Perez of the Powers and his troop approached Erech in Mesopotamia, unbeknownst to the demons in the city. Perez looked up at the stars, extremely bright on this night, of all nights. A whole pantheon of false deities shone their lights down on earth, searching the ground for the King of the Universe, who was about to be born. The planets were aligned; the heavens were set. By their occult arts, Barkayal and Tamiel, Obsessions of astrology, had determined that Daniel’s weeks would be fulfilled when a certain star arose. And the star was rising.
And so Perez scanned the sky. The demons knew that the “star” was to include the alignment of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with a brilliant comet; Perez watched for the comet’s arrival, for it was his signal to attack.
He turned his gaze to a tower, set up just outside of the city near the old Babylonian ziggurats. The tower contained various compasses, astrolabes and scrolls for examining the heavens, and it belonged to an astrologer named Balthasar. Perez was examining the wise man as he gazed at the same planets Perez watched, when a male servant interrupted the quiet.
“Master, I’ve brought a letter to you from the king in Susa. He desires your presence at court immediately. He wishes to know if the crops this coming year will be rich enough to allow for higher taxes on the satraps.”
Balthasar sighed. “Oh, the ways of this world! The king wants to know if his revenue will rise? I want to know if tonight is the night when the Great King will arise!” He turned his head. “Do you see the stars Omeed? Every year the gods above revolve around us, watching our paths. Always they view the earth from separate parts of the dome, coming together in pairs only on occasion to converse. Great things often happen when a mere pair come together. But tonight!” He spread his arms and stared in wonder at the sparkling black tapestry above, his face illuminated by the dim lamp on the sill. “Tonight, though there is no moon, the world is nearly alight from the convergence of three gods!”
It was true. Though guided by the demons they represented to idolatrous man, the planets did foretell the coming of the King and would even point precisely to His birthplace when the final sign appeared.
Then Balthasar’s eye caught sight of it; his pupils contracted with the light from above. A great comet, very close to the earth, sped towards the line of planets. Perez knew it was guided by Halleus of the Powers and that the attack could begin.
“Quick, Omeed!” cried Balthasar, grabbing a worn portent scroll and an astrolabe. “Saddle the camels! Get the other servants to gather provisions for a long journey! And be sure to bring the best frankincense!” He ran down the stairs to the courtyard to direct the servants himself. “Oh, yes! We shall visit the King, but not in Susa! This is no mere king, but the one foretold!”
Perez again glanced at the heavens. Halleus flew closer to align with the planets and the planets themselves shone with a dazzling light. “As planned,” Perez murmured, “The celestial Principalities have begun the attack on those infernal strongholds above. No demon shall rule those stars as they portend the birth of the Lord, nor shall they guide evil to the birthplace!” Perez turned to his troop of angels, clad like him in sable and diamond livery. “Now, brothers, to smash a breach in astrology forever!”
The group shot to the tower as they brandished glittering maces. Tamiel, the “Prince of Persia,” had been sitting in Balthasar’s observatory, watching every celestial move over Balthasar’s shoulder and craftily planning his own discovery of the Savior’s birthplace. But Perez crashed into the tower, collapsing it in an instant. Tamiel shot back his own demonic magic, but he was alone and no match for the ten angels sent for his imprisonment. Strengthened by the light from above, Perez grasped Tamiel and threw him into the ruins of Babylon, many leagues up the river. There, the Prince of Persia yet lurks, imprisoned by the power of the angels. No longer does Tamiel work astrology all the night: the heavens were conquered by the immortals of the Christ-Child that Christmas Eve.
As he rode his camel westward, following the great star, Balthasar looked up to see his tower struck with a mighty blow, like lightning, from above. He jumped off his camel, threw himself on his knees, and raised his hands to heaven in praise.
“What does in mean, Master?” Omeed asked, trembling.
“It means, my little one, that there will be no other portents for me to seek out. This King to be born is the Son of God.”
* * *
Angelo and Sacerdos, along with Lily and Joseph’s guardian, Teuktos, were well aware of their part in the angelic tactics: keep a low profile. No amount of cover from Ephrathah of the Principalities would conceal the Christ if his birth were proclaimed to everyone in the town. The demons knew the sacred night was near and would no doubt examine every pregnant woman in the city.
As Mary and Joseph approached the city, Angelo saw two pairs of demons at the gates, carefully scanning every family, especially every woman, who came into the city. No unborn child was missed by their searching eyes; all the poor women who passed were filled with irritable uneasiness at their grimacing, invisible stare. Angelo himself saw an expecting woman ahead of Mary and Joseph, entering David’s village.
Angelo knew he could not veil the Christ Child within from the search: he would likely fail, since these demons were experts of investigation: Curiosity of the Vices, Divination of the Anarchs, Akibeel and Amazarak of the Obsessions. Moreover, Angelo would arouse their suspicion against the unborn Savior by trying to conceal Mary’s precious Baby. So he and Sacerdos simply prayed to Heaven for assistance: “God’s Will be done.”
“Damn those gods in Rome!” hissed Divination to his fellows as he let the other woman pass. “How could they be so idiotic to call a census now? That’s the twelfth visiting pregnant woman who could be bearing the one!”
“And that doesn’t even count the twenty-one women who live in Bethlehem and are due soon,” Akibeel grunted. That’d be bad enough, since there aren’t too many signs to distinguish one from the others. All that’s required is male flesh directly related to King David: which, during this census, each fetus here has, of course. Are all the spies in place?”
