In the Beginning

Azazel’s unwanted visitor refused to leave. As he stretched out his wings to capture more of the late afternoon sun, he saw her waiting patiently by the gate to his villa. Silent and unmoving, she’d been there since dawn. Even without looking at her, Azazel knew she was bet siir. Angels still connected to the Creator radiated power so palatable it made the humans tending his fields nervous. He smiled to himself. Good thing they couldn’t see the wings.

A servant approached Azazel on the roof with an unrequested cup of beer in hand. The man made a showy display of sweeping imaginary dirt off the roof before setting up a small table an arm’s length away from Azazel, then positioning the beer in the center of the table.

Finished with his routine, the servant asked, “I wonder what the lady traveler requires of us this fine day, my lord?”

Azazel bit back a sigh and reached for the beer. What he wouldn’t give for one hour of solitude. For generations, the people of Kush worshiped him as a minor deity. The idea looked a lot better on  parchment than in real life. Daily offerings of food and drink, animals and even family members grew especially tiresome after two hundred years. What did they expect him to do with seventeen goats and half a dozen spinster aunts?

“Don’t worry. I’ll attend to it,” Azazel said.

The man smiled with relief, then bowed while stepping backwards down the stairs. Slip. Come on. Fall. Just this once. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The man disappeared into the villa without incident. Azazel sipped the beer and ran a mental checklist of the villagers’ — his worshipers’ concerns. Unpoison a well. Give three farmers more robust livestock. Provide a merchant with beautiful wife number three. Suppress a boil outbreak. On and on and on. No wonder the Creator ran away, and the archangels shut themselves off from humans. More than once he’d considered letting famine and plague, a constant in their short lives, win for a change.

Perhaps she’d waited long enough. He finished the beer then launched himself into the air from the roof. In a low glide, Azazel covered the short distance in less than a minute. He landed on his side of the gate with a flourish, snapping his wings shut behind him.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Azazel asked, masking his face in a stern expression.

The angel before him was young, a few thousand years out of Watcherhood at the most. Her midnight blue hair hung to her waist in a tight, intricate braid. The plain, white linen top criss-crossed her chest in an X shape that hugged her full breasts and the matching loose-fitting long pants did little to hide her generous hips and ample bottom. Hmm. Today was looking up. She wore no jewelry or ornamentation announcing her status. It came as no surprise they’d sent an ordinary drone to his door. In the many years since his Fall, Azazel made a habit of staying out of celestial affairs, hidden from the archangels’ attention.

“My name is Charouth. I belong to Zagzagel,” she said, hand grazing the angelic brand on her neck. “He wishes to purchase part of your coffee harvest for his personal use,” she added. Her silver eyes fixed on him with a cool, impersonal stare. Charouth showed no fear, no revulsion. Well I’ll be damned. Had they stopped feeding new angels the propaganda of the Fallen? Was she too slow-witted to care? Azazel had encountered twelve bet siir since his Fall, each looked upon him with disgust.

Curiosity piqued, Azazel opened the gate, gesturing with a wing for her to enter. Even as a young angel, Charouth was powerful enough to bypass any resistance he could offer, take whatever she wanted and dare him to stop her. Instead, she waited an entire day for him to approach her and allow her to enter. Very well. Azazel was in a generous mood today. Perhaps Zagzagel would get his coffee after all.

“Come this way. We can review the contract in my office,” he said.

She followed a close, but relaxed distance. Her presence was professional, yet comforting. She seemed aware of what behaviors annoyed him and put effort into toning down the condescension. Huh.

Azazel led her through the spacious villa, past the center courtyard with a decorative pond surrounded by desert flowers in full bloom. At last, they reached a back room where he kept records and conducted business. These days Azazel relished his privacy and few visitors saw this part of his home. He preferred to conduct most transactions in the front, more public rooms, yet he wanted to show off for Charouth. It was important she knew he lived the good life. Why did he want to impress a young bet siir? As soon as it registered, he pushed the thought from his mind.

Azazel entered a spacious chamber equipped with a large, ebony desk carved with intricate symbols. Stools and pillows for sitting were strewn across the room. A series of cubbyholes carved into the stone lined the wall behind the desk. Most of the spaces were empty, scrolls scattered on the floor around his desk. None of his human servants touched this space. He liked the concentrated chaos.

With a wide sweep of his wing, he gestured for her to sit at a stool by his desk.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me. Zagzagel will appreciate the courtesy.” She slipped into the seat with grace, a faint hint of the ocean in the air as she closed her wings behind her.

Doubt it. The crotchety overseer of the Hall of Wisdom found fault with everything. While it was fitting an angel as meticulous as this one got stuck with Zagzagel, no one chose to work with the miserable librarian. Service to him was always punishment.

“Who did you anger to wind up working for Zag?” Azazel took a seat behind the desk. He kept his tone casual, but oh how those silver eyes distracted him.

She looked perplexed. “I am bet siir. My service to Zagzagel is no punishment.”

“You chose him?”

“Fallen.” The word was more like a gentle scolding than a curse on her full lips.

Lips he couldn’t stop staring at. Oh, those tricky bastards. What fresh torment had they sent him? Or was this a test for her? It was impossible to know the motivations of the archangels.

“Have you forgotten so quickly? We never choose.” Her eyes held the utmost sincerity and he couldn’t believe they sent someone so naive to his door.

“No, I haven’t forgotten. Lack of free will is what got me banished here in the first place,” Azazel said. It would take much more than a couple of thousand years to make him forget the darkness that consumed him after his Sire, Raphael, cast him out. Angels, Fallen or bet siir, never forgot.

Charouth produced a scroll from the satchel balanced on a well-rounded hip. Well that alone was one reason for impressing her. When it came to her curves, he definitely liked what he saw.

Azazel rolled out the parchment on his desk while Charouth held the corners at the top making it easier for him to read. She had no reaction to him beyond impersonal business pleasantries. He deliberately brushed her fingertips while inspecting the top clause in the contract. Nothing. She didn’t cringe like he had plague. What the hell? Why was she here? Her kind didn’t visit Earthside often. Azazel suspected more behind this arrangement than a cranky angel’s desire for a new beverage.

He looked over the parchment with a careful eye, then suggested some changes and waited while she communicated telepathically with Zagzagel. Of course the librarian had his own amendments. They went back and forth for a few hours until only a sliver of sun remained on the horizon. It was a fair deal. Azazel was especially proud of negotiating Charouth into doing the actual harvesting. The midnight-haired, silver-eyed bet siir intrigued him and he’d enjoy watching her work in his fields. She had a body built for much more delightful pleasures than farm work. What lurked beneath that prim and proper surface? Was this contract a test for him or her? Azazel smiled wide while giving Charouth’s curves a thorough viewing.

“I will return in six months to collect the harvest,” she said as he led her back to the gate.

Charouth’s braid was still perfectly aligned. There wasn’t a spot, nor wrinkle in her linen clothing. Her perfection both annoyed and fascinated him. After she left, Azazel scuttled back to his office. On the left side of his desk, he grabbed an empty sheet of parchment and scribbled out instructions to his most trusted demon contacts. Preparations for Charouth’s return required careful planning. Life had become routine at the villa and tempting a young angel into a little sin was just what he needed to liven things up.