If there was ever a land where Greed would thrive like wheat fields in the summer rain, it was dazzling Las Vegas. The psychedelic array of lights, the throngs of seductresses inviting men to take a seat at a velvet covered tables, the clicks and clacks of plastic chips, the crinkling of coins, the chimes and bells deceivingly announcing a new winner while another gambles away his son’s college fund in order to quench the thirst, the rush for riches and power – it was a carnival of colourful lights, loud music and rivers of bourbon to drown out the lies.
Outside the Circus Circus Casino, a neon clown as tall as a building invited the hungry inside its tent-like palace – slot machines, blackjack tables and roulettes awaited to feed those starving for dollar bills, while private booths and strip shows yearned to soothe those starving for naked flesh, restaurants welcomed those in need of trans-fats to gorge on their deep-fried everything with a side of onion rings, and luxuriously decadent bars invited those seeking oblivion to quench their thirst in rivers of cabernet, single malt and crafty cocktails with naughty names. And people – they listened to the clown’s calls and flashy displays of meal deals and special discounts.
People of all ages poured inside – bachelors looking to score both money and sex, desperate fools who sought the one great game that would solve their debt problems, degenerate gamblers who desperately needed their fix of adrenalin in the face of bankruptcy. Honest men, good men went in there every night.
And as the sun bloomed over Nevada’s indigo skies, they all came out corrupted, transformed. It wasn’t a visible change – just a darkness creeping into their souls, a moral cancer that whispered ideas of overnight wealth if they kept coming back to play. And like that, with the single pull of a lever and the single throw of a pair of dice, they belonged to Mammon.
He had many names. Many confused him with Beelzebub, the faceless face of Gluttony. But Greed was different. Gluttony was incontrollable, it was consumption, it was eating beyond your physical means, both physically and spiritually. It was a disease – and Beelzebub had to touch people personally in order to enslave them. Greed, on the other hand, never forced itself on anyone.
Mammon considered himself to be a manifestation of human nature, certainly not a demon. He opened doors, he showed people what they could have, and how easily their wildest dreams could be accomplished, and he put wealth within their reach. Greed was persuasive, seductive, he was handsome and dominant, and he had amassed an empire in the palm of his hand. Millions came every year, an endless stream of souls desperate to hear his songs of opulence and sparkling fortunes. And he loved each and every one of them.
It was a Saturday night, and the Circus was full. Each room was booked – couples on their honeymoon, stag and hen groups preparing for a night of sheer debauchery, married men and their mistresses guzzling down strawberries and champagne, and one very special guest in the Skyrise Tower Room.
Lilith preferred the view of Las Vegas’ skyline, scratches of lights and majestic towers against the starry night and its porcelain moon. On top of that, this particular arrangement included a complimentary dinner with Beluga caviar and a bottle of 1998 Krug vintage. She was in the middle of changing her clothes – the flight across the North Atlantic had been a turbulent one, zigzagging through storms and pewter clouds. She pulled the black lace-top stocking over her right thigh, and clipped the silk suspender straps to it.
Her skin glistened under the dim buttermilk light of the crystal chandelier above. She slipped into the red lace dress as the fine and intricate design tightened against her hourglass figure. The sleeves were long and her back was naked as she admired herself in the tall mirror. She hung a pair of diamond clusters in her ears and, as she picked up the matching necklace from her dressing table, the phone rang.
Miss Lilith, he’ll see you now.
With a smile, she put on her shiny nude stilettos and sprayed a bit of perfume essence against her neck. She walked out, her jet-black mane pulled and twisted on the top of the head in a luscious ballerina bun.
Downstairs, on the ground level, hidden far behind the casinos and bars and restaurants, was the circus arena – a space dedicated to clowns and acrobats and magicians. Twenty ladies came out riding unicycles in perfect symmetry and coordination, their corsets tight and bejewelled in sparkly shades of honey, coral and berry red.
They smiled and waved at the ecstatic crowd of tourists spilling out of their audience boxes, as the trumpets and tubas played loud and cheerful tones, and as the Master of Ceremonies announced their Slavic names in alphabetical order.
