Excerpts from Fall of the Malakim
The angel Jonathan, one of the Seraphim, pursed his lips and considered how best to get right to the point. Attuned as they are to the nature of truth, Seraphim would rather seem tactless than dishonest. Still, there are times when other people's feelings must be considered.
"I hear Los Angeles has quite a few demons," he said.
The angel Maximilian, one of the Malakim, tightened his grip around the steering wheel. Attuned as they are to the nature of honor and purity, Malakim hate demons with a passion. It goes against their nature to leave a demon alive. Los Angeles teemed with demons; nothing could be more frustrating for a Malakite than not being able to do a thing about it.
"You've heard right," Maximilian muttered, one of his eyes unconsciously twitching, pulling his hat further down his forehead. "They own L.A. like we own San Francisco." His passenger nodded, taking the time to use just the right words.
"That . . . that must be very hard on you."
Jonathan, like most Seraphim, had a habit of stating the obvious. Hard was not a strong enough word. Every hour, every moment, Maximilian prayed for the dark hand of death to strike down the demons surrounding him. Frustrated urges chipped away at the core of his being, like termites eating an oak. While his very essence urged him to wipe the city clean of the abominations, his Archangel had ordered otherwise. Maximilian was in Los Angeles as a punishment, and he was likely to be there for quite some time. Maximilian provided Heaven with important information about the demons' activities. The demons loved him, loved torturing the Malakite who couldn't fight back.
Once a month, Maximilian headed for the desert to visit a little-known angelic sanctuary run by a friend of his. It was a peaceful time of reflection and prayer. He would spend a week tending to the sanctuary, working off one of the many dissonant tones generated by denying his oaths, his need to purge the city of demons and defend Heaven's honor. At the end of the week, he headed back to suffer them again. Sometimes the memories of his time in the desert strengthened him through the three weeks that followed, but not always.
His passenger was talking again.
"I'm sorry," said Maximilian, shaking the fog from his head. "What?"
"I said, how many other angels are there around here?"
The Malakite shrugged. "Five, that I know of."
The Seraph opened his mouth as though he were about to say something, then thought better of it and closed his jaw.
"Say it," said Maximilian, knowing what he was getting into. A Seraph will never shelve an issue by dismissing it as "nothing."
"It's appalling," Jonathan fired. "For twenty-five months I've been in the Americas, and I know that's not very long, but I've never heard of a city this big with so few angels."
"And no Tethers."
"There are Tethers," the Seraph corrected, his semantic side flaring up. "They're just not angelic. But there're more demonic sanctuaries here than in any other city in North America."
Maximilian was going to ask if that were really true, then remembered what he was talking to and thought better of it. Some Malakim would kill for a chance to go out in a blaze of glory fighting the powerful Diabolicals in Los Angeles; it was killing Maximilian to hold himself back.
"It's not like we could just flood the city with angels without the Demon Princes attacking us elsewhere and escalating the war," Maximilian said, wearily stating the obvious. "Besides, this city has a reputation for eating angels whole."
Jonathan sighed. "So we've given up on Los Angeles?"
"No," Maximilian shot back hurriedly. "No, no one's given up on anything." Still, he wouldn't meet Jonathan's eyes. The Malakite cursed inwardly, reminding himself to watch how he phrased things in the future. It's no use lying to a Seraph.
"I see," Jonathan said slowly, the perfect Seraphic comment. It could mean anything. Maybe he knew and maybe he didn't.
"So who'd you tick off to get sent here?" Maximilian asked, glad to be on the offensive.
"No one," the Seraph said. Maximilian grunted. "That I know of," Jonathan hastily added. "It was a bit strange, though. When Archangel Yves gave me this assignment, I didn't have an advance briefing. I've heard rumors about L.A., of course – how could I have avoided it? Still, I absolutely despise rumor. It's so seldom the truth. Yves said he wanted me to form an unbiased opinion and report back to him in a few weeks. I was told you'd meet me at the airport, and that was that."
"Well, keep your head down, that's my advice to you. Don't say anything to make them angry and you'll be okay."
"Them?" Jonathan asked.
"Them, the people we're going to see." Maximilian's shoulders sagged slightly. "You did want to meet the demons, didn't you?"
The Seraph breathed in slowly through his nose, nodding.
