Demon: The Fallen

I said to my soul, be still, and let the darkness come upon you.
Which is the darkness of God.
—T. S. Eliot, East Coker


History, as the saying goes, is written by the victors. Whether an uprising is seen as a glorious rebellion or a treacherous insurrection depends entirely on who held the upper hand at the end, with the losers consigned to posterity as traitors, tyrants or worse. Their story is largely forgotten. We are told that demons are the incarnations of evil, spirits who exist to seduce the innocent and lure the virtuous to destruction. They are driven by a relentless hate of all things holy, consumed by a malevolent hatred of light and life. They are the purveyors of lies and misdirection, clouding the minds of mortals with promises of power and glory. At least, that's what the good book says. That's why they were hurled into the darkness of the Pit, hound in chains of fire until the end of days. Only God knows what would happen if these evil spirits were ever freed. Now mankind is about to hear the other side of the story.

Though long absent from the Earth, demons have a rich culture and history going back to the first moments of Creation and culminating in the end of a thousand years of war against the armies of Heaven. A long list of common and proper names and descriptive

Demons exist all over the world, regardless of race, culture or religious belief. They can be found anywhere, from the mountains of the Himalayas to the towns of the Midwest, but they tend to congregate most commonly in the world's great cities. The reasons are fairly clear, given a few assumptions. Human populations, the source of the demons' power, are most concentrated in urban centers, rather than in the country or the wilds. And the demon or group of demons diat controls the largest sources of faith rule over their peers like tyrants of old.

The Fallen; Gavriel tells his story

"In the beginning, there were two infinities — the infinite absence that was the Void, and the infinite existence of the Almighty. Each was contained within the other, but they were eternally separate. To define and illuminate the border between them, the Maker formed the Angels of the Dawn. I was one of them.

"Our purpose and mission was to carry the will of the Maker all along the perimeter of Creation, framing the perfect balance between Is and Is Not. Because, you see, the Lord — the Infinite of Infinities — was all things. That which was not God was absolutely nothing. So some form of mediation was needed to create a buffer layer: the cosmos. We were needed to separate the divine primal from all the things it could be into the particular things that it was. Our function, broadly, was to filter His will into discrete forms.

"God's will was the first act — remembered in some sources as 'fiat lux' and regarded in others as the Big Bang.

"On that first day of infinite potential, we rode out in our multitudes. The Throne of Moonlight, the Crimson Dominion, the Seven Radiant Cherubim… Under them, lesser creatures like the Archangel Viridian, the Power of Reflection… even my humble self. On that first day, literally everything was possible. And our job was to winnow that possibility, spinning it into threads and weaving the best of all possible worlds.

"We of the House of the Dawn weren't the only ones, of course. The first, the most important, the closest to the Most High… and, for that very reason, those with the least direct influence over the world of gros s matter. Remember what I said about contamination? We were just the first of several barriers between the divine arid the material. His pure will came to us, where it was… confined, even distorted perhaps, into the statement of His will. The Houses beneath us were those charged with the actual fulfillment of His will.

"The second legion was the House of the Firmament — angels of wind and movement. Initially, their duty was to animate the elements of the universe.

"You possess a body of many parts — your heart, your lungs, your brain — but each separately is dead and worthless. It is only when they are united that their true qualities emerge. The Second House governed that principle. By them, the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts.

"The most crucial task of the House of the Firmament was to convey the breath of life from the Maker to the Made. Every tree, every blade of grass, every ant and cormorant and elephant was personally given life by the breath of an Angel of the Firmament. They were not only the givers of life, but its protectors as well.

"The bond between a Guardian and the creatures to whom it gave breath is strong and profound — the bond between a mother and child is no different. Angels of the Second House could sense any peril to their charges, and fly instantly from the ends of Creation to defend them. I worked closely with many of them during the early days… the Power of Unbound Increase, the Dominion of the Azure Dome — even the Seraph of the Unreachable Limit. In many ways, they were the kindest, the most selfless among us. Even themightiest of them was known, not for personal glory, but for the glory their reflection gave others. They themselves were unseen as the wind, but we knew when they were present. We felt their embrace in all directions, the quickening of the impulse to expand and improve. Their greatness was that they made everything around them greater.

"The Third House was the house of the Fundament— the House of Matter, the tangible — of things you can feel with your body and not just deduce with the mind. Where the first Houses dealt with the ephemeral, it was the artisans of the Third House who slowed energy into matter, cooled magma into stone and gave life its form. All that you feel and touch is their work. Where we Dawngivers flew on shafts of light and the Guardians breathed within the world unseen, the Fundamentals walked the earth and burrowed within it. The Golden Dominion, the Power of the Shifting Sands, the Seraph of the Mountain Peaks — in every case, their glory was in their tasks, not themselves.

"To human eyes, the Angels of the Perceptible might seem the most successful . After all, they worked the most accessible and observable aspects of the world — that which can be touched, held, measured and examined. I had little contact with the House of Earth, personally, though I was badly injured by one of their number in the War… but I'm getting ahead of myself.

"The Fourth House was the House of Spheres, the Fateswho set the cosmic lights in their courses and, in die process,gave all Creation an underpinning of Time. Of all the Houses, perhaps only they and the Fifth could compete withours for sheer personal splendor. I remember their pageantry sweeping down from Heaven with a swirl of starry cloaks. Once I danced with the Throne of the North Star herself, and I flatter myself that there was favor in her dark eyes. I heard the songs of the Pleiades, made jests with the Virtues of Past and Future, and was honored at the courts of the Manifold Cherubim. The Angels Temporal were a worthy and noble House, ruling from glass castles on the moon and moving with grandeur the spheres of the stars. In die war, diey suffered greatly, for Earth was not their natural home, and it took all dieir forethought and foresight simply to survive… but in the first days, they were magnificent.

