Temptation

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Levastiel picked up his book and tried to find his place. He wasn’t sure why it took him so long, it was the exact place he found five minutes ago, and ten minutes before that. He finally had to admit the truth: he wasn’t in the mood to read.

It’s not that the book was bad. Indeed, the author probably would have won awards for it if he had lived long enough to finish it. But after almost three days of nothing but reading, he was getting a little tired of it. He usually worked Mondays, which was enough to get him in a reading mood for Tuesday. Veriel had taken his shift that Monday, though, in exchange for him taking Veriel’s Tuesday shift the week before, and now Levastiel had no idea what to do with himself.

“Laundriel,” a voice called out. He turned to see what was likely one of the oddest sights in all of creation, but it had become so routine to him, he scarcely noticed. She-Who-Slips-Between-The-Shadows-At-Midnight was still a demon. She still had horns, and goat legs, and skin the color of blood. But she wore the shimmering white robes of the cherubim wore, even if she somehow managed to show significantly more skin than any other angel, and if you squinted just right, you could see a faint glow framing her head.

“Your halo is coming along nicely, Midnight,” Levastiel told her with a smile.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said, non-chalantly, but a smile touched the ends of her mouth. Levastiel would have been willing to bet (if angels weren’t above such things) that she was blushing, but it was impossible to tell with her skin.

“How’s the book?” she asked.

“It’s all right, I suppose,” he said. “I mean, it’s great, really, I just haven’t really…” He trailed off.

Midnight laughed. “You actually miss working, don’t you?”

He felt oddly insulted by that. “Service to heaven is the greatest reward.”

“No, fabric softener is the greatest reward.” She grinned, fingering the edge of one sleevebetween two black nails. He noticed she had filed away the sharp claws. That must have taken some effort.

“Are you getting along with the Cherubim?” he asked.

The smile became a little strained. “I’m doing all right. Everyone looks at me weird, but… they’re nice about it. They look embarassed if they notice me noticing, and a lot of them have even apologized.”

“It’ll all seem normal soon enough.” He thought of his own reaction to her, or lack thereof.

“A demon working for heaven? Or people being nice?”

Levastiel shrugged. “Both, I guess.” She let out a sigh. “I do miss tempting people, though. I’m not made for all this filing crap. No offense, Levastiel.”

“None taken.”

“Do you think when my halo’s fully formed, I could trasferred to Temptations?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “We don’t have a Temptations office.”

“Why not?”

“You can’t just tempt somebody to be good. If you’re good for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t really count.”

She gave him a devilish1 grin. “That’s the challenge part. Getting someone to do something good because it’s in their best interests is easy. The trick is slowly manipulating them so they start doing something good because it’s good. Let me show you. Then you can tell the boss-abim how clever and forward-thinking I am.”

1 A devilish grin is distinct from a demonic grin in that while a demonic grin indicate that the grinner is plotting terrible things for you, a devilish grin suggests you’ll at least enjoy it.

Levastiel frowned. “I can’t. You’re still on probation. You’re not allowed to influence people.”

“I didn’t have a person in mind. I was thinking more along the lines of the Ravager.”

Levastiel shuddered at the memories of the demon’s horrible voice, but he had to admit that after a few beers, the demon wasn’t bad company. “You’re going to Save the Ravager?”

Midnight’s grin grew even wider. “I’m not. You are.”

Levastiel laughed at that, although it came out a little strained. “I think you’ve got the wrong angel for that.”

“No, you’re just the angel to do it. Come on, ever since you told him about days off, he skips work to go drinking every Tuesday. Let’s see how he reacts to you having too much free time.

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Going Up

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The demon was late. Levastial counted his blessings1, as he really had no idea what he was going to do if she did show up.

1 Twenty-three-thousand, four-hundred and sixty-two so far this year. When an angelic accountant counts his blessings, he does a thorough inventory.

Harold Oaks, of 93 Westminster Lane, was not a terribly important man2, but apparently whether he sold his soul or not would have a notable impact on the people around him, which would in turn impact the people around them. Levastial hadn’t been able to keep track of the finer details, as his expertise lay mostly with the weights of souls and feathers, but he grasped enough to realize that the potential collateral damage was far more significant than Mr. Oaks ever would be.