"Yes," he said, "I suppose we should get that over with."
"I-I hope they like you," Maximilian stuttered, finally seeing no reason to hold anything back from the new arrival.
"Really," Jonathan said, about to ask the obvious question before it dawned on him that he already knew the answer. The angel straightened his tie, ran his hands through his hair, and sat very calmly, almost serenely, until they arrived at their destination.
"I'm sure they'll like you," Maximilian gushed before hurrying out of the car, wincing. Never lie to a Seraph, he reminded himself again.
The party was debauched. Most of the fifty or sixty guests were human, but there was no mistaking the Diabolicals who paraded around the gathering as if they owned the place. He had become separated from the Seraph early on. Jonathan had wanted to mingle by himself, against Maximilian's advice.
"Better he learn to handle himself now than there be trouble later," Maximilian said out loud to no one in particular. He stared over at the bar, licking his lips, cursing his weakness. Just one of many, he thought sadly, shyly making his way through the crowd toward the island of alcohol on the other side of the room.
Halfway there, a delicate touch on his forearm stopped him dead in his tracks.
"Good evening, my angel," purred a voice from behind.
"Hello, Natalie," he said quietly.
"About to get a drink?" she asked.
"Was thinking about it," he said, lowering his head.
"Tosh. It would be far more entertaining to watch your friend make a fool of himself."
Maximilian tensed upright, his divine sense of honor shining like a celestial beacon. He angrily pushed his way through the crowd.
"The main lounge," Natalie called after him, laughing.
The angel got there just in time, but he found himself unable to take any action against the increasing chaos. He had taken an oath to protect Heaven against dishonor in all its forms, but he was restrained by his Archangel's orders from doing anything to jeopardize his position in Los Angeles. The Malakite could merely clench his fists and watch the Seraph talk to one of the nameless studio executives who cruised through these sorts of parties. Perhaps ten people were in the room, sitting in brightly colored bean bags and nonchalantly sipping at various drinks. While no one was looking at the duo in the middle of the room, it was obvious that no one was paying attention to anything else.
"Why would you say that?" asked Jonathan. "Why do you continue to say things with your mouth that your heart does not believe?"
The guy, who didn't know he was talking to an angel and wouldn't have believed it if someone had told him, smiled and chuckled.
"Hey," he said, "I just said to give me a call tomorrow and let's go do something."
"Yes, but that's not what you meant. You don't ever want to see me again."
"What?" the human laughed, shaking his head. "Jonathan, Jon, you're not making sense here." He smiled and put his hand on the angel's shoulder. "Really, call my secretary and tell her I said to make an appointment."
Jonathan shrugged off the man's hand. "But how can I do that," he said innocently, "when you're planning to call her when you get in your Suburban and tell her to ignore me?"
The guy's smile faltered for a moment, then grew into a wide, knowing grin.
"I don't know who put you up to this," he said, wagging a finger at the angel, "but you're good." He laughed while stealing a glance at his watch. "Listen, I have to split – lots of work to do tonight, you know how it is."
"Yes," the angel said in a slow, patronizing voice, "I do know how it is. You hate me, and you don't want to ever see me again. You're considering calling some friends of yours in dark gray suits to follow me around so you can get at whoever set you up. You want to get out of here as quickly as possible so you can drop your wife off at home and still have time to make it over to the apartment where you keep that fifteen-year-old runaway. It's been almost a week since you've done a line on her tight young belly." The angel tapped the side of his nose. "All that cocaine," he said, "must be 'hard work.'"
The man blanched, his jaw shaking. A woman stared at him from across the room, gauging his reaction. Then she threw her drink at him.
"You asshole!" she shouted while the man cringed. "I sit around the house all day doing nothing, and you can't even allow me the dignity of finding out about your lurid affairs in the paper like everyone else does!" Her voice assumed the warble of a woman on the edge of a breakdown. "I clean for you, I wait for you, I sit around the house doing nothing – nothing – and – "
"Oscar caliber," the Seraph interrupted, clapping slowly. "I can see why he picked you out of all the other actresses he's slept with. But I wouldn't exactly call blowing the pool boy this afternoon 'doing nothing' – "
"You bitch!" the guy shouted, picking the glass up off the floor and throwing it back at her. It caught a cheekbone just below her left eye, spraying blood on several shocked onlookers.