Mammon sat in the VIP lounge, surrounded by models in extremely short dresses and traces of cocaine around their nostrils. The young women, barely of legal age, were enjoying the endless supply of Louis Roederer and pure vodka that complimented the many drugs available when spending an evening out with Mammon.
They were giggling and texting, laughing and talking about how other women looked awful in their skirts, or how the waitresses were green with envy at the sight of their good fortune.
And Mammon smiled, with a plethora of dirty souls to entertain him. His eyes brushed over the crowd and over the show – he’d seen it so many times.
But then he saw HER. And his smile faded, like chalk under the rain.
She moved like a tigress, her red lace curves enticing and drawing the desire from all the men around her. The crowd boiled with hate, many women looking at her with fire in their eyes. If he didn’t know any better, he would have named her Lust. But Lust drew both genders equally – women spread their legs and men got hard as soon as Lust stepped into a room.
This creature was far more enticing – women hated her because men, with no exception, desired her; and yet the same women secretly admired her, for she represented the essence of feminism, the one lady of the night who stood up and asked for the same rights as men before God. They didn’t know it, but things that seem as old as time are not to be known – they’re simply felt.
And there she was, walking towards him – diamonds twinkling and hanging from her ear lobes, the spotlights throwing flashes of white against her shiny up-do. Her hips spoke of hot nights between silken sheets, of laughter and the promise of ecstasy with every single move. Her breasts held secrets of their own, and her shoulders were half-naked and supple.
Mammon could feel his entire essence simmer on the borders of existence. Lilith troubled and exhilarated him at the same time. But on that particular night, she scared him.
If he’d been a man, the blood would have drained from his face. His pulse would have raced through his veins. Fear would have clutched his throat. Mammon felt other things as Lilith approached him. Darker, more horrifying things.
Several security guards gathered around her, as they had been previously told to let no one approach him – the peaches in his VIP lounge were an exception. He fed on their desires, on their souls. Mammon lifted his hand, and gestured at the men to let her through. They nodded and stepped back, as Lilith smiled and walked up the narrow stairs that led to his luxurious enclosure.
She seemed relaxed, lights flickering in her eyes – two lapis lazuli blue gems framed by thick and long eyelashes. One look at him, and serenity washed over him. That was Lilith, after all – terror and inner peace at the same time.
Lilith, my darling. As usual, you’re a sight for sore eyes…
‘I hardly believe your eyes to be sore right now, Mammon.’
The models looked at Lilith and instantly hated her. Their aversion took features of nearly immaterial beauty and turned them into grotesque sneers and barren teeth. She smiled at them as she reached the lounge, and stepped aside.
‘I need a word with him, ladies. Please.’
They scoffed and sunk their hands under Mammon’s custom tailored pants. Light shone off his golden belt buckle – an extremely valuable antique. Their lips flickered at his ears, and their noses took his scent in.
It immediately threw them into a frenzy, and they started gulping down champagne, snorting more cocaine and filling their purses with the many dollar bills loosely fanned out on the table before them. Mammon gave them what they wanted – riches and luxury, and instead, he fed on their very souls.
Time to go, my lovelies. Daddy has business to take care of.
They whined and they sighed and they moaned, but in the end, with the flick of his wrist, he motioned them out of his sight. They scrambled onto their platform shoes and went for the stairs – not without hugging a bottle of champagne each. Their party was just moving downstairs. One of them intentionally bumped into Lilith – typical teenage bully behaviour, complete with the mean glare.
But Lilith looked at her, blue ice blooming in her eyes. No expression, not a single word, not a single facial muscle moved – but what the girl saw at that very moment cleansed her of everything. She dropped the bottle and looked around, as if just awoken from a bad dream. Her skin went from ghostly white to pale coral. Her pupils were dilated, her nostrils flared. She wiped them with the back of her hand and gasped at the sight of cocaine.
‘What… What am I doing here?’ She asked with a trembling voice. She looked at Mammon, whose eyebrow was lifted. His eyes rolled in response and he waved her away. He’d just lost a soul to Lilith’s touch. The girl started crying as she stumbled down the stairs.