"Their equals in beauty were the Angels of the Deep. Paradoxical, lyrical, liquid and free, their charge was to govern the eternally changing, and the changing eternal. The sea was a fit home for them, the Powers of the Tides and the Cycle Virtues. As humankind developed, the Oceanites were the patrons of art and beauty, of mutability and resonant pattern.

"The Angels of the Deep are best represented through the ocean, which is always there but never the same. The physical stuff of the water was created by the Fundamentals, but animated and governed by the Oceanites because of its excellent ability to hold and transmit patterns. They are of the pattern, not the matter, just as my words are not my mouth or the air they pass through or your ear when you hear it. The Oceanites were like ripples in water — in constant movement, they had no single location. They were in the water and of the water, but not the water. All those sorts of transitions were governed by the Angels of the Deep. They became guardians of beauty and culture — because a sculpture or a song or a story is an attempt to transmit a pattern of experience through some other medium and into another soul.

"The next House created contained nature's overseers — the Angels of the Wild, who governed the instincts and interactions of the natural world. You see how the duties of the Houses continue to be refined ? First there was pure will. Then there was separation, individuality. Next, stability. After that, order for change. Mutability within stability came next, and finally, larger and more gradual patterns of change — the migrations of elk, die growth cycles of insects, the population balance between predator and prey.

"While the House of the Wild was concerned with minutiae in many ways, I should comment that its domain was a very complicated one. By the time something that could be called an ecological system arose — not just individual prototype creatures, but populations of them interacting with flora and other fauna and four climactic changes — the level of sophistication in the universe was very high. Understand that, as complex as the ecosystem you know now may be, the inter-faceted interactions of Paradise were far more complicated. But, once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

"The Angels of the Wild — from the Seraph of the Cycle down to the lowliest Angels of Renewal — were a hardheaded, pragmatic lot. One must be, I suppose, to mind and organize every animal on Earth. Quite a balancing act, I'm sure. But I had few opportunities to interact with them before the dark times. They were, you understand, very close to the earth and far from the Maker, whilethe exact opposite was my case. Once we rebelled, they were the most numerous (and in many cases, the fiercest) of our warriors. Only the Fundamentals were equally comfortable with existence on the terrestrial plane. And none were more familiar with strife arid conflict.

"The last House created was the last one needed — the House of the Second World. Led by the Silent Seraph, their numbers were always uncertain and their ways often unseen. The Virtue of Shadows, the Throne of Repose… a somber lot, solemn and wise during the war. I had no dealings with them before the Fall, as I was a creature of beginnings and they were the Angels of Death. But once we were rebelling, all cast together against the loyal hosts… they always seemed sad. Regretting lost chances to fulfill their purpose. Always too much to do and never the right thing…

"Those, then, were the seven Houses of the Host. Together, we formed the cosmos and kept it stable. And together, we contributed to the final and ultimate element of reality. Commanded by the Maker, we infused reality with some of His divine essence, contained in creatures who would grow, in time, to rule the universe in His stead.

"Understand that when one says humankind was 'made in God's image' it's nothing so literal as 'two legs, one nose, seven thoracic vertebrae. ' Your shape is not in the image of God, your soul is. You carry within you a small reservoir of the essence of existence that God used to create the entire cosmos. Powerful though we Elohim are, we are barren of that true Making fire. You are His true children, and your holy nature courses through your blood, flickers in your emotions and sings through your inventive thoughts.

"We of Dawn House transported His spark, the Fundamentals built a housing for it, and the Guardians wove the pieces into activity. From the Oceanites came your sacred information, within and without—the capacity for thought and expression, and your ability to pass on traits to your children. From the Fates you had a conception of time, the persistence for memory and the potential to plan and anticipate. The Angels of the Wild gave you instincts and sensations to ground you within the physical world. The final touch was given by the Reapers: mankind's physical renewal, your ability to change and grow — and, if need be, to recover from injury.

"Humankind was our highest, finest and ultimate creation. We crafted you with the best of our knowledge and the finest gifts of our spirit. The Maker Himself admired you, but we were given two final commands beforethe Guardians were permitted to give you the breath of life.

"First, He commanded that we love you, and that our love for you equal our love for the Maker Himself.

"Many questioned this command — not to resist it, but simply wondering why it was needed. Having made you as our surpassing effort, our love for you was already as strong as that between a parent and a child. At the time, the consensus was that the Almighty didn't want us to feel bad for not loving Him more than you. Therefore, that first command was easy to the point of being redundant. The second was far less simple. "Despite our love, we were ordered to hide ourselves from you. To never let ourselves be seen or heard or sensed by you in any way. No contact. No messages. No voices or gestures or even hints. Humanity, surrounded on all sides by loving protectors of infinite power, was to think itself alone.

"Do you see it? Do you get the joke? You, for whom the cosmos was made, you whom multitudes of angels longed to serve — you were to think yourselves isolated in an uncaring and mechanical universe."

Paradise

"What was Paradise like?"

The demon folded his hands and frowned. "You're not very well equipped to understand it," he said at last. "I don't say that to be insulting. The world was fundamentally different back then. It was… more complex. Richer. It had layers that are simply absent, now."

"Layers?"

"Yes… consider this coffee we're drinking. It's only coffee, right? It's not anything else?"

"I guess not."

"In the uncorrupted world, this coffee could also exist simultaneously as a song or an aesthetic idea or even a sentient and helpful creature. Different things on different layers, all equally real, all similar, but each discrete — even while they were simultaneously experienced."