"Oh my darling," he said, rushing to her side. "Oh, my God, my baby, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Yes, you did," the angel pointed out. "You just hope she doesn't sue you for divorce and take all your beloved material possessions."
"I think that is quite enough," rang a deep voice from the opposite corner of the room.
Maximilian bared his teeth at the new arrival, who walked gracefully out of the shadows and into the center of the room.
"I think I know what you are," Jonathan said.
The demon slapped the angel across his face with an open palm. Most of the onlookers began to find things of interest in other rooms.
"Then I shan't have to tell you how I expect my guests to behave," said the demon, removing a pair of handcuffs from his back pocket. "Put these on," he said to the angel.
"You haven't learned how to behave yet," the demon said, slapping the angel across the other cheek. "Here, I am the Host, not you. You are nothing."
The Seraph stood his ground. He and the demon stared deeply into each other's eyes.
"I could crush you," the demon said. "Listen to my voice. You know what I say to be true."
"It is true that you believe it," said the angel, unblinking.
Oh my God, thought Maximilian, his hands trembling. Oh God oh God oh God.
Natalie walked up next to the tortured Malakite, closing the door behind her.
"This must be rough on you, Maxie," she said, wiping sweat from his forehead. "I'll make it up to you later, I promise."
"Oh my God," the angel cried, and he emitted a painful noise that no human voice could ever make, audible only to celestial ears. It echoed for moments, sickly lingering in the air. Imagine the final chord of "A Day in the Life," with every note out of tune. The two celestials in the middle of the room broke eye contact and turned to the angel. "Oh my God," he squealed, "what have I done?"
He squatted, grunting in anguish, clenching his gut. "Oh," he cried, tears streaming down his cheeks, his nose pulled up into an animal's snarl. A large wet bulge grew in the seat of the angel's pants. He grabbed his seat and blushed like a first-grader who'd embarrassed himself in the schoolyard.
The demoness rushed the whimpering angel into a private office adjoining the main lounge. The other demon turned away in disgust, smoothly pocketing the handcuffs. Jonathan followed the sobbing Malakite.
Maximilian was inconsolable, his face flushed and his hands shaking.
"Shh," Natalie said, pressing her body against him from behind and running her hands through his hair. She undulated her torso against his back in a soothing repetitive motion. "Shh, it's okay. It's okay."
She moved her hands down to his belt and began to unbuckle it. Maximilian howled in pain and embarrassment, bucking her away from him. The demoness flew back against the wall, cracking her head against a shelf and falling to the ground, stunned. The angel hopped back and forth from one foot to the other, clutching the lump in the back of his pants and grimacing through his tears.
The Seraph, with some hesitation, helped Natalie up from the floor. He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket and pressed it to the area on her head where blood was beginning to mat her hair.
"Thanks, angel," she told Jonathan with a weak smirk. "You're all right." Jonathan frowned slightly, not knowing quite how to react, and backed away from her as she turned back to the Malakite, using one hand to hold the angel's handkerchief to her bleeding head.
"I'm just trying to help you, you dumb bastard," she said to Maximilian. He'd calmed down, lowering his head and keening like a beaten dog, but refused to move his hands from the seat of his pants.
"I'll forget about this," Natalie said, motioning toward her increasingly bloody head wound, "if you'll let me help you. But I can't help you unless we can get your pants off."
Maximilian's face wrenched up in a dark grimace as he started sobbing again. Still, his trembling hands began slowly to unbuckle his belt. The angel dropped his pants, and the lump thudded wetly upon the ground. It was a prehensile tail, fat and fleshy and pale as a boiled egg, stretching down from the base of his spine and collecting in a few loose coils on the carpet.
"Well," Natalie said, with a nonchalant smirk, "that's going to be harder to hide."
"Harder?" asked Jonathan.
"Harder than the rest," she explained, unbuttoning the Malakite's shirt and removing his hat. The angel looked defeated, immune to any further indignities.
The other angel gaped while mentally noting his companion's obvious Discord: the tail, of course, hanging down limply between the tormented angel's legs; stigmata across his chest, temporarily staunched by blood-soaked bandages; two soft, spongy horns growing from the top of his head; and God only knew how much was wrong inside that head.
"This is not good," the Seraph said quietly to himself. The other angel cried, his new tail twitching with each spasm.
