If the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself, or if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself, then the man shall bring his wife to the priest and bring the offering required of her, a tenth of an ephah of barley flour.
Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ’If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, .... ‘the L-ORD make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the L-ORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’
--Numbers 5:14-15, 19-22
Some time had passed since I had last seen her. Weeks, I was certain--I knew this only by the cycle of the moon, because the sameness of my days made them otherwise impossible to distinguish. Mesh kept me busier than usual, his mood foul, and there was no longer any guarantee that acting out would mean I was put outside. His punishments had become more varied. It was now more likely that I would be locked in the cellar with the prisoners than left outside in the fresh air. I don’t know if he suspected that I was escaping, but he sure as shit was making it hard for me to manage it.
All I could think about was how much I missed her. Sometimes a breeze would come through the window carrying the scent of Eden, sparking the memory of her. In my dreams, I felt her touch. Twice more I had prayed for some miracle, both times receiving the same answer: No. The Creator had no pity for me. Still, I could not hate Him for it. It would be unjust for my selfish prayer to receive any other reply. That didn’t change how much it hurt to hear it.
And yet my love continued to grow. I wanted to give her the world. I wanted to hold her, and never let go. My Enme, my queen. I wanted to take her sadness away.
It is not your purpose, He said to me at last. Serve Michael.
I had no choice but to resign myself to it. My desires were nothing more than the perversion of a monster’s restless mind. I would serve my lord-master, channeling frustration into my purpose. I ripped apart each murderer, thief, rapist as though they were my Maker. I was good, so that I was left alone at night to dream of her.
Michael will decide your fate.
It was some weeks before the harvest when the angels had their own feast in the tower, apart from mankind. A party, of sorts, the one day of the year when they allowed themselves to take part in the unique pleasures offered by Earth without guilt that society would fall to pieces without them. The humans knew they were on their own that night and most were wise enough to stay inside their homes; unfortunately, there was always a spike in misbehavior while the angels were away, so to me, this day was but a precursor to a very full cage and a very loud dungeon.
I was kept in my room during the event, chained by the foot to the bars on the window. I heard commotion from above me, the drunken ranting of King Ubara-Tutu and the echo of A-nu’s flute. I figured Rig was with Mesh as my lord-master sat brooding in some corner, his tagalong sucking up to him as always. I wondered if Enme was there. What did she do when she relaxed? She was always on edge, even in Eden, so conscious of everything around her. Even when she smiled, it was just a temporary respite from that distant silence she so often fell into. Did the drink give her freedom to speak? To laugh?
My room was an empty prison of stone. With the sky dark, I couldn’t even watch the dustmites flicker in the sun’s rays. I paced for a time, restless, just to make my chains rattle. I rolled a loose stone back and forth between my paws. I tried to sleep, but the noise above me made that impossible. Eventually I ended up on my back, staring at the wood beams, halfheartedly hoping they’d collapse and drop the ceiling on me. Listless, bored, and begrudging a party I’d never be invited to--a true marvel of life was Mesh’s beast.
When the door opened, I expected Rig wanted to take me for a late night prison check, or some other half-assed attempt to earn Mesh’s praise. My heart swelled to bursting when I saw it was Enme there, a platter of meat in her hands. Her hair was braided with white flowers, her face aglow in torchlight from the hall.
“I thought you deserved a proper meal,” she said, and placed the platter in front of me.
I understood, then, why tears sprang in her eyes when I brought her flowers. I ate only once a day, and it was often scraps of sinners’ flesh. This smelled like cattle, cooked to perfection, seasoned with spices of the jungle. Overeager, I tore into it, dirtying my paws with grease as I pinned it to the platter and ripped through the gristle.
By the Maker, it was good. Fucking good. The greatest thing to ever slap my tongue. I didn’t even hear her stifled laughter until I had finished the first steak, and by then she had left and returned with a torch, mounting it against the wall before I had noticed she had gone. At first the laughter made me tense, before I realized it wasn’t a mocking sound. She pressed her hand to her lips to hide it, but I had already heard--I realized what a sight I must be. As embarrassment set in, I made an effort to eat slower, averting my eyes.
“No, please, don’t mind me.”
She settled beside me, resting her head in my fur. She rubbed her face against my shoulder, clutching softly at my mane. Although her manner wasn’t wholly unlike her, her scent was weaved with the sweetness of wine.
