On the forty-first night, the tempter once again visited the desert. He wore the form of a buzzard, circling around the wasted figure that dragged itself through the dunes.
“These constant tests. What kind of creature is so unsure of its subjects that he must test their fidelity again and again?”
The bird hopped closer and closer as it spoke.
“We could be kings, you and I. The world would open to us like a lotus in bloom. All you need do is kneel down and worship me instead of him.”
The buzzard grew to many times its size, and clutched the frail son of God in its talons. He did not fight, though he wished to with all his heart. He was too weak. Hunger plagued his every thought, hunger and thirst and… doubt. Ascending through the clouds, the creature of darkness continued its pitch.
“What has he done for you that I cannot do? Birthed you and abandoned you in this land of men? You know what he has in store. Dreams of laceration and crucifixion, I’ve seen them. Your God, he will feed you to these creatures. And for what—their salvation?”
Approaching the snowy peak of a high mountain, the buzzard set him down gently in the frigid wasteland.
“He is gone, if ever he was there. Left you to your fate: Death among those who will pay you lipservice for centuries. Who will use your name as an excuse for their own hatreds. Tell me, where is the divine in that?”
The buzzard began to shrink and transform. Talons turned into feet, dark and calloused. Wings became hands, hard yet perfectly manicured. His beady eyes became fuller, but did not lose their smolder. He did not grow clothes, but stood in the shadows, naked and roped with muscle. He approached the fallen Son of God, who shivered. Walking through the snow, the Prince of Darkness gave no sign he himself noticed the cold.
“Your father, up on high, offers you nothing but pain. I offer-” The black prince paused to smile, “-something a little more alluring.”
He helped the Son to his feet. They stood at the mountain’s peak, looking down at the world. As if sensing their gaze, the clouds fled, allowing them a glimpse of Earth and all its kingdoms. The Prince’s hands caressed him, and the Son felt a warmth unlike any he had felt before. He tried to remember his Mother’s face. Her words, telling him of his great and terrible fate. Their comfort felt so far away.
“He demands our forgiveness, promises us a grand paradise. I have been there, O Wise Son. It is as easily taken away as it is granted. We are as easily cast from His grace as taken to His bosom.” The Prince choked on every ‘He’ and ‘His’ like they were the greatest curse he could use. In his dark eyes burned a mad fire, a dark hatred for the Creator. This anguish, it repelled and attracted the son. The doubts, they mirrored his own. Those he dared never admit, even to himself on bleak nights.
Looking at his own hands, the frail son began to contemplate the power he wielded, and the things he might do. Wonders he could achieve and, for once, in his own name. What is life, if the only point is to die for others? He began to listen to the ranting Prince.
“Kings, Morningstar and Christ, masters of their own fate. Some part of you,” Lucifer looked the Man of God up and down, “Yes some part knows this is what should be.”
All his objections felt so far away. God’s grace, a distant memory, an illusion. Perhaps it had always been so.
“I-I don’t,” Finally the Son spoke, “I don’t think I-”
“Don’t think, feel.” The Dark Prince spun the Son so that they faced each other. He took both of Christ’s hands and held him close. He began to dance him slowly across the mountain, under a pale, purple moon. Wind rushed across the peak, throwing a dusting of snow into the air. They swung through the misting in the cold, slow, sensuous steps. The wind tousled his long, dirty hair and the Son realized—he did not feel the least bit cold.
“Christ, what do you feel?”
“I… I feel.” Suddenly the dark prince, with full crimson lips, bent forward and interrupted the son with a kiss. A dam inside him swelled and broke open. All doubts washed away. All fear drowned.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
The Father, as per usual, spoke with nothing but silence.