Getting to the river was a long, complicated ordeal which was only long and complicated because Zee’s knee actually gave out halfway through and he refused to be carried. Eventually, he did relent, and Juviel carried him easily across scalding desert to the oasis he’d found not long ago.
Then there was the matter of getting Zee to disrobe and bathe. Juviel had more of a struggle with this than the demon’s stubbornness to be carried.
“You can’t just hop in the river in your clothes,” he protested gently. Zee made a complaining noise that sounded a bit like why not in its intonation. “Well, for one, I was hoping to clean and mend your clothes and, two, you can’t fully bathe with your clothes on! You won’t get all the nooks and crannies, bunny.”
Zee huffed, lips pursed, and red rose up against the apples of his cheeks. He crossed his arms and turned away. It would’ve had more effect had he not still been cradled in Juviel’s arms.
“If it makes you feel any better,” the seraph offered slowly, “I’ll bathe with you.”
It took at least a few moments, but then they were both naked and in the river. Juviel shuddered and released a sigh of relief in the rushing water, and his two pairs of wings manifested from their hiding place in the ether. He stretched them out, groaning, and then ducked his head beneath the surface of the river. When he resurfaced, pushing thick locks of red away from his face, Zee stood as still as he could in the hip-deep water, eyes wide, face concerningly blank.
“Oh, my wings?” Juviel asked tentatively. Zee’s eyes flickered down to meet the seraph’s, almost confirming. “Haven’t groomed them in a while, I don’t think, so I’m sorry if they’re a bit messy.” The demon gave little cringe, but his face smoothed out immediately into something neutral and unassuming. “…I don’t suppose you’d like to have your wings groomed, bunny?”
Then, just as quick as he’d been in the river, Zee was scrambling out of as fast as he was able, pulling himself painstakingly onto the bank in a state of panic. Then he was shrugging into his dirt-colored frock and stumbling away.
Juviel didn’t follow him.
The next day, he was ordered to leave Mesopotamia.
A year later, the Flood wiped out all of humanity. That is, all of humanity except Noah and his wife and kin and their family. And, unbeknownst to everyone save for one single angel and the demon responsible, more or less twenty children of varying ages.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Pharaoh Khufu was a genius.
That is to say, he would’ve been, if one of his strongest slaves wasn’t so eerily familiar-looking.
Juviel had been sent to Egypt on Gabriel’s order, which was… stupid, really, which he’d made sure Gabriel was aware. He’d still, undoubtedly, ended up in Egypt, which just so happened to be where he needed to be, as it turned out. He was conversing with the Pharaoh, talking adjustments and all, mathematics, the like. Then he’d turned out to look at the pyramid under construction and stopped dead when he heard more than saw a whip cracking down.
The slave fell to his knees, face drawn in sharp pain as he collapsed, but Juviel heard not a peep from that opened mouth.
“Oh, you see,” Khufu said, almost admiringly. “Anubis sent a beast for this project. He is as strong as thirty men. He will get back up in a few moments.”
“What do you call this, erm… beast?” Juviel asked, eyebrows drawn. He didn’t look at the pharaoh.
“Prince of Death,” the pharaoh said appraisingly. “He cannot speak in a language the mortals understand. All the slaves around him call him the Omen.”
“Do you ever, hm…” Juviel cleared his throat, which was suddenly very, very dry as the being in the sand scrabbled onto unsteady feet and was outfitted with a rough harness of rope that was connected to one huge block of sandstone. “Do you ever let him rest? Feed him, give him water? It might appease the gods.”
Khufu hummed thoughtfully. “He’s only ever worked tirelessly. Everyone around him drops dead even while he keeps standing. I think a fourth of my pyramid was done by him alone.”
Juviel’s heart sunk. In the distance, a large group of slaves worked with contraptions to move the sandstone blocks. Zee, all alone, with just his harness and his willpower, heaved step after step through the sand, dragging that huge sandstone block behind like the weight of his damnation.
Was this all he’d ever be subjected to? Pain and slavery and cruelty?