“Sorry,” she murmured, as if knowing my suspicion. “Ubara made me...I had a bit much. Eat, love...just let me hold you, until I’m not dizzy.”
‘Love,’ she said. So casually, like it wasn’t the most glorious word to ever fall from her lips. With this meal, and her soft grip, I no longer needed the sight of Heaven.
When I was licking the remnants from the platter, Enme was stroking my back, still quiet with thought. I was considering nipping her shoulder to make her speak, when she broke her silence.
“I refused Michael.”
I lifted my head from the plate. I knew Mesh wanted her, but he had only heavily implied such, passive about his true intentions--I never expected him to pursue her outright.
“I don’t know why I did it,” she said. “He’ll hardly look at me now. I should have accepted him, but when he was close to me...I couldn’t do it. The thought of kissing him as Uriel kisses Anatu...it made me ill...”
That thought made me just as sick.(A shame, I had just eaten.) I imagine the involuntary snarl that rose from me, the revulsion that twitched my lip, was enough to indicate my feelings on the matter. Once more, my reaction provoked a surprising response in her: she smiled, cradling my head in her hand, and used her sleeve to gently wipe fat from my chin.
“So protective of me,” she whispered.
Pride surged within me. She had noticed, and she desired my protection. Why this gave me such satisfaction was beyond my rational mind--it was in that moment that I began to understand myself. I knew then that as much as I loathed my monstrous form, its instincts were engrained deep. These feelings that brewed in me were the beast’s. Find a mate. Protect the mate. Break the competitor. It was so simple, so degrading, yet I knew in my heart it was true. Wanting her was not a symptom of an angelic mind, but a sign that I was as base as Mesh knew me to be.
Ashamed, I withdrew from her touch. Doing so saddened her. At once, she pulled back her hand. Did she believe she had misunderstood? She picked up the plate and stood--she must have believed that. Unable to speak I whimpered, watching her go, but this time my whimpers weren’t enough. When she put her hand on the door, I stopped thinking. I suddenly stood on my hind legs and roared. No.
Enme tripped with fright, dropping the platter; I had never bellowed like that at her. She turned and saw me standing, towering over her, breathing hard. I regretted it all at once, sure that she would flee at the sight--yet though there were tears in her eyes, she didn’t move. She startled me when she approached before I could lower to my paws. She took my face in her hands, her thumbs sliding along my long jaw, her fingers trembling.
“Your eyes are too human,” she choked. “Why would Father give you such eyes?”
She touched my horn, guiding me down. There, she wrapped her arms around my neck, clinging tighter than she ever had. I sat, allowing her to bury herself in the expanse of my chest, where she began to sob.
I couldn’t understand what she needed, but I wouldn’t let her leave until I figured it out. All I knew was that I was to blame for this. With my muzzle, I gently loosened her braids, letting the flowers fall. When her sobs lessened, I laid down, prodding her to curl against my belly, where I could wrap myself around her. I would be her pillow in this dark place. All the warmth she needed. I licked her exposed shoulder as though she were my cub, my tail a blanket for her feet. I felt her tears in my pelt, flowing free.
“Why am I like this?” she whispered. “Crying over a beast...”
I nipped harmlessly at her arm, relieved when she rewarded me with a rub of my cheek. She would be all right, I knew. I just wanted to keep her there, until I was sure.
Before long, her tears slowed, as did her quiet breath. I felt strange relief to know that she was asleep. I curled up tighter around her, so that she wouldn’t shiver when the torch burned down. Although I knew now my feelings were not pure, that mattered to me ever less. If this is what it meant to be a beast, then I would be one--for she needed a beast. She longed for my protection, shivered at my touch, and cried only when she knew it was I who watched over her. Even if I could never hold her as Mesh could, if I were granted an eternity of feeling her nestled in my fur, that was a future I could live for.
I saw the moonlight dance across her skin, drawn in past the iron bars on my window to shine upon her. It must have been a full moon, I thought.
The torch burned low, my eyelids growing heavy. I rest my head upon my paws, focusing on the feeling of her heart beating soundly against my chest. At last, I closed my eyes, content.
