Azrael never liked venturing into the Human world. They were all sacks of bones and meat, filthy and emotional, greedy and lustful creatures from the very beginning. When Father sank his fingers into the dirt and moulded Adam and Lilith out of it, Azrael scoffed. His feelings were of very little importance at the time.
And yet, he had to look after Mankind. He was tasked with taking their souls, the little wisps of energy that made them move and breathe and speak and think for themselves, and returning them to a higher dimension, the unseen plain where all consciousness goes once the physical body has reached its expiration date.
He did his job without a single protest. He took every single soul, one at a time across multiple sheets of time and space, and first released them into the silence. Without a word, without a single thought of disobedience, he plucked them and guided them deeper into Creation. And in the meantime, he watched them. He never intervened.
He just sat back and watched them, as if kicking back and viewing the same episode over and over again: they are born, they suckle at the bosom of the mother, they learn to crawl, then they learn to stand up and walk; they learn to talk and they learn to ask questions. They always have questions, these meat bags.
Why is the Earth round? Why doesn’t he love me back? Why do we suffer? Why did my father die? Why do we die? Why, why why! They never just accept the way in which the universe flows. Their salmon run lasts a lifetime – always upstream, always in the opposite direction, always running away from the inevitable: the end.
He never questioned the order of things, except once. He never told anyone about it either, but when he was still but a sparkle of light, he too wondered why he was there, why he had to do things, why he had to obey, why, why, why. Later on, he could barely remember his initial bewilderment at the sight of what his Father had created. He could barely remember the darkness that he’d been born into.
Time meant nothing to him – just an endless layer of events going in all directions; unlike the Humans, he was able to see it all. Everything there was before the beginning and long after the end, and everything in between – and it wasn’t always a pretty sight.
It was a fine spring day when the order came through. When the peppered smell of change danced under his nose. He was sitting on top of a nameless mountain on Venus, far from the madding crowd. He enjoyed the silence and heat, it relaxed him – hearing nothing but burning winds and lava whistling beneath the orange crust.
At the same time, through another veil, he was collecting the soul of a young Yazidi girl beneath the fresh ruins of Damascus. Her body was torn, her blood glazed the grey chunks of stone rubble and ashes.
A few minutes earlier, on another side of the world, he was guiding an armed robber from Florida into the Silent Hall, where he was to be frowned upon and sent into the care of Sathanus for a while – until he suffered the same fate as his victims, until he repented.
But right there and then, in that singular moment of Creation, Azrael sat on top of the mountain and watched the giant sun rise above the arched horizon. And in that silence and blinding light, Word from the Host poured into his ears: Lilith must die.
What had Lilith done that hadn’t already been forgiven? What was it this time?
You never leave her alone, do you?
It was merely an observation.
So, Azrael obeyed. He stood up and spread his black wings, so large that they spanned across an ocean in his full form. And he flew out to seek Lilith and destroy her.
Somewhere on Earth, in a glass office in the heart of East London, she sat and flipped over printed PowerPoint slides. Most people would review them directly on the computer, but she preferred the feel of paper against her fingertips. She was old fashioned like that.
She could hear her assistant on the phone, on the other side of the double doors. She could hear the humming and gurgling of car engines just ten floors down. And she could hear the nervous heartbeat of the man sitting in front of her desk, uncomfortably straight in the leather chair. She pretended to care more about the presentation than the pestilence occupying her space. But that was how the gag worked.
‘Miss… Are you deliberately ignoring me?’
Lilith kept her gaze fixed on the papers in her hands, feet up on the desk – black heels and lipstick red soles pointing straight at him. She smiled.
‘Not at all. I was told you wanted to speak to me, so I obliged. I’m here. I’m listening. And yet all you can do is scoff and expect my undivided attention when you haven’t even earned it. By all means, talk, and if I find it of any interest, I will acknowledge your presence.’
The man stood up and straightened his fine tailored suit. Indignation reddened his face in uneven blotches.
‘You are deliberately insulting me, young lady!’
‘Not at all, Minister. I am treating you the same way in which you treat your wife, your daughter, your executive assistant, and every other woman who crosses your path. I am giving you a taste of your own demeanour before you attempt it on me.’
Yet again, she refused to look at him. Instead, a charming smirk accentuated her breath-taking beauty. He desired her more than anything else. And he hated himself for it. It was that very hatred that fuelled him – had it not been there, he would’ve grovelled and begged for a taste of her.
‘You’ve been buying votes in Parliament, woman!’
And Lilith laughed. She laughed hard, from the bottom of her heart. He stood there, lusting for her and despising her at the same time.
‘I don’t need to buy anything, Minister. People give me their votes, willingly.’
‘You spread your legs for them, woman, don’t think I don’t know!’
Lilith felt her blood simmer. The disrespect, the under-appreciation, the belittlement – all far too familiar. A darkness spread in the corner of her eye, while an undeniable rage stiffened her shoulders.
