Samael examines the vellum sheet he has been illuminating. “Just a moment.” The lettering is heavy and dark with spidery serifs. He likes the white spaces. Wielding his pen like a fencer, with a few slashes he finishes his work and lays down his weapon. He turns to face his brother in arms. “Finally we’ll see what all the fuss was about.”
In the candlelight, Azazel sees Samael's face half yellowed and half in shadow. Something isn't right. A feeling of foreboding rises within him. “You don’t seem very enthusiastic.”
Samael shrugs. Is it so hard for his brother to understand? “He already made us. What more does He need?”
Azazel hesitates. He doesn’t know what to say. He is afraid of agreeing with Samael. Instead he turns away into the cloister, permanently lit by His radiance.
The City is busy and buzzing with excitement. In the streets choruses sing His praises. They pause at an intersection while phalanxes of Thrones and Seraphim march down the wide thoroughfare beneath the stern gaze of Dominions and Powers. The celestial light gleams off their bright spears and shields.
Something about so many armed troops within the City concerns Azazel. His anxiety increases.
The great amphitheatre is full. They make their way down to the front, the crowd parting easily for them.
Samael feels the crowd’s the anticipation. He doesn’t share it. How can perfection be improved upon?
Then the Humans are there - pale, naked, without pneuma; idiotic, lifeless. A startled hush spreads from the floor to the heights.
“They are the same as us, as Him.” Samael pushes forward for a closer view, protests and Azazel following in his wake.
Azazel can see they do not have the fiery foundation of his fellow Bene Elohim. “They are different. Look closer.”
Samael waves a dismissive hand at Azazel. He sees it now. He sniffs. “They are made of earth.” He walks around the cold meat, separated, for some reason, into two sexes.
“You know that he expects us to bow before them?” Azazel is uncertain, he feels insecure. Too much is happening too fast.
Samael loses his patience with this nonsense. “These naked vermin?” He feels his trust, his love, betrayed. Humiliation rises within him. “He told us to bow down before none but Him.”
Azazel is shocked. The whole crowd can clearly hear their conversation. He is trapped between fear and agreeing with his brother. Instead he speaks for them all. “Who are we to question Him?”
“I am not the one making conflicting commands.” Samael turns and addresses their audience, rows upon rows, tiers upon tiers, of his brothers. “Was our love not enough?”
There is silence, from all the ranks assembled.
“I will love none before Him.” Samael scans the crowd, seeking familiar faces, indications of support. Many shift uneasily. He makes his final gamble. “I know I am not alone.”
The tension in the amphitheatre rises.
Samael does not, cannot, will not, take back his words.
A sword scrapes against the sides of its scabbard.
The terraced hillside, walled-off from the world, is lush and populated with many varieties of plants and animals. Small iridescent-winged insects are chased by birds with plainer plumage. Tall grasses move easily in the breeze which carries the fragrance of green herbs.
In the dawn-light Samael watches the river flowing down the valley, a silver ribbon that widens on the plain. In the distance more white-tipped peaks reach back to Heaven. He is bruised and raw.
His contemplation is disturbed by an unusual barking sound that heralds the arrival of the Humans. They cavort under the trees, streaked with mud and other stains. He sniffs. “Look at them. They act like animals.”
“They’re not doing any harm.” Azazel adjusts the poultice on his arm. He looks at them carefully, the way they move. “I find them interesting.” He enjoys the sound of their laughter, unknown to him before now. But there is something more. “The Woman is more attractive than the first one.”
The corner of Samael’s mouth curls. “Did you land on your head when you fell?” The Woman is indeed different to the first one, but he doesn’t care what happened to her. He is more worried that already there are more of them. “They aren’t much better than the beasts they tend to.”
“If I’d had time to find my helmet, perhaps it would have been prevented.” Azazel is happy he chose to follow his brother. His inner conflict is gone. The consequences of his actions do not seem so severe now he is here. He enjoys it - pain, sensation, the feeling of weight. There is one thing though. “It is so cold here.”
Samael looks at the Humans playing a little longer, they do not amuse him. Their simplicity is offensive; they have no idea what they have been given, what they are wasting. “They need to learn a lesson. They need to understand.” They have no idea of the cost.
Man falls over, chasing Woman. Azazel feels a shudder in his chest. He lets it out. He laughs. The sound delights him. These Humans have something to teach them. “Leave them alone. Have you not done enough?”
The couple run into the trees, chasing a rabbit, carefree, innocent.
Samael frowns. “Can you not see how unfair this is?”
Azazel turns away and begins to scan the ground. What’s done is done. He rubs his arms trying to warm them, careful of his bandage. “There has to be some wood round here somewhere.”
Samael finds them lying in the grass exhausted, entwined.
Man opens his eyes, uncertain who is blocking the light. When he sees someone who looks like him, he smiles. He sits up, disturbing Woman, who also smiles upon seeing Samael.