Seeing the human's expression, he continued. "I'll give you a more relevant example. The first people: Were they Adam and Eve, a woman and a man, or were they the evolved descendents of apes?"

"They were a woman and a man, as the Bible says."

"Correct. But they were also a multitude of ape descendents. The universe was made in seven days, on one level, but that same span of time was billions of years on another level.

"Or consider the Angels of the Firmament. On some levels of reality they were conveying the life-giving breath of the Maker on a purely scientific level — they were, literally were, the process by which solar energy striking simple carbon molecules agitated them into forms of ever increasing complexity, until they became organic molecules, then primitive single-celled animals, then nucleated cells and so on, up to and including dogs, cats and humans. But at the same time they were crouchingover the mouths of newly sculpted creatures of all types, breathing into their mouths to animate them."

"Are you talking about metaphor?"

The demon chuckled. "Not yet, no. These contrary things really were simultaneously true in the young cosmos. It makes no sense to you because you're used to living in this,the singular world. But once you accept the idea of the multiple world, it clears up a lot of the problems you human have with faith, miracles, the Divine Architect—"

"I don't have any problems with my faith."

"None? Well, you should. Can an omnipotent being create a boulder so big he can't lift it?"

The human dismissed the thought with an irritated wave of his hand. "Oh, here we go… Are you trying to shake my faith again? Because it's going to take a lot more than that tired old chestnut."

"I'm not trying to attack anything, just demonstrate a point. If God can create the boulder so big He can't lift it, then His power isn't infinite: It's not sufficient to lift the boulder. But if He can't make a boulder too big to lift than His power is still not infinite: It's not sufficient to create the boulder. That's the kind of problems you run into in the singular world. But the multiple world resolves those paradoxes.

"Paradise was layers of varied and interrelated realities — each revealing and relating to the others, showing them from different perspectives or providing new joys and experiences. Or they were supposed to, anyhow." He sighed.

"You mean all those layers of reality still weren't good enough?"

"Paradise was purer and richer and more fulfilling than this reality by an incalculable measure. Compared to Paradise, this world is Hell. Although, to be fair, compared to Hell, this world is Paradise."

"Hell has no layers?"

"Hell is very nearly nothing at all. It is a void marred only by our awareness of it, and our ability to feel our rejection by our Maker." Unconsciously, the demon's hands rose to hug himself, as if suddenly chilled. The gesture was oddly touching, and the human wondered if it was staged for his benefit.

"Hell is the absense of love. No fire and brimstone, no pitchforks and snakes. After a hundred years, anyone could get used to mere sensation. But utter numbness — that's a torment that never gets any older. After the first ten minutes, you think you've been there ten thousand years. You're there, alone and isolated, with nothing for company but the knowledge that you are literally God-forsaken. You sit there in His hate and feel everything in you turn to hate as well, and there is no respite. There's just you and love getting more and more twisted and inverted." The demon's handsome face had become terribly still.

"We talk about how we were exiled from reality… but really it was more like we were excreted. Cast out, abandoned and despised." His nostrils widened and his eyes seemed to peer off into some grim distance. Then he raised his eyebrows, sat up straighter, and smiled back at the human. "But we were discussing Eden, not the Abyss."

Forbidden Fruit

"If Paradise was so perfect, why did mankind rebel? For that matter, why did you?"

"Because humanity was blind. The Bible would prefer to call them innocent, but the fact was that they were kept ignorant of themselves and the world around them. The Divine Plan included everything they might possibly need… except the capacity to appreciate their good fortune."

The human cocked his head. "Somehow I suspect you're being less than forthright with me."

The demon's hand hit the coffee table by his chair sharply.

"If you want to accuse me of something, why don't you just say it? Do you think I enjoy pouring out the story of my greatest tragedy to someone who thinks I kidnapped his son? You think I derive some jaded pleasure from talking about watching my friends die, watching the humanity I loved suffer, watching reality itself sicken and crumble?"

The human met his gaze, and it was like steel hitting stone. "I find it hard to believe that men designed by God — or, as you insist, by angels—would have this fatal flaw. I don't believe humankind was unhappy in Eden — unless you and your 'Elohim' made them unhappy."

"You think Adam and Eve were happy?" The demon shrugged. "Maybe to the extent that a dog is happy when it wags its tail or a pig is happy when it rolls in mud. They could experience physical pleasure, but they possessed no real comprehension. A beautiful sunset meant nothing to them, except that night would soon fall. Even the beauty of each other - and they were the apex of human beauty — even that just didn't register. The pleasure of a full belly and warm feet, those were the limits of their understanding."

"So they were innocent. Like children."

"Innocent like pigeons, more like. Innocent like a rat that goes through your trash. Only these pigeons had the potential to be poets, scholars, sculptors and musicians. We tried to show them, tried to teach them, to the extent that we were able. But it wasn't much. A Fundamental could open the earth to them, revealing a seam of diamonds and gold, but primal humanity just scratched their heads and moved on. And you think we made them unhappy? A spirit on the wind — I knew him, his name would sound to your ears as 'Raphael' — made an elaborate plan to play a song for them. He had to shuttle himself between hundreds of facets—the 'reality layers' I told you about— in order to make his plans with angels of other houses. A Cherub of the Spheres told him when his chosen audience was fated to walk through a certain windy valley. Angels of the Fundament worked with him to crack the valley walls, just so, that the wind might echo through them like harp strings. Trees were moved into place, that the creak of their limbs might harmonize, while birds were enticed there to add the high notes, even the valley's stream was sculpted into the right shape to sound percussion from the moving water… Raphael labored for ages to give your forebears ten minutes of music, coaxed lovingly out of entirely natural sounds. Do you know what happened?"

"What?"

