Author’s note: So, I’ve been considering the idea of taking all of my Angels stories and compiling them into a collection or book of some sort. They are my favorite to write. Unfortunately, I’d need a central theme to tell, even with little asides or stand-alone stories. Hmm.
As Sariel drifted slowly along, he wondered if he would get in trouble if he did the next lap with his eyes closed.
He probably would, he eventually decided. But, just like on the last seven million laps, the idea was tempting. If he could walk this route with his eyes closed, he could give that whole sleeping thing a try. Of course, no angel had ever managed to fall asleep, but that didn’t stop Sariel from wanting to attempt it. And what if he did manage to fall asleep? He’d be famous!
Still with his eyes open, Sariel turned around the next corner, passing by the Salt Pillar of Heavenly Wrath. To his eyes, it looked like any other pillar of salt. Apparently it had once been some woman of vague importance. In Sariel’s eyes, that fact would be a lot more apparent if someone went at the pillar with a chisel for a few hours.
In truth, Sariel just wanted an escape from this job. Initially, a few thousand years ago, the job had sounded perfect. Guard the Vaults of Heaven! Protect the most powerful treasures in existence! Repel the hordes of demon invaders!
In the entire time that Sariel had been employed as a guard for the Vaults of Heaven, he hadn’t even seen an imp, much less an invading demon horde. That had really been false advertising, he grumbled to himself.
Sariel was now approaching the Astral Wing of the Vaults, where the gadgets tended to be smaller and covered with lots of spikes. These devices were designed for bridging the gap between the astral planes, allowing the bearer access to the different realms. They were also very, very illegal, and thus were promptly confiscated from any being who came to possess one(1).
Of course, like any angel, Sariel did a good job at his job. It went against every fibre of his being to do otherwise. He was assigned to this job, and he was going to do it well. He still kept up the vague hope that he’d get a promotion. Unfortunately, that avenue didn’t seem to be panning out either.
At his last performance review (that had been what, eight hundred years ago?), he had shifted uncomfortably in the seat across the desk from his superior, Razakael. His superior was scrutinizing him over a pair of silver half-moon glasses.
Razakael didn’t need glasses, of course. All the angels had perfect vision. But he had seen humans use them to project an air of dominance, and he thought they made him look more like a proper supervisor.
“So, Sariel,” he finally spoke up. “How long has it been since your last review?”
“One thousand years,” the other angel replied. Angels were designed to respond well to authority, and Razakael was definitely the superior. The fourth syllable in his name showed that. “Give or take a few months.”
“Well, I’m a very busy angel,” Razakael replied, trying to brush away the second half of that comment. He really wasn’t. He spent most of his time sitting with his feet up on his desk, attempting to throw his halo over various objects in his office. But he couldn’t let Sariel know that.
“Looking over your report,” he went on, “I don’t see a single report of a demon being repelled from the Vaults, much less a horde.”
Sariel shrugged uncomfortably. Angels weren’t really built to shrug, but it was such a useful expression, they’d adapted it almost immediately. “There haven’t been any demons attacking the Vaults, though!” he protested. “I can’t repel demon attackers if there aren’t any!”
Razakael wasn’t going to give in to mere logic. “The conditions are clear, Sariel,” he insisted. “I can’t give you a promotion unless you repel demons. And you haven’t repelled any demon attackers, so I can’t promote you. Those are the rules.”
In his seat, Sariel slumped slightly. The rules. They didn’t always work out, but he couldn’t disobey the rules – to do so would be anathema to everything he was. “I understand,” he said in a glum tone.
His boss rose up from his seat behind the desk to walk him out of the office. “Perk up, Sariel,” Razakael said, not unkindly, giving the lesser angel a pat on the shoulder. “You never know when a demon horde might be around the corner. Maybe next time.”
Sariel nodded as he stepped out through the doorway, but he didn’t have high hopes. And now, with only two hundred years until his next review, he still hadn’t seen a single hint of a demon. Just aisles and aisles of dusty artifacts.
As he’d considered this, Sariel had been making his way through the plinths and shelves in the Astral Wing, past row after row of little devices that hadn’t been touched in thousands of years. Perhaps if another angel was demoted low enough, he’d be sent down here to dust, and Sariel would have some company.
But something wasn’t quite right. Sariel paused, his nose rising up in the air a little like a bloodhound(2). He had patrolled this way millions of times, and he had long since memorized every single aspect of the route. But this time, something wasn’t right. Something was out of place.
