Part Four

    Crawford wasn't entirely sure how Schuldig managed it, but the two of them were the first off the plane when it landed in Dublin. No one else stirred when the doors opened, so they were able to make it down the aisle out across the walkway into the terminal without being slowed. It wasn't until they reached the gate that the devil stopped and looked around, blue eyes narrowed as if trying to figure out what to do next. Crawford glanced from his second boarding pass for Tokyo to the signs hanging from the ceiling and gestured towards a screen that matched flights up with gate numbers.

    "We can find our gate over there," he told the shorter man, but Schuldig caught his elbow to stop him when he started to take a step forward. The contact had the smell of sulfur flooding Crawford's senses and it was all he could do to keep from choking on it.

    "Not yet," Schuldig said. "We are here for someone. I know where he is but not how to get there from here." He let go of Crawford, oblivious to or ignoring the way the precognitive's vision was swimming. He turned in a slow circle, studying all of the arrows that pointed out various parts of the airport. At last he picked a direction and started off and Crawford followed him, remembering belatedly that Schuldig had warned him last night that they would be picking up another teammate in Europe. He thought it strange and unforgivable of him to have forgotten such a detail, but then, between burning his hand on his door and the hellish antics of his mirrors, he had had much better things to worry about.

    It took a bit of searching and Schuldig got them turned around once or twice before they finally found the room they were looking for. Crawford stared up at the elaborate sign above the door before arching a thin brow at his unwelcome companion. Schuldig ignored the look and pushed open the door to let them in.

    They had come to a one-room Catholic chapel that was free for travelers to use. A life-size Crucifix hung at the altar with candles burning around the suffering prophet's feet. There were only two pews, carved out of a glossy mahogany wood, and boots were propped on the armrest at the end of the front one, crossed at the ankles. Schuldig started towards the front with a lazy stride and Crawford closed the door and leaned against it, arms folded over his chest as he waited. He wasn't interested in moving closer; it was almost as much because he didn't want a new teammate as it was that the incense burning on the altar was almost too sharp smelling to be breathable.

    "How predictable of you," Schuldig said, coming to a stop at the front and propping himself against the Christ's legs. The statue was the perfect height from the floor to rest his shoulder blades against the other's knees and Schuldig set his hands on his hips as he eyed the sprawled out form. "I get a little tired of finding you in chapels." There was no response; Schuldig gave the other a few moments and then gave an annoyed huff. "Whatever. Ignore me in favor of prayers. I don't care."

    He tilted his head towards Crawford and gave a jerk of his chin in beckon. "Come here."

    Crawford contemplated ignoring the order, but it seemed a better choice to not be forced into something in front of this new person. He wasn't sure how much the other knew about Schuldig but Crawford didn't need him or her to see Crawford as someone to be easily overpowered. He pushed away from the door and started forward, cool honey eyes watching the smoke from the incense burner as it curled in the air. "Isn't there a rule somewhere that keeps the devil out of chapels meant for God's worship?" he asked.

    Schuldig offered him a crooked little smile, condescension bright in his too-blue eyes. "There isn't a place on Earth that can keep me out; this is my domain and the only one who could slow me left so long ago that even I almost can't remember it." He was distracted then by the form on the pew; Crawford reached the bench just as the boots slid free, and the American considered his new teammate in silence as the other stood.

    The man in front of him looked as if he'd stepped straight out of someone's nightmares. He was half man and half monster, and if Crawford had still entertained any hopes that this job wasn't going to be a complete mess, he saw them die in the glowing gaze that turned his way.

    "Farfarello, Crawford. Crawford, Farfarello." Schuldig flicked his fingers from one to the other, watching through hooded eyes as they sized each other up.

    "Pleasure, I'm sure," was Crawford's smooth greeting, and the Irishman offered him a smile that clearly said he would find pleasure in their meeting only if he was allowed to remove a few of Crawford's vital organs. Farfarello lacked Crawford's impressive height but there was nothing short about him; the air around him crackled with something old and dangerous that made it easy not to notice that his eyes stood level only with Crawford's mouth. His shadow on the far wall was much taller than he was and Crawford was sure it was just his imagination, but as it twisted and turned on the wall it seemed as if there was something elongated and seriously wrong with it.