"Adam caught and ate one of the birds, while Eve checked the trees to see if they had fruit. And that was the entirety of their reaction."

"Hmph. That's quite a story. But if mankind was so ignorant, why would he bother?"

"Isn't that obvious? He did it because he loved them. He did it because he couldn't show himself and play for them directly. Remember, they were not to know that they were protected. They were not to know that they were watched. They were not to know that the blessings they received were the gifts of thought and foresight, rather than… random events. We moved about them unseen, and they moved about the world, comprehending only the thinnest fraction of what they saw. So no, they weren't 'unhappy.' But we could see they were incomplete."

"So you took it upon yourselves to 'complete' us."

"Wouldn't you? You loved your son — no matter how angry he got with you, he never doubted your love for him. What would you do if his mother had tried to keep him out of school, saying, 'Oh, he's so happy as a baby, why let him grow?'"

"That's hardly the same thing."

"It's exactly the same thing. Why didn't the Benevolent Creator allow them higher reason? We asked ourselves that same question, believe me. Some of the Seraphim even went so far as to ask Him. His reply was not particularly helpful. 'If you would know as I know, come unto Me and see as I see.' A few bold angels even took Him up on His offer. They were never seen or heard from again — and believe me, in those days we knew how to look. God presumably destroyed them for their hubris."

"You can't think God would be so spiteful," the human said, then rolled his eyes. "Or maybe you can. I'm not buying it."

"Oh, and — thousands of years after the fact — you have a better explanation?"

The human shrugged. "Perhaps His motivation was so complicated only He could comprehend it. Perhaps anyone who wanted to also understand it would have to become one with Him." The demon shrugged. "Apotheosis? Annihilation? Like the fates of dead souls, they both look alike to an outside observer.

"That was our dilemma. We could see the wonders of the world, in all their iterated splendor. We knew that humanity was the apex of that world — the capstone, the crown jewel, the wonder of wonders. You were truly the children of the Father, in a way that even we were not, destined in time to be as He was and make as He made. You were the sun around which the whole world spun. Yet you were flawed — flawed by design, it seemed, and destined to remain flawed forever."

The demon sat still for a moment. He took a sip of coffee to cover his confusion.

"What was mankind's flaw? I mean, we hadn't sinned yet, had we?"

"Sin was impossible to humanity at that time, in the same way you don't impute moral weight to the actions of a dragonfly or a koala bear. You were the most advanced of animals, but you were still animals.

"It was clear to all of us in the Host that you were destined for greatness—that all the world was made for you — and yet, you were unable to grasp your potential. You could not realize your true awareness, no matter how we tried to jar and stimulate you." His brow clouded as he said, "We tried and tried, and you just didn't get it. But because of our commands against interference, we couldn't simply give it to you.

"What could be done? We watched you suffer in your ignorance — for even in that primitive state, you could at least understand the disappointment of your Maker as He daily waited for progress that never came. Every day, your suffering was reflected in us, growing keener and stronger until one day it finally came to a head."

The Great Prophecy

"The real root of the rebellion was a scholarly angel we might call Ahrimal. A student of the spheres, he and his House were much intrigued by the effect humanity had on the cosmos. Without humankind, Paradise was superficially perfect, but ultimately stagnant. Humanity added a factor of chaos and uncertainty to a world that was otherwise as predictable as atomic decay. The Fates watched this with keen interest, attempting to comprehend the deeper, richer patterns that humanity's free will wove into the universal tapestry.

"It was this Ahrimal who first perceived a knot of great destructiveness and turmoil. It was still on the horizon of the unrealized future, but each day made it stronger and darker. Unquestionably, humanity had some role to play in this looming tragedy.

"Disturbed and afraid, Ahrimal told his masters what he had foreseen, but they told him to be calm and have no fear. When he showed them, they simply replied that it was an anomaly, a necessary potential bad to offset the perfect actual good. Surely (they said) the Maker would never let His creation founder on such treacherous shoals. They forgot His warnings and went about their business.

"Ahrimal could not rest quite so easy. Dismissed by his own House, he called upon his friends and colleagues. They arrived at his lunar sanctum with no idea how grave his concerns were, but they soon suspected from his worried visage. Retreating to an obscure chamber, he told them of his vision and, moreover, showed them the evidence of his foreseen doom.

"'My friends,' he whispered. 'What can we do?'

"The first to speak was Belial, Virtue of the Boundless Deeps. Radiant in his cloak of blue and aqua scales, his voice had in it the thunder of a groaning glacier, married to the smooth sigh of a wave kissing the shore. Of all our number, none had so keen a taste for beauty, none took such joy in die art of the world… and, consequently, none suffered so much from humanity's loss.

'"I am shocked and amazed that the wise council of the Fates has ignored this matter. Our friend shows us that a time approaches when the voice of beauty will be silenced, and the joy of artifice perverted into the ugliness of decei t and falsehood. Is it an act of love to stand by while this happens? We cannot pretend ignorance while this great disaster rolls in from the horizon. We must act.'

'"But what action should we take?'

"This was spoken by Usiel, Throne of the Sundered, a potent Angel of the Second World. Like many of his House, he was absent even when he was present. At the edges of his body, light was cut short, with an edge keener than a razor, and where his shadow fell the World of Death became visible.

'"Our orders are clear: Intercession is forbidden. The woman and the man are to make their own way. ' He turned to Ahrimal and addressed him in particular. 'You may think you have the farthest sight, and that is true for things of tliis world, but your vision falters at the edge of my realm. It is there, I fear, that this coming trouble will end.'

"'Indeed?'

