An Angel's Tears

One of the nine greatest archangels, Remiel is entrusted with the safe-keeping of the souls of the dead. But when a mortal invades his mind, filling his lonesome thoughts with strange new desires, he discovers that even God's heavenly Plan can have faults - and his disobedience has horrible consequences, as he plummets from the heavens. Ariadne is just a normal girl - if you overlook her recently murdered family, the resultant speech impediment, and her aptitude for drawing. Together, can these two broken souls find their redemption? Or will their growing bond lead only to more pain?

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1. Chapter 1: Defiance

   Remiel

         Her footsteps sounded hollow and sharp as they clicked down the glass hall – pacing, always pacing. Her breaths, ragged and harsh in my ears, billowed out before her like phantoms. She looked so alone, so forlorn, sitting there painting on the glass in her own blood. My dead heart went out to her. After all, I knew what it was like to be alone among the souls of the dead. Five thousand years of solitude, of sending one after another of the recently deceased to their final resting places, had hardened me to the inevitable silence. For this girl, it would feel as if a cloth were being slowly tugged down over the world, suffocating her in darkness. My instincts told me that she had only a little time left. A little more suffering, a little more blood on the wall, and then she would join me here. Join the millions of dead souls in oblivion or paradise.

            Sympathetic as I might be, however, I could spare but an instant for my pity. Already more souls drifted my way, seeking with their blind eyes for the life they had left behind. I went to the closest, gathering it into the warm embrace of my wings. The chill of death settled into me, too close for comfort, too familiar for ease. As soon as I touched the soul, I felt the life within. Spirits have their own glow, an inner spark of consciousness even after parting with their earthly bodies.

            This was the soul of a man who had lived fully. I could feel the satisfaction practically oozing from him. I told myself to be happy, but I had trouble with that now. It had been too long since I’d seen another living being, except for the girl in the glass room, and she appeared only in my dreams. With a sigh I forced myself back to my task, sorting the souls and directing them to their destinations. Then I paused again.

            Children were always the hardest, those sparks who hadn’t even had a chance to glow before being extinguished. This boy had been killed young, not even fully grown. Murdered. Something in me shrieked at the injustice of it. At the waste. I could feel this boy’s potential, taste his strength. See the glory he could have brought to the mortal realm. And he’d never even had a chance.

            Finally, the last of his self-knowledge flowed into me. The boy’s family was clearest in his memory, while the specific events of his life faded away. It was the girl, laughing as a small fluffy creature licked her face, stroking the head of another that the boy held, that caught inside me. The girl from my dreams, forever trapped in behind the glass, slitting her own wrists and using the blood to paint. Forever unreachable. Until now.

That broken part of me, the part that had forgotten the touch of a living hand, the feel of speaking, the taste of air not clogged with ashes and tears, that part of me rose, fury sparking in my eyes. I could feel my wings bristling. Could hear the warnings. This was forbidden. This was wrong.

            But I shove the voice away. In one motion, I grabbed the child’s soul in my arms, cradling it against the wind, and launched myself away from the Gates. A yell pursued me, a familiar voice called to me. I didn’t listen.

            At the edge of the path, the very tip of the Heavenly realm, I finally stopped. My body ached from my furious dash, but I forced back the weariness. I had one thing left to do. I threw the pulsing light from my arms, into the darkness between the realms, and sent a desperate prayer that this boy would find a better, longer life this time. Then, the strength gone from my limbs, barely able to hold my wings above the misty cloud below me, I waited for what I knew was coming.

            Because breaking any of the Laws of Heaven was a terrible offense. But I’d broken one of the greatest of the creeds. I’d used my position, my power, for my own gain, rather than the fulfillment of the Plan.

            And I knew, standing there, that I would do it again, if given the opportunity.

            No matter what they did to me now.

 

            It took longer than I’d expected for Sariel to come for me, considering that he’d been standing on the Gate when I had run. I must have been faster than I thought. When I saw him approaching, I straightened my trembling wings and walked toward him, meeting him in the middle. He looked somber, sad even.

            “Come to take me then, Sariel?” I looked him in the eye as I spoke, forcing him to look at me as well. We spoke not in words, but in each other’s minds, releasing the thoughts directly.

