“I have requested this audience because I believe that I can be of service.”
King Avold stared down at the young man from the dais on which his throne perched. The boy, if he could be called that, had not so much requested the audience as demanded it. King Avold’s underlings had been afraid to deny him, given the marks that had been laid upon him.
“I have come here primarily to tell you that your religion is wrong.”
The boy had soft blond hair of moderate length that fell across his head with a faint wave, a straight, well-formed nose, and a clean, strong jawline, not to mention a frame that was obviously muscular beneath his clothes. All of this would have conspired to make him quite handsome, if it weren’t for the marks.
“I know that you may have a hard time believing me, but I have seen beyond that which most people know, and I hope that you can come to trust my words.”
He had the bright, staring, slit-pupil eyes of a cat instead of whatever he had been born with, but that was not his only mark. King Avold had recoiled upon first seeing him, for he had not one mark, but three. Curving horns, starting at his temples and then curling back, upward, and toward the crown of his head, made his silhouette something other than human. This boy had formed a pact with the Demon, and some other greater entity. King Avold did not recognize what had marked his eyes.
“I come because I cannot stand that my country, and my world, have been operating under such a sinister illusion for so long.”
Yet above the boy’s horns, hovering suspended in the air, was a glowing circlet of light, which bathed his horns and his visage with a soft golden radiance. The Angel, too, had seen fit to form a pact with this boy. That was enough to gain the King’s rapt attention, as well as the focus of every other noble in the throne room.
“Our notions of what is good and evil have been misplaced for far too long.”
King Avold had never met someone who had been seduced into making a pact with one of the greater entities. It was said that the head of the Church, who remained in religious seclusion, held a pact with the Angel. This boy’s marks, however, were as unmistakable as they were contradictory.
“As you can see, I have formed pacts with three of the greater entities. The Church teaches us that this is wrong, that it is foolish and dangerous, and can only lead to misfortune.”
The Church also taught that what this boy — no, the King had to stop thinking of him that way. He was much younger than King Avold, but he was no boy. He was a man. His decisions showed that.The Church taught that what this man had done was impossible, not only because he had formed more than one pact, but because he had formed a pact with both the Demon and the Angel.
“The pacts do not make my life easier. The Church is not wrong, in that regard. They do grant me power, of course, but more importantly, they have granted me knowledge.”
The man’s third pact must have been important. It stoked the King’s curiosity even more than the man’s words, and even more than the opposing nature of his other two pacts. Those yellow, catlike eyes had been granted by something.
“The Angel is not good. The Demon is not evil. These are lies that we have constructed for ourselves based on what we believe about these entities.”
Angry murmurs arose from around the room.
“Stop,” the King said, shaken, finally, out of his quiet attention. “I’ve allowed you to continue because of my own curiosity, but I will not allow you to state such heresy.”
“I don’t believe in heresy,” said the young man. “Not when a religion has been formed on a false basis.”
“Enough,” said the King. “You have committed true sins against the Church. Your words are tainted.”
“Can you truly say that, when I have formed a pact with the Angel itself?” The young man gestured at his halo. “The mark is unmistakable.”
“It could be an illusion manufactured by the Demon, or by your other pact-holder,” the King said. “We have no reason to trust you.”
“The mark of the Angel above my head is real,” the young man said. “Your own doubt is far more heretical than any of my words.”
The King chose to ignore him in favor of the question burning in his mind. “With what entity did you form your third pact?”
“The Angel,” the young man said, a faint smile curling upon his lips. “My pact with the Angel came last out of the three I currently bear.”
“That’s not what I meant,” the King said. “You have mentioned your pacts with the Demon and the Angel, but left the third entity unvoiced. Which is it?”
The young man looked around. The King could see him considering whether to lie, analyzing whether or not he would be believed. Or, perhaps, he was conferring with the entities themselves. The King shivered at the thought, despite the fact that Angel was among them.
“The Sphinx,” the young mad said at last. “It was the first entity with whom I formed a pact, and the one who has truly opened my eyes to the workings of the world.”
The King shook his head. “I’ve not heard of the Sphinx.”
“Most have not, because of a certain fate that befell it.” The man paused. “It does not wish for me to speak of it now.”
“Perhaps the Sphinx and the Demon are conspiring, here, to taint our perception of the Angel.”
The younger man shook his head. “The Angel understands your doubt, but it frustrates him that you do not believe me.”
The man held out his hand. “I hold three pacts,” he proclaimed.
In his hand, a golden sword manifested, with a thin, double-edged of an improbable length. “The Angel has granted me his strength. Behold the weapon forged by our pact.”