Samael covers his revulsion from looking into their cow eyes. “Have you tried the fruit of the tree over there?”
They follow his outstretched arm towards the Tree of Love and Death. Man stands to get a better look. “No. Our Master told us not to eat from it.”
“I was told to worship you as a god.” Samael tries to keep the bitterness from his voice. It surprises him that they can talk. He expected grunting. Samael takes his arm out from behind his back and shows them a fruit. “Doesn’t it look ripe and juicy?”
“He said we would die if we ate from it.” Woman stands up beside Man.
Samael holds out the fruit towards her, balanced on the palm of his hand. The lustre of its skin catches the light. “This doesn’t look like a fruit that will kill you, does it?”
“We have plenty of other things to eat.” Man gestures to encompass much of the hillside. “It doesn’t matter if we leave this one alone.”
Samael realises they are not as simple as they look. He smiles. Perhaps this will be more of a challenge than he thought. They smile back at him. “I think you have been lied to. Nothing else here is harmful. Why grow a poisonous tree in a garden that is so safe? Here, I picked this one for you.” He offers them the fruit again.
Woman reaches out, but hesitates and withdraws her hand. “Lied? Why would our Master lie to us?”
Samael shrugs, as if he had never considered it before. “Maybe He knows how tasty the fruits are and wants to keep them to Himself?”
“He did give us dominion over all living things.” Woman scratches her head.
“Always with the contradictions. I like the way you think.” Samael lifts the fruit up in front of his face, looking at it, considering his next move. “Wait until you try this. You’ll think in a whole new way. Here.” He throws it towards the Humans. Man instinctively catches it and juggles it from hand to hand. “It won’t bite you, you know.”
“What does it taste like?” Woman takes it from Man’s hands. She sniffs at its skin, drawing in its thick, sweet smell.
Samael thinks for a moment, his eyes stray towards the Heavens. “Clear blue skies. Crystal cold water. Freedom.” Suddenly it all seems worth it. What better gift can you give than the one you want for yourself? “It tastes like freedom.”
“Thank you, but I don’t want it.” Woman holds the fruit out towards Samael, holding it by the stalk, between thumb and forefinger.
Samael struggles to keep calm, keep the sudden anger off his face. “You are returning my gift? I’m deeply offended.” He feigns a faint, back of hand to brow.
“We didn’t mean it.” Man moves between Samael and Woman. He takes the fruit from her, cradles it in his hands.
“It’s too late now.” Samael turns to go.
“What can we do to make amends?” Man steps forward to stop Samael from leaving.
Away from them, Samael smiles. He is almost there. He turns back. “Try the fruit. Go on. It’s yours. I promise it won’t hurt you. Afterwards, you should try the Tree of Apotheosis. You’ll love that.” They look at Samael with another dumb expression he doesn’t understand.
Man digs his thumbnails under the skin, juice spurting out, and begins to peel.
Samael finds Azazel huddled in the lee of a hill that overlooks the garden rubbing a stick between his hands. Silently, he joins him.
Azazel blows gently on the shavings of wood and sawdust at the base of the stick. A speck of orange and a whisper of smoke spread to small flames. Azazel builds a small tent of twigs as the fire grows. Before long he has a skinned rabbit spitted over the glowing coals.
From down the hillside comes a commotion. They can just hear Metatron as he scolds the Humans, their denials of any wrongdoing.
Azazel sighs. “What did you do?” He looks across the fire. The light flickers on Samael’s face.
Samael shrugs. “Nothing.” The balance had to be redressed.
“You must have done something.” Azazel pokes at the bright embers with a stick. He knows his brother is responsible. The rabbit drips sizzling fat into the fire. The smell of burnt flesh is pleasing. Maybe tomorrow he’ll try a goat.
Samael is pleased with himself. With time, He will see His mistake and wipe the slate clean. “I just spoke to them. Helped them take ownership of their lives.”
In the gloaming, a bright pillar of light casts long shadows. It moves through the terraced garden. Samael and Azazel watch the humans leave the garden, hunched over, as though carrying a heavy burden on their backs, a few tattered furs covering their skin, their wet eyes bright next to the flaming sword. They head towards Nod.
Azazel retrieves the rabbit from over the fire. He peels off a thick blackened strip of meat, singes his fingers. He lowers it into his mouth and chews. As his first meal, it is sublime. “Looks like all they own is dust and misery.” He offers Samael a piece.
Samael wrinkles his nose, his thoughts elsewhere. “Wait until He tires of their love and casts them aside for a new creation. Then they will know dust and misery.”
Azazel finishes his rabbit. He lies down in the dirt and pulls over himself a blanket he has woven from grasses. He supresses a shiver. He knows what his brother means.
Samael watches the couple as they follow the river until they are swallowed by the night. He stares into the fire until it dies.