Lilith sighed and turned her attention to Mammon – a splendid example of human beauty; well, an exquisite copy anyway. His broad shoulders were covered in fine ivory cotton, gold hung around his neck, and his messy brown hair threw shadows on his bold cheekbones. His eyes were made of amber, and his smile promised any dream come true.
Alright, beautiful. You’ve scared my dinner away, you’re wearing that ravishing dress, you have my full attention. What’s up?
Lilith nodded respectfully and sat down, her back leaning against the plush sofa. She measured him from head to toe, and revealed her pearly teeth in a conquering smile.
‘Greed, greed, greed. You’re as heavily entertained as ever.’
Well, I need to feed, my beautiful Lilith. And there’s no better feast than man, after all.
She poured herself a glass of champagne, smelled its fizzy bouquet and then drank it all in one go. Mammon noticed the tension in her otherwise splendid jawline.
What’s wrong, goddess?
Lilith laughed, bitterness in her throat. She poured herself another glass to wash it down.
‘Ah, if only I were a goddess again. The Sumerians had so much faith, so much power! If I were a goddess again, I’d be able to avert what’s coming.’
Mammon tilted is head. His eyes were flickering embers – she always had that effect on him. He couldn’t help but remember her time spent in the pits, after she’d stolen the Creator’s Wings. How he feasted on her body. And how he could never devour her soul.
And what exactly is coming, First Woman?
Lilith rolled her eyes. It was the one title that irritated her, and ultimately reminded her of her successor, Eve, and the mess they’d made of humanity when Lucifer wandered into the Garden. The fool!
‘Don’t act as if you don’t know, you know everything.’
I don’t know everything, sweet Lilith. I’m but a Demon. With a capital D.
A grin slit his face, and he winked. Lilith gulped down a third glass of champagne. As devastatingly handsome as he was, Mammon was pure, rotten corruption. Every atom that built him up was dark and cancerous. She knew the Deadly Sins better than most. She had been forced to let each and every one of them consume her body. She had carried all of their spawn. The hatred she felt towards them, however, was not bigger than their usefulness in her future plans. So, diplomacy had always been the better option.
‘Mammon. Greed. You amass great fortunes, my dear sweet Demon with a capital D.’
It’s true! Gold, magical green little pieces of paper, jewels and lands, barrels of oil and bottomless diamond mines. So much money in this day and age, so much wealth! I love humans!
‘Indeed. But Greed doesn’t just encompass material wealth now, does it?’
Mammon’s face lost its shine. Lilith was on to something and he didn’t like that inquisitive gaze of hers. It always told him that she knew more about him than he’d ever be comfortable with.
What do you mean, First Woman?
She flinched again. A fourth glass touched her red lips.
‘You’re a great collector, Mammon. You don’t just gather objects. You love to gather information. Terabytes on top of terabytes on top of more terabytes of precious, game-changing, empire-crumbling information. You know a lot more than you pretend.’
He sighed, and his chest deflated a little bit, as the muscles beneath it relaxed. His fiery gaze dropped to the floor, darkening like a room where the only candle slowly dies out. He seemed so human, so fragile – so easy to break.
You know me so well, First Woman…
‘Stop calling me that.’
Well, you are the First Woman.
‘True, but you don’t need to remind me of it at the end of every single sentence. So please, stop. Tell me what I want to know, instead.’
And what is that, my dear sweet Lilith?
His sneer provoked a fifth glass of champagne to roll down her tongue and throat with impressive speed.
‘I don’t know what I hate more, you calling me First Woman or you being so sleazy. It just doesn’t suit you, Mammon. You’re not Lust.’
Don’t compare me to that prick!
Rage lit up his face and she could see the ugly Demon behind the meat suit for a brief moment. She laughed lightly, and it sounded like music to Greed. An angelic choir poured out of her mouth, and he took in every single note. She was the closest he could ever get to Heaven.
‘Well then, show me some well-deserved respect and I won’t compare you to your lesser brothers and sisters. Now tell me what I need to know, and I’ll be on my way.’
And what is it that you wish to know, my angel?