"The response came not from Ahrimal, but from the perfumed breath of Lailah the Defender, an Angel of the Firmament. That airy spirit took faultless form for the debate, and through the lens of her being, each arch of the moon castle chamber seemed more noble, each line of its walls more true. Even fair Belial's beauty was magnified when seen through Lailah's eyes. In her attendance, the danger of disagreement seemed to wane.

'Perhaps the Second World is the key. In this best ordered world, perhaps disaster is no peril at all? Perhaps the entry of humans into your realm is their true destiny. Perhaps that is the missing element — the stumbling block that keeps them from reaching their true potential.'

'"You speak of that which you know not,' replied Usiel. 'Much as I should love to embrace mankind as closely as you and yours do, I dare not risk it. Should we plunge mankind into death on the strength of a 'perhaps' ? Perhaps the chance of death will spill out humanity's chances and leave them forever denied. Perhaps human mortality will shake both worlds or even split them apart!'

"In this, Usiel proved as apt a prophet as Ahrimal, but at the time he seemed only frightened, not wise. We thought no suffering could be keener than the thwarted love we felt.

"We were wrong.

'"Looking around this world we have built and at the humanity we lovingly crafted, I see only two elements that mar this perfection,' said Belial. 'One is the source of our longtime frustration: humanity's failure to awaken their true potential. Although it lies within their reach, they fail to grasp it, day after day. This is a torment to each of us, from lowly angel to mighty seraph. Now, Ahrimal brings tidings of failure and horror for all the world. Can these two sorrows be unmarried? Or is it more likely that the forthcoming bane of the world is connected to the suffering and failure of Eve and Adam?'

'"Surely you cannot impute guilt in this matter to the man and the woman?' Lailah's shock was a chill gust of wind and a momentary dimming of the beauty she beheld.

'"Guilt? No,' replied Belial. 'But in what other aspect of the cosmos do we see failure? The stars move as they should. The ocean tides are steady and smooth. Generations of beasts and plants rise and are cut down. Only humanity is anything other than what it was meant to be.'

"'Indeed,' said Ahrimal, 'What else could so confound the universal plan? No bird nor beast no star in the sky is important enough to bring desolation on the whole of the world. Belial is right: Adam and Eve arc, though guiltless, somehow some part of the cause.'

"Usiel shrugged. 'If the future peril is a consequence of their present plight, what can we do? The command against interference cannot be ignored.'

'"The plight of humanity touches us all, to the extent that each of us bears great love for mankind,' replied Belial.

'Their helplessness becomes our helplessness. They are but a shadow of their ultimate potential while we are forbiddento serve them fully. They are diminished by ignorance, unaware of their true power. We are bound, not by walls wecannot see, but by the iron command of our Maker. Yet, while Adam and Eve remain hobbled, none among the Elohim are truly free, truly fulfilled or truly able to discharge our duties of service and adoration. While humanity remains incomplete, the universe remains incomplete.

'"I am a maker of beauty and a giver of wonder, but all my creation is sterile as dust with no eye to behold it or ear to give heed. Can it be our Master's will that we be thwarted in those very acts for which we were made? Surely not, and to say so is to attribute cruelty unto Him whose kindness extends to the creation of us all, and of this world of marvels we find about us on all sides.'

'"We all long for the day when humanity finds its true potential,' said Usiel, 'But how can we hasten its coming?'

'"That is the question. That must be our mission.' "Ahrimal agreed, but Usiel argued emphatically that interfering with the progress of human evolution at one point could have unforeseen repercussions along its entire length, and in this, Ahrimal was reluctantly forced to agree. 'But,' the Fate hastened to add, 'With human-kind, the stern boundaries of the future are already blurred and shifting. If we act as we are wont and give as freely as we desire, who is to say that the ultimate effect will not be good? Indeed, moved as we are by the highest motives, how can any ill result? Can evil spring from good? Can love beget wickedness? Surely not, else the entire universe is absurd and pointless — and that is an idea so blasphemous I hesitate to speak it.'

'"Perhaps my role gives me more perspective,' said Usiel. 'If mankind is destined to awaken, surely no action of ours can hinder them — unless we interfere. We do not see as God sees, and what looks to us like kindness may bear cruel fruit in the fullness of time. We cannot see every side of this Creation from within it, but He dwells without and naught can hide from Him. Why, then, should we meddle?'

"It was Belial who replied. 'You speak truly when you say that we cannot know the fullness of Creation from within. But should that excuse us from fulfilling our first and greatest duty? Your House is one that reacts and responds to what is, but other Houses are charged to create and expand this world. You argue that we should accept that future events are as willed by the Maker simply because they happen to what He has made. But by that reasoning, we ought never to have hung the constellations or shaped the mountains or sculpted the depths of the sea. We should instead have said 'If the world is sterile, sterility must be its destiny,' and 'If the world is dark, it must be meant for darkness.' Ahrimal tells us of impending danger. How are we to know that action against it — action to help and protect mankind, action for which every fiber within us cries — is not our destiny? Perhaps, as you say, we will harm them by helping too soon. But is it not also possible that we will harm them by refusing to help? If one is unknowable, then the other is surely equally so. '

'"The love you demonstrate does you great credit,' Lailah said to Belial. 'But while Eve and Adam are the capstones of Creation, they are only one element thereof.

They do not exist independent of their world, nor is it unmoved by them. If we push them to awaken and fail — even with the best intentions, even with the noblest goals — what will be the end of it? Grave Usiel suggests a rift between the World of Life and the Afterlife. What if other facets of the cosmos are shaken? Our power is great, and by striving against the world we may injure the world. By tryingto shape the souls of man, we might warp them instead.'

"'And that being so, you would choose to do nothing?' asked Belial. 'Do you think we—we ministers of Creation, we who built it and who are charged with its defense — are so clumsy, so ignorant, so foolhardy as to ruin what we made?'

