Quickly, Earth’s skies fall behind us, replaced with the storming, swirling grey of purgatory. You’re lying limp in my arms now. That is good. It’ll make things easier. Before we descend into hell, I need to be completely certain that you are the one prophesized. It will not do to present my master a false vessel.

It’s been fifteen precious days since I began my task. A countless number of my counterparts, both demons and angels alike, have been searching for you night and day. Time and time again we have been fooled, choosing lesser vessels who might prove worthy for bearing demons but not for bearing my master, he who is the greatest among us. We have wasted a lot of time, and I worry he is getting impatient. I cannot disappoint him.

I will not.

I have far more hope this time. Even against the blasting wind and swirling atmosphere, I can smell you. You have that smell of darkness. That smell of hell. That smell of Him. Ash, fire and brimstone—and death.

When the demon who first discovered you approached me about you, I wasn’t convinced. You sounded no more special than the others: young and innocent and fertile, with that darkness stalking you like a shadow. The others had that smell too.

But I followed up, as I must. And when I did, I didn’t need to see you to know. I smelled you from miles away, and when I saw you from above, my chest swelled with excitement. Darkness surrounds you like an aura. It stalks you like a murderer. It corrupts you like a disease.

I knew right then that you must be the one. But like I said, I must be certain. Somewhere on your body you bear my master’s mark. If I find it, you will accompany me into hell where he waits for you. I foresee that it will be the best moment of my life.

I cannot wait.

Reaching my destination, I slow my flight and ease to my feet, gently enough not to wake you. To my left and right my angel brothers step back into the swirling clouds, keeping watch but hidden from your eyes in case you wake. I will only make use of them if I need to.

A few steps through the swirling mist and the stone altar slowly appears. It’s very old, older than anything man has made. Almost as old as me. It’s from the before time, from the time when angels were considered first in God’s eyes, not humans. Our figures have been carved into its sides, our hands upraised in adoration towards God’s light. Something sinks in my chest. I knew what that felt like once, when I was still loyal to God, when I still loved him, when he hadn’t abandoned us and replaced us with the likes of you.

I glance down into your sleeping face. You look at peace. In a way, you even look beautiful. When you’ve been made in God’s image, how can I not think so?

I’m about to rest you upon the stone when you suddenly wake. You stare up at me with your surprised eyes and I stare back at you.

‘Fear not,’ I say.

You don’t respond, only look me over with your frightened gaze. I know what you must think. I am more horrifying than lovely these days. That’s what happens when you’re no longer surrounded by God’s light.

I try again to lower you upon the altar, but you grip onto me with a cry. ‘Don’t kill me!’ You look at the altar in abject terror. Why are you so fearful? It’s only cold stone. Then I think, and I suddenly realise: humans have a history of sacrificing girls on altars.

I almost laugh at your ignorance. What point would there be in killing you? I try to lower you again but you lock your arms around my neck like a frightened child. I don’t like it—being so close to you. I’ve hated your kind for so long. I’m only doing this by my master’s command. If we were in another situation, I would have destroyed you by now.

‘Release me,’ I snap with such ferocity that you obey, your eyes wide with terror. You’re sobbing as I rest you on the altar. ‘Remove your clothes.’ Now that you’re awake, you can help me.

You look at me as though your worst nightmare has come true. You’re holding your hands up in the air, fisted loosely by your face, as though prepared to defend yourself, feeble though you are. They’re shaking so hard you keep knocking your elbows against the stone of the altar. I know what you’re thinking. I know what you fear. There’s no need. I might have the parts of a man but I am no such thing. I have no such desires. I only desire what you can offer my master.

‘Remove your clothes,’ I repeat.

Tears streak down your cheeks. You glance around at the swirling mist, and I can’t help but wonder what you must think of it. Where do you think you are? What do you think of this whole situation? You, one of man, who prefers so much his comfortable, mundane existence.

You touch the top button of your pants but your fingers slip weakly away.

‘This is my last command: remove your clothes, or I’ll remove them for you.’

You blink up at me as more tears dribble into puddles by your head. Finally, you obey. First you kick off your shoes. Then you lift your bottom to remove your pants.

‘Toss them away,’ I say.

You do. You’ve left your underwear on, but I don’t make you remove them just yet. Briefly, I look you up and down. I am disappointed but far from hopeless. If you have the mark it’ll most likely be in a place where no one can find it. You might not even know you have it. Keeping it safely hidden away is a form of protection. We, the Fallen, have many enemies and we must do everything we can to protect ourselves. If they were to discover who you are, they’d be sure to kill you and all our hopes and dreams and plans would come to naught.

Next, you unbutton your shirt. You take an inordinate length of time, your hands shaking, but I wait patiently. Finally you’re done. Weeping, you half sit up to pull it from your shoulders.

‘And your bra,’ I say before you can lie back down.

You dare to raise your eyes to mine before dropping them again. Reaching behind your back, you do as I say. Again, you take too long.

‘Lie back down,’ I command once you’re done. Again, I briefly look you over, and once more I see nothing. I will have to take a closer look. I grimace. It’s not something I want to do. Women’s flesh is sin incarnate, but I’ll do what I have to for my master.

You suck in a fearful breath as I touch you.