‘Every time a woman defeats you, you blame it on her sexuality. It’s childish, even after all these millennia.’
The minister opened his mouth to object, but in just one shard of a second Lilith jumped from her chair and across the desk and knocked him back into the chair with one kick – the heel of her shiny black pump rested against his Adam’s apple. She smiled, her Prussian blue eyes promising nothing but pain and torment.
‘You seem to be under the impression that if a woman succeeds, it’s because she offers sexual favours in return. If a woman earns more, it’s because she’s beautiful. If she’s forgiven, it’s because she’s delicate and fragile and whatever else you tell yourselves in order to deny your own emasculation.’
Her heel pushed into his throat. His breath was captive beneath his thin, sealed lips. His frantic heartbeat drummed in her ears. Lilith enjoyed making men suffer. For every woman imprisoned, for every whiplash and stone thrown over promiscuity, for every inch of flesh that burned for so-called witchcraft, she took equal pleasure in paying it back, one phallus at a time.
‘It’s not because she is capable. It’s not because she is smarter. It’s because she is a Woman. Do you know just how many times I have seen this happen? I’ve seen the movie. I’ve read the book. I’ve seen the painting. Over and over again.’
The darkness grew quietly, as if clouds decided to spoil a perfectly sunny day. But she was just about to crush the man’s trachea. A little bit of shade wasn’t going to stop her.
‘And I must say, Minister, you’re quite a pathetic display of a man to begin with. No wonder you feel threatened!’
Lilith laughed. After all, cats sometimes play with their food.
The darkness grew, though.
The air got warm and brushed against her cheeks.
Something felt wrong.
The Minister opened his mouth to say something, but time then stopped. That particular string of time stopped flowing. His eyes were glassy, frozen, pupils fixated on her. Dread had drained the blood from his lips and his breath had stilled beneath her stiletto heel. There was no living statues as pitiful as was in that precise moment.
She had a visitor.
She looked out through the large window that overlooked Shoreditch High Street. Obsidian clouds crystallised against the sky. Yet no one could see them, for they were all linear and physical creatures, unable to see beyond their palpable plain. A shadow bloomed just beyond the glass, covered in a cloak as black as night and floating quietly in the air.
The scythe glistened, yearning to touch another soul. She recognised that hunger, that immaterial insatiability she had once felt herself.
Lilith knew her visitor.
‘Azrael. You’re early.’
The Angel of Death was the one who collected the souls of men, souls that Lilith, too, removed from existence. They knew each other, but only by the proximity of timeless familiarity. What she killed, Azrael took away for Judgment. And without a single exception, they all went to see Sathanus afterwards. One could say that Lilith was keeping the Demon of Wrath in business.
Azrael stood there, in mid-air, his face hidden by his ancient cloak of shadows. His black wings were obedient, fanning gently in a reduced size. His shoulders carried the weight of aeons.
‘You’re never early.’
She removed herself from the desk and stood up straight. She could feel his eyes burning into her. She could feel him looking at her for the very first time since her creation. This was not an ordinary visit.
‘You’re always on time. With Swiss precision, in fact. Or was it German precision? I always forget…’
You know why I’m here, Lilith.
A moment full of firsts, as she heard his voice resonate inside her rib cage. Her lungs vibrated with his deep tone.
‘I’m impressed, Azrael. I never thought your voice would sound so… good,’ Lilith smiled but her knees trembled. He’d never paid attention to her before, and having the Angel of Death pay attention to you was never a good thing. She enjoyed living too much to just let it go.
The order came through. You have to come with me.
‘Oh Death… Won’t you spare me over till another year…’ Lilith’s voice was sweet but it did not speak of seduction. The mistress of the night, the deceiving serpent, as they called her throughout centuries of biblical hysteria, was not interested in seducing Death.
Azrael stepped into the room, passing through the glass pane as if passing through air, wings folding between his shoulder blades. His naked feet never touched the floor, as if feeling the material world would somehow soil him.
His purity was unique, like that of fire cleansing everything before new life could spring towards the sunlight. His figure was immense, dark and imposing, flooding the room with shadows and the vague fragrance of lilies that followed Death around.
I cannot spare you. You’ve upset Father. He wants you dead.
‘Oh Death… Father didn’t have me killed when I stole His wings.’ Lilith laughed, but her tight nerves added a pitch that didn’t belong there. ‘In fact, He left them to me and after a few centuries of whiplashes and demon spawning, He set me free – if you remember.’
The air grew thick between them. Lilith could almost hear his thoughts hidden behind the darkness of his cloak.
‘Don’t judge! That was His command, not my desire. I just wanted freedom and equal rights. I got what I wanted, and paid a heavy price for it.’
The Wings were not of equal standing, Lilith. You had no right to take them.
‘Darling. He had no right to force me out of my home just because I refused to put up with Adam’s flaccid manhood and constant whining. I was always better than him. I should have been the Mother of Mankind, not Eve – look at the bosomed weaklings that came out of her. I’m the one empowering them now, not Adam’s rib. I know it, you know it, the angels know it, and HE knows it. So, His wings were proper retribution for all the drama that followed my departure. I earned them.’
