Chapter 11 - East of the Garden of Eden
Gabriel, Michael, and Uriel had sought then secured entry once more into the Garden of Eden. The experience was very similar to when they had last approached Him. Except this time, Gabriel sensed an almost detached indifference from the Almighty. Of course the Almighty knew what was going on, He had heard, understood, and seen everything. But at the very least He would humor them with a question or two. Not this time. Instead, He allowed this request with a simple “Granted” and that was that.
Back at Messenger Headquarters, within the papered walls of Gabriel’s Victorian-styled office, Art the Great, Noel the First, and Phil of Rugged Strength sat and met with the Announcer to learn if they were allowed entry into the Lost Paradise.
“So?” started Phil, as soon as Gabriel’s assistant closed the door to the office. “What’s the word?”
“The three of you are allowed to go,” replied Gabriel. “But before we can send you off, there’s much to talk about.”
It was not everyday an angel was allowed into Eden. Once man had fallen from the Almighty’s grace, not only were all men and women forbidden entry, but the angels as well. It had always seemed like an unjust ruling – but no one dared challenge it – His word was final.
Gabriel noted each angel’s reaction to the news. Phil’s was one of surprise mingled with fear. Noel, who was still offended Gabriel never disclosed he had been one of the last to enter Eden, appeared slightly smug. In contrast to the cherub and messenger, Art’s thick frame remained still while his face was plainly impassive.
“What do we need to know?” asked Art, his brown eyes were all business.
“It’s been millennia since anyone has entered Eden,” said Gabriel, “much less looked for it. And to tell you the truth, I vaguely remember but exactly where, no, not really. Uriel is a bit fuzzy on it too and the Archangel is no help.”
“How so?” said Art.
“Well, this leads me to the second point,” said Gabriel. “About Eden and the Garden. There’s something not many angels know about the place…it has an effect on us.”
“You’ve got to be kiddin’ me,” said Phil. “Eden does something to angels?” The cherub shook his head in disgust, “There’s always something.”
“Not only Eden, but more so in the Garden,” replied Gabriel. “We never noticed because our involvement with the Lost Paradise was limited. Before it ever existed we lived in Heaven and after it came to be we had Par Amor. The only times any angel entered Eden or its Garden was to check up on our cousins by request of the Almighty, otherwise, we had no real reason to go and stay.”
Noel crossed his legs slowly and placed one hand over the other on his thigh, he then said, “You learned all this the last time into Eden?” He made it sound more like a statement than a question.
“We had to search for the Tree of Knowledge on our own,” said Gabriel, avoiding eye-contact with the First. “It was in the Garden of course, but Eden is a big place and the Garden is as well. The longer we spent in Eden and the Garden, the less we felt like leaving.” The Announcer gazed past the three angels who faced him from across the large desk, his eyes looked blank when he continued, “It’s hard to describe. We were at peace, the sheer beauty of the place, the serenity, the feeling of oneness with Him enveloped us constantly…after a while, you didn’t want to leave.” Gabriel turned his head down and sighed. When he lifted it, his eyes were open and focused once more, “If it weren’t for Uriel, we would have never returned.”
“You said it affected all of you,” challenged Phil. “How was the chief any help?”
Gabriel chuckled, “Here’s your catch, we were all affected to different degrees.”
“Who didn’t want to come back, you or Michael?” asked Noel, his thick eyebrows pinching.
“Michael was worst,” said the Announcer bluntly. “Once Uriel noticed what was happening he literally slapped some sense into me. We quickly got the fruit and then it took all we had to get Michael to return. Later Michael admitted he considered harming us so he could stay. I can tell you it was not one of his brighter moments. The thought of Eden or the Garden still haunts him, you saw how he talked about it. That’s why he’s no help right now, this is not something he wants to relive, much less talk about.”
“Do you think we’ll all be affected the same way?” questioned Art.
Gabriel carefully observed him, measuring Art as though looking for a hidden message on his face or in his body language. After a noticeable delay, the Announcer said, “If you mean, will all guardians be affected like Michael? We really don’t know. It could have been something specific to the three of us, but it could be based on the order you’re from.”