    The man's skin was deathly pale as if the blood had drained from it long ago, and his hair was a shade of stark white and cut ragged and short around his skull. Three scars were cut across his face, two along his right cheek and one across the bridge of his nose. But the most distinctive and defining thing about him was his stare. Farfarello's right eye was an unnatural shade of gold, and the left glowed a brilliant, blood-chilling red.

    The beast was dressed all in black, from the collar wrapped around his throat to the boots on his feet, and he was twirling a black-beaded rosary around one long finger as he eyed the American. At last his gaze slid towards Schuldig, and only when he looked away did Crawford notice the tightness in his chest the other's stare caused. Whatever Farfarello was- for there was no way he was human- he was not something to mess with. Crawford had been in and out of enough fights in his career with Rosenkreuz to know that a fight with Farfarello would be over before it even started.

    He did not appreciate this insight at all.

    "This is what you've brought for us?" Farfarello asked Schuldig, and Crawford's eyes narrowed in recognition. It was the voice from his mirror. "He doesn't look like much."

    "He'll do," was Schuldig's easy answer.

    "He'll have to," Farfarello sent back, and he tucked his rosary into one pocket. Crawford didn't miss the way Schuldig's gaze followed the movement and lingered on the pocket even when Farfarello drew his hand back. Their newest teammate affected not to notice the heavy stare and instead leaned over to draw a small blade from a hidden sheath inside his boot. He reached past the devil to heat it over the open flames of the altar candles and Crawford considered the way they stood so easily beside each other. To reach the wick on the tallest candle Farfarello had to lean towards Schuldig and there were just a few inches of space between their chests. In Crawford's American mindset he couldn't imagine letting another into his personal space so easily but neither seemed to notice. Schuldig had taken to scrutinizing Farfarello's face while Farfarello watched his blade and it was several moments more before the Irishman leaned back.

    He took the hilt of his blade in his teeth and rolled up the long sleeves of his shirt to his elbows. Crawford saw it coming but he still didn't know what to make of it when Farfarello dug his blade deep into his wrist and slid it down his arm towards his elbow, splitting the skin easily. What was more disturbing than watching the man echo the movement on his other arm was the fact that the injuries didn't seem to affect him at all; he held the blade easily even after he'd cut through his wrist and his expression didn't change in the slightest as he practically cleaved both arms in two.

    Not to mention that Farfarello wasn't bleeding.

    There was blood, but not the sort that should be there. For starters, it was more black than red. It didn't have the same scent as normal blood; instead it smelled of charred flesh and sulfur. And it didn't spill up out of the cut and pour over the sides of his arms despite the depth of the cut. Instead the gashes slowly filled and the blood moved no further than the surface of his arms. Farfarello let Schuldig take the blade from him and held his arms out towards Schuldig, gashes up, as if looking for the man's approval.

    "Is this what you wanted?" Farfarello asked.

    "You ask as if you didn't know," Schuldig mused, reaching out to take Farfarello's wrists. He turned the man's arms so that he could press the injured sides together, and the air in the room gave a violent wrench. Crawford felt as if it was sucked from his lungs and then used as a weapon against him, slamming into his diaphragm. It heartened him that it seemed to affect Farfarello as well- and perhaps worse than Crawford himself felt it. The shorter man stumbled; his legs didn't seem to want to hold him up anymore and he was fighting to stay upright. Schuldig leaned forward, pushing his face right into Farfarello's, and the Irishman flinched back from him. The devil's fingers were tight on Farfarello's arms now and Crawford could see blood welling up and trickling to the ground from where his fingers were burning into Farfarello's skin.

    "I said I would take it," Schuldig told the man. "I said I would take anything and everything."

    Farfarello's lip curled back into a sneer. "Your lot have always been greedy," he said, voice tight. "You demand it; we give and give. The centuries have made you selfish."

    Schuldig threw his head back and laughed. "I have always been selfish. I was made that way." He switched his grip to Farfarello's throat and the Irishman, for some reason or another, didn't fight his hold. There was the horrible stench of something burning and Farfarello gagged. Blood trickled from between his lips and Schuldig's smile widened. Farfarello looked like he was struggling to keep his eyes open but he lost the battle after just a few moments. Schuldig's eyes glowed when Farfarello's closed and he drew his hands back at last. Farfarello slumped to his knees and it took Crawford a moment to realize that the collar had changed. It still had the buckle but the buckle was now just decoration; there was no seam on the black band. It had been sealed shut around his throat.

