How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
Part 3: The more things change
"How quaint the ways of paradox; At common sense she gaily mocks"
(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)
After Leo left him Cole he just felt the need to walk and found himself wandering. He thought of another beach but just lately he had been on to many beaches and he wanted to feel people, not be alone, see them, move among them, understand them and without really considering why he found himself back on one of the favourite bridges in Venice, one of the places he had walked with Phoebe. He stood staring canal and he was so lost in thought he did not notice someone standing beside him for quite for a few moments.
“This strikes me as a sad place sometimes“ Arturo said.
“Phoebe loves it“ Cole said.
“I usually avoid places Marie Jeanne loved“ Arturo said. “To many memories.”
“Unhappy ones“ Cole asked.
“No“ Arturo said “Just reminds me she’s not with me. You may feel that way about some places one day, or cling to them. It depends.”
“How did you find me?“ Cole asked.
“Balance“ Arturo answered. “Have you an answer?“ he said pushing.
“No“ Cole said.
“You’re a very bad liar Belthezor“ Arturo said with an amused smile. “Sooner or later you will have to face it.”
“I was ..very evil“ Cole said.
"We, Guardians, are creatures of evil“ Arturo said “We are what we are born to, we’re born evil, we answered our birthright and then we found another way. All of us.”
“You don’t understand“ Cole said “I knew what I was doing, how evil it was for a very long time“ he said.
“You boy, walk with me“ Arturo demanded. He walked along the edge of a small canal leaving Cole to follow in his wake.
“You don’t understand“ Cole started to say again.
Arturo stopped by one of the stone bench seats by the canal “Sit down“ Arturo snapped and Cole to his own irritation did as he was told “You do know how annoying you are“ Arturo added making Cole smile.
“I understand very well“ Arturo said. “I understand where you came from and why you are here now, annoying the hell out of everyone while we wait on your convenience.
You’re the son of a very powerful upper level demon, a hybrid demon, a female who served the Source directly. At the order of her master your mother bred, as many demon hybrid’s do, with a mortal to create an even stronger demon. No one worried about your mortal inheritance because most magic, witch and demon, is inherited through females but for some reason of fate or gross stupidity, the mortal chosen as your father, was an empath and with all your demon powers you also inherited his, and a human soul, a magic human soul.”
Cole shrugged “Very small magic“ he said.
“Your father realised what you were and the strength of your humanity“ Arturo continued “but your mother killed him when she discovered this, both to get you away from your father, to protect you from your human magic heritage and to stop the Source or any other demon finding out about your inheritance, your human soul. Thereby managing to betray both the man she loved and the master she served. She protected you from your human heritage by calling favours from creatures in all the realms, vile creatures, strange creatures, traitors on all sides some beyond evil. To protect you she betrayed evil, she betrayed lovers, and she betrayed masters. To keep the secret of your magic soul.”
“Its what you learnt from the cradle isn’t it Belthezor“ Arturo asked “To betray… and to protect and to keep your secrets.”
All Cole could do was nod.
“You lived with this hidden human magic power for more than sixty years, “ Arturo said. ”serving demon master after demon master, managing to hide what you were, learning to do it so well that not even Raynor realised your secrets when he went inside your head. Demons knew Belthezor was powerful, far more powerful than would be expected but they put it to the luck, and you kept your secrets so well even those like me who watched the half breed demon only saw what you meant us to see. “
Cole stared, across the canal barely aware of what was around him.
“But you had your doubts, didn’t you Belthezor“ Arturo continued, “that magic human soul, the gift of empathy, the gift that allowed you to protect yourself from the danger around you, made you understand the evil of the life you lived. You saw it in your victims and in your deeds and your actions and often found it difficult to avoid feeling the consequences of what you did.”
Cole shook his head “I knew“ he admitted. “I knew what I did“ he said bitterly “But I did it. I did as I was told, as I was ordered.”
Arturo smiled, almost but not quite with sympathy.
“Then over fifty years ago he said in one of your weaker moments you met a witch, a witch called Phillipa, Flip, not a very powerful one but one whose magic was a small power of vision, one who could connect to the souls around her. She connected to you almost immediately and knew what you were, all of what you were and you knew what she was, a witch who had come close to evil in a recent past life and you understood how much in jeopardy she was. You fell in love with her and she with you.”
Arturo looked at Cole who did not met his eyes. “You could not pull her into your world but you could not find the courage to cross into hers and your lack of courage killed her. But she did what she was meant to do, she put you onto the path that has lead you to where you are standing today. “ Arturo glanced at Cole who was looking grimmer and grimmer and barely nodded.
Arturo continued “More than fifty years ago, you effectively turned to the world of light but you had no means of leaving the dark world, so you have been living in a shadow world between the two, living as a demon, undertaking their work to survive, serving your masters knowing full well the evil that you did and avoiding more of it than you care to admit.”
“You covered your tracks" Arturo said “by creating a reputation for evil that left even the demon world in awe. You have hidden behind a sense of levity and untrustworthiness that was considered the ultimate evil by those who knew you. You used the lessons you had learnt in your cradle, your mother’s ability to betray, and used it to avoid some of the worst of the evil. Demons and servants of light both called you the Great Betrayer and not even Raynor realised why you did it and what it hid.