“Yes,” affirmed Amazarak, their leader. “All the eligible women are watched, with a double guard on women pregnant with their first fetus. You never know with those divine prophecies: ‘the virgin’ might be ‘with child’ here too.”
“It would be far easier if she actually had to be a virgin, wouldn’t it,” smirked Curiosity, as he approached Mary, Joseph and the Child.
Curiosity stopped when he saw the group of angels. Angelo winced under his gaze; surely he could see Mary’s virginity!
But the Vice laughed as he pushed Angelo aside. “Move, you! Too weak to guard this little one alone, huh? Well, I’ll just have to take a quick look!”
Sacerdos and Lily tried to bar his way, but none of the little caravan’s guardians was equipped to block the devil’s piercing gaze.
“Hm. Looks like the man is of David’s stock. Obviously, curse him. The woman also has that sort of chromosomes. But the fetus…” Curiosity looked up from his intrusive exam, unsure. “I have seen that cell configuration before…”
Amazarak heard his minion’s musings and turned towards Mary’s womb. After a moment he laughed derisively. “You worm-spawn!” he cackled. This man isn’t the embryo’s father! Look at the chromosomes,” he continued, shoving Curiosity to look again. “The paternal chromosomes aren’t from him: they aren’t even related to David!”
Curiosity turned away and sulked as Mary and Joseph passed through the gates. The devils didn’t even give them a second glance.
* * *
The sound of bleating sheep drifted over the hills outside Bethlehem and a small wisp of smoke rose from a fire surrounded by sleepy shepherds. Nearby, Ephrathah stood ready behind Gabriel: ready for the birth. Halleus was nearly aligned with the planets, the night was shining and Mary was in labor. Only the four little angels who had come up the road that afternoon stood guard over the King of kings: the mighty army behind Gabriel and Ephrathah was merely a diversion.
“ ‘Myriads of myriads attended him,’ ” quoted Ephrathah as he looked back on the three hundred million spirits thronging behind him. “Surely the demons will see this service to the King and come – to this spot and not to His.”
Gabriel nodded to Ephrathah and flew towards the little knot of shepherds. The hosts of the Lord tensed for action.
As expected, the shepherds froze with fright at Gabriel’s appearance. They opened their mouths wide, but the cry died in their throats; they turned to run, but their knees gave way as they fell to the ground, staring all the while at the terrible figure in blue and white.
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
This was the dangerous part: the sign of the Messiah. The shepherds were to find the Child, but the demons were not to be at all interested in where the shepherds had gone.
With a great shout, meant to draw all the demons anywhere near the earth, they filled the countryside and the skies above. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!”
And they came. Swarming from below the earth, racing from out of the town, whistling from the east and west, swirling from the heavens, even falling from their lost battles on Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, the devils converged to attack. Ephrathah, Salem, Bethel, Carmel — all the angels who came from Dan to Beer-Sheba turned to meet the onslaught of the enemy: all the infernal cohorts under the fearsome leaders Moloch, Ishtar and Baal.
As the grim battle began, the angels rallied around a small house between the shepherds and the town. Facing his old enemy Phoenicia, Ephrathah glanced down at the shepherds. They were walking, with their flocks, into the town to see the Child. They went unnoticed by the attacking devils, who were intent on the besieged house.
For within lay a young woman, heavy with child. She was a slave-girl to one of the chief men of Bethlehem and the child was his, a son of David. The upheaval outside threw her into labor, though she couldn’t see or hear the battle. In pain and terror, she brought forth her child.
As the angelic host retreated from the house, apparently beaten by the blows of hell, Ephrathah looked back in deep sorrow at the little newborn, the little decoy for God’s Son. So far from being attended by the army of angels that surrounded his birth, the boy would be tempted to be a false messiah at every moment of his life, beleaguered by the craftiest of the demons. Such a price for the secrecy of the Christ-Child!
The girl named the child Barabbas, for she said “he is not mine, but the son of the father.”
* * *
Only one part of the invasion plan failed. When the three wise men visited Jerusalem, seeking the newborn King of the Jews, Michael gave Herod every grace to accept the good news. But as soon as Herod gave his response to the wise men, Michael sent word to save Jesus from the troops Herod was going to send.
The demons, delighted at Herod’s perversity, hid their “Messiah” from both the wise men and the soldiers, wishing to keep him as their prize for when he would grow up. But Gabriel appeared to Joseph with his message to escape to Egypt. There, the Son of God learned to walk, undetected by the gods who strode the banks of the Nile…
But until the warning came, Angelo watched Jesus in Mary’s arms as she sat on a pile of hay. The only light in the stable came from the brilliant heavens — all was quiet. The shepherds had gone and the Baby could rest peacefully. His little chest heaved in and out as he lay at her breast. Mary treasured each breath of her Son, pondering the little God-man as he drew his life from her.
As he guided the breaths of the fragile little one, Angelo flicked a spider away and diverted a mouse from the Mother and Child. Sacerdos kept the stable animals quiet and some even stared at Jesus with the vague wonder animals can have. No devils were prowling here: all were occupied in the fields. From time to time, other angels would stop by the door for a quiet prayer of adoration.\
“Nothing should disturb this moment of peace,” Angelo thought. “Each breath is a perfect sigh of worship to the Father, exhaled by the Son of God.”