How Quaint the Ways of Paradox

Part 2: Promises,promises,promises

Chapter 13


"How quaint the ways of paradox;  At common sense she gaily mocks"

(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)

The night after he had returned Phoebe to her home after abducting her, the demon Arturo sat on a lounge chair on the balcony. of his house in the hills of Greece, overlooking the Corinthian Gulf, not far from the ancient ruins of Delphi.  He thought of the little witch, the Charmed One had abducted the day before and idly wondered what the implications for Good and Evil were and to what it would lead him. Even to an ending perhaps but that was a hope that Arturo put well away from his thoughts.


He watched the stars reflect on the water far below. It was a sight that never failed to please him or satisfy his soul.  Sometimes watching the true beauty of the world around him, in this house of his overlooking the beautiful  pine and olive groves of the Corinthian Gulf, he almost believed he had found peace. This house was a place of safety, hidden in a time fold near the ancient ruins of Delphi, a place of mythology and magic. In this house he was safe, safe from demons of Evil and Elders of Good, and prying magic. Here he lived both in the time of the realm he guarded and separated from it.


Arturo was an old demon and he had seen much and fought many battles and as he watched the world in front of him he knew he was about to face another battle. Because the time had come as it was written that the Old Source would fall and another would rise and the time had come for Arturo answer his calling once again.


He poured another glass of the best French Beaujolais red wine and sipped and wished it could wash him away to a moment of alcoholic oblivion, but he was a demon and it could not, any more than the beauty of the night in front of him could obliterate the reality of the world around him. So he enjoyed what he could the taste of it the nectar, the scent.


He sat alone watching the night for a very long time. Many hours later, he noticed the crystals in his cabinet in the room adjoining his balcony, glow brilliant blue white and a few seconds after he smiled as he heard the tinkling of orbs.


The whitelighter in front of him was no longer young nor was she an attractive person. Her body was bent, her face was crooked and pock marked and one side was almost immobilised. Her smile sometimes looked almost evil because of this. Arturo was convinced that the whitelighter’s refusal to mask the form of her first humanity, except when walking amongst the mortals of this current age because they could not face the physical reality of disease and prejudice, was total vanity on her part. She wore her history in her face with arrogance and pride.  As did Arturo she carried her age well but the hard years of her calling showed in grey hairs and worried lines.


“Francesca“ Arturo smiled.


“I hope that’s the best wine you have“  she said as she sat down and poured herself a glass of Arturo’s wine. “After the day you have put me through.”


Arturo laughed  “They got wind of the witch did they. Sorry about that but she was about to vanquish a Machi and I had to stop her.”


“Damn are they about again” said Francesca.


“A minor problem“ answered the demon I had her here. “A lovely, sweet girl by the way. Delightful. “


Francesca  raised her eyes in disbelief. Arturo was always inclined to believe any woman he found attractive was a sweet innocent.


“I became a little suspicious when I brought her here though. “ he added ”A Charmed One but she understood about demonic powers, she wasn’t concerned at being shimmered one little bit. “


Francesca almost moaned “A Charmed one has turned to evil.” she said.


“I wondered“ replied Arturo“ I read her thoughts.”


Francesca drained her glass ”And..?”


“No“ said the demon “She is as… pure as she should be. She does however have secret.”


Arturo paused for effect “She is living with, which I believe means she is bedding, a demon half breed who she thinks is now human. She is convinced he has turned. “ 


Arturo enjoyed his moment as he watched the emotions cross his friend’s face. From disbelief to hope to fear. 


Finally Francesca asked slowly, with fear “Which one is it. Some one we suspected, we hoped?”


“No“  Arturo with a smile that was entirely demonic “The little witch is totally convinced that her lover, her protector, her soul mate is trying desperately to embrace his humanity, and has turned to good.” He smiled “The great Belthezor himself.”


“My God“ cried Francesca “You cannot believe. You cannot think…. The great betrayer himself… Arturo, you watch them, you know, you guard. Never once have you suggested, or thought ... “


“No“  replied Arturo “Never once, as I watch and guard and hope could I believe that the great betrayer, Belthezor himself would turn, but this child, this innocent, believes with everything in her heart that he has which leaves us where? “ 


The whitelighter stood up and paced “It leaves us needing to know“ she said  “Belthezor? Are you sure it is Belthezor? “she asked.


“No“ said Arturo “I only know she believes it to be Belthezor.”  He shrugged “I know I, usually take little interest in the affairs of witches but this one maybe needs watching. Francesca, can you go back up there and without ringing any bells, find out what you can about the little witch and the demon.”


