Everything was a whirlwind of beautiful orange, red and yellow as the leaves swirled around his feet. Up in the trees, dead gray branches were losing their seasonal decorations, left to hibernate for the colder season that was upon the Earth. Daniel much preferred Autumn over the other seasons. It was a quiet time; humans seemed happier after absorbing all of that sunlight from the summer. Lower death counts. He wasn’t in pain nearly as often, and he spent a lot of time amongst the humans watching them live their lives so normally.
He found them both fascinating and infuriating. In a second, they could repent their wrongdoings, and in the next, they would repeat their actions. Their ancestors held the original stories of Yahweh in their minds and yet they chose ignorance because it was easier. Because the rules were less hard to abide by. It was the reason he both loathed and loved his duties to Araboth. Purifying them, bringing them home, proving to them that Angels and Gods are real. It was Daniel’s purpose, as Yahweh had told him numerous times before.
None of the other Celestia quite understood. They respected what he did, but there were constant whispers about his bleak outlook on the human race, and most of all, the low tolerance for pain that seemed to incapacitate him whenever he had to save a soul.
But when he was with the humans, he couldn’t hear the quiet murmurings of his kin. He was absorbed in the lives of the humans; their drama, their woes, their happiness, and their ignorance. At the same time that he wanted to shake them all and force them to believe, he wanted to be like them and forget the reasons and forget the pain.
“Just because you can’t hear them, doesn’t mean they’ve stopped talking.” A voice that he knew well penetrated his thoughts. A brother and a mentor. A friend. A confidante. With dark hair sweeping over his forehead, and stunning bright blue eyes, Iblis approached Daniel with hands inside of strange, human clothes. Jeans. And a coat that looked to be made of wool. “They worry about you, Daniel. Spending so much time among the humans is something others have Fallen for.”
Daniel scoffed and shook the sandy hair on top of his head. “I don’t lust after them, Iblis. They’re filthy. All of them. The Nephilim are beginning to Fall and it has nothing to do with the humans.”
“It’s because the Fallen get to them so quickly.” They were standing, facing each other on a busy street. Humans passed them by, not seeing and not feeling them. “I’ve been telling Michael for years that we need to guard them from birth. He won’t listen.”
“He’s too proud.” A light chuckle left Daniel. “What are you doing here, Iblis?”
His eyes scanned the crowd for a moment. The beat of silence gave Daniel time to really look at his brother. He seemed happier than Daniel had seen him in centuries. There was a glow about him. And he was more smug. Even for Iblis, who enjoyed wading in his uncanny ability to know things others did not. The faint hint of a smirk never quite left his face.
“I was informed that Levi would be here.”
“What is Levi here for?” Daniel was intrigued . They hadn’t heard much from Leviathan since he Fell so long ago. He’d taken two humans and produced two Nephilim from them. Daniel had been able to save one, but the other had been taken by the Fallen. “He’s not going to create another, is he?”
“Gor said that he was going to survey the prospective humans with Delilah.” Iblis shrugged, looking nonplussed. He lifted his hand and picked something off of his shoulder and rolled it between his thumb and finger. “Delilah always has been a whore.”
“Why are they creating so many Nephilim now? It doesn’t make sense. We save at least half of what they create.”
“Israfel wants an army.” Their eyes met and Daniel felt weighed down to the spot under the intensity of their blue on blue stare. “We’ve known this since he Fell. He wants to prove to Yahweh that he’s better.”
“Either way, there’s your reason.” Iblis stuffed his hands into his pockets and pretended to shiver with a smile on his face. “Cold here, innit?”
Daniel laughed. “How can you even wear that?” When Iblis cocked an eyebrow and tilted his head, Daniel clarified, canting a shoulder to indicate Iblis’s coat. “Isn’t uncomfortable around the wings?”
“Nah. Can’t even tell they’re bunched up in there, to be honest.” He began moving forward, bustling past Daniel with a steady, angelic pace. “Let’s walk, try and find Levi and Delilah.”
They were instep, whipping through the crowd without being noticed. No one budged as they slammed shoulders or accidentally pushed them into objects on the street. It was a completely different plane of existence.
Daniel turned his head toward his brother as they walked and searched. “Gor? He’s never given us useful information before.”
“Gor owed me a favor for bringing him the two-headed cat. You know how sick he is – likes anything that’s a deformity of nature.”
“Why did you help him in the first place?” Their pace slowed as they approached a break in the sidewalk. Over their heads was a large, cement and iron sign. The entrance to a park. “We’re not obligated to anyone but the humans.”
“I do it because I can. Give a little, get a little. Honestly, I thought that your time among the humans would teach you that much, Daniel.”
“They’re like sheep,” Daniel noted, eyes drawn to a couple that were pressed against a tree trunk. “They can’t function without each other. It’s like they’re addicted to each other. And they seem to hate each other. And everything they don’t understand. And everything that isn’t perfect. I’ve learned a lot about irony from them.”
Iblis’s laughter at his side stopped Daniel on his endless list of all the things he found wrong with humans. “Humans can teach us about interaction. We’ve only ever lived in Araboth. Look at how much more advanced they are. They can even love differently than we can.”
“Yes.” Daniel’s tone was biting sarcasm. “They can love each other’s neighbors and wives and children, even. They can have four partners in a bed at one time, or forgo their wives for their pets. Do you know they actually incinerate their dead pets?”
“What do you even care about that? The pets go with the Timbrae.”
“It’s just wrong, isn’t it?” Daniel nodded toward the humans that were kissing under a leafless oak tree.