2 All men and women are equal in the eyes of Heaven, of course, but some were more equal than others.

No one was quite sure how the forces of Hell had spotted this. It had all come about at the very last minute, and Levastial was the only one who could be spared at the moment. Gabriel had told him he wouldn’t need to fight the demon or anything, just convince Oaks to keep his soul where it was. But Gabriel had also said that about…

It wasn’t worth dwelling on. Gabriel was an archangel, and incapable of lying3.

3 However, in Levastial’s experience, he was still perfectly capable of being completely wrong about matters.

Levastial didn’t know much about bartering souls, but he was fairly certain midnight was the appropriate time for such deals. It was well past one-thirty in the morning by the time Mr. Oaks gave up. He muttered something that would have been horribly blasphemous if it had been aimed in the other direction, climbed in his car, and drove away.

“I thought he’d never leave,” a voice purred.

Levastial jumped. His heart was racing and his breath caught in his throat. As an angel, he didn’t actually need to worry about such things, but he was scared enough to forget that at the moment.

The demon in front of him was not overly monstrous. If it weren’t for the ram’s horns on her head, the tail, the legs that ended in furry goat hooves, and her deep red complexion, she’d look like an average human. Well, she’d look like a human, at any rate. Her figure was well outside what could be considered “average.”

She wore black leather, something like a corset. There probably was a name for it, but it wasn’t the type of thing Levastial encountered often. It revealed enough of her blood red skin that he felt he should be offended by it, but given the swimsuits girls wore these days, it was almost conservative.

“Y-you’re She-Who-Slips-Between-The-Shadows-At-Midnight, aren’t you?” Levistial managed to ask.

She walked towards him, rolling her hips and smiling at him seductively. “Call me Midnight.”

“W-Well, Miss Midnight… I can’t help but notice you’ve… um, missed your appointment.”

She glanced in the direction Mr. Oaks’s car had disappeared, and shrugged. “I wasn’t here for him. I’m here for you.”

Levastial tried to take that in. Midnight was polite and waited.

“If you’re trying to get me to sell my soul,” he said, five minutes later, “you’re in for a bad time of it.”

She laughed. It somehow reminded him of a tiger stalking its prey.

“I’m not here to buy your soul,” she said. Standing up straight, she thrust her arms out to the side, as if putting herself on display. “I want to sell you mine.”

Levastial frowned. “I’m not an expert, but I don’t think it works that way. I mean, I don’t want to be rude, but do you even have a soul?”

Midnight turned away, looking suddenly vulnerable. “I don’t know. But I’m tired of this. I have been for centuries. It’s not exactly rewarding work, corrupting the souls of men.”

“But you do it, anyway. Our records say you’re one of the best.”

She looked back, a weak smile crossing her lips. “I’ll admit, I like the challenge of it, but… I never felt happy, even when I got a particularly stubborn or pious man to give in to temptation. Recently, I’ve come to realize that I felt oddly satisfied when I failed. If I gave it my best, and they saw the light at the last moment…” She trailed off.

Levastial thought of the satisfaction when a soul stopped just shy of tipping the scales.

“Do you really think you can do it?” he asked. “Change sides, just like that?”

The shadow of a smile faded away. “Angels can fall, right? So why can’t a demon rise? I don’t expect it to be easy, but I want to try.”

“I’ll have to speak with my bosses,” he said. “I can’t just make a decision like this on my own, you see.”

Turning away again, she stared up at the stars. “I understand.”

In a moment of forwardness that caught him completely by surprise, he stepped over to Midnight and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“If you truly are sincere, I’ll see what I can do.”

She nodded, then came to a sudden stop as the cuff of his sleeve brushed against her bare back. Whirling around, she grabbed his arm, pressing her cheek against his sleeve.

“Miss Midnight, I’m quite sure this isn’t-”

“Soft,” she whispered, a strangled longing in her voice. “Are all angel robes so soft?”

He stared at her for a moment before the question registered. “Yes, I suppose. I mean, more or less. I make it a point to keep my robes well-laundered at all times, but…” he trailed off, not sure what else to say.

“That’s my deal, then,” she said, still rubbing the cloth against her cheek, her eyes closed in pleasure.

“Your deal?”

