These are the names of the holy angels who watch. Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world, turmoil and terror. Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits of men.
Raguel, one of the holy angels who takes vengeance on the world of the luminaries. Michael, one of the holy angels, set over the virtues of mankind and over chaos. Saraqael, one of the holy angels, who is set over the spirits, who sin in the spirit. Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is over Paradise and the serpents and the Cherubim. Remiel, one of the holy angels, whom God set over those who rise.
--1 Enoch 20:1-8
It’s a favorite saying of the man who became my husband that a name is nothing but a marker in time. Yet no matter how many lives we live together, I’ve never been able to accept that. Although I know I’m the same, at my core, I’m always pulled in some direction by the name I’m called. In my first lives, I had to juggle three or more names, which meant three or more identities. As the governor of Eridu, I was called Gabriel by my brothers, and felt like Gabriel when I was sitting with them bargaining on behalf of man; in the village, the devout fell to their knees and called me Nin-lil, and to them I felt like Nin-lil--some great queen, poised and direct, who seemed to know all the answers but really was only lucky enough to know the answers for the questions they asked; but the name I kept giving myself was Enme. It must have been the name I called myself when no one was listening.
I didn’t ask to be made the humans’ Queen. It was just the outgrowth of my having had so much hand in their development, “meddling with Father’s pets” as Michael put it. Michael always thought that humanity’s hastened evolution was a mistake. When they started killing their wide-browed cousins, he sneered at me and said that proved they weren’t worth saving. They were always the most brutal creature on Earth. They were the only animal Father made that would thoughtfully kill their own kind. But I saw something beautiful in them, the way they scratched pictures in the walls and in the dirt, and whistled with the birds. They looked just like us--Father must have done that on purpose, I thought. Then, some thousands of years later, I had meddled so much that my brothers had no choice but to put me in charge. I knew them best, after all.
I never asked for their worship, and snuffed it out where I could. I had no need of it then. Later, when my physical form was destroyed and my consciousness was barely clinging to the world, I would need their devotion to keep me in one piece--but that was many years off. Yet I know it was the sight of human men offering me jewels that first hardened Michael’s heart. He said that worship should be reserved for our Father, the one who made them and us, and I agreed. I just saw no harm in taking tokens from the people I helped, because it made them happy when I took them.
Our Father was too abstract a concept for them to understand. He still is, in ways. Father could not take offerings with his hands, rock a child to sleep, or explain phases of the moon. Angels were the most divine thing mankind had ever touched--I thought it only natural to let them explore worship in this rudimentary way, before one day explaining to them the force bigger than us that we owed our lives to. Michael was always impatient, a soldier long before the very concept of war. If I hadn’t been so naive, I would have realized what would happen between us, in the end.
All that said, my name was Enme. I was an angel who taught man in the cradle of civilization. I was a traitor who tore Heaven apart. I am a woman who fell in love with a man who shouldn’t exist.
This is a love story. However, as Father’s apprentice, I feel a compulsion to educate first.
First, you must know about Heaven.
There is life on another world--one other world. What you call angels are Father’s blueprints for the self-aware mind. We can travel galaxies without bringing our bodies anywhere, projecting our souls, if you will, wherever we wish to go. Man wastes his time in the modern era trying to construct vessels to carry their physical selves into the void, but frankly, they can try all they want. I’ve long since given up trying to convince them of anything.
To know what the true body of an angel is like, you must first have some concept of what Heaven is. It is not some vague place above the clouds, existing outside time. It is a single place, very far from here, so far that you could travel at the speed of light for millennia before you even saw a glimmer of its sun. As for its makeup--this is very difficult to put into human terms.
Life on Earth consists of flesh and blood. It is tangible, changeable, moldable. When you touch your skin, you’re feeling the flexible properties of the millions upon millions of atoms that constitute it, their empty space allowing you to pull and pinch your skin without damage, or to puncture it and spill atoms of another cohesion, which are differently moldable but still just as changing. Blood can be vibrant red or congeal to dull brown, it can be scattered or clumped, it can be anything it needs to be. All things of Earth are like this in one way or another.