The ability to sense danger and to betray are probably what saved you more times than you can count, but you have been living far to close to the edge and you nearly ran out of choices. Flip’s sister came after you and although she was not strong enough to get you she managed got far closer than she ever realised. When she died seven years ago you really considered you had a chance of getting out of the dark world, but you discovered she had passed her heritage to three granddaughters, prophesied to be the most powerful witches ever and you worried she had also deeded them a tontine to go after you, one which would effectively end any way out you had to get out from the dark world.
A few years ago you were sent to Africa to do an act so grossly evil that it does not bear discussing. You avoided it by betraying Raynor, the Source and the Triad. In fact they were all so stunned by the level of betrayal that they did not realise that the whole point of the betrayal was to avoid the act itself. As punishment, the Source sold you into service to the Triad along with the one item that existed that could control you, your father’s soul.
The Triad were caught up in a battle with the Charmed Ones who had been prophesied as the cause of their destruction. When you realised this you managed to talk the Triad into letting you go after the Charmed Ones in exchange for your father’s soul, which got you away from evil and your lover’s family off your back. After all witches are enemies, soldiers in battle. Killing them is not such an evil act.”
Cole sat on the bench staring at the ground. Arturo continued. “Only you met a fragile, vulnerable little girl, and everything came tumbling down. Kill the witches or be killed.
Arturo smiled "Only as it turned out kill the witches and destroy your immortal soul. And worse you fell in love all over again, she awakened things in you, feelings you no longer believed could exist, beyond all the pain and anger and evil you had done and seen. You loved her you were convinced your escape from hell, your father’s escape depended on her death.”
“I tried“ Cole said “I couldn’t ..hurt her.”
“Well she’s alive“ said Arturo laughed softly “so I doubt you tried that hard, and for her, this time you found the courage to chose, you found the courage to step into the world of light and now you are faced with all the consequences.”
Arturo turned to him “Give in to your nature Belthezor. You’ll find the human power far stronger than you could possibly believe, just considerably more uncomfortable than evil. Its what some people call a conscience by the way.”
“Do you know how many times Raynor told me to give into my nature“ Cole asked “My demonic nature.”
“It frightens you that demonic nature of yours, the ability to betray, to kill“ Arturo said. “Why?“ he asked “It’s a gift like anything else, like all powers. It’s not the power that is evil, it’s the use. Learn to use it .. ah.. judiciously, carefully with restraint. “
Arturo stood up. He stared down at Cole who looked with almost a shy smile.
“We wait on your convenience Belthezor“ he said“ We have after all nothing better to do.”
Cole nodded. With a ghost of a smile he watched at Arturo glanced around then shimmered away.
Francesca orbed into the house ion the Corinthian Gulf, to find Arturo and Proctor together sharing a glass of brandy. She greeted Arturo and acknowledged Proctor’s almost rigid bow with an incline of her head.
“Is something wrong?“ Arturo asked concerned.
“No“ Francesca said “Just a visit.”
“Such a pleasure“ murmured Proctor. “Again and so soon.”
“Indeed“ Francesca agreed.
And they were to Arturo’s amusement silent. Arturo handed Francesca a glass of brandy.
She sipped it and Proctor after a few minutes turned to Arturo “You port is good Arturo he said your brandy is better. “Then he said to Francesca “I told Therold of Belthezor.”
“As is your choice“ Francesca answered.
“Therold agrees with me“ Proctor said.
“What does he agree?“ Francesca asked.
“He agrees that it will cause consternation among those who follow the cause of Good and judge us?“ Proctor said.
“Therold has wisdom“ said Francesca.
Proctor inclined his head in acknowledgement “I believe that causes Therold as much unhappiness as it does me“ he said a hint of a smile on his thin satanic face. “You will inform me when Belthezor finally chooses.”
“Cole will chose to serve Proctor“ Francesca said.
“I pray you are right Francesca“ Proctor answered “and if you are perhaps you should consider that consternation like brandy is something that becomes more pleasurable as it ages.”
“This is your wisdom Proctor“ Francesca asked.
“No“ said Proctor“ I have no wisdom in such matters. It is Therold’s wisdom. “ Then his satanic, demonic face almost lit up “Remember Janko“ he said “how careful we had to be. Keep Belthezor out of sight of the Powers of Good. That there are five is enough, the rest can wait on our convenience, if not Belthezor’s. At least my friend Therold tells me so.”. He said humbly “I have no wisdom in such matters so I accept his. Should Belthezor chose to serve“ Proctor added with barely disguised amusement.
“I am right“ Francesca said “There is no concern. Cole will chose to serve.”
Proctor acknowledged her with his head inclined. “Arturo“ he said “Your brandy is ..good. Francesca "he added "As always the pleasure is mine.” He shimmered away.
Arturo looked at Francesca serenely sipping her brandy. “He had all but chosen the other way .Francesca.”
“If he had chosen the other way“ Francesca answered “he would of chosen immediately. He did not, so he will finally say yes.”
Arturo looked at her in disbelief.
“You should not be so frightened of hope Arturo“ she said. “I know this one. He fights it all the way. He resists, he strains, he struggles.” She saw the scepticism in Arturo’s face. “Remember Hilma, Arturo“ she said. “This one is similar only far more so. And he has a reason to live.”
“Hilma“ said Arturo relaxing, remembering her battle. ”You think he will choose to stay with his witch.”
“No“ Francesca said “I think he will choose to serve because it is the right thing to do.”
Arturo looked disbelieving, almost as if he feared that somewhere in the crossing of Belthezor he could find a small measure of hope.
“Feel the balance Arturo“ Francesca smiled “Where is it?“
Arturo shut his eyes and after a few moments he said "The balance is as it should be.”