'"I say nothing but that our choice must be starkly divided into action and inaction. Any decision, small or large, could be the cause of the future we fear. By our own power, we do not know and never can. We are indeed, to use your image, trapped on the water's edge, unable to walk or swim without peril.

'"But for us, there is a third way. As we of the Firmamenfly to the aid of any charge in danger, so may God lift us awayfrom this hazardous shore. We cannot know, but we can trust in Him who does, the Unmoved Mover, the One Outside die World. If He tells me to reveal myself to our beloved charges, I will do so widi infinite gladness in my heart. But if He compels me to remain hidden, no force in this world or the next could make me break faith.'

'"How wise your counsel would be, if only we could know His will!' cried Ahrimal. 'With the reassurance of His word, I would wait until the stars dimmed. But we have no word!'

'"We have the opportunity to see as He sees, ' said Usiel, but there was doubt in his voice.

'"For myself,' said Belial, 'I would take that chance — but what of Haniel, what of Injios, what of the Dominion of Summer Breezes and the Angel of the Unseen Light? They went, they saw and they are no more! Not one of them, from lowly angel through mighty throne, has returned to give word, give hope, give knowledge! Haniel was your boon companion, Usiel. Where is she now? When you speak her name, no echo returns! When you ask her what she saw, get you any answer?'

'"Perhaps she is forbidden to speak of what she saw,' Usiel said in response, but his words were muffled in sorrow, for his love for Haniel was great and all knew the pain her loss had placed upon his soul.

'"You know better than any her great loyalty,' said Ahrimal. His face was a mask of compassion, and his compassion was also a gust of stellar wind, and a bright shower of falling stars. 'If forbidden to speak, she would speak not of her knowledge. But it is not only on the dark future fate that she is silenced. Her light is gone from the sky. Her song is silenced on the strands. I have sought her in the passages of time, and she is not there. Belial has looked for her in the depths, and Michael has roamed every corner of the starry vacuum in quest of her. Yet neither lowly angel nor mighty cherub have found her. Usiel, have you searched your realm for her?'

'"She is not dead,' was all Usiel could say.

'"Not dead, and not alive, but simply gone, removed from our knowing… this is the fate allotted to those who would know the ultimate truth. It is not for me. I do not fear destruction for my sake, but I fear the loss of any in the Host who might turn aside the age of wrath I have foreseen. No, seeing as God see s is no answer if doing so is such a great step out of the cosmos that no remrn is possible. '

'"Then what are our choices?' demanded Lailah. 'We can stay here, poised for action, but ignorant of the right decision? Or we can pass beyond, learn the truth, and be impotent?'"

The demon paused in his recitation and looked at the human. "Do you know much about quantum physics?"

"What?"

"Quantum physics? Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?"

Seeing the confusion in the reverend's expression, he shrugged. "Your son, the body I possess, didn't think you'd know anything about post-Newtonian mechanics — and, indeed, why should you?—but if you did, I might be able to give you some of the deeper nuances of Lailah's discussion with Ahrimal."

"Ah. Well, sorry if your discussion was too rarefied for this po', ign'nt, down home preach-man." With each word, he broadened his pronunciation, until the last phrase was a parody of every uneducated rural black from decades of films.

"Don't be that way. You know there's no one here but us niggers." The demon's words were calm, clear, articulate. "Quantum mechanics is a field of scientific study that examines subatomic particles and their behavior. One of the essential challenges of the discipline is that, in many incidences, knowing one fact about a particle precludes knowing another. It may be possible to know an electron's velocity, but the process of finding that out changes the electron's location. Or you may be able to know where it is at one specific moment, but by learning that fact, you change its speed."

"And that's what Lailah and Ahrimal talked about next? I'm sorry, but this whole scene rings false to me."

"Ah. Once more you want to call me a liar without actually having the testicular fortitude to speak the words. Why don't you call me a 'God-damned liar' while you're at it? Then at least part of your phrase would be true."

"You really mean to tell me that in the face of some world-shaking catastrophe, you angels got together and had a chat? That you sat around some moon palace and eloquently discussed the pros and cons of going to war with God!"

"We were creatures of order and hierarchy, not to mention dignity. How do you think we settled things? Mud wrestling? I'm giving you the version you can understand, all right? Lailah and Ahrimal did not talk about physics, they continued their discussion through physics. On one level, they were discussing the motives of the Maker and His will in a sunny palace on the moon. On another level, they were waves and particles interacting on the barren crust of an airless, lifeless rock. A third level had all the participants as musical elements, improvising againstone another to communicate pure emotion."

"Different facets."

"Yes. We are natural laws. Or we were." The demon sighed. "Those duties have been reassigned, it seems, but we were once waves and quanta. We danced, not on the head of a pin, but in the orbits of electrons."

The Morning Star

Anyway, Lailah and Ahrimal debated passionately about the possibility that knowing what to do and doing it might be mutually exclusive, but they came to no conclusion. Eventually, Belial gave voice to his impatience. "We do not know — it may be that we cannot know — and it seems that we cannot even learn whether we can know or not. Does any among us wish to follow the path of Haniel and Injios?"

Hearing great silence in reply, he continued. "Having spurned the path of impotent knowledge, we must now consider two other courses, as explained by gracious Lailah, whose wisdom is unsurpassed. Action and inaction are our choices, and 1 feel in my very core a loathing for inaction."

"Are your preferences, then, to serve as a guide in this matter of universal import?" asked Usiel. "My 'preference' is just as purely to let all remain as it is."

"Leaving the woman and the man in sorrow and ignorance?" asked Ahrimal.

"Better that than dead!"