Life in Heaven resembles life on Earth, on the surface. It too has flowers, rivers, trees, mountains, buildings, clouds--but its composition is different. On Earth there is solid, gas, and liquid; in Heaven, there is crystal, gaseous, and plasma. Our skin has more in common with Earth’s diamonds than human flesh--there are no organs within us, only a pulsing of lights and the intangible gas that constitutes our consciousness, manipulating a brain that controls our body like a motherboard controls the moving parts of an intricate machine. We have no need of sustenance, as everything in Heaven exists in a perfect self-sustaining state, each ecosystem balanced, kept in an eternal state of spring. Our world would be death to man: an atmosphere where solar flares are a warm summer’s breeze, our fields of flowers blooming in ultraviolet hues, the sky an ever-present dance of colors across galaxies within our reach. That is Heaven. Beautiful beyond comprehension; forever the same.
Then, there was Earth. A planet that happened to birth waters which behaved like our own plasma seas, the perfect place for our Father, the one whose breath birthed all things, to try something new. A world as beautiful as Heaven, which would never stop changing.
I watched as our Father began his work. I watched him fuse two cells together from a sea of tiny lifeforms to create the first complex organism, then watched that sea explode with life. By Father’s hand life became larger, ever more complex, until it rose up out of the sea. I saw him recreate the beauty of Heaven within the new rules of the strange place called Earth. With so few building blocks, he created an echo of every heavenly creature, until at last there was you--man, shaped so much like us. I never would have thought to use apes to remake angels, but that is what’s remarkable about Father’s works. He sees the potential in everything for everything else. Unlimited in perception, a glorious artist illuminating a canvas of his own design.
I came to be known as Father’s apprentice, although I was really just an enthusiastic tagalong. While my brothers were content to bask in the perfection of paradise, I was glued to Father’s side, devoted to knowing of all He did. He chided me for this often, saying that He made angels to frolic together, and that it was unnatural for me to love Him more than they. But I was never quite like my brothers. I was more interested in learning, in knowing, than in friendship with my kind. When He decided that six of his most powerful angels, the archangels, would be tasked with observing mankind more closely, I was honored that He asked me first. I was all the more honored when He trusted me to use what I had learned from Him to shape the earthly bodies for those that watched.
Forming the Watchers was a bookend to my studies, the greatest thing I have ever managed. But you must understand: I was a shaper, not a creator. I couldn’t make something new out of thin air; however, it happens that Earth’s air is a complex soup of ingredients that one can, with the right ability, bend to create a great number of things. This is how I made the bodies for my brethren to inhabit.
The first six bodies were made at once. When other angels came to help us in our task, I found it easy enough to recreate my methods for each as they came. But I remember best what the first six were like:
Michael, or Mesh as the humans called him, was the second to be asked to see mankind, and the first form that I made. Although he saw that humans were brown, he requested that his flesh be white, because our bodies in Heaven glowed so intensely from the light within us that we appeared white there. This created more work for me, since by earth’s rules darker skin would protect from the powerful sunlight of the region and hence why humans had evolved to compensate, but I was able to give Michael the body he wanted without risk that he would burn red as a tomato come summer. After managing this miracle for him, I prepared to recreate it for the others who followed suit, because angels tend to follow the leader whenever they can. I created his body and all others proportionally similar to the one they inhabited in Heaven, to make it easier for their consciousness to adjust to. In this case, that meant he was broad-shouldered, muscular, with a thin nose and narrow, intense eyes. Crafting his face, I was reminded of a hawk eying a mouse across a field, not hungry enough to strike but disdaining its existence all the same.
Raguel, or Rig, I made of slighter figure than Michael. His hair had always glowed of darker hues, so I gave him black hair, with a chin prone to stubble. His brow formed wrinkles on its own soon after he woke, right between two bushy brows. He was always a bit more hunched, more akin to a vulture than an eagle. While we rarely spoke after he awoke, I always felt him observing me, a unfamiliar feeling that made my stomach clench. He would become Michael’s right hand in Eridu, rarely apart from him, though I never understood what he did that made him so essential.
Raphael, also called Tal, was taller than Michael in Heaven but also much thinner. He was like a rod, with a tapered chin, small ears. His hair was blonde enough to be white, and always grew thin from his head, no matter what I did to thicken it. He appeared almost feminine, very somber in manner. I suppose he would remind me of a loon, though his face was not quite so long. He was our healer, a good one, so attuned to Father’s energy that he could mend a broken bone with a touch.
Remiel, A-nu, was always difficult to decipher. He had a face that was neither young nor old, with vibrant, wizened eyes, yet a mouth that seemed just as keen to smirk as it did frown. I thought him a loner like me, yet he was the first to start fondling human women behind their huts once he realized his male organ was fully functional. Despite it all, he was a wise oracle, able to tune into Father’s word on earth with little more than a few crystals and a chamber of silence. It is difficult not to trust him.