“We get it,” groused Phil, “the moral of the story is to get in and out fast. Tell me you have a map or at least a rough idea where this Tree is?”
Between the three angels and the Announcer, right on the desk and on cue, a small piece of parchment materialized. On it was a sloppy, hand-drawn picture which presumably was the map to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. On it were markers for the entrance to Eden, a winding path through foliage and over clearings to the Garden, and the location of the Tree itself. Or at least, as the Announcer noted, as close to where Uriel and him remember the Tree being.
Handing the parchment to Noel and then standing, Gabriel said, “Let’s go to the Mission Room, we’ll get you as close to this entrance as possible. Jeremiel will allow passage, then like Phil said, get in, get the fruit, and get out.”
After disappearing with three, short bursts of wind, the motley crew of angels huddled together under a sparse grouping of trees. Although they were well shaded, it was surprisingly hot. The sun was straight overhead and a slight breeze caressed their clothes and faces. Teleporting to just outside the village of Bandar Genaveh in western Iran, they were in human form dressed similarly to the locals. They would have preferred being in their more familiar (and safe) angelic form, as angels they can only be seen by humans when they so desired. But as Gabriel soberly mentioned right before they whooshed from the Mission Room – the only way to enter Eden was as humans. Eden was created for their cousins, it was meant for them and them alone. When angels were allowed to enter (and most of the time they were ordered) they did so as humans since it was the only manner to pass the one way in – the very location they now sought.
“This get-up was supposed to keep us cool,” complained Phil. He started to yank and tear at the shoulders of his tunic, and added, “I’m cooking to true-death.”
They were all dressed similarly in salwar kameezes: The tunics were long-sleeved and loose fitting, while the pants looked more like pajamas, legs wide at the top and narrow at the ankles. Each of them was dressed in a different and drab shade of grey, black shoes completing the outfit appearing to fit tight around their feet.
Noel pulled out the map and began inspecting it. Finding the marker labeled ‘Entrance – Portal’ he looked up and tried to get his bearings. He walked around the trees aimlessly trying to find a landmark to match what was on the map. From what he saw around him and what the map depicted, it looked like they should go in that direc—
The cherub swiped the map from Noel’s hand, “Gimme that! How long does it take to figure this stuff out?” Phil walked away toward one edge of the small forest.
“Hey!” Noel said. “Give that back. The Announcer handed me the map.”
“Yeah,” replied Phil, without looking up, “we’ve been here five minutes sweatin’ and haven’t gotten anywhere. Give me a second, I think I know which way to go.”
“That was very rude of you cherub,” returned Noel. “This is no way to start off our mission, ripping stuff out of my hands. Now hand it back.”
Phil ignored the First, “Due west is that way” – he nodded in the direction he faced – “the entrance is roughly straight ahead. It’s a bit of hike though.”
“Exactly what I was going to say,” said Noel, “right before you snatched—”
A quick flash of light wiped away any-and-all shade momentarily. Once the shade returned and their eyes adjusted, they turned to the source of the flash.
“Is this it? This is going to be easy.”
The three angels turned to find a group of demons facing them, five in total. They were skeletons, tall, bones black in color and very thick. Their skeletal-bodies glowed from a faint flame which covered them – along with the maces, swords, and shields they carried.
“Now hold on,” said Noel nervously, “in the name of the Almighty, I command you to leave.”
The demons looked at each other, and then laughed.
“Nice going First Man,” hissed Phil, under his breath. Taking slow steps forward and placing Noel behind him, he added, “Now stand back before you hurt yourself.”
“If you will not leave peacefully,” said Art, in a deep, baritone voice, “we’ll have no choice but to send you back from where you came.”
“Oh, ho, ho,” simpered the creature that first spoke, “the guardian and his friends will send us back.” Waving its skull left-and-right, the other skeletons fanned out almost surrounding the angels. “Kill the guardian and messenger, but no one harm the cherub. We will be rewarded for returning him to the Master.”
The demons pounced.