Sariel’s eyes scrolled over the shelves, across the little gizmos and gadgets. As he searched for whatever was different, he had to sigh. No wonder this wing didn’t draw any visitors – the layout was appalling! Most of the objects were piled on the shelves with no real sense of order. And while the Salt Pillar of Heavenly Wrath at least had a small little placard at its base to tell inquisitive admirers about when and where it had been created through Divine Providence. These objects weren’t even in labeled.
Finally, Sariel’s questing eyes settled on what was wrong. On one of the shelves, there was a small circle lacking dust, a single little clean spot in the midst of the other discarded objects. And that little circle hadn’t been there before.
The angel squatted down, bending over until his thin nose was only an inch or so from the little circle of cleanliness. He took a long sniff, inhaling in through his nostrils until his lungs were full – again, not unlike a bloodhound.
There was definitely a hint of sulfur in the air. And that meant demons.
Standing back up, Sariel reached down to his belt and grasped the handle of his flaming sword. As a guard angel, he had been issued the standard angel sidearm. Of course, it hadn’t left its scabbard a single time before this in the course of his job, and he had to grunt and yank at it a bit before it finally slid free. But it still sprang into flaming life as he drew it out, blazing up in a plethora of red and orange.
Sariel grinned. This was his chance to prove himself. He was finally going to get to go after a demon!
But as he dashed up and down the aisles, he saw no sign of any demonic presence. His nose told him that there had definitely been a demon at the site of the missing artifact. But it must have simply popped in, snatched the device, and immediately leapt back out. Sariel had missed his chance to finally try out his smiting skills.
As quickly as his good mood had set in, the pleasant feelings vanished. The tip of Sariel’s flaming sword dropped back down to the ground, leaving a small char mark on the floor of the Vault. This meant that Sariel had failed in his guard duties. And now he would have to report to Razakael that a demon had managed to make off with an artifact.
What had the demon felt was worth stealing, anyway? Sariel turned his attention back to the little circle, trying to recall what had sat there. Slowly, his mind filled in a picture of a little disc, deeply tarnished and covered with small, ornate carvings. It seemed harmless enough. There weren’t even any spikes(3).
When Sariel made his report to Razakael, however, his supervisor turned pale, and those silver half-moon glasses slipped all the way off his face face to clatter onto the desk. “Are you certain?” he gasped, his fingers tightening on the scroll with Sariel’s description of the artifact. “Are you completely sure that this is what’s missing?”
Sariel nodded, not sure what all the fuss was about. “It’s just an astral shifting device, isn’t it?” he asked. “And I’m sure we’ve tagged its signature. Can’t we just trace it and get it back?”
Razakael was already clambering up out of his seat. “No. Yes. Maybe. Look, it’s very important that we recover this immediately! Do you understand?”
Sariel also stood up, although he wasn’t quite sure why. He’d never seen his boss so agitated. “So I should head down and see if I can get this traced?” he asked, unable to keep a note of hope out of his voice. This would be his first time out of the Vault in millennia, and he was quite looking forward to it. He had a demon to hunt down, an artifact to retrieve, and a chance for some fresh air! He should have let a demon come in and snatch something centuries ago.
Before he could move towards the exit, however, Razakael shook his head. “This is bigger than you, now,” he said. “You’re going to follow me. We have to call in a strike team. This is way beyond what either of us can handle.”
This sounded serious. “This artifact,” Sariel asked, as he followed his boss out of his office and along the white corridors of Heaven. “It’s important? Dangerous?”
Razakael nodded. “Oh yes,” he replied. “More than you can imagine.”
(1) Given that these devices were illegal, Sariel was never quite sure why they were being displayed in the Vaults of Heaven, and not simply destroyed. He supposed that perhaps they were intended to impart some sort of lesson. They were not a popular exhibit.
(2) Having been stuck on guard duty in the Vaults of Heaven for the last few millenia, Sariel didn’t know what a bloodhound was. Even if he did, he would have been very offended by this comparison. Despite his objections, however, it was an apt comparison.
(3) Most of these artifacts had been created by demons, attempting to find a way to break into Heaven for some underhanded scheme. In the mind of a demon, everything was made more ferocious through the addition of spikes. The sight of a demonic toilet was enough to give anyone nightmares.