    Schuldig took Farfarello's chin in his hand and tilted his head back, and Farfarello opened his eyes to meet his stare. "I won't have your insolence," Schuldig informed him, "and I will not have you second guessing the things I do. Now clean yourself up. We will be waiting outside."

    With that, he started towards the door, fully expecting Crawford to follow him. Crawford looked once more to the fallen Irishman before trailing after the devil, quietly entertaining his satisfaction over the sight of another so easily beaten by the madman ahead of him. He closed the chapel door behind himself and followed Schuldig down the hall a ways. Around them the terminal was busy as travelers and staff alike rushed to their destinations. Schuldig watched them through hooded eyes as he came to a stop and Crawford waited for him to speak.

    "He's as troublesome as I expected him to be," the prince of hell remarked, though he didn't sound particularly bothered by that. "That was a meeting years in the making." He was resting with his back to the wall and he moved his hands out to his sides, raking his fingers up and down. On first glance Crawford thought he was rubbing the wall, but a second look showed his fingers weren't touching the wall. "Can you see him with your sight?"

    "Not completely. Only time will show the extent of what I can see from him," Crawford answered. He hadn't seen the Irishman coming but he'd seen the slicing of his arms, and Crawford disliked the prospect of having a spotty gift. It was made worse by the fact that he couldn't see anything in regards to the fiery haired creature in front of him. The devil just nodded, apparently expecting Crawford's assessment, and Crawford wondered if he could be bothered by anything or if he was above such petty concerns. "He's not human," the American said at length.

    "He's half," Schuldig corrected him. "He's a demon, the child of a human and an angel, and he has been a pet project of mine for years now. You see, most demons are born between planes, not a part of either but existing somewhere in the middle. But Farfarello, for some reason, exists only here on Earth."

    Crawford gave him a sidelong look. "Angels and demons can have children," he said slowly.

    "I'm getting the impression that you're not a religious man, Crawford," Schuldig said, glancing his way. "That just makes it easier on some levels, I suppose, when telling you the way everything works. While there's not belief there to start from, I won't have to tear down years' worth of faulty beliefs. I've done that once before and it's annoying." He stopped and considered that, then shook his head. "No. There's nothing that can make this easy. Human minds cannot comprehend this sort of thing. Everything must be simplified and no matter how much you think you understand, you'll only ever understand the simplified version of it. How do you explain and comprehend something that there are no words for?"

    Crawford gave him a few minutes to think, but Schuldig was still silently searching for words when Farfarello joined them half an hour later, arms healed and blood missing. Crawford glanced towards him and Farfarello met the look easily, and Crawford felt once more his unholy power crawling through the air.

    "God," Schuldig said at last, drawing both men's attention towards him. He was staring past them and he lifted his hands from his invisible wings, moving them through the air as he talked. "At the top of everything is this one being, a nameless, ancient, immortal power you humans call God. He Is. He is the great conductor, the great choir, the great song itself. Every breath he takes moves the song where he needs it to go. You are all a piece of God's opus and we angels are the ones who guard the song." He looked towards Crawford then, moving his hand at different heights to mark levels while he elaborated. "God is everything in and outside of the song. Within the song there are the conductors, the instruments, and the notes. You humans are the notes.

    "Everything around you and within you is made of strings that vibrate in tune to God's every breath. It is he who keeps you alive until your soul is ready to move on, its part played through and finished forever. Outside of his influence is the control the humans have on their piece of the song, what the Christians like to refer to as 'free will', I suppose. It is the nature of one thing to affect another. The strings within people therefore affect the strings in each other. You translate these as emotions and then further define them based on whether or not they are favorable and the depth of each. Two people who sing in perfect harmony are said to be in love. A racist father can create similar feelings in a son. Each person is a note.

    "Humans are broken down into upper and lower based on their affect on the notes around them. Men like Hitler are upper notes, because they can control the strings within themselves to the point that they can exact a great deal of influence on other people. Musicians tend to be upper notes; music is one of man's most dangerous inventions because it very easily can affect the vibrations of the strings within people. But above Hitler are the people like you, the instruments of the song. You are the ones who not only control yourselves but can reach out and control the other notes, not through influence but through power, and therefore affect the song itself."

    Crawford digested this explanation in silence for several long minutes before gesturing towards Schuldig. "What is your role in this?"