In a blink, body armor as in breast plates and shin guards appeared on the angels. Noel was further surprised when he found his right hand holding a broadsword and his left carrying a heavy shield. Art now held a sword and shield as well, but had the added protection of a thick, metal helmet while Phil tightly clutched a ridiculously long and absurdly fashioned sword, common to all cherubs. All of this appeared just in time as the skeletons swung their weapons at them.
Art skillfully parried his attacker, spinning to avoid a thrust then using his sword to split the demon in half. The cherub used his superior speed to literally cut the feet off of two skeletons, crushing each into pieces with two fast hops. A fourth demon then engaged the guardian, exchanging blows on shields. Meanwhile, Phil chopped at his two demons noticing the only creature to have spoken was slowly stalking Art from behind.
“Noel!” yelled Phil. “A little help!”
Having spent the melee frightened and hunkering back quietly, Noel somehow found the courage to go save Art. Running forward to get between Art’s back and the skeletal-demon, not knowing exactly what to do, the messenger awkwardly stuck his sword out and— CLANG!—ricocheted the demon’s sword from slicing the guardian’s head off.
Turning in anger and raising its glowing weapon to a now cowering Noel, the demon mocked, “Stupid messenger! Say a prayer to your Lord and meet the true-death!” The creature swung down at the First, aiming for the neck then—CRACK!—its right leg was gone, half way up the femur. Crashing to the ground, the demon then around and roared; it wanted the angel that did this to come close, so it could take a swipe.
“Looking for me?” heard the demon. “I’m right here.”
The skeleton craned its neck up to where the voice had come – there stood the cherub.
“Say a prayer to your lord.” THWAP!—Noel and Phil watched as the demon’s skull rolled into a tree.
At the same time, Art repeatedly smacked the last creature to its knees with his shield, finally chopping its head off right below the collarbone.
The angels then looked at each other with concern. They had not yet entered Eden and were already attacked – what could possibly be waiting for them in the Lost Paradise?
Art quickly walked around and kicked at the piles of broken bones – making sure the demons had met the true-death. While he did so, he addressed the other two.
“Noel the First, are you alright? And thank you. Cherub, why does the Deceiver have a bounty on your head?”
Noel tried to answer but—
“None of your business o’great one,” interrupted Phil, “and you can thank me for taking care of the other three demons.” Phil then pulled out a cigar from inside his tunic and lit it with a match he swiped out of thin air. Taking a long drag and then letting out a huge smoke ring, he continued, “You’re lucky to be alive, I have no idea how he stopped that demon from chopping your head off.”
“Well, thank you again Noel,” chuckled Art, patently ignoring the cherub.
“Yeah, thanks Noel,” said Phil sarcastically. “When was the last time you practiced with those things? You better put them down before you cut your own head off.”
“That’s enough,” said Art firmly. “He’s a messenger, it’s not every day he’s asked to—”
“It’s quite alright,” interrupted Noel, lifting the sword and looking at it casually, “it’s been some time since I’ve wielded any weapons. In my position as a deputy of sorts to Gabriel, I don’t take advantage of the training as I used to. I suppose I should.”
“Ya think?” said Phil. “Lotta good it’s gonna do us now. Just stay back and be careful where you swing that thing.”
Art the Great scanned the surroundings as he continued to kick through the remains of skeletal-demons, satisfied he saw nothing of what he was looking for, he addressed Phil, “If I remember, you were pointing in that direction, correct?”
Phil looked to the west and nodded.
“Lead the way, cherub. Let’s hurry before another unexpected visit.”
Quickly they raced over a thousand feet of hot, sandy terrain under an unforgiving and blistering sun. After crossing a rough, two-lane street they trudged through the thicker sand of a beach leading to what looked like a vast ocean. The water shimmered before them, small waves lapping the beach in rhythmic harmony. The sound of those waves brushing the shore line along with the glare from the water’s surface distracted Phil to the point of irritation. Art and Noel exchanged knowing smiles as the short and bald cherub clumsily trudged through sand searching for the portal-entrance.