“Mmmm…” she murmured. “You have no idea how uncomfortable it is, wearing leather every day. I’ll sell you my soul for a set of robes like this, and you do my laundry for me.”

“You’ll want three robes,” he said, his accountant nature taking over, “anything less is simply impractical. And I’ll do your laundry for one month only.”

“Three months,” she countered, her voice growing professional, even though her blissful expression didn’t change.

“Two months, and I’ll teach you how to do it yourself when we’re done.”

An Angel’s Day Off

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The sword seemed needlessly heavy. And hot, too. Did it really have to be on fire? Did that actually help anything?

The demon’s sword also burned, but with a black flame. Really, the entire thing seemed incredibly ostentatious.

I’m going to die, Levastiel thought. He was aware that dying wasn’t really that big a problem. Not for him, anyway. But he was fairly certain it would hurt a lot. Also, he had lasted uncountable years1 without dying, and it seemed like a real shame to lose that unblemished record.

1 Literally uncountable. Levastiel had been created before time, and that always made record keeping a little bit fuzzy.

The demon shouted something in a blasphemous tongue – a language that existed solely to insult one’s God – before charging the angel. Levastiel tried to get the flaming sword into some kind of defensive position.

“And this was supposed to be my day off,” he muttered to himself.

Much to the angel’s surprise, the charging demon stopped. His claws dug into the ground, throwing up a spray of gravel (which was rather impressive, since they were standing on what had until recently been a nicely paved sidewalk). Levastiel threw his hands up to shield his face, dropping the sword entirely. When he lowered them, he was face to face with the demon.

The beast opened both jaws and spoke. His voice rumbled like thunder before a storm, and his breath smelled like the remains of a particularly bloody battlefield.

“What did you say?” he asked.

“Oh, um…” Levestiel floundered. “I’m sorry. I suppose it’s bad manners to complain during a fight. I’m afraid my combat manners are a bit rusty.”

“There are no manners in the field of battle,” he said, in a voice like a scythe scraping over a tombstone. “There is only blood and death and pain.” The demon paused, then added, “and occasionally, there is a winner, I suppose. Tell me what you said, angel.”

“I was just… lamenting, is a good word, I suppose. I was lamenting that I was going to die on my day off.”

“Your day off?”

“Well, yes. I usually get Tuesday’s off, you see. I was going to go to the park and read for a bit. And there’s this cute cherubim who paints there, and I always want to talk to her, but I can never get up the nerve. But one of these centuries… Sorry, I’m rambling aren’t I?”

“It’s okay,” the demon said in as comforting a tone as one could muster when one’s voice sounds like a swarm of locusts, devouring the land itself. “You seem nervous. You don’t usually do this, do you?”

“Never,” Levastiel said. “I’m in charge of maintaining the scales. They’re very difficult to keep properly calibrated. Do you know how just how little a feather actually weighs? But Gabriel said something urgent came up today, and asked if I could fill in. He told me that he rarely had to do anything these days, that the hosts of Heaven and Hell just sort of glowered at each other and Earth did as it pleased. Anyway, I’ve never been terribly good at saying no to people, and Gabriel is…” he trailed off, looking for the right word.

“An ass?” the demon suggested, the cries of men and women burned at the stake echoing in his voice.

“Oh, no. I’d never call him that.”

“Of course you wouldn’t, doesn’t mean he’s not one.”

“He’s a good man, really.”

The demon nodded. “By definition. He’s still an ass, though. But we’re getting off topic here. You said you get every Tuesday off?”

“Well, yes. And Sundays, too, of course. Everybody gets Sunday off, naturally.”

“So,” the demon said with the howl of bitter winds across the artic plains, trying to put the pieces together in a way that made sense. “Every Tuesday and Sunday… you don’t have to work? At all? Ever?”

“Not usually, no. I’ve traded shifts with people before from time to time, but always within accounting. This is the first time I’ve had to cover for a seraphim – and the last, if I have any say in it. Why? How often do you get days off?”

“I don’t. I have to work every day.”

“Except Sundays, I’d imagine.”

“Sundays we have to work overtime.”

“How barbaric.”

“Well, it is hell.”

The angel and the demon stood in silence, neither able to think of anything to say.

Finally, echoing the tortured cries of a thousand damned souls, the demon said, “Screw this. I need a drink. You coming?”