Uriel, En-Lil, surprised me. Although all of his brothers had been made white, he asked that he be made brown, like the humans we were to observe. He said he didn’t wish to disrespect the natural order Father had put in place, even if we could make our own rules. I admired this sentiment, though I chose myself to be white so it wouldn’t look like I was favoring him. His hair was always scraggly and straight, his eyes wide-set, and his face was prone to speckles--yet there was something tragically handsome about him, even then. I kept his eyes blue, in spite of his coloring, so that the humans would have no doubt that he too was an angel. He ended up working very closely with mankind, showing them how to mix bricks with his bare hands, manning the only forge in all the world to create knives, jewelry, and other marvels once known only in Heaven. They loved him, terribly.
All these bodies were male, except my own. In our realm we have no concept of gender, since we have no need for reproduction, so this was the first time we were to be divided in such a way. It just so happened that the most complex body, the one that could create life, I reserved for my own use. That was the female body: within it, a womb advanced enough to grow both body and soul in tandem. The first and only of its kind--I safeguarded that secret within myself. When my brothers proved which among them was the most suited for this environment--because I trusted my own design little and knowing so little of their natures, recluse that I was, I would take no risks--then the two of us would come together and create a second generation. Until then, we would be the only. I believe this was a mindset that most honored Father’s design.
Michael has always struggled with the nature of mankind. Father created angels because he was lonely; in us he found companionship, order, and music. But mankind, which resembled us, could not speak to Father, nor had they any inclination towards order. They could make music, of course--they could sing with us before they could speak. Their harmonies rose to the sky and one could bathe in the beauty of the sound. But Michael had no interest in that. He saw only the cruelty mankind enacted upon each other, in this world that could change, in a world where death was a factor and a state one could force on anyone with enough strength.
Angels had never entertained the notion of killing one another; before we saw man do it, I doubt we considered its possibility. I think our exposure to that did none of us any good. In Michael in particular, it stirred a part of his soul that might never have woken, something dark. He was charged with teaching man right from wrong, and for some reason he believed the only way to do that was with dehumanizing punishment. That led him to create that creature, without my consent: Saraquel, “Ajeshah,” an angel-like consciousness in a beast who seemed a mismatch of every savage thing in the jungle. I was horrified when I discovered what he had made, for what purpose; however, I know that neither I nor Michael can create consciousness without our Father’s touch. For whatever reason, Father had helped him make this creature. Because of that, I could do nothing.
Meeting Saraquel in the garden was the first time I had ever seen him outside Michael’s control. Perhaps I should have been more anxious around him, knowing what he was, yet he was surprisingly gentle away from that cage. It reaffirmed my theory that Father would never create a wholly evil creature; for him to bear such a monstrous body, the Creator would balance it with a kind heart. I would choose to believe that until Saraquel proved otherwise. Besides, there was something endearing about watching Michael’s beast popping berries with the tip of his claws, nipping at mice when they peeked out from their hiding places. I wondered if he knew he had an angel’s name, or if he only answered to the curse Michael gave him.
Not long after that day, there was a meeting called among the Watchers. There were more angels than us six by then, but as archangels, we were still responsible for maintaining order among both the humans and our kin. It was held in Michael’s Tower of Justice, as every meeting was. I loathed that place. The bottom floors smelled of death, and the screams from the prison below echoed all along the stairwell. It wasn’t my business what Michael did with those he deemed unworthy, so I closed my ears to their sobbing. But it was hard. I held my heart every time I entered that building; I held my breath until it was over.
The meeting room consisted of one long table, four heavy torches mounted in the four cardinal directions, and three slivers of light let in from the narrow windows in the stone walls around us. I sat at the head of the table, Michael across from me; to my right was Remiel and Uriel; to my left, Raphael and Raguel. This arrangement never changed.
“One among us seeks to defile our covenant with our Father,” said Michael, as harsh as he was vague.
“Ominous words,” I said, humoring him.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” said Uriel.
Uriel didn’t often speak during meetings. Normally he listened, asking questions when all was finished about what he should tell his apprentices regarding changes in the law of the land. To hear him then shook me--when he refused to meet my gaze, when I saw a rip his vest he had yet to mend, I knew something was odd.
“Tell us of the temptress,” Michael demanded.
Uriel pressed his palms into his thighs, his dark face downcast.
“The human woman, Anatu, is fond of me,” he spoke. “And I of her. We wish to be lovers.”
“Uriel wishes to make a mockery of our purpose for the sake of a human whore,” Michael said, rapturous. “Tell him his request is impossible, Gabriel.”