“The darn thing’s supposed to be here,” complained Phil. “We started here” – he stabbed at the parchment with a fat finger – “then ran across this and this” – his finger wiped across the map, leaving a streak of sweat and dirt – “and now we’re here next to this ocean where there should be some land instead” – he stabbed at the parchment again – “where’s the stinkin’ entrance?” He spit his half-smoked cigar away in disgust.
Art had walked a few feet away staring at the water while Noel placed himself behind the cherub, towering over him and watching as the little angel beat on the map. Once Phil finished griping Noel softly reached for it, the cherub gladly passed it to him as though he were finished with yesterday’s newspaper.
Inspecting the map, Noel turned to Phil and said, “This land is clearly shown as water, we’re on the eastern shore of what our cousins call the Persian Gulf, near its northern tip. Those peaks behind us, to the east, are the Zagros Mountains. From where we’re standing, to the northwest across the gulf, is Kuwait, and due west is Saudi Arabia.
“Eons ago this was a lush and beautiful valley. Somewhere here, before us, was Eden, and deep within it laid the Garden. Now everything is underwater and—”
“Listen First Man, I could care less about the geography lesson. Just tell me where the portal is. Okay?”
Noel bristled at the name, “Do not call me First Man ever again, and you obviously need a geography lesson. You couldn’t even figure out this” – he spiritedly pointed at the gulf – “was water on the map!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me pal, if it weren’t for me you’d be truly dead right now.”
“Well, aren’t we lucky that I am alive? Otherwise you’d be banging your head against the sand.”
“Since you know what you’re doing, go ahead, show us where the portal is.” Phil jabbed his sword into the sand and waited.
Noel checked the map, he then looked smugly at Phil and said, “Sure, it should be right over there…” The First’s words trailed off as he saw Art to the left of where he pointed.
There stood Art the Great. The large angel, who had a receding hairline and sported a shortly cropped beard, held a broadsword in his right hand, blade resting nonchalantly on his shoulder, with his left hand still holding a shield and resting impatiently on his hip. Once he noticed the messenger and guardian were looking, Art turned and faced a dark, oval opening that floated right beside him.
Reaching the guardian, Phil said, “This isn’t where it’s supposed to be.”
“Remember cherub, the map’s based on a long ago experience,” replied Art. He motioned for the map from Noel, looked at it for a moment, then handed it back, “It’s pretty close to where that says.”
“Maybe so,” said Noel, “but you seemed to walk straight to it. How’d you know?”
“I didn’t, I just came this way,” said Art. “A hunch I guess.”
“Fine,” said Phil, “we found it, now let’s go.”
The gruff cherub grunted then stepped through the portal, Noel and Art followed.
On the other side, the opening closed and then another scene lit up, far in-front of them. It was yet another floating, oval hole, but this one surrounded by complete and total darkness – a color of black devoid of all light. Noticeably though, there was some light, it came from the vista framed by the oval, a landscape so vibrant and colorful it could only be one thing – Eden. The three angels looked–at and looked–through the opening in rapt silence, there it was: The Lost Paradise. Together they slowly approached the second, floating portal, this one the true entrance to Eden, but only short steps from its cusp they found something they had forgotten about – Eden’s guardian-cherub, Jeremiel, bloodied and beaten on the blacker than black ground.
The moment Phil recognized the bigger-than-normal cherub, he tossed his sword and shield aside then fell to his knees wringing his hands. He looked Jeremiel over, wondering if the guardian-cherub was still alive…breathing, yes, but ragged. Pulling a clean, white cloth from within his tunic, Phil softly dabbed at the blood streaking down the square face.
“Jeremiel, Jeremiel!” said Phil anxiously. “Wake up.” He glared at Art and Noel, “Don’t just stand there, help me!”
Noel started to bend down, to get a closer look, when without warning—
“Step back, both of you,” commanded Art.
From where he stood, the guardian pointed his right hand with splayed fingers at the big cherub’s body. Art then slowly waved his hand right-to-left and back; he repeated the movement stopping every so often to make barely discernable circle motions with his palm.
“What are you doing?’ Phil asked impatiently.
