This story is by R.AmRi and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Zerachiel never thought of himself as something safe and kind as most angels were meant to be. He was the iron from their blades and the strength of their blows. And that one night was what he needed to be: the halo that would burn those who have sin and the guide for the ones looking for the light.
He walked through the great castle’s dark halls, entering the rooms and handing a candle to those who gave their last breath. Seeing light souls was always something Zerachiel found bewitching. Even if lost, most were shaped with the best face they had when they lived the fullest in their human form. Most turned into kids, others remained as they were. And others turned to that one figure they would have been if they’d had more time.
“Take this,” Zerachiel said to one wandering soul. It’s face was shaped like the one of a young boy’s. Curly dark hairs were falling over its brown eyes, and Zerachiel saw the spark in them. It was as bright as his own aura. “You follow the light it ignites.”
The soul took it, and Zerachiel smiled before rubbing those dark curls as the candlelight grew and transformed into a straight line that guided the way through the halls.
He kept doing this till midnight; giving candles to those searching for the light. Zerachiel just wondered how many human bodies were dying that night… Each step he took turned harder as he moved to not step on the cadavers. Their skin was grey and their eyes milky, their mouths purple and their tongues yellow.
“The plague,” Zerachiel found Uriel next to him after he stopped too long staring at a female corpse. Some of her teeth were missing, and her hair was ashy and falling. “We can’t always help them, you know?”
Zerachiel frowned, “Her soul…?”
Uriel patted him on the shoulder, “Remiel had to take it down. Not everyone is saved even in death…” Uriel shrugged, clearing her throat. “They’re here, Zerachiel. And the souls are going to them instead of following the light.”
Zerachiel was going to argue, but not even his thoughts shaped as the sound of music and laughter invaded the hall. Both angels turned around and frowned when seeing a warm light showing where the noise came from. Without blinking, they followed it, founding no more souls but only corpses decorating the floors. The music sounded louder each step they took, and even the floor shook as Zerachiel heard heavy steps falling. Almost like dancing, but there was something off tune in them. They were heavy and careless. And the music–Zerachiel shook his head–it was chaos. He could hear a violin playing loud and steady, but the piano… the keys were breaking, he was sure. They were almost as careless as the dancing he was hearing, until they exploded. And just like that, the piano died with the plague, but the noise continued.
Both angels reached the room the light came from. It was crowded with the dead and the living as they fell one after the other. But Zerachiel saw the glitter on their clothes and the colors on their masks. They hid away the illness that was consuming their skin and crushing their hearts until they fell and gave their last breath. They were laughing, but both angels heard the agony in their trembling voices. The pain, so much pain this plague caused, Zerachiel knew. But he could smell the wine and the food, drugging the crowd before the pain took their senses.
Zerachiel kept seeing the scene. Colors and glitter, dancing and drinking and dying without a word. And he saw their souls setting loose from their bodies. He and Uriel were ready with their candles, but the souls looked the other way. Light or no light, the souls laughed like maniacs as they rushed to the dancefloor. They circled the center of the room, and their light was fading away as if it was being consumed by the demon dancing in the room.
He couldn’t curse, of course he couldn’t. But if he weren’t himself, Zerachiel knew he wouldn’t control his tongue as his hand went around the handle of his sword on his back, between his wings, at the image of the devil he was beholding. The golden feather hanging from his necklace weighed terribly.
With the figure of a woman with hair like the night, perfectly combed back. Skin like the sun and a dress that shone like ice when the light kissed its surface. But Zerachiel wasn’t stunned by her feral beauty. No. It was the red stones decorating the dress. They were splashed over her torso; they were so many, almost seeming as if blood had washed over Ashmedai’s white dress, barely leaving the skirts clean.
The demon twirled around, laughing as bodies kept falling around her and the souls gathered closer to her, drunk of her. Blinded by her beauty and movement, unable to see the light that would set them free.