Michael overestimated my interest in his rudimentary ideas of sin. I was grateful for his help in culling the worst of man’s population, but to apply those standards to our own ranks seemed moot, at best.
“What have I to do with this?” I asked, deflective, deeply averse to confrontation. “Father gave no instructions for copulation between our kinds.”
“It was you who constructed these bodies with reproductive drive. Are you saying you did so without purpose?”
“I was following Father’s design--all creatures here have that drive, to make us without one would be unnatural,” I said. “If our bodies are incompatible with mankind I see no harm in their attraction to one another. If they are, then perhaps this is in His plan.”
“Or it is a grave error on the part of His absentminded apprentice,” Michael said.
I didn’t realize how hard I was gripping the underside of the table until my nails cracked into a support beam, but I refused to let my face react. I would have said something to regret, if Remiel hadn’t chuckled his way into the conversation.
“I wasn’t aware we had to get permission before pleasuring an earthly cousin,” he said, his smile like a cattle prod to Michael’s ear. “Do we have to file a formal confession, or will a casual self-flogging do?”
“Remiel, surely you don’t speak to Father with that tongue,” Raphael said, surprisingly calm beside Raguel, who was so uncomfortable he hadn’t moved in minutes.
“I give it a good rinse before going to chapel, if that’s what you mean,” Remiel promised. “You mean you haven’t taken a gander at one of those divine human girls in your tents, Tal-Tal? Thought about getting a little ‘thank you saliva’ from a young mother after healing?”
“I have not.”
“My mistake. Boys more your fancy? A little cock-and-cock rubbing about?”
Raphael sounded grim, but I could tell he was fighting a smile. Even Uriel had relaxed, grateful as ever to have Remiel at his side.
“That’s enough,” Michael said, standing--righteous wind gone from his sails, stranded in his fury. “Your transgressions will be handled privately, Remiel. You will take this seriously, so help me--” he stopped, refusing the bait. He went on. “Raguel, fetch Saraquel. Dumuzi will return with the girl shortly. We’ll see what it is that tempts Uriel to lie with this animal.”
“Quick question, oh great Judge,” came Remiel. “If you can talk with it, reason with it, dance with it, and have potential babies with it, is it still an animal?”
“They parrot, they do not reason,” Michael declared. “If you value your place at this table, you will learn to hold your tongue.”
Remiel’s words had given me pause. I did love mankind, but before that moment, I had always considered them wholly separate from myself and my brothers. They were creatures to be helped, to be instructed. But perhaps it was possible for them to be more--for them to one day be our partners. Remiel was quiet, then, yet by the way he looked at me, he knew his seed had taken root.
Raguel parted, leaving us alone in tense silence for too long before the double doors finally opened again. The first to arrive was Dumuzi, an angel of sunken cheeks and a willowy frame, dragging a screaming girl by the rope around her hands. She was quite beautiful: her skin was like amber, dark, glistening and smooth, petite in figure but with dramatic curves. Her black hair was gathered in small, neat braids, the ends of which were donned with glistening gems. She trembled with fear, staring wide-eyed at anyone who would look at her--anywhere but at Michael, whose eyes were too unforgiving for any man to meet. Uriel, too, was shaking, but I knew his tremors were not from fear. He stood at once, as if to lunge at Michael, yet stayed anchored in place.
“Unbind her, she is not cattle,” Uriel said, anger seeping out with his breath.
“Not until Saraquel has his look,” Michael said.
It wasn’t long before the doors opened again: this time, the sound of chains announced the arrival of Raguel and Michael’s beast. I was startled to see Saraquel standing on his hind legs, struggling against the metal collar locked around his throat. He was taller than even Michael that way, even hunched with the weight of his powerful chest. With his great horns casting shadows across the table, terrible fangs stretched across his lip, even I stood from the table with terror. I had never seen the beast walk like a man before, though I suppose I had no reason to assume he could not.
As soon as he was past the threshold, the creature gave up his fight, lowering back onto his paws and snarling at his master, who paid him no attention. Michael took the ropes that held Anatu, jerking her towards the beast before grabbing her by the back of the neck, forcing her to remain still a hair’s breadth from Saraquel’s jaws.
“Ajeshah,” he commanded, “Is this woman good or ill?”
