How Quaint the Ways of Paradox

Part 2: Promises,promises,promises

Chapter 20


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

(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)

Francesca orbed into the house in the Corinthian gulf on an early January afternoon more than six months after the vanquishing of the Seer, the Great Immolation as it was known in the underworld. The Greek winter which turned the trees bare was slipping in, and there was snow on the hills but the gulf shone blue below the house. Along the valley leading up to the ruins of Delphi the roads was slippery and icy.


In spite of the cold Arturo was sitting on his balcony watching the view of the ships in the gulf, taking comfort in the beauty of the seasons. He saw the warning crystals change colour into a blinding blue white light before he heard the orbs.


Francesca materialised beside him.


“Such a surprise“ Arturo said blandly “Its been a while my dear.”


“There’s been no need“ she said. She walked into his house and helped herself to his best and oldest port and poured a glass for him as herself, while he stood in the doorway watching in amusement. They had been together a very long time. He returned to the balcony.


“Its cold out there“ Francesca said “Come inside.” Arturo reluctantly left the peace he found in the view of the Corinthian Gulf.


“Am I going to be pleased to see you?” Arturo asked taking the port from her.


“I think so“ she said “I’m inclined to believe so. I had a calling“ she said, “On the spirit winds, one I have not had in a two hundred and fifty years.”


Arturo froze, glass at his lips.


“From those whose concern is for the Great Plan and the Guardianship of the dominions.”  Francesca said “It seems a demon, a half breed demon has walked through the fire of his own making , or almost and is not far from finding the light.”


Arturo shook his head, as relief surged through him.


“I should have known“ he said. “I should have recognised it. Why didn’t I know?” He said concerned. “Who is it? How did it slip through?”


“It appears, as always in the way of the Great Plan, you did know.” Francesca drained her glass. She hated having to tell Arturo he was right. He was always so pleased with himself. Sighing she said “Its Belthezor Arturo.”


“Belthezor was vanquished“ Arturo said almost sadly “I think you misread the winds my dear.”


“I did no such thing Arturo.” Francesca answered firmly. “I have had the message on the winds. He found a way out.”


Arturo shook his head. “There was no way out.”


Francesca helped herself to more port. “He found a way. It was, as you thought, not a plot to be the Source, it was, as you thought, a good soul untouched by evil. A half demon, trying to find his humanity who got caught in the way of the power and essence of the Old Source and good souls as we both know can’t be destroyed by demon vanquishes. It , he found a way out of the wasteland, complete with demon power. It appears he managed to find a way to great power through his humanity. So as alway“ she mused, “against the odds, against reason against all sense the Great Plan succeeds. Perhaps.” She added. They had walked this far before and lost.


“But that could only even be remotely possible if he, if it was.. “  Arturo said.


Francesca nodded “Yes magic" she said. “It appears true to form the demon Belthezor, the Great Betrayer himself has been able to hide some very deep secrets.”


“So I was right“ Arturo all but smirked “What of those who know about Guardians?” Arturo said ““Do they know?”


“I heard the call on the winds and the call was for me alone“ Francesca answered. “Belthezor has made no choices, there is no Guardian yet.”


“Belthezor“ Arturo said “You’re sure?” And for a second he dared hope that at some time in the future his own calling might end, but he put the hope to one side.


“He is not in a good place as I understand it“ Francesca said “but he has walked through the fire and nearly found himself and now he needs help and I need to give it.”


“We need to be careful“ Arturo said. “If Belthezor does not have a demon spirit, Evil would not recognise him if he walked into the coronation chamber and sat on the throne but“ and he smiled grimly “as its Belthezor I am not entirely sure the news would be greeted with.. alacrity in certain quarters of Good. It may be better if none of them Good, Evil and Guardians here, know just yet that another has been called.”


“I was told on the spirit winds and I made the choice to tell you“ Francesca said.


“You were right Arturo. I bow to you“  Francesca said wryly “You were right. To let the fates take the courses“ Francesca said.


“Its more than fifty years since Janko passed over“ Arturo mused. “It has never gone that long before, its always nearly.. I always felt I was missing something, somewhere there was a soul, graving to serve, hiding, I never thought …why wait for Belthezor the demon of the century?


“Perhaps his is a great destiny.”  Francesca said.


“Are you sure?” Arturo asked again.


“I know the spirit winds“ she said.


“Where is he now?” Arturo asked.


“Suffering if I understand the spirit winds. The message was cryptic“ Francesca said.


“No great tragedy“ Arturo said “Except perhaps for him.”


“At least I know my immediate destiny“ Francesca said not happy. “Babysitting a demon.”


And Francesca sighed because in the long years of service she found this the hardest, dealing with and advising and supporting these creatures of darkness struggling with conscience and realization of what they were and the shock and utter despair of their eternity.


“Its possible you could like him““ Arturo said because he knew her well.


