“I did not intend any of this.”
Jacob Bar Azazel looked up at his father. Jacob was as small as any of the children of men, wiry and strong but little. His father, though with sorcerous operations he had reformed his body, had kept his original Heaven-given stature. He had been a Bearer of the Word, and he still towered over his son, his goat-like legs and bat wings casting a shadow that covered the entire platform at the top of Ainok’s central Tower.
Azazel, first of the Princes of Ainok, looked out over his City of the Free, and his son turned and followed his gaze.
The city was watered and sluiced by its great canals. They brought bright clean water over sparkling stones from the Rivers of Eden in an immense spiral that touched the very middle of Ainok. The water made a single twist around the Grand Plaza in the city’s center and then spun back out again, a second spiral within the first, that carried the city’s filth out and away, to the foul swampy lake to its south.
The canals flowed through broad plazas and along wide boulevards. Every building in Ainok was squarely framed of dark woods and white stone, and everything sparkled. Now, as the first burning stink of the trails of the falling Bearers of the Sword reached Jacob’s nostrils, the Free People fled. In all their sizes, they jammed the city’s gates and streets, trampling each other and staining the streets red.
“They came in tents, at first,” Azazel continued. “They had heard of my rebellion, and though I raised no flag, they came to me anyway. I was their flag. They wanted to be free.” He turned and looked at his son, and his eyes were warm. “Everyone wants to be free. Not everyone understands the price.”
“What’s the price, papa?” Jacob asked. The top of the Tower felt intimate, warm, and safe, though the wrath of Heaven fell from the skies all around them and his people massacred itself in the streets below. Everything but the platform was remote and unreal.
Azazel turned again and looked down at the city. “When you are free,” he rumbled, his voice like a lion’s warning growl, “you must bear all the consequences of your actions alone.”
Jacob considered this. “What do you mean?”
His father sighed. “I mean that the city of tents became unlivable. We walked in our own excrement, we ate flies and breathed their eggs, and I could not sleep for the sounds of rutting and murder about me at all times.”
“Did you stay because of me?”
Azazel laughed and knelt. Standing at his father’s knee and under his wings was as good as being inside a building. Jacob grinned as his father gently mussed his hair. “I would have,” the Prince of the Free agreed. “But you did not exist then. I had not even met your mother.”
Jacob nodded, eager to hear the story though he didn’t understand it.
“I built this city.” Azazel stood again, his heavy hoofs clicking loudly on the white flagstones that paved the Tower’s platform. He stretched an enormous arm to point as he spoke. “I barred access to this plain while I worked, and I began by flooding it to clean it of the filth that was here. I dug the canals myself. I marked out the Grand Plaza and the Palace, but the first building I raised was this Tower, and here I finally planted my banner. And then I opened the roads again.”
“And they came.”
Azazel nodded solemnly. “They came. They gathered in the Plaza and they heard my rules, and they agreed to them. We would be rebels, but we would rebel together, and our consequences would be shared.”
Azazel looked to the horizon. Bearers of the Sword strode across fruited fields, igniting them with their fiery white touch. Jacob trembled to look at the vengeful angels, faces entirely hidden behind plate-like visors and tree-sized swords dripping liquid fire on the ground, but his father looked calm. Resolved.
“Now,” Azazel said slowly, “I wonder if I have taken full enough account of what the consequences really are.”