She laughed again, this time a mocking cackle. She stood up, and her beautiful face darkened and brought omens of death into his VIP lounge. The retracted curtains pulled themselves down, isolating them from the rest of the world in layers of burgundy red velvet with gold thread embroidery.
‘Don’t play stupid with me, Greed. You know why I’m here.’
His smirk revealed perfect teeth – fit for biting and chewing souls.
I told you, my fairest. I know nothing.
Fury lit her up, her alabaster skin turning incandescent. Her back straightened, her shoulders wide and her breasts struggling against the lace dress. Her beautiful snow white wings exploded behind her, stretching all around the large enclosure until their tips met right behind Mammon, and neighbouring feathers brushed against each other. Mammon’s smirk did not fade.
Is this all you can do? Chicken wings?
Lilith’s face was carved out of marble, her eyes burning blue and her skin sizzling white.
‘You know very well that if I release their true form I will wipe the entire state of Nevada off the map. Do not play with me, demon (with a lowercase “d”), we’re no longer in Hell and I’m certainly not your chew toy anymore. Now tell me what you know.’
He lifted his arms and laughed, as if she’d just told him an excellent joke.
My darling, I swear, you give me too much credit!
A moment of silence lingered between them, until her wings swiftly retracted into her back as fast as they’d come out. She reached behind, where the wings had turned into pure energy, and pulled out a massive sword that zinged with heavenly wrath. Its razor sharp double blade extended all the way to Mammon, the tip gently grazing his Adam’s apple. And he was stunned.
So, they weren’t just wings after all, you nifty little bird…
Her hand held the bejewelled handle and the blade was steady. Her features were calm; the flames had died out. She’d saved the element of surprise for the grand finale, after all.
‘Of course they’re not just wings, you fool. Did you really think I’d subject myself to Father’s wrath over a pair of chicken wings? This is energy. Pure Creation, Mammon. A finite number of raging atoms begging for release. And right now, they’re begging to slice your throat and leave the world with Six Deadly Sins. I’ll let them do it, too, unless you tell me why there is a price on my severed head.’
Mammon smiled politely, fear gripping his throat. His hands stayed up, trembling slightly in a defensive gesture.
My fairest of them all… All I know is that the Host announced your death sentence. The Fallen Angels in our ranks heard it. That is all.
‘Ha… That’s what Sloth said too. Until I gave him a new tattoo with this lovely instrument I’m holding against your life line. Then he told me more.’
And… and what did he tell you?
‘Well, for starters, he’s the one who said that there is something behind my death sentence. Something that you, all of you demon scum are afraid to speak of. At first, I assumed it was the Creator, but then I remembered that you all hide behind Lucifer’s skirt. So, the little birdie in my head is starting to think that the Morning Star might have something to do with my new woes. After all, I haven’t made Father angry since I stole His wings. It’s not like Him to hold a grudge for this long…’
And besides, we all know how you paid for those wings eventually.
Mammon snickered, and the tip of the blade drew a bold droplet of his pitch-black blood. He may have looked human, but his insides were dark and filthy.
‘You see… this is why you’re my least favourite. At least Pride respects his worthy opponents.’
Lucifer respects nothing!
‘Well then since you don’t like him all that much, why don’t you tell me whether he has anything to do with my death sentence?’
Lilith was, by all means, a very skilled negotiator. It was her best weapon against all entities, including the Creator. It was how she’d managed to walk out of the Garden without a single scratch. And Mammon was prone to weaknesses of his own – being compared to his siblings was the largest of the many cracks in his armour. He smiled with appreciation.
Ah… I forgot all about how you get demonic children to spill the beans. Lilith, my darling, I swear I don’t know much. I think Sloth knew more than I did…
‘No, he didn’t. Because by the time I was done carving him, he still couldn’t assist me in my quest. I haven’t even started on you, Greed.’
And so, Lilith lifted the blade above her head and held it with both hands, ready to slice Mammon into submission and revelation. But then the music stopped. The cheers and laughter outside stopped. All across the casino, the bell rings and slot machine zings stopped.
Time stood still. The lights went dim, and black clouds gathered across the Venetian ceiling above the lounge. They snuck through the drapes, poured across the onyx marble and rose gently around her.