Juviel swallowed, and turned to Khufu. “I’d like to implore you to let him rest, just for this one night. If you don’t wish to, I’m prepared to pay a very large sum in gold, and he will rest in my very own guest chambers.”
This plan worked. Juviel watched from his balcony as slaves began laying down to rest in the cool sands all around, eating their bread and drinking their beer. As the demon below began tethering himself to another sandstone block, one of the king’s advisors came to him, took him by the elbow, and lead him away, toward the pharaoh’s palace. When Juviel saw Zee’s jade green eyes, he disappeared into the chambers he was allowed here.
He prepared a warm bath and new linen clothes, sent for one of the palace servants to get fruit and wine for he and his guest.
Juviel had just finished lighting the Dendera lamps in his chambers when Zee was lead inside. The pharaoh’s advisor bowed curtly and left, and Zee staggered forward, narrowly catching himself on the wall. Juviel moved across the room and easily lifted up the demon, carrying him over to the stool beside the bathtub t sit him down.
“I don’t know how you got to be in this situation, bunny,” he said carefully, helping Zee out of his tattered cloth and then to sit in the bathtub. “I plan to get you out before dawn, do you understand?”
Zee blinked sluggishly at him, sitting very still in his bath, and then turned his gaze around the chambers. Juviel could see sand crusted over his demon’s face and eyelids. It hurt his heart a little bit more. He tipped Zee’s head back, and the demon let out a soft, aborted little noise of panic. Juviel shushed him and chattered quietly as he cupped his hands into the bath water and brought it over Zee’s scalp just so. He massaged his hands through the slightly overgrown, dusty brownish curls. His hair was less downy with weight and held a bit more full curl, and it’d become dark with lack of washing.
It took Juviel three minutes to fully wash the sand and dirt out, leaving his demon with thoroughly wetted-down white-gold curls. It curled around his ears and tailed outward at the back of his neck. Juviel got to work on cleaning his demon’s face.
Ears, check. Cheeks, forehead, chin, nose. Juviel carefully and deliberately instructed a half-asleep Zee how to wash his eyes as to not get any water in them or any sand further in them, and then helped his demon wash the rest of his body and get out of the miraculously draining bathtub. It took them some time to figure out dressing after Juviel got Zee dried off, but the demon was eventually clothed in soft, sand-colored linens.
“Sit down for a while and eat and drink, regain some energy,” Juviel said. “I’ll watch over you. We’ll leave before sunrise, bunny.”
Zee ended up sleeping for a while, even, but they did leave before sunrise. Juviel wouldn’t return to Egypt for at least another thousand years.
An oasis… somewhere…
“We really need to get you a better means of communicating.”
Jade eyes looked up at him imploringly. The demon floated lazily in the small lake, being watched by the angel on a nearby sun-warmed stone, and nodded despairingly.
“You know we’ve been on Earth two and a half thousand years and I’ve barely heard you able to utter more than yes or no or please?” Juviel sighed grimly. “Anything longer than one syllable is out of the question for you right now and that makes me… I don’t know. Upset? It should be making you more upset than it is me, but you’ve had a long two-thousand-five-hundred years or more to accept it. I only ever see you every once in a while, bunny.”
Zee disappeared beneath the lake and resurfaced at the bank, sitting cross-legged in wet sand. Juviel cringed and laughed when his demon made an indignant squalling sound upon realizing wet sand was less than comfortable in certain areas of their corporations. The demon backtracked and simply stood, semi-weightless, in the lake.
“What?” Juviel asked, leaning forward on his big, smooth rock. A slow, bright grin lit up Zee’s face, and the seraph felt it was more infectious than anything the humans could ever catch. “What is it? No, seriously, what’s all the glee about, bunny?”
Zee turned in a slow circle in the lake. Then, he cupped his hands into it and brought up palmfuls of trickling water. “Wha-tur,” he annunciated carefully. Then, after plopping the cupped water back into the lake with a gentle splash, he said, “Bun-nnee.” Then, he pointed to Juviel and smiled and said, “Anj-gel.”