Zerachiel looked around and each corner was crowded by another demon, children of temptation and hell. Mammon, Beelzebub, Leviathan, even Lucifer. All different shapes, all different torments, gathering and bewitching all souls, stopping them from seeing the angels and going home.
Uriel had her bow ready, but stopped when Leviathan stopped giggling in his corner and pointed at both angels. But Zerachiel saw Ashmadai’s big eyes staring at him, green and like the one of a cobra. Hungry, secretive and lusting.
“Angels,” Leviathan announced and his forked tongue escaped his mouth. The other demons stood up and clapped with lazy movements and feline smiles. “Welcome, beautiful creatures. Mind to join us?”
“The party is over,” Zerachiel commanded, “Free these tired souls at once, they’ve suffered enough.”
“I don’t see them suffering,” Mammon said with his golden hair and golden suit. “I see them going after the light of what they value the most.” The demon raised his hand, showing a glittering golden coin and threw it away. The souls and humans went after it, pushing and cursing as they battled for one simple coin. And Zerachiel stopped himself from looking away, the humans fell one over the other as the sickness took them. Still, the souls tangled up as they sought the coin, screaming in despair as their hands couldn’t grab the artifact.
“We said stop,” Zerachiel didn’t need to turn to know it was Remiel talking. Only the loud giggle of Mammon made him turn, and was almost blinded by the light that sparked from Remiel’s sword which was an inch away from the demon’s skin. “Hard for you to understand, demon?”
“Prince, angel,” Mammon corrected, ready to flicker the blade away but hissed when his skin brushed its surface. His skin burning from the heavenly weapon.
“Princes don’t burn,” Remiel said.
“Hmm,” it was Lucifer, dark and tall. Glowing and bewitching. More beautiful than a sunrise, more stunning than a sunset. Just like a rising star. “We don’t play with fire, angels. But these souls might burn with it if you keep interrupting our evening.”
“Is that a threat?” Uriel went for an arrow from her back.
Lucifer chuckled, walking casually to the back of the room and reaching for the wrecked throne that rested there. He pushed the cadaver off the chair, cleaning his hands with a white silk scarf right after. He let himself fall over the throne, and crossed his legs as he leaned deeper into his seat. The other demons joined him, picking a silver crown from one of the bodies and placed it over Lucifer’s ink curls with painful tenderness.
Zerachiel pulled out his sword, adjusting the blade in his hand as he got into position beside Uriel. Remiel joined them, two swords ready to strike.
“Do I look like a prince to make threats, angel?” Lucifer purred and the other demons turned to the angels: teeth out, and hunger in their eyes.
Zerachiel saw the souls turning to them, as well. All the light was gone from within them, but lost stares and hollow energies invaded the room, turning to shadows and mist.
“Can you save souls without burning them with their sins?” Lucifer wondered, and the demons chuckled. “Entertain me, would you?”
Zerachiel heard the shrinking of the shadows when he struck his sword as they launched over them. His blade moved like a living creature that brought light to the world as it eased the storms. Uriel and Remiel followed, and there were shadows and light surrounding the room. Still, Zerachiel kept hearing the demons’ laughter and, between blinks and turns, he kept seeing the scene. The demons were placed over the throne ready to have their portraits painted; heads tall, chests out, smiles crooked.
Zerachiel and the other angels fought the thunder of shadows, and saw the little souls left hurrying to hide from the danger. Rushing to the walls and windows, panting and pleading for a way out.
Uriel rolled over the floor, charging her bow with multiple arrows and setting them loose as Zerachiel and Remiel threw the candles around for the souls to catch.
It was then when the demons roared in anger and each time Zerachiel brought his sword down, less shadows were around but the demons approached them. Monstrous or not, the demons were hungry and nimble with their movements. Claws and teeth out, jumping and rolling, eager to send the angels down and burn them with their own fire. But Zerachiel knew a deep cut of their heavenly blades would be enough to take the princes back to their realms.
