Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
I landed in the middle of the city, blinking away the glare of crystalline walls. Even the streets were made of glass, catching the colors cast by the sky above, which was red and purple in turns. Normally I preferred to be out after the sun set, limiting the amount of light impounding my senses from all sides. Whatever I had once been, I imagine it was a being accustomed to darkness, now drowning in the company of blind fools.
I passed a company of Ophanim in the streets, older-seeming angels who bowed together and muttered prayers.
“Praise be to our Father,” they said, rocking together. “Father who watches, Father who listens.”
High praise for a disinterested Father, I thought. Beyond giving me a name, Father had done nothing for me, nor for anyone I had seen. He had abandoned His children long ago, yet still they groveled. Feeling unjustified anger rising in me, I flew again to avoid encountering anyone further. Quickly, I swooped down to the floating walkways beside the healing center, letting myself inside.
As beings with minimal need for comfort, angels never did much in the way of decorating. There were two rooms, one room with chairs for waiting, then a closed room where Raphael would take his patients. To stave off boredom, I imagine, there was a dispenser filled with condensed blue energy, which had a tang if you drank it.
I saw a list on the table, with a pen. One angel was currently seeing Raphael; therefore, I was expected to write my name after and wait. I would wait, but I wasn’t about to go pointlessly writing my name on records. Besides, which was I supposed to write? Father called me Uriel, Michael called me Samael. I hated both.
“You’re not very patient,” observed the little girl, watching me pace from where she hovered by the dispenser.
Fortunately, the angel before me soon emerged from the second room. He was small, lithe, easily breakable. Upon glimpsing my black wings--for my fellow angels rarely looked at me long enough to observe any other feature--he rushed the door, departing before I might have thought a word.
“You scare people,” said the little girl.
“Good,” I said. Saved me the trouble of their company.
I opened the locked door, breaking the knob to allow my passage. Raphael looked up from his chair and his clipboard, surprised, but only until he saw my face.
“Ah. Samael,” he sighed.
“I need a favor,” I said.
“Usually I don’t give favors to people who break my doors,” he said, although his gaze quickly drifted back to the clipboard. “I see here you didn’t sign in.”
The paper on the table must have copied itself to the one in his hand. Clever, I thought.
“You examined me after I first appeared. You said my memory loss is related to my lack of passion. I have found something that gives me passion--I thought that would be of medical interest.”
If he was truly angry at the destruction of property, he forgot it quickly. He gestured to the examination table, waiting for me to seat myself, like an ordinary patient. Raphael was not a demonstrative man, generally keeping feelings close to himself--for that I admired him. He was one of the few angels who I felt somewhat close to, whose company did not inspire my pointless fury. Even so, he was not someone I often felt a need to see.
“Have you stumbled upon something, in your wanderings?” he asked, once I was seated.
“A tower, far off,” I admitted. “There is an angel being tortured in it.”
His brow raised, yet this was not the sudden surprise of new revelation. I was suspicious to sense that somehow, he too knew of this, and it was only something that was meant to be secret from me.
“You saw the angel?” he asked.
“I saw her.”
“What makes you call it a ‘her’?”
“Feelings are often correct. I cannot say if I’ve seen this angel, but I will tell you that there is only one angel who has ever occupied a body that was female. That angel is called Hanael.”
“Why would she be tortured?”
“She was responsible for the war that caused a third of our brothers to fall. She promised them a world of change, and seeking that, they violated the order of paradise and were banished.”
“That feels...incorrect,” I said.
“The story? I’m not surprised,” he said. “You say she’s inspired passion in you, then?”
“...yes.” I could say that.
“And has that feeling triggered any memories?”
“Not yet,” I admitted. “But it might. If I free her.”
I saw something flicker across his face, an emotion like intrigue, bitter like anarchy. Touching the wall behind him, he pulsed a white wave of energy through the material to the door, which closed and repaired itself. This done, he set his clipboard on the table beside him.
“While I may or may not have any interest in the fate of this angel, it’s within my duty to see that my patients do all they can to heal after trauma, physical or otherwise. If coming to the aid of this angel will progress your healing, I must do everything in my power to assist you.”
His roundabout speech told me we were verging on controversy. I was pleased.
“You know sigils, do you not?”
“They aid in some healing. I’m well versed in them.”
“Is there a way to negate their effect?”
“It depends on the sigil. Each must be broken in a particular location, otherwise, their power remains.”
“Give me your pen.”
Recalling the symbol, I changed the setting on the pen and drew with red lines in the air, left floating between us when I was done. Raphael nodded with recognition. He took the pen back, and made a small mark at the base of the symbol, splitting a line in half.
“That’s where you would break it. Hypothetically.”
When he capped the pen, the sigil disappeared. I stood at once, ready to return to the tower with what I had learned here.
“Be careful that you aren’t caught,” he said, lifting his clipboard. “Michael has in his power a two-way portal to a pit of Chaos. It turns out an angelic soul cannot be absorbed by the dark matter that realm is composed of, but spending any amount of time there is akin to being thrown into a grinder and being slow-churned. I have seen what it does to a noble mind; not even you will return unscathed. If Michael throws you there, amnesia will be the least of your worries.”
With a wave of his hand, he opened the door.
“It goes without saying that my recommended treatment remains confidential, Uriel.”
I smirked, indeed pleased. I might have been more nervous about the fate he described, had I not been so preoccupied by thoughts of seeing her again, of ending her suffering. Nothing else mattered; I did not question why.
“I already forgot I was here,” I said.
The little girl appeared again when I landed outside the tower, practically bouncing with glee.