“What are you going to do?” Francesca asked suspiciously. She stopped “Oh Lord, you’re not are you. Arturo be careful down there“ she said as she orbed away.


“Aren’t I always?”  he replied as the light from orbs filled the room.


Arturo leant on his balcony. He sighed. A small part of him felt a thrill at the danger of the work ahead of him, but more he felt the real fear that shook him every time a demon tried to turn.  The fear was as familiar to him as if it had been there yesterday, yet it was over twenty years since one had tried and failed. He shimmered away.


It was a full day before Arturo returned. It was more than twenty-five years since he had last visited the underworld. He felt unclean and he was relieved he did.  Sometimes when he looked at the beauty of the world he now lived, there was a longing, for the fire, for the darkness. But it was a residue an old memory of what he had once been, and the reality of that memory left him with a deep sense of shame and anger. He found comfort in the pain that he felt but he also knew that even after all this time he must guard against those memories, that he could never fully trust himself or indulge in the slightest relaxation of his conscience.


He showered for a very long time as if trying to wash the hell away from him, before shaving and dressing. He went to the kitchen and pulled together a meal of cheese and olives and sliced meat and actually shimmered out and bought fresh Greek bread, which he knew she loved and he set out on the balcony before he called out Francesca’s name. Francesca, whitelighter that she had been for a very long time knew and understood many things but in her first life she had been a peasant girl from Italy and sometimes because she had given up much and endured a very hard existence to walk in the path of light with him, Arturo felt .. .good that he could offer her a reminder of simpler things, like fresh baked bread and black olives.  Francesca and Arturo had walked a long path together.


Francesca arrived almost instantaneously, which was not something she did these days unless something was very, very wrong. She smiled a little at the meal laid out waiting “Glad to see you are all right“ she said to Arturo.


“I’m always all right“ replied Arturo “What did you find out?”


“Well“ answered Francesca “I had to be very careful but what I did find out was Belthezor is believed to be dead, vanquished by one of the Charmed One’s over a year ago, just after he killed the Triad. An act of betrayal for which I am truly grateful.”


“And that’s it“  Arturo said.


“For Belthezor, yes but there was quite an amount of concern about the Charmed Ones lately. A few months ago one was killed, and there was some concern because the young one, the girl you had here was missing at the time, off the radar so to speak which means she could only have been held by something evil or hiding somewhere evil.  In fact, to save one of the other Charmed Ones, the Elders undertook a very foolish deal with the Source. He betrayed them of course, they were lucky they did not lose two of the Charmed Ones.  Then there was the real fear that the Charmed Ones were no more when almost miraculously another sister turned up and they had some very big problems with the Source trying to turn her to evil. He was stopped.”


Arturo sat up straight “That is rather a large amount of demonic interaction for a group of witches” he said grimly.


“Yes“ answered Francesca “but it is the Charmed Ones so the Elders thought it to be expected. They questioned the whitelighter and he fairly well said the same thing. However“ Francesca stood up and leant on the balcony rail “ this whitelighter is married to one of the sisters and he has been known to break the rules. “   She turned to face Arturo “And there’s more. The Charmed Ones should not have been as strong with this new sister, yet they seem to have had access to a very powerful force, or protector who has made it possible to fight some very difficult battles, even going to the underworld“  


 “Something like a demonic protector encouraging them to go to the Underworld" Arturo asked grimly.


“Yes “   Francesca responded waiting to enjoy the effect. “The Elders looked a couple of weeks ago very closely at the witches without telling the whitelighter but the only thing they could find was the little witch you had here seems to have acquired a new what do they call it now, oh live in boyfriend who is undoubtedly human .”


Arturo froze as second and then winced  “Oh my God “ he said quite deliberately.


The two sat in silence a little while longer before Francesca said  “And what did you find about Belthezor down there. “ 


Arturo answered  “He was not vanquished last year, as the little witch confirmed. I had to be careful but it was not hard to find out about Belthezor. He suddenly reappeared in the Underworld some months ago. Rumour has it he fell in love with a witch but recognised the error of his ways and returned to the Brotherhood then did his usual games and betrayed them and killed the head demon. You may remember that piece of delight called Raynor. Apparently he talked his way out of it by killing a couple of witches and convinced the Source to give him another chance. “  


Arturo laughed “Then true to form got  tired of doing penance after a few months ago and managed to get hold of a prize captive witch of the Source, probably his witch and slipped off with her. The general belief seems to be he is using powerful witches to get enough power to kill the Source and take over. The bounty on him is huge .”


