The House of Asmodeus: A Trial by Fire Chapter 39

“And in the end, we’re all just humans… drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO

Alice quickly started trying to get drunk at the party. She spent a lot of her time getting to know each member of her brother’s harem, or at least the four that were there. She couldn’t find the one called Asmodea. 

Alice at first held much of her conversation with her brother’s wife, the daughter of Pride, Noella. Noella told Alice how much she loved him, and how fated they seemed. Of course, I seemed somewhat skeptical of her reasoning, listening to Noella list off all of her favorite things about Clay was comical. And then going over their problems, specifically one of which I had just experienced, specifically being Clay’s complete lack of self-preservation, made it seem more real than any of the good things. 

It felt like she was trying to prove herself to me, as if she wanted or needed my approval. It was like I was Mom, but she was asking Mom for forgiveness for eloping.

I was still surprised that Noella didn’t complain about not being the only woman. Noella professed her sisterhood with Azale and Lolara, and a developing friendship with Zazriel. The name Asmodea did not spur good feelings in Clay’s wife, but that seemed more like a rivalry, not hate.

After Noella, Alice spoke then to Lolara, the only one she had met before. Lolara was pretty funny if not a bit too touchy after a few drinks. Lolara was good to keep their family down to earth. She’s literally the only human left around, at least before I showed up.

Lolara, unlike Noella, thought to talk about how Alice was acclimating, wondering how the people back home were doing. Makes sense, Noella wasn’t there, but… I have a hard time telling if Lolara really cares or if she’s just asking. It’s like she’s studying me with her eyes. Alice didn’t spend much time with Lolara, the witch quickly finding herself trying to glean attention from Saphira and Talon both.

Alice soon sought out the fallen angel. Azale was difficult to get a read on, mainly because she referred to Clay as Master. Alice was almost afraid that the fallen angel was enslaved in the palace but when she spoke up Azale just explained that wasn’t the case at all. 

The poor girl, the way the angels had shunned her for being different makes me wonder how they got the reputation as the good ones opposed to daemons. 

Then Alice asked her to explain why she called him Master, and then Noella Mistress if she was one of their best friends. She tried saying it was an angel thing, but I find that pretty hard to believe.

Alice did eventually find the violet succubus called Zazriel. She was introduced when as Alice was talking to Azale, the succubus interrupted by planting the sloppiest of kisses on the fallen angel’s mouth. Azale was shocked to say the least, especially as the succubus turned out to be drunk. 

It was made apparent by the look on Azale’s face, that this behavior was not normal of Zazriel. Azale practically held the succubus up to her feet the whole time they talked.

Watching Azale hold Zazriel like A’rock used to hold her brought back memories. Azale held her by the waist, and kept the succubus’s head on her shoulder. She swayed with her slowly as the fortune teller mumbled and sang with a rather dopey smile on her face. Azale grew incredibly embarrassed as Zazriel tried kissing the fallen angel’s neck as if they were all alone and not surrounded by people. 

Azale had to remind her that they were standing next to Clay’s sister to get her to come to her senses.

When Alice first looked upon the powerful fortune teller she expected to see her reading fortune cards like people told her she would. Instead, Zazriel had been drinking like no tomorrow, quite unlike the shy, reserved, powerful warrior she was hyped up to be. 

So I realized that it wasn’t the best time to get to know Zazriel and the daemon instigated as much with her attempts to start making out with Azale, so I left to walk around, having a few more drinks herself.

***** 

Alice walks around the palace tipsy, probably one more drink away from being drunk. She hasn’t been this way since her wedding shower before she married A’rock. Back then he was the kind of guy a girl could confuse for an out of place college kid, and not a powerful half-daemon-angel being.

Alice reflects on her brother’s many relationships, and for the most part they all seem to be in better places than they should be. After getting to know at least the surface of Asmodeus’s romantic life, she realizes something about it all that really gets to her, annoys her even. He is maintaining five relationships to five different women, and yet they still seem better off than my one. 

A’rock was the only serious relationship she has ever had with a man. During their relationship he was protective and stern with others, but not towards her, just about her. He treated me with humor and hope similarly to how he treats Laya, with actual love. 

But something happened, and something changed in him. He trusted Alice with his secret, what he was, and she still loved him. Then A’rock became colder and more scared. They did live together for many years, sharing an apartment while Alice graduated from university faster than the rest of her peers. 

I wanted a job, to live with A’rock, to have someplace to live with him and Clay, away from our parents. They were never told about A’rock, I had no interest in them knowing about my life. 

