by Michael Stone
(read "The Fall of Azaliel and Lorcas" if you want the first bit of the story)
I perch on a rock rimed with frost and gaze at the distant horizon. When my brother Lorcas and I became stranded during a routine reconnaissance of Hell, we’d expected God’s forces to mount a swift rescue operation—and been disappointed when none came.
And so, as the days wore on, we had squatted inside the Bottle—a brass cylinder mounted on cartwheels and powered by holy fire—and braced ourselves to have our squashy bits stamped into the earth by the legions of demons waiting impatiently outside. Instead, when the warding prayers finally expired and we were dragged through the aft porthole, the hordes had simply roughed us up a bit: a bite here, a gouge there, and lot of farting in our general direction. Positively a welcome by demon standards. Probably because we’d looked nothing like angels by then; the presence of sin had corrupted our immortal forms.
The frost makes my tail itch. I scratch it as I stare at the mile-high wall cutting me off from Heaven.
“Forget it,” a voice grates near my ear. “You’re not going back.”
I turn on my rock to face the speaker. “Don’t bet on it, you spiky-faced—oh! Sorry, Lorcas, I—I didn’t recognise you with the, um…” I avert my gaze. Lorcas had been such a beautiful angel with his rosebud lips, baby blue eyes and blond curls. Four days in Hell and his face looks like a porcupine is copulating with it.
Copulating. I shake my head. I shouldn’t even know words like that. The presence of sin has corrupted us spiritually as well as bodily. I go back to contemplating the far-off wall.
“They’ll come for us,” I say, stubbornly
Lorcas tips his head to the milling demons. “Face it, Azaliel, we are just like them now.”
I regard our bodies with sadness. The black scaly skin, stunted wings and the inchoate horns prove his point, and the thing that meets my eyes when I peek under my loincloth isn’t something an angel should be packing either. Lorcas, sadly, has been exploring new avenues with his beastly equipment. He even tried to have his wicked way with me. Only a swift prayer and an even swifter raised kneecap deterred him from exploring my avenue.
“But I don’t feel demonic, Lorcas. I miss life in the Celestial City. I miss—wait, what’s that?” I point to a star in the blood red sky. It descends and the blurry light concentrates into a golden disc. Only one caste of the nine choirs possesses a non-humanoid form.
Lorcas gasps. “It’s a throne!”
“Quick, Lorcas, to the Bottle!”
I run and dive through a porthole. The vessel creaks as the throne exerts its influence, and then lifts gently off the ground. Several demons try to follow. I thrust the stowaways out.
Lorcas is still standing where I left him.
The Bottle is gaining height.
“Lorcas! Quickly, before it’s too late!”
He shakes his head slowly, as one resigned to his fate, then runs and makes a desperate leap. I grab his wrists and haul him inside.
“For a horrible moment there I thought you’d decided to stay.”
The quills on his face wobble as he smiles. “It was something you said, about missing the Celestial City.”
“Yes, it will be good to get back to the choral singing, the mission briefings, the camaraderie…” I trail off when I realise that his smile is a bitter one. “What is it?”
“You think they’ll welcome us back when they see us like this?”
I had no answer, for I had given no thought to what sort of homecoming two corrupted angels would receive. Not a pleasant one, I suppose.
“Then why are you coming back, Lorcas?”
“Because someone missed his welding classes.”
He gestures to the battered Bottle with a talon. “Sin got in and touched us because someone screwed up the welds. We never stood a chance.”
“The cherubim do the welding.”
His coal-red eyes narrow to slits. “I know.”
We kick out a side panel as we pass over mile-high gates. Overhead, the throne hums a rousing hymn, while far below verdant fields form a pastoral quilt, pierced here and there by pearlescent minarets. There is an uneasy feeling in my throat. I think it is anger or resentment, or something equally foreign.
Lorcas follows my gaze, and the spines on his face rearrange themselves into a malevolent grin. “What say we go kick some cherubic ass, Azaliel?”
I try to hold back the words on my tongue, before succumbing to the uneven struggle.
“Fucking A, brother.”
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