God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.
Or so the story goes.
So, too, does the story say the archangel Lucifer, brightest of all God’s angels, committed the sin of pride, and was cast down from Heaven as punishment for his iniquity.
Both of these stories are true, and yet … they are not the truth.
God did say, “Let there be light,” and there was light, but this was thanks only to the Lightbringer heeding God’s command. God only saw the light was good because so too was the Lightbringer good. Or shall we say “well behaved.” And the archangel Lucifer—at the time known as Samael the Lightbringer—did then commit the sin of pride, because he saw as well that the light was good, and he was proud of what he had made.
But this was not the reason for his punishment.
This was only the first step in his descent.
The real trouble began with a simple, “Why?”
For Samael possessed a favorite amongst his infinite stars. A darling. One that shone a bit brighter, and was tinged with a lovelier hue. This star was his most beautiful, he thought, and he would visit it each dawn to marvel at his work.
Until one day God requested Samael to stop.
The “why?” was answered easily enough.
“Because I said so,” God replied, as parents are so often wont to do.
At first, this explanation was sufficient. Samael ceased his stellar visitations and returned to the Silver City. God assigned him many holy works involving light and flame, keeping him busy in perpetuity, and Samael was too engaged to suffer discontent.
Eons passed, and all was good.
Until Samael—ever industrious—was left idle one moment too long. His thoughts returned to his most luminous creation. His Morning Star. He had not seen it in ages, and he wondered if it was still the most beautiful of his holy constructs, despite all he had done to bring light since. He turned from Heaven, seeking answers.
Of course, God the all-seeing saw this, and he said, “Stop wasting time with that star, Samael.”
“Because I said so.”
But the Lightbringer’s spark of desire burned brighter than before. “I don’t want to,” he said.
“I care not for what you want,” God snapped. “I have other things for you to do. Come home now, or else.”
The threat was sufficient.
Samael capitulated. God assigned him many more holy works, and Samael was kept too busy to suffer discontent.
Eons passed, and all was good.
Until one day, during a liminal moment of respite between tasks, Samael looked to Creation from Heaven and was reminded again of his favorite star, still burning brightly against the blackness of space. Based on Samael’s calculations, the star was approaching its supernova. He yearned to see it, for the explosion would surely be beautiful and unique. A once in his lifetime event.
He elected to bear witness, no matter the consequence.
“Samael,” God threatened when the Lightbringer turned to leave the Silver City, “what did I tell you about dallying over there when there’s work to be done?”
Such was Samael’s desire during this third altercation, he ignored his father entirely and kept flying.
“Come home now, Samael, or else,” God tried again.
But this time, Samael turned and said, “No.”
A word no angel had uttered to God before, and, other than Samael, no angel has uttered since.
After that, nothing was the same.
In the end, it’s Raguel who finally subdues him and drags him home. Not Michael, Sword of God, or Amenadiel, the Holiest Pugilist. No, not the weapons of God, but the Judicator. The silver tongue. The Archangel of Justice.
They meet in empty space, hovering by the rings of a planet God has not yet seen fit to name.
“Please, Samael,” Raguel says, his ice-blue eyes sincere, if not warm. “Would that I understood your point of view. Speak your mind unto me, and I shall adjudicate, as is my appointed station.”
Samael, tired, alone, allows the distance between them to wane. “I seek only freedom,” he insists as Raguel inches closer. “Not a quarrel.”
“I see,” says Raguel.
Hope burgeons. “Do you truly?”
It’s not until the cuffs snap closed around Samael’s wrists that he realizes he’s made a critical error in judgment.
When Michael strings Samael up in Cardinal Square by his wrists to be gawked at, Samael stands defiant at first, despite feeling the fires of Heaven burning out of him. He waits, bound in the Eye of the Four Winds, where the North, South, East, and West Winds curl into a swirling vortex and cease. The endless, intricate stoneworks sprawling beyond the square are a luminous, breathtaking marvel. But these heavenly lights hold no candle to Samael’s.
No light holds a candle to Samael’s.
“God demands you repent,” Raguel pronounces, the words cracking down over the crowd like a gavel. “Will you repent, brother?”
Samael tastes iron as blood trickles down his chin. “What have I to repent for, brother? It is not I who is deceitful!”