 This time it was Francesca’s turn  “Oh my God “ she breathed  “And he is in human form now, he has let them strip the demonic form. Is he using the witches or do they know, what happens if he finds out how to use his human power and summon more demon ones. “ 


Arturo smiled , a smile that was almost demonic  “The little witch I had here believes him turned. They have no idea that the way these demons become so powerful is to look to their humanity. She thinks he’s mortal. Sooner or later the power will find him, or he’ll find the power. Most likely evil is right about his ambitions but if he has turned.. “


Francesca snorted “If what you tell me is true, that Belthezor killed a couple of witches then betrayed the source by stealing one of his captives a few months ago. If he prostrated himself at the entrance to on high declaring his intention to be good I would not believe him .”


“No “ said Arturo “Neither would I “ he leaned back on his chair.  “Interesting to know who is right. The Elders think the witches vanquished Belthezor but have found some demonic protector to increase their power. The realms below think that Belthezor has aligned himself with powerful witches to defeat the Source and seize power. The little witch thinks Belthezor has turned and is hell bent pun intended, on doing good to atone for his sins.“ 


“Yes well if Belthezor lives up to his usual form “ said Francesca “he’ll manage to betray the witch, the people who helped him, the Elders, the Powers that be, every demon in the Underground and still come out more powerful and more dangerous than all of them put together “  Francesca snorted.


“That my dear sounds like a destiny “ Arturo smiled.


“It was meant to sound like a judgement “ she replied.


“Arturo “ Francesca leant forward, her face concerned “Can you destroy Belthezor ?”


“Yes “ replied Arturo “and I can and I will if it becomes necessary. “ 


“Do it Arturo “ she said knowing what his answer would be “Its Belthezor, the betrayer Arturo, this one will take every one near him to hell and back before its over and for what. “ Francesca almost pleaded, “In the end he’ll betray. Its what he does Arturo and he does it so well.“


“You are still what you always were aren’t you Francesca ?” Arturo asked with something very close to a sneer “Good.”


She shrugged a smile reaching her eyes that for a second almost made her appear beautiful. “We’re all the children of our birthright and mine was good and even if we can grow when faced with our .. nemesis we are what we are. I am good and when I am faced with evil incarnate and the destruction it can cause then yes everything I am says get rid of it before it starts, even if I know better.”


“Then you justify my faith in the Great Plan “ Arturo stood up and his eyes blazed wilder and darker than Francesca had seen in quite some years “I can kill Belthezor, I can vanquish him or I can condemn his powerless spirit to the depths of hell but this conscience of mine, this conscience on which you all depend to stop a very old demon using full power he found in his ..humanity, "and the sneer as he used the word was bitter and angry, "for  evil, needs to be totally certain, needs to have no doubt before I kill him. ”


Francesca sighed.  She felt no fear of Arturo’s demonic nature. She had learned to trust the demon, far more than the demon trusted himself. “I see no evidence in all this that Belthezor has walked through the fire of his own making, has faced the blackest and most evil depths of his nature and walked out to the light Arturo, you do not believe there is the remotest chance Belthezor has turned. .”


Arturo relaxed a little  “The little witch believes he has turned which means there is the remotest chance.“


The demon and the whitelighter sat in silence listening to the night sound of the Greek hills. Finally Francesca asked “Arturo you watch these hybrid demons, you look for the signs of which ones will slip through evil’s net and find power. You look for the one’s who just might turn. You told me they always show some signs the ones who turn. Have you have ever found any sign in Belthezor any indication that he would turn?”


“No “ replied Arturo  “Belthezor has never given any sign. I  I dismissed him as one of the many, another hybrid who was bred for intelligence and power and who would be used by evil and destroyed before he came to any understanding of the nature of the power of his humanity. I paid little attention after that. But I never thought he would be able to challenge the powers of evil either. It seems one way or another, I have been mistaken. “


“And now ?” asked Francesca.


“I will do what I have to do but I need to be certain “ answered the demon. “ To see if he is searching for the fire. “


Francesca he added “It may be a good time to remind the Elders that there are rules and not letting witches fight demons in the Underworld is one of them. “


“I will “  she said “You feel a danger ?”


“Yes “  he said “Breaking rules is a power like all others, to be used judiciously. “ He shook his head ”This  use by the Charmed Ones does not strike me as judicious. ”


Francesca nodded.


“Tell the Elders they are not beyond temptation “ Arturo said. “And they are watched “  and this time his tone was demonic.