Daniel struggled to find an answer. He was focused on the couple against the tree. A blond girl, shorter than the boy by a head, at least. Their lips were touching, and his hand was on her chest in a way that caused a bubble of revulsion. No, he never felt that way. He never felt the lust that the Celestia were supposedly susceptible to. Just watching the actions of the couple against the tree made him feel sick to his stomach.
“Because it’s wrong. All they’re doing is breeding more cattle.”
“You know,” Iblis began lightheartedly, putting his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. He steered them away from the couple. “Those references to livestock should probably stop before our brothers start whispering about you having an affinity for them.”
Daniel’s disgusted gaze met his brother’s, whose was the exact opposite and shrouded and mirth and jest. He shook his head, pursing his lips. “It’s a metaphor.”
They walked through the park on a dark, asphalt pathway that was lined with miniature, white picket fences. As Daniel looked one way, Iblis looked another. The sun was beginning to set by the time that they reached the other end of the park, and still they had spotted nothing. Daniel felt disappointed, frown lines appearing both at his lips and between his eyebrows.
“Looks like Gor lied. Are you really surprised?”
“No.” Iblis’s voice had gone distant, causing Daniel to look in the same direction. “He didn’t.”
In the middle of the open field of the park, three figures stood out, silhouetted in the falling sun. One, much taller than the other two, hovered closely to the obviously female body. Delilah. The ringlets of curly hair fell around her round face. She looked ghostly next to her company.
“How about that,” Iblis said too cheerfully for Daniel’s liking. “Looks like someone kept their word.”
Daniel only had a moment’s notice; Iblis took off like a shot toward Delilah, Levi and the human they had dragged with them. He slowed down as he approached them. He would never trust them. The only reason he was still around was for Iblis.
“Mara,” Iblis said, and Daniel heard the desire plain in his voice. It startled him, and yet he stood rooted to his spot, unable to move. A human? Iblis was lusting after a human girl?
“Iblis!” Daniel called warningly, watching his brother approach the girl with a gently hand outstretched to her face. “What are you doing? I thought you said-”
“I lied.” It rolled from his lips with such ease, Daniel actually shuddered. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, brother. What? Are your saintly morals unable to comprehend what you’re seeing?”
A tittering laughter mocked Daniel, whose eyes immediately sought its owner. Delilah, with a wide grin and sparkling brown eyes. She raised a hand and waved playfully. Daniel’s face twisted in a sneer. He almost growled at her. “Aw, Daniel. You’re much too precious. What did you tell him, Iblis? That you were going on the hunt for a poor, defenseless human? We know he loves them so much.”
Iblis laughed; crueler than it had been before. “I told him the truth, though I omitted what really had me searching for you. Gor asked that I give you this as a token of gratitude for all that you’ve done.”
Daniel watched as Iblis pulled a small, golden bird from his coat. It tweeted in his hand, an annoying and high pitched sound. He had no idea what it was for, but he knew that if the Fallen wanted it, it was valuable. Indeed, because Delilah snatched it away from Iblis and passed it to Leviathan. “Stow it away; we can’t use it now.”
“What is it?” Iblis asked, and Daniel found himself torn between attempting to fight them all and listening to gather more information. “A trinket?”
Delilah’s responding laugh was loud, booming, and sinister. “A trinket? It’s much more than that.”
“What are you doing here? Why did they take me from home?” A softer, frightened voice broke through the dark silence that followed. “My husband, where is he?”
Iblis’s attention immediately left Delilah and Levi. He reached out to Mara and stroked a single finger down the side of her face. “It doesn’t matter. You’re with me now.”
“No!” It was the first time that Daniel had budged since the whole devastating scene began. His wings spread widely and he flew, crashing straight into Iblis. With his hands pinning Iblis’s shoulders down, having the advantage of his full, winged weight on top of the other Angel, he pleaded. “You can’t! You’ll Fall if you do. She’s just a human girl!”
“I want her!” Iblis shouted, a drop of spit landing on Daniel’s cheek. “Ever since I helped Gabriel heal her, I’ve wanted her. Daniel. I want her.”
Daniel shook his head and forced his hands more firmly against his shoulders. “No. You can’t. You love Araboth. You’re an Angel, Iblis. Not one of the Fallen.”
“I’ve already betrayed you, brother.” Iblis struggled, but Daniel kept him down. “Let me get to her, or so help me G-”
“Don’t – don’t you dare take his name in vain.” Daniel was fuming, his eyes narrowed and wet. His hair was falling into his face and his muscles were twitching with fury. “She’s just a girl. A human girl.”
“While this has all been fun,” came the voice of Levi, deep and gravelly, “we must get back. Thank you for your assistance, Iblis. Your reward shall be waiting.”
A moment of weakness, Daniel turned his head back to watch Delilah and Leviathan leave, but they were already gone. In a beat, he was flat on his back with Iblis above him. Tears of rage swelled in his eyes. He reached back and slammed his fist to the side of Daniel’s face. Despite his instinct to defend himself, Daniel remained still and allowed Iblis to continue on. Blow after blow struck him, but he refused to flinch. Daniel’s face began to break under the pounding. Finally his cheek split open and bone crunched. Iblis paused.
Iblis obviously realized the grave mistake he was about to make. Daniel took pity on his brother and tried to soothe him. Droplets fell onto Daniel’s face, and it wasn’t’ until he opened his eyes that he realized Iblis was crying. Sobs racked the Angel above him, and instead of berating or lecturing, Daniel reached a hand up to the side of his brother’s face and caressed him delicately.
Iblis would Fall in time, Daniel thought despite feeling ashamed. It would not be today, not in the park and not while he still had Daniel by his side. But, he knew that his brother was not strong enough to fight the temptation of the human girl forever.
“I’ll take you home,” Daniel said tenderly through swollen lips. He took a deep breath and allowed a small smile to appear on his face.