Striding along the wide corridor, he runs his hands over the grooves in the intricately carved marble bannister, wishing he didn’t have to return to earth. From his unique perspective, he admires the sunrise peeking through the drifting clouds. One step off the path and he could be among them, peaceful. Knowing he can’t turn away from his responsibilities, he turns his back on the perfect kaleidoscope of pastel colour and pushes through the heavy gold doors.
He enters the vast hall to see his fellow angels huddled in groups, talking urgently. Pausing at the top of the polished white steps, his eyes flick over the gathering to see if everyone is present. Metatron sits at the central table, his quill inked, his eyes pouring over a fresh, white page. Gabriel, his dark hair flowing into the collar of his shirt, flits from one group the next, laying a calming hand on shoulders and speaking in soft tones.
He scans the room, wondering if God will come. But it is Azrael his eyes rest on. All that red leather in a sea of neutral colours, she’d stand out anywhere. Cracking one of her snake-like whips, the nearest group of angels startles. She earns herself a few scowls in the process. He knows little of the life she lived on earth, only that her feisty demeanour saved thousands and is what rose her to sainthood, and then to becoming an angel.
With his footsteps echoing on the marble floor, he walks to the centre of the room and catches Michael’s eye. They nod at each other, both aware of the importance of this gathering.
“Any sign of Him?”
Michael shakes his head.
Within earshot, Azrael smirks, fidgeting with a series of leather bracelets on her wrist. “He hasn’t been around for the last century, what makes you think He’s going to turn up now?”
Walking to the central table, he sighs.
A screen covers the top of the large gilded table and, brushing a finger across it, Michael brings it to life. A map of earth stretches out across the screen, burbling with activity. “North and South Korea at it again.” He points to the eastern side of the world. Magnifies that area and reveals tanks rolling across malnourished rice paddies. “Iran are developing nukes in a secret bunker. No one knows. Yet.” Michael swipes a finger over the Middle East and the image of a laboratory slides onto the screen. Scientist are at work. The shape of the nuke is unmistakable. “And let’s not forget that factory in Russia.” The next image to fill the screen is a smoking factory dumping toxic waste into the Barents Sea. “It goes on.”
“I know,” he says softly.
Azrael smirks again. “And God has left the building.”
“Azrael!” Michael says.
The red-clothed angel shrugs her shoulders. Two of her scarlet wings shrug with her. “What? I’m just saying how it is.”
He gives her a half smile. “If you want Him to return, you need to be more respectful.”
“Return?” Azrael gapes at him, her eyes stony with sarcasm. “He went to have a little chat with Satan and never came back.”
“Well, Satan hasn’t returned either,” Gabriel says. “So we can only assume They’re still battling it out somewhere.”
“Can we?” Azrael narrows her blood-red eyes.
Michael waves a hand over the table and the images disappear. “We’re not here to talk about God, or Earth’s atrocities.”
Bristling, Azrael gives a small jut of her chin, conceding the point. With fondness, he smiles at her. She is a younger angel and still wears her emotions close to her wings. Or perhaps she will always be like that.
“We better get to it then,” he says.
Michael clears his throat. The other angels gathered in the great hall look up, wariness flashing through their ancient expressions. The hum of conversation dwindles as they all squeeze around the great table. Wings are tucked in or hover overhead as they make room for each other.
Michael nods at him. “You’re the one who uncovered the information.”
He steps up to the table and raises his voice so the gathering can all hear. “There’s been an increase in demon activity on Earth.” Mutterings ripple around the group. Azrael cracks her whip and the angels fall silent again. “I can only assume, they’re aware of a transformation about to occur.”
Metatron pipes up and jabs his quill in the air as he speaks. “Is it the ancient bloodline?”
He nods. “We have to assume it is. Perhaps we didn’t eradicate all the lines. Judging by the demon activity on earth, and the bizarre weather patterns, it looks likely that a powerful demon birth is imminent.”
“So what?” Azrael’s red wings move as she shrugs. A scarlet feather floats lazily in the air and comes to rest on the white table. Like a drop of blood. “If there’s a transformation, we’ll kill it.”
“The offspring comes from the longest line of demons. From the first. Satan. We’ll have to kill it before it turns,” he says.
“But that’s…murder.” Metatron’s voice drops to a whisper. “The whole point of our existence is to look out for them.”
He considers for a moment. He’s had this debate with himself for countless moons. And sunrises. Standing out on the corridor that drops off into the clouds, watching them scud by, reflecting, debating, until he came to the same conclusion each time. “We’ll be saving humanity. I won’t risk humanity on the chance the offspring remains human.”
“How can you be so sure?” Metatron asks. “What if it doesn’t transform?”
He bows his head. “Then that’s a cross I’ll have to bear. But we can’t take the risk. All the signs are pointing to the ancient line. It could be the end of angels, Heaven. God, even.”
“And you think the offspring will be in…” Michael consults the map. “In Woking?”
He nods. “That’s where the concentration of activity seems to be. There are also a few new angels undergoing their first transformation. More than the ground angels can cover. Mass transformations like that don’t happen unless something big is about to go down.”
Michael magnifies the town of Woking on the map. Within the screen, people rush from shop to shop, hunched into their jackets to protect against the blustery day. A mid-sized town, not far from London, a commuter town and unremarkable in every way.
“Go to earth,” Michael says to him. “Take the seraphim and infiltrate yourself into society. Warn the ground angels. Locate the demon. And kill it.”
“Please, can’t we wait to see if it turns?” Cassiel asks, with watery eyes.
He shakes his head. “It will be too late by then.”
Gabriel rests a hand on his shoulder. The pressure and the heat of his touch is almost too much to bear. “You’ll need your weapons. Heaven’s weapons.”
He nods, revealing the weapon tucked at his side. In Heaven, it glows with a golden hue.
Azrael cracks her whip and leaves a golden shimmer in the air. “Like nothing else on Earth.” She grins.
“Well, that’s because they’re not made on Earth,” he says.
“I know. Heaven’s eternal fire. You’ve told be. A hundred times,” she says, mirth making her eyes twinkle.
“Study the teenage behaviour before you go,” Michael says. “You need to fit in.”
Azrael rolls her eyes. “School? Really? Again? What a cesspit of selfishness.”
“The transformation takes place in the seventeenth year. That’s just how it is.” Gabriel says.
“You never know, it might surprise you,” he says to Azrael, stifling a laugh at her indignation.
Gabriel looks at him seriously. “When you locate the demon. Take it out. Do not hesitate.” He turns to the other angels about to return to earth. “I’ll be nearby. I’ll listen for your calls.”
“Is God going to come back if we kill this demon?” Azrael asks, brushing a hand over her shaved head. Her tattoos gleam in the soft lighting.
Michael’s eyes flicker. “We can only hope.”