Barring special attunements. a Lilim must sense a Need and fulfill it to get a potential Geas (often called a "hook" by Lilim). At that stage, the only way to avoid the Geas-hook lodging itself in your soul is to refuse the favor she offers! While the hook has found no purchase, this causes the Daughter no dissonance – only annoyance.
Most Geas-hooks will not show up as Discord until they're invoked, at which point they become obvious; only Superiors can tell someone has hooks stuck in him. The favors owed to Lilith always show as chains or shackles in celestial form.
Only Lilith can trade the Geases she holds. Her Daughters can pledge unspecified favors to others, self-geas themselves to a specific task, or attempt to inflict Geases on others – but they cannot directly trade the favors they hold, not even to other Lilim. (They might be able to trade them to Lilith, but that's a tricky business, usually not worth the Princess' effort; she'd rather you just promise to invoke the Geas only when and as she specifies. Now, if you had a hold on a Superior . . .) Their favor networks usually involve seeking out someone who holds a Geas on someone who holds a Geas on someone who . . .
Anyone able consciously to expend Essence can, if he wishes, promise a favor to a Lilim – specified or unspecified. She need only exert her will (no roll required, just a round of concentration, but the subject must not resist) and the Geas will manifest, exactly as the ones owed to Lilith do.
Once a Geas is invoked and "active," only the invoker (or his death) can remove it, canceling his previous instructions. If he won't cooperate . . . pray for Intervention.
Some examples of what a Geas can make someone do:
Geas/1: Personally show someone the way to a location; fetch groceries; copy a supposedly innocuous computer file and hand it over; use a Song requiring 1 Essence (such as Corporeal Healing) in a safe area.
Geas/2: Carry an innocuous, non-dangerous item for a week; comb a database thoroughly for some specific information; look the other way when someone comes by a guard station; help strew banana peels in front of a Malakite's apartment door.
Geas/3: Leave your daily newspaper at a diner after you've read it, for about a month; write a carefully researched editorial for a newspaper; be in the bathroom when the thieves run out of the bank with the alarms going off; use a Song requiring 2 Essence in a dubiously safe location; do something that may garner a note of dissonance.
Geas/4: Serve as a courier for secret messages of dubious content for a week; deliver the passwords for a computer system; help rob a bank; let an enemy go free one time; use an Essence-heavy Song in a mildly dangerous place.
Geas/5: Harbor someone innocuous for half a year; engage in smuggling for a week; let several enemies go free right under your nose; harbor an obvious "dubious character" for a month and don't tell anyone; disable security alarms for something under your care; throw yourself between someone else and a bullet; put a human in the hospital; risk losing Forces, if it doesn't reduce you below 7.
Geas/6: Work somewhere for a year and keep careful tabs on everyone there, delivering reports; violate your Superior's Dissonance conditions more than once; jump into a volcano for no obvious reason (celestials only); commit a serious crime, such as murder; assist your Superior's worst enemy, once; betray a friend; risk losing several Forces.
(And, of course, you can geas someone to invoke an equal or lower Geas of his own on someone, with the words you specify.)
A Geas can also be used in a negative sense: "Don't leave this room for one hour," or "Do not geas a customer of this establishment for one month, without permission." In cases such as that, the subject will gain a note of dissonance (or a point of damage) every time he violates the Geas until the duration is passed, and unlike the "active" form – "Do this!" – the dissonance (or damage) suffered will persist after the Geas has expired! The Geas-level required for a "negative" is one higher than the duration would ordinarily require; extenuating circumstances may cause a Lilim to bind herself less "fairly." The Daughters dislike geasing themselves to negative tasks, and will insist on careful wording of such a pledge.
A Geas that becomes impossible to fulfill – such as obtaining something that has been destroyed, for instance – will vanish, causing a final note of dissonance or point of damage. Its effects can then be cured normally.
At first the video was grainy, but it eventually resolved into a solid image, crystal clear. The people in the video were an angel and a demon. Their skin shone with postcoital sweat.
The angel squeezed his eyes shut so tightly that the veins in his forehead throbbed blue and his skin burned red. Just before his face flushed completely crimson, his concentration broke and his shoulders collapsed into a hunch of defeat.
"I can't take it," the Malakite gasped to his lover. "I can't take it anymore."