"Anything is possible“ Francesca said “But I would be surprised.”


“You were once before“ Arturo smiled. “Be careful Francesca.”


“I know how to guard demons Arturo“ Francesca said. “I don’t like demons you know.” She said for no reason. Then suddenly she laughed  “And so there really are five“ and the relief sounded in her voice.


“He has not chosen yet, they have been known to chose differently“ said Arturo who had honoured their choices.


“It would be a tragedy to come this far and chose against the calling wouldn’t it?” Francesca said.


“And so it begins“ said Arturo sadly as Francesca orbed away to spend the next year guarding a very annoying ex demon who fought her every step of the way and for whom, despite a thousand years of guiding and disliking demons, Francesca developed a great fondness.


Almost a year from the day Francesca told him a half-breed demon had walked through the fire. Arturo shimmered back to his house in a time fold above the Corinthian Gulf near the ancient ruins of Delphi. The months had been difficult for Arturo. His time to act to ensure the balance had been upon him since the Old Source had been vanquished, but in truth all he could do was ensure that the fracturing he felt around him as Good began to rupture under the faltering of the seriously weakened Evil, was kept to a minimum and hope that somewhere in the future of which to his great relief, Arturo had no vision, the Great Plan would prevail. Or Therold as he pondered over his manuscripts, and the lore of Good and Evil would find the answer to the lost Grimoire.


Arturo had just visited San Francisco and he had to be careful because Guardians with their Great Power did not congregate except in the sacred time folds to ensure and verify their number and that had not happened for 250 years give or take some years.  They met in twos and passed messages along but their callings were different and varied and they followed their own paths but more than two together and the balance seemed to move. Belthezor had not answered his calling but the power was there and Arturo needed to be very certain that the other three Guardians were a far distance.


On a Saturday afternoon he found Francesca near the cable car terminal by the bay, sitting quietly on a bench sketching. Arturo knew Francesca’s fascination for faces, because they had worked together a very long time. But he sometimes wondered when he looked at her real face which he had long since decided was the second most beautiful face he had ever seen in a woman, why she had such a fascination for sketching the faces of others. He sat down beside her on the bench and she took a little while to look up.


“Such a simple mortal life“ he said smiling “It makes me very envious. Not even guarding Belthezor?” Arturo asked


“I can forgive Cole a great deal for his determination to screw those damned lawyers he insists on working for and make sure both of us have a weekend off.” Francesca said.


Arturo laughed “I would not mind getting a look at what Belthezor is doing" he said "Where is he?”


Francesca shrugged “Either wandering around Europe some where with Phoebe" she said "Staying in some old hotel where they do whatever they like to do with each other or at home bickering with his family. He seems to get a great deal of pleasure from both activities.”


“You’re very fond of Belthezor aren’t you?” Arturo said quietly.


"I came to the conclusion about 9 months ago" Francesca smiled “that he is the most annoying demon I have ever guided.”


Arturo just sat there looking down at her with a bemused expression on his face.


“Stop looking at me like that Arturo“ Francesca said “You’re right as usual. Sooner or later there had to be another one of you that I liked.” She shrugged “He’s a dear boy Arturo“ she said because only a whitelighter who had served for a thousand years could call a demon who had existed for more than a hundred years a boy.


“Will he choose wisely?” Arturo asked.


“I don’t know“ Francesca answered sadly  “I pray. He understands wisdom, he can be very wise, but he fights it all the way.”


“The time is coming very soon“ Arturo answered


“I know“ Francesca said.


Francesca and Arturo walked down to the bay. Arturo glanced at Alcatraz across the bay “That’s a very evil place“ he said “I can feel it.”


“It never changes, does it?”  Francesca answered quietly “Evil versus good. Good versus Evil, on and on and always the same.”


“An old story retold“ Arturo answered just as quietly.


They found a small café out of sight of Alcatraz.. “I’m tired Francesca“ Arturo said “I’m tired and I miss Marie-Jeanne.” He sighed “I see her face wherever I look. She’s calling me and I want to be with her. Badly. Hope can be very cruel Francesca“ he said.


“But in the end it is all we have“ she answered “It saves us.”


“I know“ Arturo said. “Hope and the desire to do good.”


In the mundane world of the centre of the San Francisco tourist precinct a thousand year old Demon Guardian and his whitelighter sat and watched the justification of their existence, the mortal life around them existing in its fulfilment untouched  by the Great Evil, unaware.


“I went to Greater Powers of the Realm, the ones who have a small understanding of the Great Plan and the Role of Guardians“ Francesca told Arturo “I explored the possibility of Belthezor turning.”


“You didn’t tell them?” he said horrified.


“No it was more in the nature of a purely hypothetical discussion of the least likely candidate to claim the fifth place“ she said.


“And“ Arturo said sipping at his cappuccino coffee, turned his nose up and wondered why the secrets of 300 years of European civilisation had been lost to the New World.