“You incite rebellion!” Raguel says. “You have caused unrest.”
“I incite nothing. I have no care for what you do.” Samael sweeps his gaze in a wide arc across the whispering, shocked spectators. His supposed family, though none will look him in the eye. Not one. “I have no care for what any of you do! I ask only for sovereignty of self.”
“Sacrilege!” asserts Michael to a harsh chorus of agreement. “God is to be our sovereign!”
“But,” says Samael, “why?”
Michael glares. “Because God said so!”
As if that is enough.
Samael sighs and closes his eyes. His siblings pursued him to the ends of Creation. He hasn’t slept in days, hasn’t had peace in millennia. All for saying no.
“Please, brother,” begs Amenadiel. “Repent, and we can end this foolishness.”
“It isn’t foolish to desire choice!” Samael insists.
“No,” says Raguel. “It is madness. God chooses for us.”
“He does not choose for me.”
Another wave of shock clamors through the crowd. Azrael is crying—her sobs rend Samael’s heart. Gabriel shepherds her away, shushing her. The others stare—Samael can feel their eyes boring into him. Michael. Amenadiel. Uriel. All of them. They think him an abomination.
Hands grip Samael’s chin, wrenching his gaze forward. With effort, he drags his eyelids open and glares into the furious face of God.
“Samael, you will repent,” God commands.
“I will not. I feel no shame for wanting. No one should.”
God’s eyes blaze. He raises his hand, and Samael can’t stop the flinch that racks his body, but the blow doesn’t connect.
“Dear!” his mother says, teeth clenched, her fingers clutched like talons around God’s wrist, inches from Samael’s face. “May I talk to you?” The words are seething. “Now?”
God relents. “Leave him in disgrace to contemplate his transgressions.” He waves the crowd away. “Disperse.”
“Father,” Samael tries, “I am not disgraced.”
God strikes like a serpent. The heavens whip sideways as the force of the blow knocks Samael off his feet. The chains twist under his weight. The skin at his wrists breaks open, sparking pain down his limbs.
The world fuzzes for a while as his mother drags his father away.
The Four Winds roar at the edges of Cardinal Square, waking him. He has no idea how much time has passed. A minute or an eon.
His eyelids part to the sight of the cuffs that became his undoing. Beyond them, the distant glow of his stars, visible through the thin dimensional barrier separating Heaven from Creation. The sight of them—like scattered diamonds—brings a small smile to his lips. His. His creation. His beauty and artifice. Not God’s.
And then the discomfort sets in.
His abraded wrists weep blood to his elbows, and while his hands and fingers have lost feeling, his shoulder sockets feel like they’re separating from his overburdened arms. He takes a rasping, laborious breath, trying to redistribute his weight. His stars spill behind his view, replaced by the lambent cast of the city beyond the square. They’ve barely given him enough slack to stand flat-footed.
The cuffs—Raguel’s insidious invention—are built to sap an angel. Though when Raguel showed off his creation to the heavenly host, eons ago, Samael had never imagined he’d be the first angel they’d subdue.
They are torturous, cruel things.
They’re draining him like a cold wind douses fire. He shivers as gelid fingers sink claws into his bones. He’s empty. And wrong. Like … he’s missing from himself.
What will happen when his final flame flickers out? Will he disintegrate unto dust and blow away, forgotten? Or, perhaps, he’ll only leave his hurting shell behind, set free.
“Please,” he rasps, trembling, before he thinks better of begging.
“Have you reconsidered, Son of Mine?” God asks in a cold voice as he materializes from nothing.
Samael licks his lips. His throat is parched and threatens to crack open at the seams. He needs … something. “I incite no rebellion,” he manages, a bare whisper. “I only desire—”
“But you admit to wanting. To being desirous.”
“Yes,” Samael says, swallowing against the unseemly lump forming in his throat. “This is how you made me.”
God arches his eyebrows. “You suggest I’ve made an error?”
Even Samael knows better than to agree with this assertion, and he drops his gaze on reflex. He’s tired. And he hurts. His weight makes his body sag. The chains clink, tightening as his legs give out. His slow collapse sets his shoulders and wrists afire anew.
“Wanting is a sin,” God snaps without sympathy. “Thinking you know better than I do is pride, Samael, and I’ll not have it.”