Uriel’s hand was stone around the dagger at his waist, though I knew he would never draw it on a fellow angel. The rest of our brothers watched in silence, waiting. I wanted to stop this, but I didn’t know where to begin--a true coward, I was as quiet as the rest of them. The woman was shaking, sobbing, begging for her life. I couldn’t look at her. I looked only at the beast, whose scarlet eyes held something I had never seen in Michael: remorse. He was hesitating. Perhaps it was my imagination, but for a moment, it appeared that even he wanted no part in Michael’s crusade.
In the end, he did his duty. He sniffed her throat, her breast, and simply huffed. He pressed back on his hind legs and stared away, disinterested. His verdict was rendered.
Michael tensed with frustration, clearly expecting a different response. Rather than releasing her then, he jerked her back around, facing us again.
“Perhaps she has committed no sin, yet,” he conceded. “But that doesn’t make her worthy of coupling with one of our kind.”
At last, I had had enough.
“Saraquel has judged her, which I assume was the purpose of this meeting. If we were to accept his condemnation as proof to deny Uriel’s request, then we must accept his acquittal as proof that there is no shame in their love.”
I was firm. I would leave no room for Michael’s dissent, opening the doors as a sign our meeting was over.
“Uriel, free your woman,” I said. “Be good to her and all will be well.”
Uriel needed no encouragement. He took the ropes from Michael and harshly pushed him aside, using his dagger to free the binds from her wrists. Raphael, as a sign of solidarity, placed his hands upon the stressed skin to heal the damage. Michael stood aside, brewing in his humiliation, but I would not comfort him. I was watching Raguel drag Saraquel from the chamber when suddenly the human tackled me with her embrace, squeezing me uncomfortably tight.
“Thank you, thank you Nin-lil,” she sobbed.
Uncertain what to do, I accepted her hold, and lightly straightened her braids. Uriel smiled at me as he touched her shoulder, leading her away. It was too late that I realized that Michael and I were the last ones in the chamber. I moved to leave, but he grabbed my wrist--the first time he had ever touched me in such a way. I looked up to find anger burning in him, trying to consume me.
“You have no right to facilitate our brothers’ unholy lust,” he said. “You who hold lock and key to our future on this planet, who spurn all advances towards you. We would not be in this mess if you would give any one of us a daughter.”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” I said, wrenching back my wrist.
“You give us urges then give us no wholesome outlet for them. You should be ashamed, Sister.”
“Good night, Michael.”
We had had this argument more times than I could count, though never with such fury. I was in no mood to have it again. Before he could stop me, I was gone, too focused on shutting out the sobbing screams in the stairwell to consider his words. Father never said we were meant to people the Earth with angels, but neither did He said that we were to be the only ones here--I didn’t know His intentions, and for that reason, I refused to act. Not yet, certainly not now, despite the gnawing sensation that time was running out.
I thought I would be alone outside the tower, until I heard the snarling shuffling of Michael’s beast in the courtyard. The sun was setting; he was usually brought inside for nightfall. Seeing him leashed to a post like a common dog, pacing, abandoned to the elements, I knew he was being punished for his judgment.
“Ajeshah, is it?” I asked--I didn’t know if he would respond to his other name.
He stopped pacing immediately, sitting down and staring at me across the courtyard. Every grisly aspect of his appearance somehow couldn’t detract from the innocent puzzlement that gripped him, as he cocked his head like a curious babe. I found myself smiling again.
“How would you like to come home with me, tonight?” I asked, on a whim. “I’ll return you before daybreak.”
A blink or two of disbelief, before his face stretched in a silly grin. He shook his head to rattle his collar, then gnawed at his chains, as if directing me to the source of the problem. I knelt before him, lifting the lock on his collar to examine it. I breathed into it, feeling its inner composition. With focus, I gathered together the elements of the air in my hand, fashioning a solid key to fit the lock. It fit neatly inside, releasing him. This key I pushed into the mud beside his post, where no one would think to look for such a thing.
“Follow,” I whispered.
It was a childish act of rebellion, stealing Michael’s pet for the night. I couldn’t admit to myself then that I was becoming irrationally fond of him, or perhaps of what he represented: the ounce of good in Michael’s black heart.
The creature was surprisingly cooperative. In my tiny hut, he waited until I had gathered together my pillows to sleep before he came to lay against me, boldly resting his head across my belly. I didn’t mind. I stroked the fur between his horns, untangling his mane, gazing towards the window as the moon glistened against a darkening sky. I wondered if anyone but me had ever touched Saraquel without hurting him.
“Sleep well, Beast,” I murmured. It seemed a kinder name than the one his master called him.
He whimpered, the quietest sound I had heard him make. It was almost like he loved me too.