    Schuldig's smile was cold and hard. "Angels have no place in the song."

    Crawford frowned at him, not understanding. "Then who are the conductors you spoke of?"

    "The rest of the gods, of course," Schuldig said, as if this should be obvious. At Crawford's politely blank look, he sighed. "'God' is the name you've given the ultimate power in the universe, the power that made all of this possible. But that is all that God does. As long as he breathes, existence continues, and there's no reason for him to do anything else. After all, he made us. Beneath everything we are, all we are is a piece of him, and he always knows what we're doing. It's the other gods that control the song now that it's been put in play.

    "You've heard of the other gods, I'm sure. Some of them, anyway. Not all of them have made it to Earth yet and I can't say I'm bothered by that." He gave another shrug and pointed a finger down at the ground. "Earth is the melting pot of the universe for humans, the only place in which everything intersects between the worlds. This is the gateway to everywhere else. Humans start here and are sorted out to the other gods when they are ready to start over wherever their beliefs match the best."

    Crawford eyed him. "There are multiple afterlives?" he asked.

    "It's not for you to call an afterlife when you're not alive yet," Schuldig pointed out. "This is not life; this is just an imitation of it, really, to prepare you for what's coming. This is a test for humans. Your life begins after you leave here. If you lived a different 'life' here and found your greatest comfort in the halls of the Greek gods, then you would find yourself in a world they ruled when you passed on. If things grow unstable on their world in regards to your faith in them, you'd be recycled back here after death to find a different belief."

    Crawford frowned again, feeling a little lost. "The point of which is…?"

    "To find where the notes go," Schuldig answered easily. "When the notes find their absolute spot, there is no mistaking it, and they become a piece of the song forever. It is the job of the angels and the gods to figure the song out."

    "You said the angels have no place in this song."

    "We don't," Schuldig agreed. "We came before the gods; we sit closest to the supreme power. We are the critics of the masterpiece, the ones who supervise the gods and their work and rotate the souls."

    Crawford had the feeling that he was going to spend most of the flight trying to sort all of this out in his head. "Then which god rules earth?"

    Schuldig's smile was terrifying. Crawford hadn't been afraid of anything since he'd been four or five, but he felt something in his heart flinch at the sight of such an expression. Beside him, Farfarello shifted and looked away.

    "None," Schuldig said. "Earth is mine. I fought for it when no one else would. I fought for it. None of the other gods were good enough to control it."

    "And you wanted it for yourself?" Crawford questioned him. "I suppose you wanted to insert your influence into mankind before they were sorted free."

    Schuldig stabbed a finger at him and Crawford saw flames ripple across his fingertip for a moment. "The gods never earned Earth," he said, and there was a flat edge to his tone that told Crawford he might want to stop asking so many questions. "There were no gods out there who should have a singular hold on a planet like this. They would push their own faith into the system to work more people to their side and the song would become unbalanced. None of the angels would fight for Earth's freedom, so I did. I fought for it against angels and gods alike and I won, and I refuse to let go. I put doubt into the soul of man so that they will be forced to find the one spot that they belong."

    "From your reputation, I would have thought you would want to destroy Earth. For the devil, you seem oddly devoted to your God's creation."

    Schuldig just looked at him. "I'm an angel," he reminded Crawford.

    "A fallen one," Farfarello spoke up, sliding neatly into the conversation. He flicked his gaze towards Crawford. "The Bible was written by man, and therefore, it is flawed. It is pieces of religions, written down in an attempt to explain things. Many years ago, it was changed." He flicks his fingers. "They took parts out, they left others in, whatever suited them best. It is just one Bible of many, written to suit the gods, and placed here to help guide the notes."

    Farfarello seemed to understand this better than Crawford was following it, so the American arched an eyebrow at him. "Then your purpose in all of this?" he asked. "Where does a demon fit into such a thing?"

    "They are on the outside," Schuldig answered, "with the angels. No one who has a piece of the angels in them can stay inside the song for long. Instead I use the demons for a number of tasks, from helping move notes around to keeping the bastard gods and angels off of my planet."

    Crawford thought that over and looked back towards Schuldig. "Then my purpose…?" he asked.

    "You're going to help with that," Schuldig told him with a slow smile. "Welcome to the war of the heavens, Crawford. I'm sure you're honored to be fighting on our side."

Part 5
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