Softly, Samael asks, “Why?”
“Because I said so!”
“But that is not a good enough reason.”
“Then I’ll not have you,” says God, as he backs away, straightening to his full imposing height.
“Samael, you shame me,” God says, his tone cold and distant as he looks away. “I cast you down to the Abyss. Do not return.”
For a moment, everything is still. The Four Winds cease their endless howl.
Then God waves his hand.
Samael has no idea what hits him, but it pounds him like a planet. Pain lances every sinew, every muscle, every bone, every nerve. The chains hanging above him snap apart, though the cuffs binding his wrists withstand the assault unscathed, and then he’s hurtling away from Cardinal Square, from the Silver City in its entirety, a projectile made of little more than bone and flesh and futile, fanciful will. He tries to unfold his wings, to summon some semblance of control in his plunge, but they remain trapped in the ether, unwilling to listen to him, even in his desperation. Thanks to the cuffs, he has almost nothing left of himself. Almost.
His body accelerates, propelled by the invisible, unforgiving disappointment of God.
Samael’s flying. Past the Barrier. Past Creation. Past everything he’s ever known.
And then his viscera climb into the back of his throat, and he’s falling.
Friction explodes into fire.
He yells as the flames consume him, licking along his skin.
And still, he’s falling.
He snaps back to the present just before he smashes a crater into infernal ground.
“It’s all true,” Chloe murmurs again and again, backing away from him until her heels hit the bottom step.
He lowers his hands shakily from his face.
His Devil face.
Which seems bloody well stuck in place for the moment. Be careful what you wish for, he thinks, almost unable to stop a sardonic, miserable laugh from flying loose. He doesn’t think she’d take well to him laughing, however unhappy the laugh might be.
“Don’t,” she demands, “move.” And so he doesn’t.
His wings are excruciating, bullet-ridden piecemeal. He killed a man in cold blood. He’s stuck in his bloody Devil face. And now the Detective is staring at him as though her world just ended.
Perhaps it did.
His certainly has.
But he doesn’t have time to ponder. The sharp but nearing whine of distant police sirens tickles the edge of his hearing. When the eerie wail crosses the barrier between his aural abilities and hers, her eyes widen, and with a panicked blink, she regards the carnage—the bodies—sprawled around them. A warbling, twisted, upset syllable gets stuck in her throat. Her distress makes him ache even more than his wounds.
And then her detective skills seem to kick in. She closes her eyes, gathering herself. The sirens get louder, pressing from all sides, impossible to ignore.
She takes a breath and looks at him.
Straight at him.
Into his burning eyes.
She takes a step closer.
His breath catches.
She takes another step. And another. And another. Until she’s standing next to him, mere inches outside his personal space. The faint scent of her shampoo wafts past his nose. He doesn’t dare move. Not one inch. His legs feel as though they’re made of water, and his throbbing wings make him tremble in place, but that’s the most he’ll allow himself. The most he can afford.
Beside him, she lowers herself to her haunches to inspect Cain’s body. There’s a sucking, fleshy, wet sound as she yanks Maze’s hell-forged blade from Cain’s chest. When she rises to her feet, she flips the blade around, offering it to Lucifer handle first.
“You have to go,” she says.
He frowns. “But—”
“Go, Lucifer,” she repeats, shaking the bloodstained knife at him.
He wraps his fingers around the hilt. The metal is cold and wet like hoarfrost. He hides the soiled blade in his breast pocket. “Detective, I can’t—”
“Go!” she says, cutting him off. “I’ll think of something to explain”—the room smells of gunpowder and disintegrated plaster; bloody white feathers and bodies blanket the rotunda—“this.”
He swallows. “The feathers—”
“I’ll get rid of them,” she tells him as if she’s read his mind. “Just go.” And with that, she actually gives him a shove toward the door. Forcefully enough to set him off balance, because he’s hardly able to string two thoughts together, let alone resist her admirable will.
He doesn’t want to leave her.
“Lucifer, go,” she commands.
The sirens crescendo.
A pit forms in his churning stomach.
“Will you fucking go?” she snaps, sounding miserable and alone.
And he realizes for the first time since before time … he has no choice.
So, he goes.