Then A’rock proposed to her, and she said yes, and that same week her parents died. This coincidence scared off A’rock, so he convinced Alice that they had to go to his home. Alice was torn by fear for herself, and curiosity for a world unknown. 

Alice staved off the idea for a while, keeping contact with her brother on and off, promising him that she would come get him eventually. 

Then she had been attacked in her apartment. A’rock fended off the attacker, to this day neither knew who it was, daemon or angel. Both had the capabilities to hide their defining features. 

A’rock told her then and there that it was no longer safe, and that to leave her brother behind was safer for him then leading any dangerous people to him. 

A’rock took her to the Palace of Pluto, where she was welcomed to the community. She was told of A’rock’s deeds, and how he took his first and only sabbatical from leading them to be with her. Alice felt like a lucky lady all the way to their wedding, and all the way through to their first and only child. 

But when Laya was born, another change happened in A’rock. He had grown nervous during his time with Alice, but to now have a daughter to protect, he became cold and hungry for the power to keep everyone from her.

Thinking about this, thinking about her only relationship and her brother’s many, she felt something rise within her. 

Jealousy. 

How could he have so many care for him and all I had was fucking A’rock? That was the only man I had ever grown to stand, and he turned to shit right in front of me. 

Alice has been stumbling through the palace, just stumbling lower and lower, following a path she knows nothing of, but for some reason her heart leads her here. It’s dark and dank and made out of stone, not the pretty gold of the rest of the palace. Alice has followed her heart to the basement, the dungeons, which has one occupant, A’rock.

She comes stumbling down the halls, making her presence known, and in his weakened state he doesn’t have the energy to bother getting up to the bars. His wound from Uriel has barely healed, he still has troubled breathing and staying warm with a literal hole in him. 

“Who’s out there?” A’rock calls. “Come here to gloat?”

“Actually, that sounds like a nice idea,” Alice agrees in a slow slur as she walks in front of and leans on the bars. She leans on the bars and they move open. “What the hell? Don’t they lock these things?!”

A’rock chuckles at her. “They don’t need to bother with old lock and keys, they don’t even use guards anymore. The last King of Lust and some of his hired spellcasters can keep prisoners down here by just casting a spell on them. I can’t leave the confines of the cell without killing over.” 

Alice looks him over for a second, judging his well-being to see what poor shape he is in. Against her better judgment, she walks right in and leans up against the wall. 

“Should you really be coming in here? Aren’t you scared, Alice?” he asks her.

“Scared? Maybe of a rat or some kind of pest that usually runs through medieval dungeons, but I only see one pest, and it’s not getting up to hurt me any time soon.” 

“Oooh, that one hit me in the heart Alice!” he shouts sarcastically. “A pest, the worst thing anyone’s ever called me.” 

“Oh, I think it is,” she assures.

“Really, you think being called a pest is the worst thing? How’s that?” he asks.

“You want to know why being called a pest should be the world’s biggest insult to you? You’ve spent your life being powerful and special because of what you were born, but for some reason all you wanted was more power. I think you wanted power because to the rest of the world you are meaningless, something to be stepped on if seen, and removed from society if they catch a sniff of you. Pest is the worst thing for you because pests are just put down and forgotten, just like you’ll be.”

Alice actually makes him angry, so he tries to stand up against the wall, he tries to get up, but he ends up getting winded and falls back down. “You bitch, saying I’m meaningless, I almost brought the Archangels and Demon Kings to their knees… and you call me a pest. I’m the reason Zadkiel and Leviathan are dead! And you, call me, a pest? Oh, Alice you are sorely mistaken if you think I’ll just be forgotten.”

Alice smiles and lies, “Actually my dear husband, no one knows who you are outside of the people you betrayed and who hate you. You’ve already been forgotten.” That isn’t true at all, Clay outed him in front of everyone, but he doesn’t know that, he was unconscious by then.

“What are you talking about?” A’rock asks suspiciously. “How could you possibly believe that the Seven Circles don’t know my name? What I’ve done?”

“You didn’t get any of the credit.”

What? What did you just say?”

“It’s public that Beelzebub killed Zadkiel only to betray Leviathan, and be punished by Lucifina. No one’s talking about you, and yours, and Seraras is public enemy number one, branded a traitor and terrorist like he deserves. 

“And you know something? That’s the truth so I don’t understand where you get off thinking you did any work.” Alice twists truth and lies to drive him crazy, like she’s been waiting to do for a long time.