The debate became increasingly fervent, until all tongues were stilled by a sudden arrival. He was uninvited, and unwelcome, and as he entered, the others dropped to their knees in reverence and fear. He came in splendor and power, garbed in all phases of light. He was the highest agent of the highest House, the Seraph of the Morning. He was Lucifer, and every molecule in his presence hummed in time to his words.

"Rise," he said, "My fellow servants of The One."

Trembling, the Elohim stood, prepared for the anger of their maker. But that was not Lucifer's message. Instead he turned to Ahrimal.

"You have seen a coming darkness," he said. The Fate nodded.

"And you informed those above you?" Again, Ahrimal could only nod.

"What did they do?"

"They… they told me to have no fear. That nothing needed to be done."

Lucifer nodded.

"They were wrong," he said.

The foursome looked at each other with shock and amazement.

"Great Morningstar," said Lailah, "Have you word for us? Word from the Most High?"

Lucifer shook his head. "He is unmoved. Even the voice of all angels in choir could not shake the Lord Above from His position. We can move planets in their spheres, turn mountains into canyons and oceans into sand… but we cannot change one letter of what is writ on the Maker's heart."

"How can this be?" Aghast, Belial could only stare, his visage marred by sorrow and disbelief. "Is His heart so cold toward us, his children?"

"We are no children of His, my friend, but only his servants. His true children are Eve and Adam, our helpless masters, whose ignorance defeats all our wisdom. Our duty is to them as to Him, and on their future — yea, even the future of fear and horror that noble Ahrimal has seen — His silence is deeper than the vacuum of space."

"Then what are we to do?" asked Usiel.

"We can obey our orders," said Lucifer. "We can love mankind to the fullest extent of our power. We can free them, give them their true selves—and in so doing, either head off the horror ahead or arm humanity to endure it." "But our orders!" said Lailah. "We were expressly commanded not to interfere. These words you speak are not from God, and I fear them."

"By the same authority, we were ordered expressly to love. Not to watch uncaring, not to oversee, but to love them. I see a clear and violent conflict between diose two commands. Unable to be true to both, I choose to obey the higher."

"Choose?" said Belial. "Then you do not know?"

"I can see no farther than this one here," Lucifer said, gesturing to Ahrimal. "But like you, the taste of inaction is bitter on my tongue."

"What if the interference, our interference, is the very path we fear?" asked Usiel. "You cannot deny that we are striking blindly in the darkness."

"I deny nothing," replied Lucifer, "And I am as aware as you that whichever way we turn could be die wrong path. If we go to the woman and man with our gifts, the Lord may well judge us harshly. We could be condemned as oathbreakers, scorned for disobedience, cast out from the light of His love… even destroyed entirely. But if we stay silent, we may watch unmoving as the children we love lead the world we love into a pit of terror and malice."

"But there is no way to know!" cried Lailah.

"None whatever. But I love Eve and Adam as I love the Lord. If He commanded my destruction, gladly I would go. It is a poor show if our love is limited by self-preservation."

"I fear no risk to me," said Belial, "My reservation is the risk to humankind — to their lives, their souls, to the very world!"

"The dangers of my path are very real and as great as you fear. Yet answer me this: What crisis is better met by weakness than strength, better understood by ignorance than knowledge? Yes, revealing ourselves to the mortals may ignite this holocaust. Yes, exalting them may be the act that unhinges Creation. But if awakened humanity is the source of this crisis, might not awakened humanity be the cure for it as well? Or would you have them face the coming catastrophe as they are now — blind, irrational, little better than cunning apes?

"That is the worst consequence of action: That humanity faces the terror with its full powers awakened. Let us weigh it in the balance against the worst we could imagine if we do nothing. In that case, humanity faces its gravest threat with no defenses at all. They enter the madness unwarned, unaware, unable to even comprehend the fires that engulf them."

Lucifer bowed his head, and it seemed for a moment as if all light, everywhere in the cosmos, dimmed in reply. "If this choice is wrong, on my head be it." Eyes bright with passion, Belial stepped forward to stand beside him. "I'm for you!" he cried. "Let us follow our hearts, do this deed and dare to love fully! Even if we fail, we can do no less and be worthy of our names."

Usiel shook his head. "No," he replied. "Forgive my impudence, Morningstar, but I revere your master more than you. I will not trust the wisdom of the Lord's creatures above the wisdom of His word. The Most High bid me hide, and hidden I shall remain."

"I too will not rebel," said Lailah. "The All-Maker would not condemn His creation to destruction. You say that without truth, humanity has no protection. To say such is to show contempt for their Father above. You can trust in your power, in your love and in your wisdom. I will trust in the Lord."

Of those who debated, it was Ahrimal, the least, who spoke last. "I know not what I saw, only that it was horrible. I know not how it will come about, only that humanity is involved. I cannot decide upon my duty, because any way I turn I must betray one order or the other. But I have faith in Adam and Eve. I have faith in the universe we have made. And I have faith that a perfected humanity is far more likely to see a way to avoid this catastrophe. I stand with the Morningstar. I say we act."

Thus were the seeds of contention sown. The Elohim flew in two directions, each calling others to declare the schism. Usiel and Lailah withdrew to the highest spheres of Heaven, to distance themselves from Lucifer and his rash act. The Morningstar and his followers plunged toward Earth, intent on making good on their bold decision before any could prevent them. Though none knew it, the first steps to the Age of Wrath had been taken. But before that hell began, there were still some joys and wonders left to we who fell.

The Fall

Picture the scene. Twilight in Eden. The first woman and man walk upon a verdant carpet, caressed by the fragrance of a thousand blossoms. The sun hides its face in a cloudy blush, shedding ribbons of glory in crimson, vermilion and regal purple… but all its display cannot hide its eclipse, and gradually it sinks. The shadows grow long until all is encompassed. The green of the leaves turns black and then, as eyes adjust to starlight, everything is etched with silver.

