I know your kind, he said. What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.
Demons are almost always boring.
It really doesn’t take much to make someone go wrong. A minor frustration, the wrong comment at the wrong time. Somewhat counterintuitively, the more powerful the demon, the less power is ever revealed: it is the weak, the graspers and posers, who compete amongst each other to rain down the most spectacular calamities; those of age and power compete amongst each other, quite contrarily, to see how little they can do to ruin a soul. Beginners want to hurl hellfire; old-timers want to see how gently they can kick out the stool.
This is a challenge because we make it so easy. We, the people. The wisest of demons know that it takes so little to send us astray because we are always trying to go astray. To go wrong, the strongest of us may need a push, or a nudge; most of us, just a distraction.
Consider the demon whose preference is avarice. He doesn’t want you to get rich; rather, he knows your desire for wealth, and wants to use that desire to bring you low. The novice demon might find it spectacular to engineer a horrific situation where, through some concatenation of efforts, you end up thrown into a pool of molten gold. The experienced1 demon might engineer a situation where the temptation to embezzle is there, and resisted as selfish… and then a loved one falls ill.
Or consider the demon whose preference is lust. The restrained man might fight mightily against his impulses and be forever faithful to his wife. No harlot could draw his touch. Where he will more likely fall is when, walking hand-in-hand with his wife, he allows the quickest of sidelong glances at a passing woman.
The beginner tries to engineer the end result. The old hand creates the beginning. And everyone fails the same way: slowly, and then all at once.
It really doesn’t take much. Consider the man on his way to give at the almshouse. There are many ways to prevent that charity; but the simplest may be just to remind him that it’s lunchtime. Or the man endeavoring on an important but unpleasant labor: let the thought occur to him that the task, at rock bottom, need not be completed today. It takes some not-insignificant energy to introduce a comely young lady into a proto-lecher’s life; easier, then, to remind him that his wife is as old as he.
Demons are almost always boring. That’s why they’re so scary.
It doesn’t take much to ruin someone. It is the easiest thing in the world, because it doesn’t take much force to get someone to do what they wanted to do anyway. Just a nudge. It’s much harder to fill a tub than to pull out the stopper. Easy as tipping a glass off a table.
I do think the how is more boring than the why. More later.
1 It is left as an exercise for the reader as to whether the experienced demons simply seek to minimize their efforts, or if they are simply weary and no longer impressed by spectacle, or whether it is a more difficult sort of competition. The most refined taste is indistinguishable from happy accident, and the master is simply he who performs the basics best.