A’rock’s breathing speeds up profusely, his face becomes strained as he clutches it. “No, this can’t be,” he groans to himself.

“But it is, and you want to know why?” Alice asks. She is getting to her favorite part. “It happened this way to protect Laya and me, to keep our existence a relative secret, to protect the identities of Asmodeus’s relatives. 

Because of me, you are never to become the heinous villain you wish you were good enough to be.” Alice leans in close to his face, after moving towards him a few steps. “Because of me, you’re barely a memory, no one cares about you, they won’t even waste the energy to kill you.”

A’rock looks long into her eyes and droops his head down in shame. Without lifting his head, he asks, “Just leave me alone then… what are you even doing down here? Why are you even drunk?” 

Alice thinks that telling him they’re all partying to his defeat will make him weep. “I just came to rub everything in your face, I got bored of drinking at the drab party up stairs.”

A’rock looks up at that, and smiles a little. 

“What are you smiling about?” she demands to know.

You, you missed me.” Alice is taken aback by his bold claim. 

Why, would I, miss you, in a million years?

“Who else have you cared about in the last 15 years? You’re not gonna party with our daughter, and obviously you can’t party with your brother or his whores.” The insult doesn’t make Alice wince, but instead she actually nods her head. “You have no one else, like me, I’ve always wondered why you never divorced me. You still love me.”

“I could never love you again,” she is quick to snap.

“Why again? I bet you never stopped, why else would you be here with me.” 

“Because I hate you.” 

“No, no, I don’t think you do. Most people avoid the things they hate, but you never left me. You actively sought me out, actively tried to tear me down and hurt me. If I’ve Iearned anything, is that people hurt the ones they love, just as much, if not more than the ones they hate, and all we’ve ever done for the longest time is hurt each other, but I still love you.” His profession of love comes as a shock to her. Alice thought for the longest time he despised her.

“But, but, you can’t love me, you’ve yelled at me, you’ve threatened me-” Alice is going to go on but A‘rock interrupts her on one point.

“I threatened you because you tried to leave and take Laya with you. If anyone else had tried to take my daughter away from me I would have killed them, and the only reason you got to live was because I still loved you then, and I do now.” 

“This is some fucked up love we have then, the worst kind, a grotesque kind” Alice tells him.

“Love we have?” A’rock catches a slip of her words.

She is distraught, and looks at him with disbelief in her eyes. She tries to think of an explanation for why she said what she did, but at this point she doesn’t have the energy to be disingenuous. 

She turns her back to the same wall as A’rock, and slumps down next to him. “What’s wrong with me?” she asks. She doesn’t really want an answer but she knows A’rock will give her one. 

“You just settled for me I guess, you could have ran by yourself, I wouldn’t have stopped you from finding someplace else,” A’rock offers.

Alice scoffs at the idea. “I like I could have survived outside the palace. I don’t even know what I was thinking when I tried leaving with Laya. We would have died in the desert, I would have gotten our daughter killed.”

She runs her hands back through her hair. Being around Clay and his lovers, seeing A’rock and not being able to get over him. She has little way to escape her own madness, so unable to think clearly. Then she looks up at A’rock’s face, not that far away from hers, and Alice leans in.

*****

“Uncle Clay, where are you taking us?” Laya asks. 

“You’ll find out in literally two minutes, savior the hype,” Clayton tells her.

“Where do you plan to take us that you wanted it to just be the three of us?” Alice asks her brother. She moves her head too fast and feels her headache come back. “Oww…” she groans. The headaches are still better than the nausea.

“Still hungover from last night?” Asmodea asks her as she comes up behind Alice. 

Asmodea isn’t going on the trip but she still sees them off to the portal. She even helped him pick out lunch for the picnic basket. 

Yeah… my head feel like it’s pulsating,” Alice complains.

“We have spells and potions to cure that, you know,” Clay offers.

Alice still refuses. “No, this is painful lesson to remind me as to why I shouldn’t drink so hard at my age.”

“Are you kidding? You’re like, 30, 31,” Clay jokes. 

“Sounds about right, maybe two or three more years, and that’s too old to be drinking like I’m back in college. You forget, I’m not a daemon, 100% natural human.” Then Alice makes a hand motion as if displaying herself.

“Hey Mom, Uncle Clay?” Laya asks.

“Yes?” Alice turns to look her.