Leviathan was the first to dare to attack them. Jumping to them and shifting into a serpent that covered every corner of the room. It’s scales shone indigo blue and emerald green, but it’s enormous fangs—yellow and poignant as they dropped venom and saliva.
Zerachiel rushed towards a group of souls that screamed as the demon went after them. Its mouth was open and ready to eat them whole. But the angel moved faster, giving it a straight punch in the mouth, winding it enough for Uriel and Remiel to pierce its skin with their weapons and leaving nothing but smoke and ashes from it.
“Take this,” Zerachiel rushed to give the souls candles and pushed them toward the light before any other demon could touch them.
He turned around and the other demons were gone, the silver crown rolling on the floor instead and an empty throne missing them. Zerachiel gasped for air, placing his blade on his back and nodding at Remiel’s command to go after them. “They’re still here.”
Uriel followed the barks of laughter, Remiel the cursing, and Zerachiel the low giggles.
It was a maze, the castle. An endless maze of stairs and halls, rooms everywhere with more and more doors. Zerachiel followed the trace of the smell of blood and perfume. And hurried when seeing the whispering of white skirts disappearing through the darkness of the hall. He ran and ran, his blade again in his hand as more shadows tried to stop him from reaching the demon.
Step after step, until he got his boot between the door and the wall as it was thrown to be closed. He gasped, pushing it open and threw a dagger at the demon. Ashmedai turned rapidly, long fingers catching the dagger’s handle and a full smile welcoming Zerachiel into the room.
The angel saw the smoke coming from Ashmedai’s hand as it held the heavenly weapon. But she smiled wider, throwing the dagger to the floor and shaking her hand with such grace rather than pain.
“My favorite angel,” she said, jumping around the room as she picked her skirts up and showed her ruby shoes. “I was hoping it would be you who came for me.”
“Let’s be done with this, Ashmedai.” Zerachiel said, placing his sword on his back and grabbing a new dagger from his belt.
“Ashmedai,” she purred her name and jumped over the bed, rolling until her dark hairs fell over her bare shoulders. “I like the sound of my name on an angel’s lips. It makes it sound like a sin.”
Zerachiel stepped closer to her, but he was stopped by the whispering in the walls. It was almost like a loud hissing, almost pleading. Get me out of here!
The angel’s grip tightened around his weapon, “What did you do?”
The demon settled on the pillows, her long fingers patting on the empty space beside her. “Amuse me if you don’t want me to consume these souls’ light.”
Zerachiel was ready to throw his blade towards her chest, but her green serpent-like eyes glowed, “You would rather have them caged in these walls for eternity instead of amusing me, angel? Even if you flicker that blade faster than I could swallow their light, you aren’t strong enough to release them from our cages. Just like those you had to take down back in the great hall, they’ll never come back as they were weak to follow your light. But willing enough to succumb under our reign.” Ashmedai patted the bed again, “How many more souls are you willing to lose today?”
Zerachiel clenched his jaw, the continuous whispering making his head spin. Help!
“I don’t have time for your games,” he complained.
“Don’t you? I thought your oath was meant to do whatever it takes to get these souls home.” Ashmadai sighed, “I just want what I’ve always wanted, and that would be enough for your souls to be set free.”
“And what is that?”
Ashmedai smiled, sitting up, shrugging with alert eyes and a dashing face that made any human choke at such beauty. But Zerachiel wasn’t human. Zerachiel wasn’t mortal. He knew the demon’s beauty was only a mirror of how beautiful of an angel would Ashmedai be if she hadn’t fallen.
“A kiss,” said the demon as she stood up and went after him.
“So I’d be damned like yourself?”
Ashmedai chuckled, “You are archangels, Zerachiel. Aren’t you all strong enough? Your fear will only chain thousands to wander around these sick walls.”
Zerachiel moved his hand, the blade inches away from her body, but her freezing hand caught his wrist with enormous force and not tenderness as the one she pretended to have. And she smiled, seeing both of their arms shaking as they wrestled the other.
“A kiss,” she whispered, “From the angel that cut my wings before I fell from the heavens. A kiss from the angel that keeps a feather of my wings around his neck.”