You’ve upset Father. You have to die.
‘Why now? I haven’t done anything that I haven’t been doing since 1641, when I waved Sathanus goodbye.’
It is not my place to question His decisions.
‘Well, it’s definitely mine, since I’m about to kick the bucket. So! What have I done?’
A pair of stars twinkled in the darkness of his cloak. His eyes were bright, and for the first time she could see them clearly – black beads framed by iridescent eyelids, further shadowed by long eyelashes that curved upwards as if reaching for the sky.
For the first time, Azrael looked straight at her and revealed his face as he lifted his head. The First Woman, the one designed to be the Mother of Man, and yet ended up being the Mother of Demons and an antihero of feminism in the so-called 21st century.
I do not know. But you must die.
‘So, you’ve never questioned an order, Death?’
‘And… Are you happy?’
She took a step forward, shortening the distance between them. The air grew heavier, as particles compressed under the pressure between their material forms. Azrael tilted his head slowly, just enough to let the dim neon light above them hit his temple and outline a prominent cheekbone.
I am the Archangel of Death. Happiness was not designed for me.
‘And why not? Because Father said so? He gave Mankind free will and yet we’re supposed to just bow and accept whatever He throws at us? Have you never questioned that?’
YOU are Mankind.
‘No, Death. I am not. I am the reject that never got the chance to mingle with the upright apes and create Mankind. I was replaced by a colourless sliver of Adam’s rib. But I earned my freedom. I am free. I do what I want. Is that why he wants me dead? Because I did things my way? And you’ll just end me, like a good little boy?’
My name is not Death. My name is Azrael.
‘And my name is Lilith. Nice to meet you, Azrael. We see each other a lot these days, and yet you never talk to me, you never look at me, you never acknowledge my existence. But one word from Daddy and you suddenly find the strength to look me in the eye.’
Lilith took yet another step, her perfect face with plump lips and delightful little nose further closing the gap between them. His eyes lingered on her face, the deep crevice between her collar bones and then sank deeper until they met the metallic tips of her shoes and the laminated parquet.
She kept her head high. The prospect of death was new and scary, as only one of God’s children could end her existence since she’d gained possession of the Wings. Plenty others had tried, but failed miserably.
‘Ah, one look at my body and you flinch, just like the rest of them. I’m disappointed.’
At the sound of her words, his black eyes darted back up, and microcosms exploded within them. She’d angered him – yet another accomplishment to cross off the list. She had said Hello to him before, but he had ignored her.
She had thrown pebbles at him as he’d reaped the souls she’d ended, but he had not reacted. She had called him names, and yet he never acknowledged her existence. But now she had his undivided attention, and it wasn’t a good thing at all.
I do not flinch. And you are just a demon whore. The world will be better without you.
Her hand darted before she could even think of a proper reaction. The slap was fast and hard, and it threw his head to the side. Before the ensuing millisecond passed, she flashed by the window – her fingers on the glass. Fury lit her eyes, burning in blue flames. Her lips thinned and her nostrils flared.
‘I never chose to consort with demons. I had no other option. YOUR Father put me in there. I wanted freedom. I wanted equal rights,’ her voice rose into a thunder, as her beautiful white wings expanded behind her. Feathers the length of street lamps fanned out, as the mild neon light hit them and refracted into a sea of white – like blinding snow under the sun. Flickers of gold shimmered on their edges.
Lilith. It is not my choice.
‘Oh, Lilith! Not demon whore! He does know who I am! I’ll tell you what, Reaper. If Father wants me dead because I want freedom and equality, then He can kill billions of his Human women too, while He’s at it! They want the same thing as I do. They fight for the same rights. Father should kill them too.’
The glass shattered beneath her fingertips. Billions of crystals splintered and moved apart, away from each other. They spread out and slowly headed outwards over the high street – a silent and frozen shower of glass particles.
‘Tell you what, Reaper. The day you tell me WHY Father wants me dead NOW – is the day I will consider death. Until then, keep brooding for the both of us!’
Lilith jumped. Her wings flapped once, twice and she became but a small black dot in the sky. Azrael moved towards the edge. Time was still, and the glass hung in the air. The pieces that Lilith had hit with her wings floated further away, suspended in zero gravity and nudged by an external force.
He watched her disappear in the distance, beyond the obsidian skies. She was a sight to behold, and she hadn’t even displayed those splendid wings at their full size.
For the first time since he was but a spark in the darkness, he wondered.
Why does Father want Lilith dead?
He decided to slowly fly after her, and time resumed its peaceful flow. Glass crumbled onto the floor and out in the street, showering and cutting those walking by. And the Minister gasped, as the heel in his throat was no longer there. Screams and horns erupted from below, and winds whistled as they burst through the office and swept rogue papers around and ruffled up the Minister’s comb-over.