"You don't understand," the priest said, his voice dry and old, "Lucifer is an angel of the lord, once among the greatest of them, and under his command a third of the host of Heaven. He will fight to protect this world from these strange demons. He will lay waste those pretenders, these old gods from worlds beyond our reckoning. There will be battle, and their fabulous blood will rain from the sky, and their broken bodies cast into the abyss. All this he will do because he knows that this world...and everything in it...is his. He can do nothing else; it is his nature. Not to bow, not to scrape, never to bend knee or surrender or seek forgiveness, never to relinquish his position or property. He is the rock against which the old ones shall break themselves. The tragedy - the joke - the terror of it all is, he could be nothing else. It is how he was made. It is his purpose. Someone must be the devil, and in his charge is the world entire. Any lesser being could not do what must be done."
Then he fell silent for a time. A long time. Perhaps he dozed, but Mariah thought not. She dropped some change into his cup and stepped over the tired old man in his soiled vestments.
The soul market was held on Thursdays, in one of the old squares of the East Village. Buyers and sellers would set up their tables in the hour before dawn, if they had them, or lay out a blanket. A few of the upmarket brokers kept stalls on the north end, with steel shutters with seven locks they would close down at the end of the day, but they were few and select, and tended to deal in volume rather than cash-on-hand.
Mariah shivered as she watched the quiet activity. There were other people waiting, like her. A business woman in heels smoked, one hand over a too-obvious bulge in her midriff. A young man with a bass strapped to his back and ripped jeans. A big burly man like a linebacker gone to seed, sitting on a portable stool, a child's coffin on his lap. Two teenagers that at first glance looked like Hot Topic goths, but the details were wrong - their jewelry was real silver, patina'd with age, the jeans ripped from age, the ribs showing from hunger, bright scars beneath the elbow-length fishnet gloves.
One old man - he had a wooden stall, on a cart, which had been painted by hand. He set it up in a corner with all the patience and surety as if that space would still be waiting there a century from now. He was short, perhaps a couple inches over five feet, and his green hat was a shapeless mass that concealed his head except a fringe of curly grey hair; his brown leather jacket was carefully patched, and there were pipe stains on his suit pants, but his glasses were new, and his shoes shined.
"Just a moment miss," he said, as he unfolded the front of the stall like a magic box, revealing the counter and the green slate with the prices listed in white chalk. "There we are now. What can I help you with?"
"I...where are the demons?"
He smiled at her, not unkindly she thought, though he was missing both canines.
"Angels, miss. The d-word is a term of art, here, and not one you want to misuse. But you're wondering about the brokers." He waved a hand at the other shopkeeps, some of whom were talking to a gentleman in a suit, pointing to their cardsweeps. The old man frowned at the commotion. "Must be an issue with the wifi. This used to be a cash and carry business, you know." He flashed her that incomplete grin once again.
"As for the angels...there are a few, if you look about, but they're not the only ones on the market. They tend to come later in the day - something about the time change. No, most of us here are only human." He clicked his teeth as Mariah nodded. "Or, perhaps something less."
"Now then - I don't suppose you're a reporter?"
"N-no." She swallowed. "I came to...well, a friend told me..."
"Buying or selling?" He said calmly.
"Selling." She said too quickly.
"Well, let's chat." He said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "And perhaps we can do business."