Zerachiel stepped back from her, almost startled at her words. It had been a millennia since that one day. A millennia since she used to be made of gold and silver.
Ashmedai moved closer and brushed the golden feather over Zerachiel’s chest with a tender touch. The sound of skin burning harmonizing with the whisperings in the walls.
He didn’t see her flinch, but rather fascinated with the wound on her fingertips and the shining of the feather. She was sharp, but delicate. Just like a viper. Just like an angel. Delicate lines formed the structure of her bones, and smoothness painted over her skin. Only the eyes gave away her devilish nature, showing to the world the wickedness that showered over her.
“Do you keep it like a token, angel?” She wondered. “Do you keep it like a badge?”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t, really,” Ashmedai replied, eyeing the feather again, and then looked up at him. “But I do want a spark of what used to be mine if you want your souls.”
Zerachiel knew better than to make deals with high demons like herself. Always cunning and tricky. Always expecting something greater than what they asked for. But the whispers, so loud and pleading. Whatever it takes is the oath.
“Tiktok, Zerachiel,” she said, taking a deep breath and Zerachiel heard the whispering turning into desperate screams. There were poundings on the walls, scratchings, as if a mass of creatures were trying to set themselves free. “You’d be condemning hundreds if not thousands just because.”
Zerachiel closed his eyes, setting his dagger back on his belt.
Help me! Help me!
The angel grabbed the demon from the nape and pulled her towards him until their lips met. The golden feather burning against them and hissing as they collided against one another. It was cold water on a freezing morning. It was a rush of fire in a dried forest. It was intense and explosive, making Zerachiel muscles freeze and contract as her poison crawled over him. Consuming him and possessing him, until his head was about to explode.
But there was ease after that. No more burning, but coolness that refreshed the angel’s senses. Too comforting to let go, too satisfying to move away. It was so overwhelming, like rain against the skin. It was tingling and soft, a caress that would leave a mark on the skin.
Zerachiel wanted to be set free from Ashmedai, but every flicker of her touch was intoxicating and poisonous. He was no longer master of himself, but his free will was the one in charge. Was he weak? Was he cursed? Condemned? Falling? Only the heavens really knew as the golden feather, still hanging from his neck, began to burn his own skin as he tangled with Ashmadai while she giggled wicked tunes.
Each second the whispering began to fade away. Each second there was more peace and a warmer light invading the room. No more shadows or dust, but the memory of life invaded. And only then did Zerachiel wake up, gasping and panting, his eyes adjusting to the light.
He turned around and shivered when seeing Ashmadai walking toward the door with casual steps. Her hands behind her back, her night-like hair hanging and swaying after her. And her naked body shining against the room, almost like a halo. He couldn’t look away as he spotted the two savage wounds over her shoulder blades. They were bleeding and burning, flickering the whisper of heavenly fire as the memory of her wings continued following the demon. The wounds stared back at him, almost like a warning.
Zerachiel was still gasping for air as the demon turned back at him. The only color on her were her emerald serpent eyes. “A hero, as always. You’ll see your souls already lining up at heavens’ doors. Do not worry, my love,” Asmedai said as Zerachiel kept staring at her in terror.
Zerachiel touched his chest with urgent fingers, flinching and almost screaming at the burn on his chest. The wound mimicked the shape of the golden feather. What felt moments ago like a dream was shifting into an angel’s worst nightmare. His chest was hardening, his skin was cooling, his muscles were freezing. His wings… they were too heavy to carry.
“I’ll catch you when you fall,” she said.
He reached for his dagger on the floor, and flickered the blade towards her chest.
Ashmedai didn’t scream in pain, but groaned as she fell to her knees, trembling hands reaching the blade. She gasped, but chuckled between pants, and ripped the weapon from her chest.
There was no blood, just smoke and ashes as Ashmedai began to fade away.
“No,” he hissed.
She looked up at him, “Just wait and see.”