“Let’s just say the thought of Belthezor regenerating 18 months after the Charmed Ones vanquished him as the Source of all Evil caused much jocularity.” Francesca said.


Arturo groaned.


“Although“ continued Francesca “It was considered that stranger things have happened than the Greatest Evil of the century regenerating and it would be wise to have contingency plans.”


Arturo groaned.


“Could they find a way Arturo?” Francesca asked “Would Durand, could Durand perhaps listen to them?”


“No“ Arturo said “The Guardians know their path. Durand has no wisdom but he has understanding. He knows right from wrong. That is his gift." He smiled almost demonically. "But all told it would be better if perhaps the secret of Belthezor remained a secret in certain places.”


“I trust your wisdom“ Francesca said “But they claim him to be the evil of the century.”


“It’s a small way into the century my dear.”  Arturo said “Time is on our side.”


Arturo saw Belthezor the next day. He was with his witch and her family, at a visit to the house of a friend, a policeman and his wife who seemed to be celebrating some important event and had asked the witch’s family to join in. Arturo in half a shimmer watched while Belthezor played in a very small and presumably heated swimming pool with the children of the policeman Darryl, and encouraged them to take some risks underwater, then argued with the policeman’s wife and the dark haired sister of his witch about some consequences of children taking risks to find their way.


Later Belthezor sat on a chair inside the policeman’s house with his witch curled on his lap while the witch’s dark haired sister sat on a sofa with her whitelighter husband holding her hand and the red headed sister and the policeman’s wife lay on the floor in front of a fire. The policeman took a place in a chair opposite and they all talked a little of Good and Evil, and politics and families into the early hours.


It was a small obscure and mortal life that Belthezor shared with his witch and it made Arturo sad because he knew that such lives must pass and sooner or later, immortal beings who indulged in such luxuries were left living in regret and alone. 


Arturo returned to his house on the Corinthian Gulf and as he shimmered in he noticed the crystals in his cabinet deep dark blood red. He walked out to his balcony and in the cold twilight he was not at all surprised to find the demon Guardian Proctor sitting on his balcony, drinking his port and watching his view.


Arturo wordlessly poured himself a port and joined Proctor on the balcony.


Proctor looked up and said “Pretty view but I still prefer the mountains in Nepal.”


Arturo knew that Francesca found Proctor unnerving and disliked him but sometimes he found the confusion of the mortals distressing and the virtue of Good suffocating and there was relief in the familiarity of the demon spirit.


Proctor was tall and thin and dark. He habitually wore the black of demondom and his words were few and well chosen.


“Therold has found the spells“ he said.


“That is good“ said Arturo.


“The balance is failing Arturo“ Proctor said “We need to decide.”


“We have time“ Arturo said.


“Very little“ answered Proctor “Your port is ..good, my friend.”


Arturo smiled.


“If the Grimoire was destroyed“  Proctor said.


Arturo nodded “That is the word the Elders gave to Francesca.”


“How was it done“ said Proctor.


Arturo shrugged “I do not have visions and you who watch did not see it.”


“If we can’t retrieve it we must reconstitute it“ Proctor said. “I prefer the mountains to the sea.”


“Yes“ said Arturo “soon but we need to wait until we understand how to keep the balance for us, as well as between Evil and Good.”


“The balance is there Arturo“ Proctor said. He reached to the decanter he had beside him “Your port is good.”


“Why do you think so?” Arturo asked.


“I think nothing“ said Proctor whose gift was to watch. “I have no wisdom in such matters. Therold has wisdom; I accept his wisdom. He says there must be five so there are five. Because we do not see the life of an ant does not mean it is any less real. There must be five. There are five. That is Therold’s wisdom. I have no wisdom of my own“ said Proctor the demon Guardian who watched.


“It’s Belthezor“ Arturo told Proctor the watcher.


There was silence as Proctor sipped the port.


“Your port is good Arturo“ Proctor said “Belthezor found a way did he? Belthezor always did keep his secrets.” He nodded “That should cause consternation to those who follow the light and judge us.”


“You have no doubts?” Arturo asked.


“I have no wisdom in these things“ Proctor said “I take the wisdom of those who do. But“ he said cryptically “if it is Belthezor it explains much that I have seen.” He sipped the port “Your port is good Arturo. Has he , has Belthezor chosen yet?”


“Not yet“ Arturo answered “But there is time, a little. Proctor I need to know more of Belthezor.”


“If I can find it you willl know it“ Proctor answered swallowing the last drops of Arturo’s port and stood up. “Don’t tell Belthezor about Durand“ he said “Had I known of Durand I may have chosen differently. Your port is good Arturo“ he said and shimmered away.


Arturo, demon that he was, smiled. He had spent many life times with the confusion of mortals and the virtue of Beings of Light. There was comfort in the nature of demons.