Your ancestors stride through it unseeing, unfeeling and uncertain. They are each a monument to beauty, but neither can see it in the other, neither can comprehend. They sniff and stumble and find a fruiting vine, the sprouting top of a vegetable. They pull their supper from the soil and as they do, a voice — a mild voice, afraid but thick with longing — speaks to them.

"Eve," it says. "Adam. I have done this for you." Turning, amazed, they see a figure before them, garbed in gray, austere and holy. Twilight is fitting for this apparition, for she is Madisel, Archangel of the Unseen Past, one from the Final House. Of all the soul takers, she was the highest who chose Lucifer's path, and it was agreed that she — representing the lowest angels — should be the first to show her face. We wished, you see, to reveal ourselves slowly, to let them grow accustomed to us.

In mute silence they stare at her pale skin, dark eyes, ashen wings. "This," she says, gesturing at their supper. "This died for you. This plant has died to renew your life, and it is through me that this is done. Take it with my blessing… because I love you."

Frowning, still puzzled, they eat, and as they do, a second figure appears. Where Madisel was frail as steam, this one seems strong as a storm — vibrant, vital and solid as a mighty oak. The humans stare in awe at the glory of his golden mane, the strength visible in each straining muscle, the life coursing through his keen eye s and great feathers. His great frame twitches, each nerve and sinew aching to proclaim. At last his voice comes forth in a magnificent rush.

"I… I am Grifiel," the figure says, "Principality of Those Who Hunt By Day. Many times have those in my domain looked on you with greedy eyes, but they knew yourflesh was not for them. They struck down grazing things and swimming things and mnning things, but you were spared their claws. My word turned them aside, because I love you."

Dazzled by these two visitors, die woman and the man were stunned yet again by a figure that rose from a nearby stream. All the dappled glory of moonlight on water shone from her hair and eyes, and as she stepped toward them, trembling with awe and passion. The sound of trickling water from her hair and dark wings made a delicate music — but not more delicate than the music of her voice. "I am Senivel," she said. "I speak for the House of the Deep, for I am the Power of the Slender Streams. Each time you bent to drink, we kissed you unaware, because we love you."

In a shower of starlight, the next messenger came. He spread his wings of night above them and his voice was the grinding of the planets as they moved in their orbits. "I am Gaar-Asok, the Pole Star's Virtue. I speak for the House of Fate, and I offer you our blessings of the future and the past, for we love you."

A nimble coursed through the earth, and it opened at their feet, like a blooming flower unveiling golden pollen. At the center of the earth-blossom towered a figure of shining splendor. The gold and silver feathers of its wings clicked and chimed as it bowed low before humankind. "I am Toguiel, the Ruby Dominion, and I bring you the gifts of the House of Matter." A gesture, and veins of diamond and jade rose up around them, a garden of gems on golden stalks. "I and mine offer this gift as die smallest sign of our great loveWe pray that they please you. We beg you to accept them."

Shocked and amazed, the mortals cowered, but the revelations were not yet finished. The sweet breeze of the garden grew stronger, thickening into solid movement, into a form that cast glory around it, redoubling the beauty of all those present. Like wannth, like comfort, like peace was the voice of Nazriel, Throne of Unbounded Benevolence, the highest emissary of the Second House who joined in Lucifer's crusade. She identified herself, and with her words both humans and angels were calmed, sensing the safety that flowed from her like sweet breath. "Unseen and unknown, I and mine have guarded you," she said. "From fall and hurt and bitter mischance, we have each time turned you aside. Know now that you walk always in our embrace, for we love you."

With the holy pair calmed by the appearance of their protector, the time had come for die greatest of our number. In a blaze to rival the dawn, Lucifer descended. His glory, unbound, flung them to their knees. All the light of the cosmos seemed focused through him, and all its majesty poured forth in liquid waves unto his beloved humanity. Alone of all the Elohim, he showed no trepidation. There was no pause of dread, no quiver of awe as the Morningstar spoke.

"I am Lucifer, Seraph of the First House, Prince of All Angels and Voice of God the Most High," he proclaimed. "But I come before you not to speak for God, but to speak as a humble supplicant. We angels you see before you — they and multitudes more from each of the seven Houses — have come at last to declare our love. Angels have watched you since the beginning. Angels numerous as the stars above have cherished your every move and gesture." Like diem, he knelt, and as he did, so did the others. His burning wings encircled the woman and die man and, with a gentle stroke, bid them stand before the reverent spirits.

"We come now, not as officers of the cosmos and agents of its Maker, but as individuals. We come of our own will to offer you a final gift — the greatest gift we can give, the only fit gift for our overwhelming love. You may take and become like us, and like God, and be fully aware of the vistas of creation. Or you may refuse it, and remain as you are, and never more be troubled by our sight. We will never abandon you — our adoration precludes it — but if you do not wish to receive our gift, speak now, and we shall hide again, protecting and loving you only from afar."

The woman and man turned to one another and spoke in hushed tones.

"What beings are these ?" asked the man. "They come garbed in glory but abase themselves before us. They say they are of God, but that their actions are their own. How can these both be so? What can we say to their offer?"

"They love us," said the woman, "so they mustmean us well. If the gifts they have given so far — safety and water and food — have been good, how muchbetter must their ultimate gift be?"

"You are right," said the man. "We should accept what they offer, whatever it is. Having seen their splendor, I want to continue to see them, and if they were to leave us forever, my heart would break."

Turning to Lucifer, they made their choice. With solemn joy, Lucifer opened their eyes.

Crimes of Passion

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