Lilith rolled her eyes and sighed. Mammon looked confused, looking around as the darkness enveloped his expensive sofas.
What… What’s going on? Is this you?
‘Oh no. This is my new best friend!’
Confusion drew a comical expression on his face, and despite the gravity of the situation, Lilith couldn’t help but smile.
‘Clearly you’ve never met the Reaper!’
What is the Reaper doing here?! You haven’t killed me!
‘Who did you think was assigned to kill me, Greed?’
Fear once more settled on his face. Lilith finally gave up and laughed wholeheartedly, as the darkness grew thicker around her.
‘If you don’t tell me what I need to know now, Mammon, the Angel of Death will reap the both of us.’
NO, you wouldn’t!
‘I’m about to die, Mammon! Don’t test me further! You’ve never met my reckless side!’
A turbulent wind howled through the enclosure, tearing the curtains down and revealing a stunned audience. Nobody moved. The girls on the unicycles were frozen in a spiral, their smiles aimed at the thousands of people inside the grand circus hall.
And in the middle of the spiral, at centre stage, at exactly fifty yards from the staircase leading up to Lilith, stood Azrael. His midnight cape hung loosely around his shoulders, hood drawn over his head. His eyes burned in the blackness underneath it, and his voice echoed through her rib cage.
She looked over her shoulder and lifted her hand, index finger up.
‘I’ll be with you in a second, honey, hold on!’ She then turned to face Mammon as she put the sword behind her. ‘Tell me now, and you get to live. I’ve pissed Azrael enough for him to reap this entire building before its expiry date.’
Alright. Alright! I’ll tell you everything I know, but please understand that even I don’t know much!
‘That’s fine. I’ll take what you’ve got.’
Darkness grew heavier as the many light bulbs above the arena exploded, one at a time, glass spraying outwards in slow motion. Azrael was not in a good mood.
Word is flying around that it wasn’t the Creator who put the price on your beautiful head. Some of my higher demons are talking about someone pretending to be the Creator, whispering deceit into the Archangels’ ears.
‘That is quite the feat. Which is why I keep thinking about your honorary brother, Lucifer. He’s quite gifted.’
We don’t know. At least I don’t know who it is. But these are just rumours, my darling. Rumours!
‘I guess we’ll find out, then.’
Azrael’s voice felt heavy, like rocks tumbling into her stomach. He’d shortened the distance between them. He stood at the base of the narrow steps leading to up to the lounge, tall and ominous and carrying the scent of death all around him. Lilith sighed, and smiled at her least favourite demon. Behind her, the drapes pulled themselves back.
‘I heard you the first time!’ She shouted back at the archangel.
She turned to look down on him. The air vibrated around his cloak. His eyes burned a special shade of orange. He reacted to her body, and she hoped to take advantage of it once more. She smiled and slowly made her way down the steps, leaving the now useless Mammon behind.
‘That’s where you’re wrong, Reaper. And it turns out the demons know more about your new task than you do.’
Azrael hesitated, and stood still as she approached him, one step down the staircase at a time.
What do you mean?
‘Oh, now where’s the fun in that? Tell you what, Mammon here can tell you all about it. I have business to attend to.’
Mammon’s face turned pale, a genuine putty grey.
You have no business. You must die.
She stopped before the last five steps, just enough to give her room to move away if he decided to charge her.
‘Not today, handsome. Not today.’
Her wings fanned out in a split second, and with another smile directed at him, she flew away before he could reach her. He looked up and watched her disappear through one of the roof windows.
The glass shattered, most of it about to be thrown outwards once time resumed its flow. The scratching sound echoed through the hall. And Mammon sighed with relief. With Lilith gone, the reaper would be gone as well.
But before another thought could form inside his decayed mind, Azrael stood before him – darkness pouring out of his cloak. The demon froze – even he couldn’t take on Azrael and live.
I… You don’t need me, reaper.
Reaper, let me be, it’s not my time yet. It never will be! I’m not meant to die…
He almost cried out. But the archangel said nothing.
Please… Please don’t kill me.
What do you know about Lilith’s sentence?