Juviel felt a bright thing ignite in his chest. He laughed jovially, and Zee giggled with him.
“Ju-vee-el,” Zee said, slowly and determinedly, and not a single letter was out of place. He smiled so brightly, it rivalled the sun.
“Yeah, bunny,” Juviel managed through a smile. “I think we can manage a little teaching, you and I. Now, get out before you get all pruned up.”
You know what happens.
They were crucifying the Son of Christ.
Juviel sought out Mary first, comforted the mourning mother, and then she went to a figure dressed in the color of the sands and stood next to him. Her demon was sniffling, keening softly, wiping his eyes profusely. She didn’t blame him.
“From the Lord He came,” she said solemnly, “to the Lord He shall now return.”
“He was…” Zee sniffed again, then turned to her and leaned his head heavily on her shoulder. “…nice. Nice to me.”
“I know, darling,” she cooed. “Oh, I know. He told everyone to be kind. It goes to show He set the finest of examples. I take it you knew Him?”
“Hell assigned,” Zee managed. His words and sentence structure was getting increasingly better, but it was still a sizable obstacle to overcome. “Tempted. Showed the world. He said no.”
“Mm,” Juviel hugged her demon. “Did you know his disciples, as well?”
Zee wrinkled his nose. Juviel hummed very quietly in agreement.
“Smelly,” Zee said.
“Oh, yes,” Juviel agreed. “Judas in particular was a bit of a wanker, I think.”
“Yes.” Zee sniffed again, looked up with watery green eyes. “Pretty.”
“Thank you, Zee,” she said. She liked the female corporation a lot. Women were more relaxed around her, more likely to take her word for truth and without fear. She understood why Corviel liked it so much.
Her demon made a small noise of dissent, face turned down. “No.”
“No?” She looked at him properly. He was… a bit of a mess, really. Had Hell been mistreating him? “What do you mean no? No to what, love?”
The demon shifted uncomfortable. There was a stark shadow on his face from one of the crucifixes. “Name. Not Zee.” He made a soft sound, cleared his throat. “Zzz-eer-f-al. Ziirfal.”
Ziirfal. Juviel looked down at her demon, eyebrows having risen. “Closer to your name than before? That’s very good, bunny. I think we should find an inn to rest, now, this much sun isn’t good for you.”
They’d learned this the hard way, way back after Giza when she and the demon had escaped. Ziirfal’s skin had gone red and flaked awfully.
With nothing else to see and nothing else to say, Ziirfal nodded his assent, grabbed onto Juviel’s sleeve, and allowed her to lead him away from Jesus of Galilee.
Somewhere on the Seven Seas
Juviel was very much aware that this Viking ship, in particular, had very precious cargo.
Yes, a very precious cargo, indeed. Very occult in matter, if Juviel wasn’t mistaken, which made the Vikings very dangerous, and so Juviel addressed the captain of the Ave Maria and asked that he be able to check belowdecks when they took the enemy ship down. The captain, seeing nothing wrong with this, agreed.
When the sailors of the Ave Maria boarded the ship of the Vikings, a lot of the Vikings threw themselves overboard or fell on their swords. Juviel marched determinedly passed all this and climbed belowdecks to see… filth.
A fairly large keep of prisoners, covered in their own filth and blood, some of them ill, some dying, and only one of them was chained to the ship’s walls inside the crowded cells. Juviel, unsurprisingly, knew this one.
With a wave of his hand, the cell doors unlocked. Less ill humans fled passed, shoving each other out of the way to get to the light. Others crawled through the dirt and scarce hay and filth. Juviel marched forward, to the crouched being with arms clutched close to his chest.
Two heavy, very blessed cuffs encircled his wrist, and an equally blessed collar lay fitted to his throat.
Juviel lifted his hand and they dropped. Ziirfal’s face was drawn tight and he let out nary more than a quiet, pitiful whimper when the metal, seared to his skin, fell away. Juviel crouched beside his demon just as he collapsed, and kissed his head, and waited for all the humans to abandon the keep. When none more waited, Juviel climbed up onto the deck of the Viking ship, threw a disappearing miracle around himself and his demon, and drew his wings out.
