In the forecourt he cut off Namtar. He gave his troops orders: ’Let the doors be opened! Now I shall race past you!”
Inside the house, he seized Ereshkigal
By her hair, pulled her from the throne
To the ground, intending to cut off her head.
“Don’t kill me, my brother! Let me tell you something.”
Nergal listened to her and relaxed his grip, he wept and was overcome when she said,
“You can be my husband, and I can be your wife. I will let you seize
Kingship over the wide Earth! I will put the tablet
Of wisdom in your hand! You can be the master,
I can be the mistress.”
Nergal listened to this speech of hers,
And seized her and kissed her. He wiped away her tears.
“What have you asked of me? After so many months,
It shall certainly be so!”
--The Marriage of Nergal and Ereshkigal
Michael said that Gilgamesh’s arm had to be removed for the angels to untangle Ohya from his soul. If they had told me what they planned to do, I may not have gone through with it. That seemed right. I was a coward, after all.
I was fitted with a lovely white dress, the color of purity. Michael said that this was to be my new beginning.
“After the ceremony, you’ll be called Eve,” he informed me. “You were the tool by which Father crafted his favorite creation, the rib from which humanity was formed. You will be cherished.”
A noble sentiment. Michael was honorable, after all.
Sometimes I was asked for input, on the ceremony. The color of the glasses, the arrangement of the flowers, as I was considered a foremost authority on what Father found beautiful. I said words, but felt nothing. I couldn’t even bring myself to pray before the ceremony, unable to endure the silent reply. Now more than ever, I resented His apathy.
When He still spoke to us, He had warned me that the time was coming when His voice would sound no longer. Once everything was made, He wished only to let it be, to develop and change within the parameters He had set. He said if he were to manipulate every little thing in his worlds, then the whole of creation would hold no meaning--He wanted it all to simply Be. Darkness, light, pain, good. He warned that there would be much pain, and we would want to call it Evil. But there was no evil. There was only difference. Everything would be what we made of it; that was His gift to us.
I wanted to believe what He had said, then. I breathed in the crisp air of Heaven, gazing into a mirror to see the light shining through my eyes, almost as bright as my gown, hand woven by angels who tended the spinning creatures. The cloth felt much like silk. When I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was still on Earth.
All this is good, I told myself. This day, this ceremony, my choice. They are good, because Father has made them possible.
A fleeting wish came, that I might see my son before marrying Michael. One more time. Then, I was sickened with grief for the state I had left him in. I couldn’t see him again. He would hate me for what I had to do, and I couldn’t endure hate from him. He lived--I would content myself with his existence.
We stood before the congregation of Heaven, beneath an archway forged from diamond, to represent the enduring union we would enter into. While there could be no Earthly consummation, our souls would entangle with our kiss, exchanging a piece of ourselves to be absorbed into each other’s systems. We would forever be part of each other. It was more binding than any document or Earthly act could represent; after this day, I would begin an eternity by Michael’s side.
I didn’t let myself think of Sariel. Not even as Michael held my hand, the Seraphim detailing in his booming voice the gravity of our choice.
“Never before have two angels been united in this way,” he said. “Archangel Michael, the most shining champion of Light, has reclaimed Archangel Hanael from the clutches of delusion. She renounces the war and all that it stood for. Today, their union will be the bridge that brings our brothers home. Peace will reign in Heaven and below.”
The Ophanim praised, the angels sang.
In the audience was Tamaiel, already welcome amongst the Heavenly host. He watched me longer than I could bear it.
Michael lifted my chin. I saw his blazing golden hair, the color of mine, our eyes the color of the sea. Father had meant this for us, since the beginning. I was to be Michael’s pair, guiding humanity where my brother led. The misery I felt was nothing but the corruption of my selfish whims, the dying breath of Sariel’s flaws. I couldn’t think of him, not even as I gazed past Michael into the violet sky.
Darkness and flames engulfed fields; the angels’ praises devolved into screams. Michael parted from me to draw his flaming sword, yet even he was powerless in the face of the destruction, crawling with venomous monsters. Not even Heaven, which had been changeless throughout time, could stand against discord from the edge of the universe.
The Seraphim took off with Michael, duty-sworn to protect Heaven above all else. I was left alone beneath the archway, frozen, staring into the flames. When great arms gripped me from behind, I hadn’t enough air to scream.
“I can stop it all, in an instant,” his voice rumbled. “If you ask me to.”
The dam broke, my tears flowing like rivers. I fell back against him, into his strong chest, his wings sheltering me in a dark fortress. I sobbed, and sobbed.
“Sariel,” I whispered.
He turned me in his embrace, our feathers rustling. I saw then the angel who had freed me, his face different than I remembered--even his ordinary eyes now betrayed his identity, burning so brightly I hated myself for ever mistaking him. His hand against my cheek, then his lips against mine, made even Heaven feel like home.
“They made me forget,” he said. “Otherwise, I never would have let you out of my sight. Forgive me, my queen.”
“This was for Gilgamesh,” I whispered, my throat tight. “Now he’ll never see Heaven.”
“He doesn’t need it. His soul is stronger than the others--he’ll find his own way.”
I collapsed into him, trusting him, consumed by his presence. However he was doing this, terrorizing Heaven for my sake, I didn’t care. For a long moment, I couldn’t even care enough to tell him to stop. For the first time in so long, we were alone together. Our wings entangled, protecting us from the ashes, I wrapped my arms around his neck. He leaned close, and my lips met his.
As the Chaos dissipated, Michael could see a black-winged angel carrying off his bride. Another demon scuttled away from his sword as their new king made his escape, fleeing justice. Michael’s weapon flared with his anger, his own wings unfurling--but a hand held him back.
Raphael was a stern voice amidst the disorder, firmer than it had ever been. Startled, Michael lowered his sword, allowing the healer to say his peace.
“Samael is no longer your servant, nor is Hanael your slave. Father allowed you to take her empire, his humanity, and their daughter. It should be clear by now that He will not allow you to take them from each other.”
“You’re saying I should let them go?” Michael demanded. “He enlists even the Chaos to his whim, he must be destroyed.”
“He is still our ferryman. Father declared that he could not be replaced. Is it not a good thing that there is now an angel that can control the Chaos, when even you could do no better than caging them? Samael is an ally, not a weapon. When you use an ally, you pay the price. This demonstration is justified, and you know it.”
Raphael released him, knowing Michael had begun to question himself. As he regarded the fields of Heaven, repairing themselves in the absence of Chaos--observing all the angels that were broken, but otherwise spared the worst of the demons’ bite--he could see that the beast was not as senseless as he appeared. If Father had made all things, and Father had crafted the mind of Saraquel, then those flaws had been left by His hand. It was within the realm of possibility that, perhaps, it was not corruption that drove him.
“If Samael returns, then what you say is true,” Michael said at last. “He shall be greeted as a brother. Hanael, however, will be forsaken with the rest of the fallen. For as long as she exists, she will never again see the light of Heaven. May Samael live with the knowledge that he is the one who condemned her.”
Raphael nodded, finding this just.
“You’ll see that is punishment enough.”