“Silence!” returned Art. He continued the strange movements and added, “He’s not as badly injured as he looks.” A pause, then Art said, “No internal bleeding, but his right cheek is broken.”
Phil looked from Noel to the guardian and back, “What…How does…?”
“Didn’t you know?” Noel said slightly surprised. “Guardians have the ability to sense injuries in all types of angels. It comes in handy in their line of work.”
“So Jeremiel’s not dying?” asked Phil, sounding relieved.
“Far from it,” replied Art. He stopped motioning with his open hand and added, “He was knocked unconscious, but he’s coming out of it. He’ll be asking for some water.”
Sure enough, the bigger-than-normal cherub tried to sit up and croaked, “Wa-wa-water.”
“Sure buddy, hold on,” said Phil. He magically pulled from his tunic a flask, opened it quickly, and then offered its clear liquid, “Here you go, drink up.”
The water seemed to bring Jeremiel more to life. The cherub drank the entire flask in several, greedy gulps. Trying to stand, he winced and gingerly touched the bruise on his face marking his broken right cheek. Angrily he pushed the container back to Phil then looked at the angels around him.
“Are you going to stand there, or help me?”
Quickly Phil stood and grabbed one hand as Art reached for the other. Together they helped Jeremiel to his feet, who once standing, took a couple of steps away not wanting anymore aid. In the all-embracing blackness, the balding cherub turned to stare-at and past the angels for several quiet moments. Shaking his head like a disappointed parent, Jeremiel addressed the angels crustily.
“What’s he lookin’ at?”
Noel was standing right in front of the oval, inspecting the opening along its edges. Having heard the question and without turning around, he replied, “Although the view is beautiful, it’s not what I’m looking at” – the messenger pivoted to address Jeremiel – “where’s the flaming sword?”
The look of realization struck the guardian and cherub as they in turn faced Jeremiel.
The flaming sword – placed by the Almighty after the Fall of Man, there was nothing actually spectacular about the thing itself. It looked like any other sword used by a cherub, narrow at the hilt, wide at its tip, and ridiculously long. What set it aside from all the others was its divine instilment. The Almighty had blessed it to glow from within and throughout with fire, a cold-looking shine in stark contrast to the heat which emanated from the object. The flaming sword was placed at the entrance as an added defense, preventing anyone or anything from entering as it swung wildly in three dimensions.
“The demons took it,” said Jeremiel, “when they overpowered me.” The big cherub with the torn and bloodied clothes approached the three angels, head hung low, and continued, “I should have never grabbed the flaming sword. There were so many of them, I knew the sword was there to prevent any entry, but you should have seen them…” He trailed off.
“What about them?” the guardian asked.
Jeremiel reached Art and Phil right at the same time Phil retrieved his sword and shield, “There was probably ten, eleven, or twelve of them. It was hard to tell in this darkness. They were of all strange shapes and sizes, some I have never seen before, they didn’t need weapons, their hands and arms were weapons. I feared for my life.”
“Did they all get past, er, or in?” asked Noel, reaching the group.
“No,” groused Jeremiel, “I was able to send about half of them to the true-death.”
Noel looked around curiously and asked, “Where are the bodies?”
“Can’t ‘cha tell it’s just a little dark around here?” said Jeremiel acerbically. “Trust me, they’re here somewhere.”
Respectfully, Phil motioned toward the big cherub and said, “Don’t worry about the sword, you did your best. We’ll get it back and we’ll get them too.”
“You have no idea,” said Jeremiel, “I could have taken care of it all, but some of them were fast, faster than I’ve ever seen.”
The smaller cherub opened his mouth to reply but Jeremiel cut him off.
“Fast. Maybe faster than us.”
Phil’s expression turned dark as he stepped back slowly.
“Jeremiel, I suggest you return to Par Amor,” interjected Art, cutting the tension. “Have that cheek looked at and send someone else to watch this entrance.”
Without another word, the big cherub teleported in a short burst of wind.
“Come on,” said the guardian, waving a hand at the opening as he turned toward it, “we have to catch up.”