“Can we go now? Uncle Clay said to hype it up, and now I think I’m overhyping it. We must go, before it’s too late!” Laya raises her hands and starts gesturing for everyone to move along.

“Calm down, shortie, I just checked and Dotor finished making the portal.” Clay quickly takes his niece’s hood and shoves it over her head. 

“Hey!” Laya quickly flips it off, somewhat angry. Then she jumps on his back when he turns around. “Uncle Clay, carry me, my legs got tired because you’re so slow.” She groans out that last part for comedic effect. 

“Aren’t you too old for piggyback rides?” Clay asks her as he leans down grab the basket. 

“What? I don’t know what your talking about. You’ll still be giving me piggyback rides when we’re in our forties.” She declares this with complete positivity.

“We’ll see,” Asmodeus laughs.

Alice and Asmodea watch the two as they exit a living room and move to the closest terrace, where Dotor has the portal prepared. 

“They’ve really taken to each other rather quickly,” Asmodea comments.

“Yeah, I think they act so naturally around each other because Alice used her… whatever her power is called on him all the time,” Alice tells her, “it’s like they’ve spent so much time together that they’re already good friends now.”

Mom! Come on! We’re waiting on you!” Laya calls to her mother. She is getting really antsy hanging onto Clay’s neck.

Laya, you’re choking me,” he tells her.

“Eh, you look fine to me,” Laya remarks.

Alice turns to Asmodea. “You sure you don’t want to come? I’m sure there’s enough food for all of us.” 

“That’s alright, this is going to be more of thing for you guys and your family, you’ll see.” Alice is puzzled by what the red succubus says. “Also, I had my fill with him last night so I’m good.”

“Ew.”

“You’re in the Circle of Lust now, cutie, expect innuendos and sexual undertones from when the sun rises to when it sets.” Alice shakes her head as she walks away, somewhat amused.

“Have fun Uncle cutie!” Asmodea calls as she waves goodbye, “and you too, little Laya!”

“Bye red lady! Hey Uncle Clay, why do you have so many girlfriends anyway? Sounds like a lot of work.” Laya isn’t wrong.

“Oh you have no idea, Laya, do you mind portals?”

“Hate ‘em, but they’re quick. Why didn’t you just make them yourself?”

“Just summoning random portals can disrupt the flow of other, more permanent and public portals so I usually don’t do it. Also, I hate using them too. Closing your eyes, may help.”

“Does it really?” Laya asks full of skepticism.

“No, but if you believe it, the surprise may keep you from getting nauseous too early,” Clay tells her. 

“For all that complaining about waiting you did, you two sure are talking a lot,” Alice jokes.

“Oh really, well then let’s not waste time and let’s go!” Clayton moves behind his sister and pushes forward her with his foot, causing her to halfway trip through the portal.

“Goddamn-!” she yells as she falls in.

“She’s gonna kick your shins in for that,” Laya warns.

“Not with you on my back, assuming she isn’t too shocked by what she sees.” 

“What do you meannnn!” Laya starts screaming when Asmodeus walks through the portal. When they came out she continues with her eyes closed. “-Ennnnn!”

“Laya we’re through!” Clay tells her. She’s literally screaming right into his ear.

“Huh? Oh, sorry, where’s mom?” Laya starts looking around. 

“Over there.” Clay points to Alice who’s busy staring at a house, her hands covering her mouth. Laya then slides down from Clay’s back and starts staring at the sky. 

The blue sky. 

“This is Earth,” Clay tells her.

“It’s so pretty,” she mutters.

Clay leans over Laya’s shoulder and whispers to her, “Want to know where we are?”

“Summer house we owned as kids, our parents took us out here every summer.” Then Alice starts moving towards the deck that sits on the lake. “That’s the dock where our father used to take us finishing,” and she starts running to the deck, “this is where our mom use to do her nails, and read her books. Once and while she come up behind us and push us in!” Alice kind of shoves Laya a little, fake letting her fall in, causing the girl to giggle. “Clay, how did you think of this?” she asks him.

“I’m a smart cookie,” he says.

“Shut up!” Alice cries as she hugs him. Laya taps on her mom’s shoulder and they make a group hug

*****   

After a few hours Laya goes swimming in the lake while Clay and Alice sit on the deck in these old chairs drinking soda and eating what passes for sandwiches in the Circle of Lust.

“So, the name ‘Laya’?” Clay asks his sister.

“What?”  

“You totally named your kid after me.”

“So? I tried to name her after A’rock’s mom, but he wouldn’t go for that, and then he wanted to name her after ours, and I wouldn’t go for that that,” Alice goes on.

