisdom, Vassago was there to teach and arbitrate: who was worthy to remain in the White City, and who would go to the sister-dimension, The Blacklands.
Samael had sat next to Vassago, and on the other side of the old demon was Azrael. All three of them sat with their legs crossed and their hands resting lightly on their knees.
“Breathe in.” Vassago ordered.
The twins did. In through the nose, out through the mouth, over and over and over until their minds were as one with the heartbeat of the universe. After a few moments, Samael was everything in the White City’s walls. He could smell the bread being baked by Velliel in the Gardens of Del, far off in the distance. He could feel the solidity and age in the walls of the beautiful paradise around him; they told him much of the universe and its long history.
“Now, go deeper.” Vassago demanded. The twins knew what he meant: enter the Graveworld, the Land of the Dead. It was from there that they would harvest the souls of the mortal world, and in time, live out their incredible lifespans. Beside Samael, Azrael sighed and focused his mind on the shift. Samael’s thoughts, however, began to stray. He’d met a girl in the City a few days earlier, one around his age. She’d introduced herself as Lilithia, daughter of one of the many noble families in the Angel-Demon hierarchy, though she’d been loath to divulge which one. She was bright and happy nonetheless, with the light of the silver sun streaming through her dark hair as her golden eyes matched her pale lips. It is not often you meet a girl whose eyes smile along with her lips, he’d told himself as they played together in one of the thousands of lush gardens.
On the other side of Vassago, Azrael disappeared as he shifted into the Graveworld. The angel was becoming quite adept at magic and mental pursuits, and while Samael loved his twin brother, he was not much enamored of the way Azrael seemed to be so much better at everything.
“Don’t worry.” Vassago said, as though he knew exactly what Samael was thinking. “Azrael is an Angel, and service and structure come to him naturally. I was once one myself, before the Schism changed us. Your parents were as well. I know if Azazel could see you now, he’d be proud of you both.”
“Azrael’s better at everything, Lord Vassago.” Samael said petulantly. His mouth formed a scowl and he crossed his small arms over his little chest. Vassago merely laughed and ruffled his black hair.
“We’re demons, Sam. You, and I. Azrael will always be more adept at philosophy and magic than you are, but he will never wield a sword half as well as you will. He won’t know what it is like to walk through fire unscathed, or the rush of joining in the chaos of the universe. That, my boy, is reserved for us. It’s what makes us special, makes us real.” Vassago paused, and looked off into the distance.
“You know what,” he said, turning back to Samael, “I don’t think the meditation is going to work for you."
The Blacklands, Lifetimes Ago
Three hours later, they were standing atop a mesa in the Blacklands, watching as a demon of the Stoneborn tribe breathed its last. Vassago kicked Samael in the back with a clawed foot, thrusting him down onto the dying creature. It’s serpentine body writhed under the red-skinned young demon, though it did not attack him.
“Look into its eyes, Samael,” Vassago called from a few feet away, “Look into its eyes and find its soul, and then when it goes, follow it in.” So that was the old man’s plan. He looked into the thing’s tired, yellow-green eyes and watched as it passed. With everything he could muster, Samael directed his mana into the thing’s body and grabbed desperately at the dying spark in it.
Vassago watched as the serpentine form of the Stoneborn crawler disintegrated and Samael disappeared. A smirk crossed his lips.
Samael’s stomach turned in restless loops and knots as he shifted from the Material Plane to the Spiritual – such was the process of reaching Graveworld. His eyes widened as the world had all the color sucked from it and the air went still. When the nausea of his first ‘shift’ (so they called it) wore off, he stood up and looked at the world around him.
He stood in the Blacklands, just as he had a moment before with Vassago, but now the place was decidedly different: large spires of something like obsidian broke through the surface of the barren rocks all around, looming above him like ominous sentinels. It took him a moment to realize the landscape was colorless – a world in grayscale, as though he was colorblind. It was more than colorblindness, he realized: it was a feeling of complete emptiness. So, this is where Azrael’s been for the afternoon. There goes my sibling resentment.
He watched as some color returned to his world – little balls of blue and green fluorescence floated on the edges of his vision, and in the distance, and began to give the place a strange glow. Ethereal was the best he could come up with to describe it. He closed his eyes and thought about Vassago, hoping that concentrating on the living – on chaos – would return him from the Graveworld.
Luckily, he was right.
Vassago’s crystal was still lightly cupped in his hands, and he could feel a little warmth from it. Vassago must have felt him. He pressed it to his forehead and whispered a quiet prayer.
“We lost a being of incredible power and unfathomable import today,” he said as he turned to face his young charge, Northran. “We must not forget what he sacrificed, or how nobly he passed.” He thrust the crystal forward then, into North’s hands, and waited until the young human had cupped his own hands around before letting go.
“Everything Vassago was he has passed to you, North. Everything.”He smiled at the young man, and then turned to watch the sky and wonder if his own soul would be made crystalline before this new adventure was over.
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