With Ziirfal held in his arms, he flew to the nearest inhabited island, found an inn there, and waited very, very patiently for Ziirfal to wake up. He cleaned up his demon with another careless miracle, and healed him with another, and it was three more days until Ziirfal opened his eyes.
“Jewel,” the demon rasped when he caught sight of the seraph, then grimaced. “No…”
Juviel broke into a soft smile. It wasn’t the first time his demon had made that mispronunciation with his name, and it was a welcome sound, always. “Hello, bunny,” he said. He offered a hand and Ziirfal just held it, light and astoundingly gentle. “You’re lucky I found you. Those Vikings were horrible to you. I’m just sorry I didn’t find you sooner.”
“Not your fault,” his demon reasoned. He licked his lips, grimacing further. Juviel fetched the pitcher of water the maid had delivered that morning, as she did every morning since he’d arrived. He poured his demon a cup, then helped him drink it. “Thank you. I was… scared.”
“Yes?” Juviel set down the water glass and then carefully sat beside Ziirfal on the bed. Ziirfal buried himself into the seraph’s side, hiding his face. “It’s understandable that you’d be scared. I’d have been scared, too, in your situation. For right now, though, you’re safe with me, and you’re going to rest up until you regain your strength. Then we’ll see about taking you to one of the restaurants nearby. Seafood is pretty good when it’s done right, you know.”
No response. A light snore drifted its way up from where Ziirfal was pressed into Juviel’s side.
The angel relented and laid back to rest with him.
Tenochtitlan, the Aztec Empire
When Juviel got there, Ziirfal seemed to be having the time of his life.
The Aztec did, after all, treat their preferred sacrifices well. And, really… Ziirfal seemed to be the preferred sacrifice. He was given tall pitcher after tall pitcher of the spicy-bittersweet xocolatl stuff, and that, as far as the angel knew, was not cheap.
Emperor Tizoc was surprisingly easy to get a word to, and Juviel found himself, very swiftly, having a presence with the ruler. At his request, Tizoc brought in all the sacrifices-to-be, and Ziirfal waved cheerfully when he saw Juviel. Juviel lifted his chin a little, but otherwise ignored his demon. He had an inkling of what was happening, why Ziirfal was so unnervingly cheerful about this.
He spoke with the emperor in the native language of the Aztecs, and asked about how he came across each sacrifice. When it came upon Ziirfal, Tizoc explained, “The gods sent him to us, so it is our duty to send him back.”
“He knows no Nahuatl?” Juviel asked, gesturing vaguely.
“If he knows it, he does not speak it,” Tizoc replied amiably.
“Right, then,” the seraph began, and the emperor looked a bit impressed. “Bunny, do you know the language they speak here?”
“No…?” Ziirfal fidgeted, and the nervousness came crashing down. “Why? What are they planning?”
“You’re a highly preferred sacrifice as of right now, but I believe I can talk them down if they know you understand them. As of right now, they think you are a god, and they think you and I are speaking the native language of their gods.”
“Ah,” his demon said drily. “That’s rather… hm…”
“He’s asking you not send him back,” Juviel said in Nahuatl, addressing the emperor. “The gods would be very displeased if you did. Instead, keep him as an advisor until he chooses to leave. It’s the reason they sent him.”
“Very well,” Tizoc agreed after only a few moments, and Juviel was already scheming of how he could teach Ziirfal Nahuatl. “You will stay with him, yes?”
Oh, that made things so much easier.
“Yes,” Juviel agreed. “Would you have one of your servants show us to our chambers?”
By the time they were both ordered to leave Tenochtitlan, Ziirfal knew how to interpret and even speak a little Nahuatl. Of course, it took him a long time to pull him away due to the xocolatl drink he still much preferred, but eventually Ziirfal went, and he and Juviel went their separate ways.