He thrust sword into the marble floor of the throne room. It slid into the stone as though it were softened wax, and remained there, standing upright.
He held out his hand once more. A black whip, coiled into a tight circle, appeared. A short but vicious blade of black metal hung from its tip. “The Demon has granted me his strength. Behold the weapon forged by our pact.”
The young man hung the coiled whip upon the crossguard of the sword. The King beheld the weapons with discomfort. The golden purity of the Angel’s sword should never have come into contact with the evil filth of the Demon’s whip.
The young man held his hand out a third time. In it appeared a weapon like none the King had ever seen: a long rod of bluish metal, with an angular hook at one end, the tip of which was sharp like a pick. “The Sphinx has granted me his strength. Behold the weapon forged by our pact.”
With the Sphinx’s scepter still held in one hand, the young man rested his free hand on the pommel of the Angel’s blade. The glow of his halo grew brighter, searing its light into the King’s eyes. “These are the weapons of my pacts. By the Angel’s power, know the truth of my words. Know that, so long as I bear the power of his pact, I cannot lie.”
And the King did know the young man’s words for truth. He felt the truth of them as surely as he knew the firmness of the throne beneath him, or the warmth of the bright sun on a hot day.
“What is it that you want us to know?” The King’s voice came out as a weak shadow of its normally deep, commanding self.
“As I said before, the Angel is not good. The Demon is not evil. Good and evil are our own constructs. So far as the entities are concerned, they don’t exist.” He held up the scepter, drawing his audience’s focus. “None in this room would label the Sphinx as good or evil, if they knew of it. It has what you might call a portfolio by which it abides. It has a deep love of knowledge and discovery, of balance, and of revelation — though it likes to make you work for that revelation.”
“The Angel and the Demon are the same. They have patterns of belief and behavior by which they abide, but they do not follow those patterns because of their inherent moral implications. The Angel does grant blessings to the Church because it believes that they are the good and right thing to do, but only because that is what the Angel does.
“The Demon, by the same token, does not behave the way it does because it desire to be evil. It does not even understand our concept of evil, or good, in the visceral way that we feel those things. Like the Angel and the Sphinx, it is only behaving according to its pattern and its goals.”
The young man paused long enough that the King felt he was expected to say something. “What are its goals? What are any of their goals?”
“Influence,” the young man said. “That’s all they’ve ever really cared about. The Angel’s influence is the most obvious, since it has caused the creation of the Church in its name.”
“The Church doesn’t worship the Angel,” the King countered. “We worship the Gods.”
“I do not believe the Gods exist,” the young man said. “I think that is a deception. The Sphinx and the Demon agree with me. The Angel will not comment.”
“But the Angel says…”
“Review your scriptures,” the young man said. “Task your scholars with going through them line-by-line and word-by-word. You will find no mention of the Gods. Bring the head of the Church before you. He, too, has a pact with the Angel, although he does not have any other pacts to balance its influence.”
“The Angel doesn’t deceive us,” the King said. “It can’t! If what you say is true, even if the Angel isn’t good, it acts only in accordance with its own behaviors. The Angel values truth. It can’t lie.”
“It can’t lie explicitly, but it can lie by omission,” the young man said. “Or perhaps the Angel itself has been deceived, and it truly believes that there are deities higher than itself in power.”
“If you truly —” the King began, but he couldn’t finish the thought, for to do so would be to once again express doubt that this man had formed a pact with the Angel. He had more than proven that he had. “Why is the Angel allowing you to say this?”
“The Angel is not my master,” the young man said. “If I did not bear other pacts, then perhaps it would have more influence upon my behavior. As it stands, the Sphinx’s influence protects me from the other two. I say and do what I wish.
“And besides, I am not working in full opposition to the Angel. So long as I believe I am working for the benefit of the world, the Angel is willing to lend me its support.”
“What do you want from me?” the King asked. He hated himself, in that moment, for the weakness of his question. He looked around the room, at the gathered nobles and other sycophants, and he knew that whatever other effect this pact-laden young man had today, he had weakened the King in the eyes of his followers.
“Listen,” the young man said. “Give me a place in your court, and allow me to help you improve the kingdom.”
The King considered. There was a chance that this young man was truly benevolent in his goals. There was a chance that the nonsense he had spouted was correct. Either possibility both intrigued and intimidated Avold, but it was a third reason that drove him to answer.
“Very well,” the King said. For regardless of the dangers of his words, this young man had power. He bore pacts with three entities, and had not collapsed from the strain. None would dare threaten Avold with this young man in his court. “What is your name?”
“I used to be called Lore,” the young man said. “I suppose that will do, for now.”