“You can save her now?” she asked.
I smiled, a touch of sadness in me when I almost tried to lift her into my arms.
“I’m saving her, now,” I promised.
She followed me when I let myself in, easily breaking the new chains Michael had fastened across the doorway. Again we ascended the staircase, her gliding alongside me while I felt along the glass rail, suppressing a strange thought that this tower should have a basement.
In that lonely room, the angel Hanael remained chained. I thought I would be more capable of enduring the sight a second time--I was mistaken. Once more, her wounds and bruises choked me, inspiring sorrow and anger that weighed me like lead. This time I knew, without doubt, that my rage was for Michael, rage stronger than my fear of him. I wanted to make him suffer, as she had suffered.
“Hurry,” the child whispered. “He’ll come, soon.”
My focus reset. Taking an unbloodied tool from the table, small enough to do what I had to, I approached the sleeping angel. I knew where to cut the brand upon her chest, I had only to do so. Yet, standing there, I was spellbound by this...sensation. Longing, within me. I wished to cut her down from her binds, to take her into my arms and smooth the electric strands of her hair. I would whisper to her, her soul pulsing with mine, “I’ve come back.”
Why? I stopped again, my inner thoughts disjointed from myself. Who am I to her?
Raising the small knife, I positioned it against the sigil. With the first bead of blood, she whimpered--I stopped. She opened her eyes, locking me in place. At first she regarded me with such hatred I almost collapsed, before it melted into confusion.
Who are you?
She had to project her thoughts into me, a sensation I was not accustomed to. When I realized why she was forced to do this--I finally saw her tongue on the ground, preserved in perfection because nothing here could decay--it was hard to suppress my rage. Michael: my enemy.
“Forgive me,” I said, unable to hold her gaze without being consumed. “When the sigil is broken, you can escape your body. Go into the veil, hide yourself well. Michael cannot navigate it easily. I doubt he could find you twice.”
“Hurry,” the child whispered.
Unable to waste time, I made the cut. The sigil was perfectly broken, the faint light around it fading. Hanael gasped against her restraints, her body glowing, eyes ablaze. When she smiled, my heart soared.
In an instant, her body fell limp. I saw traces of her leaving in wisps, hesitating for moments around my hand. I mourned as I celebrated. Resting my forehead against the one she had left, I pressed back the golden locks, wishing I might have felt them when they were warm. For a moment, I felt like crying.
The little girl was trying to touch my shirt, murmuring something.
“Is it ok if I go with Mama?” she asked.
My soul ached. She meant with Hanael--this almost-child belonged to Hanael. I should have known, or perhaps I did. I did not want to see her go, yet that seemed like the only thing that could happen.
“It’s ok,” I said.
She smiled wide, her little hands falling away.
“Thank you, Papa.”
Then she vanished. I was abandoned to this revelation, knowing nothing, broken all the same. I dropped the knife. I found myself grasping at the place she had been, wishing I might not have let her leave. A hole opened up inside me, the one I had not realized she filled.
What have I done?
I was unable to collect myself in the few moments it took for Michael to appear. He had his body, this time; he was able to thoroughly express his anger, sneering like a reptile as he grabbed me at the base of my wings. The chain from the doors in his hands, he hooked it around my neck, creating a leash strong enough to hurl me at the wall of swords.
“Of course it was you,” he snarled. “It’s always you.”
I knew what was coming. The pit, or the soul-twisting. Neither could be avoided at this point, both my primary motivators for staying my hand around Michael. As my devastation gave way to reason, I felt my smile return, a terrible smile unleashed with my hate.
Grabbing the chain, I used it to strike him back. My wings unfurled to carry me into him, slamming him into the other wall, breaking through the stone. We tumbled through together, falling stories, until my hand slammed his chest into the ground beneath. I heard his wings snap, like Hanael’s had been. He roared with pain, as I laughed.
His head knocked me in the jaw, breaking it; I managed to rip through his abdomen before he finally forced me back, knocking me against what still stood of his tower. He would not take me, this time. I would fight until my blood ran dry--he would know what he had done to Hanael.
The end came for me when Gabriel appeared, two spellcrafter Seraphim in tow. They chanted words that brought me to my knees, screeching inside my skull. Gabriel hoisted Michael upright. Sniveling and dutiful, the henchman revealed a black medallion from beneath his robes, presenting it to his battered master.
“It seems you are in need of another lesson in obedience, Samael,” Michael declared, holding in his innards, as though he had won this fight.
I spat out teeth, counting three Raphael would have to replace. I snapped my jaw back into place. When the screeching started again, I tensed every muscle in my body trying to fight it, managing to stand in spite of it. I stood, for Hanael.
“Do what you want to me,” I said, smiling. “She’s gone.”
“Your corruption is deep,” was Michael’s judgment. “You shall be cast into the pit of Chaos, to serve your time. May pain cause you to remember your duty, beyond being an adversary to all that is good and just.”
Perhaps, in the pit, I would have time to remember who I was. A man who could have a child, with her.
“Father declares you must reside in Heaven, but you will not maintain your freedom: after your punishment, you will be kept under lock and key, released only when orders have been sent.”
I wanted to know everything, now. What kind of person I had been. Had she cared for me, before the fall? Did we have other children? Were they fully formed? I could not imagine I was a man easily sated--did I tire her?
“The adversary ignores us,” Gabriel declared, thorn in my side. “He will understand the severity of his crime.”
“I’m waiting,” I said.
The black medallion opened a great hole beneath me, where I fell.
Falling, and falling, and falling.