"There, there," the demon whispered, brushing wisps of hair from the angel's forehead. "There, there, baby. I know it's rough."
"It's not rough," he moaned. "It's unbearable. I – I have a hole. In my soul." The demon laughed. Her lover gave her a gloomy stare.
"Sorry, baby," she said, covering her smile with one hand and caressing his shoulder with the other. "Really, I'm sorry. It's just that, 'hole in my soul' – it rhymes. It sounds like a rock song." She assumed a cockney accent. "See 'ere, sir," she whispered. "I've got a 'ole in me soul." While rubbing his shoulder, she murmured a Song of Charm, sapping his strength and, she hoped, soothing his anger. He slumped back down into his seat and stared at his hands.
"I want to kill you," he confided. "I want to kill you so badly. I want to wrap my hands around your head and squeeze until my palms meet."
"I know, baby, I know."
"You're a demon. I'm an angel. I'm supposed to kill you."
"I know it, baby. But you're strong. You don't have to give in."
"I want to," he whined. "I really want to. I burn to give in, but there's a hole, a hole in my soul."
She narrowed her eyes, pushing away any affection.
"'There is only a hole,'" she said slowly, repeating the words as if promising they would work, "'because I perceive there is a hole.' Say that for me, Max." The angel pinched his lips with fat fingers, avoiding her eyes.
"Say it for me," she said sternly. "'There is only a hole because I perceive there is a hole.'"
"Th – There is only a hole . . . because – "
"Why is there a hole, Maxie-baby? You know there's not really a hole. Why do you think there's a hole?"
"There is only a hole because I perceive there is a hole," the Malakite said, staring forward blankly. His breathing slowed.
"Go on," said the demon.
"There is only a hole because I perceive there is a hole," he repeated, shoulders sagging even further. He swayed back and forth, eyes glazed and mouth slack, muttering the phrase over and over like a mantra. Then, suddenly, he stopped.
He seemed to surface from his reverie, surface all the way, climbing out of his protective haze and stupor, the alcohol and the discordant buzzing of the Symphony all around him. He looked at the demon and then his eyes opened wide as though he had just experienced a horrifying revelation.
"I did it again," he said, his voice quavering with anguish. "I'm bad. I can't stop myself. David was right, I'm drawn to evil. I can't be a Malakite any more. If any of them saw me, they would destroy me. They would recognize me for the evil thing I am." He looked down at his body as though he had never seen it before, feeling the physical evidence of his corruption, but then he jerked his hands free, slick with blood from the stigmata on his chest, red as the hands of a murderer.
"Hey, hey, easy darling – " She touched him, trying to calm him as she had so many times before, but her touch increased his torment.
"Stay away from me!" he screamed, slapping her arm away from him. The violent motion unbalanced him and he staggered back, his feet tangling with his limp vestigial tail. He fell to the floor, shrieking with a mad rage so overpowering that Natalie finally realized she might be in danger.
"Nooo! I'm Falling!" He writhed in pain and terror, trying to rise and then collapsing in a pathetic heap on the floor. "I'm Falling! Natalie, help me!"
The demon hesitated for a moment, undecided, and then took hold of his hand to pull him off the floor. She resumed her soothing tone, as though talking to a child who is afraid of monsters.
"Come on, baby. You've just fallen down." She had him halfway to his knees when he toppled over again like a rag doll.
"I've Fallen," he moaned.
"Don't be so silly," she chided. "You haven't Fa–"
Suddenly he lunged up off the floor, grabbing her around the throat with both meaty hands. "It's all my fault," he said to her panicked face, shaking her ruthlessly. "It's ALL MY FAULT!"
He swung around, lifting her as though she were weightless, then with an explosive movement more powerful than any human could produce he hurled her across the room. She smashed against a wall, her body thudding to the ground where it lay, utterly still beneath a rain of bloody plaster.
The angel sang, sprouting wings and lethal claws. Howling, he attacked the room, beating the air with his wings, smashing and tearing like a trapped beast. He unleashed a fearsome cry, shattering everything breakable that was still whole. Shards of glass tore his skin from the violence of the explosion and the pain whipped him into new heights of madness. He threw himself at the door, splintering it with the force of his fury. Then he disappeared into the City of Angels.
The tape ended.
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