Archon

By: Sabrina Benulis

The Books of Raziel


Zero



Israfel rather enjoyed the sight of the human stumbling into his nest.

Angels were fond of freshness and youth, and though he’d expected a girl, maybe even a woman, this turn of events was undeniably interesting. Here was an opportunity to be relished; a beautiful thing, weak and fragile as glass. The young man was slender, but also tall and well-built, ringlets of brown hair spilling against the base of his strong neck. He’d hesitated, one hand resting on the door handle. Now he leaned forward, scanning the church’s insides, breathing softly.

“Yes?” Israfel peered from behind a column.

The human gasped. His hand slipped, snapping the handle back into place.

It was a typical reaction. Any angel could be beautiful, but Israfel knew he painted a far more imposing picture than most. His figure bordered on ambiguous, his blue eyes were larger than a human’s, ringed with stylized circles of kohl, and the hair that framed them shimmered whiter than the stars. A single word from his lips and the universe stilled to listen. This wasn’t the first time he’d left someone with nothing to say.

“Your name then?” he said more gently.

The human shut the double doors, their handles latching with a click.

Slowly, he crept closer, too enthralled not to get a better look. But his journey stopped at a mildew-covered pew, and he steadied himself with a hand on its armrest. “My name is—Brendan,” he whispered. “Brendan Mathers.”

“My name is Israfel.” He glided out into the open, still feigning shyness.

Silence lingered between them, rain pattering against the church’s outer walls, droning steadily as it dampened old buttresses and statues. The building was small compared to others in the city, but sadly abandoned to time and the elements. Holes speckled the lower ceiling, some revealing the towers sparkling against the night sky, others allowing the breeze to bluster raindrops into puddles near Israfel’s feet. Mold splotched the altar, darkened spots of the walls, stained paintings, and obscured once-intricate tapestries.

Brendan, though, was oblivious to it all. “Israfel . . .” he whispered again. “You are aware this part of the Academy is off-limits to civilians and students?”

“You were listening to me sing, weren’t you?”

Brendan swallowed, his voice cracking. “That has nothing to do with the fact that you’re in a restricted area and—”

“We both know I’m not a student.”

Israfel allowed his toes to catch the light, their tiny scales glistening like diamond dust.

Thunder, too faint for human ears, rumbled out in the distance. Another storm was arriving fast, threatening to saturate the church. Israfel made a show of brushing dirt from his feet and stepped gracefully toward the altar at the end of the aisle, its odor of rotten wood stale and thick. A single, long glide would have shortened the journey, but this was hardly the time to reveal his wings. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Brendan. Perhaps we’ll cross paths again sometime in the future.”

Brendan’s footsteps echoed from behind.

Israfel paused, forcing back a smile. “Is there anything else? I am leaving after all.”

“You—” Brendan sounded as if he’d been slapped. “You’re not going to leave by yourself? Are you? Let me escort you home.” He averted his eyes. “You don’t look like someone who’s been in Luz for long—and the city can be dangerous at night.”

“Then you probably won’t be happy to see where I live.” Israfel looked over his shoulder. “In fact, you just might evict me.”

He continued strolling to the right of the altar, toward a doorway with wooden molding warped and blackened by moisture. Brendan moved to follow him, peeking up at the skyline through the nearest hole in the ceiling. The storm’s fringes were rolling inland already, their clouds dyed lethal shades of purple and black. “You never answered my question,” he said, trailing after Israfel again. “Do you even know that you’re on Academy grounds? The barbed-wire fence should have been warning enough.”

“I could say the same for you.”

Israfel ascended the flight of stairs, his airy steps suddenly interrupted by creaks and groans. Darkness surrounded them, and he traced his fingers along the window that paralleled the staircase, allowing its smooth surface to guide him upward. The first hints of the downpour spat against the glass, glazing a view of broken turrets and curled shingles. Brendan slowed as they passed, his voice hushed.

“You live in the rectory?”

The path ended, cut off by a pitted door.

Israfel pushed it open, spilling warm light from his room onto the landing. His chamber was somewhat dull for an angel nest, any hope at elegance destroyed by the cobwebs waving from the ceiling. But what humans lacked in maintenance he’d made up for in thievery. The carvings circling the windows and door frames were the perfect place to hang mirrors, broken or cracked. Musty velvet cushions and small end tables lay scattered throughout the room, mixing with Israfel’s hasty collection of jewels and brushes and musical trinkets. Luckily, the candlelight could only reach so far, hiding some of the garbage.

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