It was an abrupt morning, after that pleasant night. I was woken by the feeling of a chain being cuffed around my neck, before being yanked onto my back. I roared in alarm, searching the room for Enme, relieved when I saw her disheveled but unharmed, shouting at my lord-master.
“Michael, what are you doing?! We ate together, how does that deserve punishment!”
“You were not to undermine his purpose, and here I find you coddling him like a lap dog. You’re far beyond your rights--get out, before I do something I’ll regret.”
Rig, who held my chains, wouldn’t let me see her leave. That sour-faced angel held fast as I fought him, jerking to choke me whenever I tried to turn. She was gone, too soon. I heard her footsteps, her presence fading. I howled.
I expected a lashing at the very least--I was prepared for that. But when Rig dragged me down the stairs, down into the pit, I knew that wasn’t what was coming. He dragged me past the iron cages that held the damned, letting them grab at my fur, spitting curses at me. He hauled me through that clammy darkness until we came to Mesh’s Room of Penance. Here, my chains were looped to a hook in the ceiling, my arms strapped to a beam, my feet shackled, my jaw bound with wire. Rig betrayed no sentiment as he did these things, his movement mechanical. I realized, as he tightened my iron noose, that I hated him more than anyone.
When I was secure, Mesh made his appearance. He lit a few torches, ignoring my strangled snarls. His calm unnerved me.
“Raguel, stay near. See that the binds are strong enough to hold.”
He went to his table of tools. Of the arsenal of weapons at his disposal, he took only a dagger to the sharpening wheel. In silence, he shined the blade, sparks flying. My limbs ached, my paws twitching, my mind somewhere between fear and rage. I was his creation. He said that he loved me for that. My mind screamed that this was not, could not, be just.
“I’ve given you much, Ajeshah,” Mesh said, as he lowered the blade from the wheel. “Yet each day you find new means to cut into me. Today, I return the favor.”
He approached me with the dagger. Eyes never leaving mine, he pressed the blade against my wrist, and then my bicep. A single slice there, small, yet it made me roar.
“You cut me, each day, in small ways. You defy me in public. You disappear into the night. Undermine me in this very room, before the damned.”
He sliced my leg, and my side. Another slice in my chest felt like fire, blood seeping out to dye my fur.
“I thought I was educating you, with my lashings. Yet you ignore them. For all I know, you enjoy them. It is you who forced me to do this.”
He continued to cut into me, across my arms, my stomach, my legs. Each slice small, deliberate. I howled with pain, and still he stared into my eyes, drinking in my agony.
“I’ve allowed you so much freedom that now you think to touch Gabriel, a being so much greater than you that your breath in her presence taints the very air. She is too good to punish your impudence--and so, I will.”
I was dripping with blood, each cut draining me until I grew numb to my own flesh. Until these words, I had whimpered with sorrow amidst my anguish, willing to feel remorse for my treatment of him. But now, I knew this was not about respect. This was about her. He had seen me with her, he had seen love between us, and he wanted me to bleed for it.
I was filled with rage. It burned so powerfully inside me that I no longer felt pain. My right arm ripped through my binds, claws extended. I struck Mesh, claws ripping flesh, his turn to have blood spurt across the floor. He bellowed for Rig to restrain me as he cursed and held the left side of his face. One eye was swelling, my claw nicked too close. I didn’t regret. I let Rig bind me tighter, staring at Mesh the way he had stared at me, wanting him to hurt.
Mesh raised his dagger, letting his hand fall from his ruined face. The point of the blade hovered against my chest.
“An angelic consciousness can be bound by sigils. I imagine this curse will be just as effective in your flesh as it would be cast in Remiel’s sacred circles.”
He began to carve something into my skin, deeper than the other wounds. I struggled, snarling--it burned, like poison digging into my core.
“With this, you are bound to my word, Ajeshah. Never again will you strike in defiance of me. When I order, you obey.”
The sigil carved, he flicked blood from the blade. Mesh ordered Rig to bind my wounds, but to leave me strapped there, struggling, until I had ‘learned my lesson.’ He left quickly after that, no doubt rushing to Tal in hopes the damage could be undone.
I prayed it wouldn’t be, because that was the last satisfaction I would have in this life. Restrained now by an unnatural curse, I couldn’t even snarl at Rig as he touched me. I was beaten. All that remained was the hope that Enme would see Mesh as he was now, and know that I had done it.