Clay asks her, “What was wrong with the name Evangeline? Could have called her Eve for short.”

“But there it is, the same reason A’rock didn’t want to name Laya after his mom. Not everyone wants to be reminded about their dead mother every time they say their kid’s name.”

“Oh,” Clay realizes his mistake, “but wait, it’s better to name your daughter after your dead brother?”

“I didn’t think that you were dead, I couldn’t believe it, and obviously I was right. Also, A’rock didn’t know your name at the time, and I always liked it. It was what Mom and Dad were going to name you that if you had been a girl. It was a name on my mind for a long time, sue me.” 

Then she takes sip of her drink.

“I will, for copyright infringement on my identity!” 

“Is that an actual thing?’ Alice asks. 

“I dunno, probably.”

Alice finishes her drink and puts down the can. She turns on her side and looks at Asmodeus. “So I got a question for you.” 

“Oooo, sounds dire. No, I won’t buy you a pony.”

“Shut up, jerkwad, but no really there’s something I want to know about you. Being the King of Lust and all.” 

“Alright, ask away, senior serious.” Clay wonders what she can possibly be thinking about.

“Put the people to the side for a moment, and think as if you would have them even without becoming the King of Lust. After that, what do you get out of it? All the magical power, and politics, what do you personally get out of being one the most powerful beings alive?” Alice’s question is loaded, but it comes from being subject to someone who lusted for power. Clay has to think long, hard, and honestly about it before having his answer.

“Honestly Alice, putting aside all the friends I have now, I get nothing out being the King of Lust, the friends who became my family when I had none are all the reason I keep being the King. 

“Sure, the near infinite power makes my life simpler, easier even, but what do I get out of being the King of Lust… nothing. I get nothing out of it. I could do without the stress of leading an entire world, even though I’m told I don’t have to do any of the hard political stuff that I do. At the same time, I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it, it’s hard to explain, I can’t give you a good, straight forward answer.” Clay watches Alice as she moves back onto her chair, pondering his words. “Does my answer fulfill your interest?”

“It far and beyond exceeded my expectations,” she assures him. She still looks tense though, uneasy.

“What’s bothering you? Were you expecting something else?”

“I don’t know what I was expecting you to say. I guess I’m realizing that I don’t know as much about you as I used to, and definitely not as much as I like to think I do.” 

Then she turns her head and asks another of their father’s favorite questions. “What are you?”

Asmodeus smiles and replies, “What did Dad says? A man who wanted to be God, and changed his mind?”

“Can’t believe we still remember what that old ass used to say after all these years,” Alice complains.

“Eh, it wasn’t always so bad, and that quote wasn’t even his, he was quoting someone… I can’t remember who. Why are you thinking about him?”

“I’m not just thinking about just him, I’m thinking about our whole family. About our mother and our father, how we don’t have any aunts, or uncles, or grandparents,” she goes on saying.

“Well, both mom and dad were both only children, and both of their parents died before you were even born. That’s why we don’t have any of those. Why are you thinking about all this?”

Alice takes a strong exhale. She stays in her position lying back in the chair, but then she turns her head towards Asmodeus. “Remember when I found you and your friends in the desert.”

“Yeah?”

“Well I found you using this some sort of compass that Old Ticket gave me. It takes my blood, and it shows me where all of my blood relatives are in terms of general direction. If they’re on another world they just hover over the arrows. It had a marker to show where Laya was, and one for you.”

“Interesting device you got there,” Asmodeus comments.

“Let me finish first,” she says. Clay apologizes and she continues, “Well, there is also a dot hovering over the arrows, signaling a third person.”

Clay is puzzled by this information. “Well, it couldn’t be from any of the woman, none of them were pregnant until maybe last night.”

“What?” Alice questions.

“I’ll explain later, but, who the hell could that be? Mom and dad are dead, without a doubt, I know this for a fact.”

“Then who else could it be?” Alice asks.

“I don’t know, maybe dad cheated on mom or something, or maybe one of them wasn’t really an only child. There are a lot of possible explanations for this, Alice, so let’s not freak out. We can worry about this later, I promise. Let’s just relax today, and forget the world.”

“Okay, Clay.” She is still worried, but she tries to relax like he suggested. “Clay?” she asks.

“Yeah?”

“I love you, jerkwad.”

“I love you too, brat.”

“I’m older than you!”

“Yeah, but your stupid, and anything might hurt your feelings.”

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