            He sighed and pushed back his golden hair, batting the wings that perfectly matched his perch on the Golden Gates. “Remiel, why? Why did you do it?”

            His pearl-white eyes bored into my violet ones, demanding an answer I knew I would regret. It was always so hard to lie to the others, to my brothers and sisters. “Because sometimes the Plan is wrong.” I paused at the strangled gasp he released, a faint smile curling one side of my mouth, and then continued softly. “Because some lives deserve to be lived, some voices heard.”

            “Maybe you should have gone with him when he left.” I could hear the sneer in the words, the perfect brand of hatred we loyal angels reserved for Lucifer. Although, maybe loyal didn’t describe me anymore. “He’s the only one who could ever surpass you in pride. He’s the only one who ever thought he was better than God.”

            “I do not claim to know more than our Master. But sometimes even He is wrong, brother.” And there it was. I’d doomed myself. They’d have no choice now: my punishment would be up to Him. I already knew I wouldn’t grovel or beg. He’d made us to be proud, to be strong. To be anything else would destroy me more surely than even having my wings stripped.

            The golden bands fastened around me instantly, reaching out of the ground to ensnare my ankles, then my legs, climbing higher until only my head was free. Even my wings were tied down, trapped to my sides and useless. My legs had just enough slack to walk slowly, but I couldn’t run. Sariel didn’t speak as he dragged me back toward the Gates, through the dank fog I was so tired of. When he stopped to open the great golden passage, I hurried through immediately.

            The air inside was clean – finally, blissfully clear of the taste of pain and death. Light shone everywhere, shimmering off the clouds and angels gathered inside the plaza. I recognized a few, knew that all of them recognized me. Remiel, the guardian of human souls, the fifth great archangel. The greatest betrayal since Lucifer himself.

            I stopped just inside the beautiful city, letting the light bathe me. Letting it wash the taint away. The golden chains fell from my body, releasing me to enjoy this last moment of ecstasy. For that was what the light of our Master was to us. His presence, His breath, they filled us all, lighting us from within. I fanned my wings out to either side, swiveling to see them. I’d actually forgotten how white and silver they were, out in the darkness of the world outside the Gates. Angels didn’t belong in that foulness. We belonged here, in the realm of our Master.

            I looked at the faces around me, saw Raguel in the forefront of the crowd, his face clouded and dark, standing beside Amon. Jofiel glared at me, her eyes conveying her hatred. There was one angel who wouldn’t have minded my being sent to Hell with the traitors. Her hatred of me stemmed from jealousy, mostly. I’d been given the fifth place among the archangels, while she had none. Maybe she thought that if I was displaced she could take my place among the nine, although I knew that Zadkiel was most likely.

            I knew I was lost. The fact that every angel was present meant that I had no chance of forgiveness, although Zadkiel would tell me differently and Uriel would beg for my penance. I’d only seen a gathering larger the day Lucifer was banished. Even Zerachiel, angel of the earth, was present, and he never left his domain for anything less than a direct order for the Master Himself. Or from Michael, but that was different. We all obeyed Michael, our champion, our savior.

            All too soon my moment was over. The Gates banged shut behind me with a musical crash, and Sariel took my right arm, Raguel my left. At the center of the city, the greatest of the palaces arose. I’d once thought it would be His home, but He’d given it over to a different cause. It was the place of justice, the throne from which He could pass sentence on this realm or any other. Michael stood on a platform at the far end of the hall, his magnificent crimson wings spread wide to either side. They brushed the walls, almost fifty feet long each, dwarfing the rest of us.

            Thousands of lights burned smokeless in the room, lighting every shadow and revealing every secret. Michael, his arms held loosely at his sides, his eyes closed, waited until I was standing just before his platform, the rest of the angels crowding in behind me. My judge and jury, I knew.

            “Kneel before your Lord, Remiel.” Gabriel’s mental voice was soft from where he stood on the steps above me, just a little lower than Michael.

            I closed my eyes so that the others would see my hesitation, my fear. To be judged by the Master Himself, even through Michael, was a great thing. And a terrible one. “No.” My single word rang out in all the minds gathered around us, eliciting shocked gasps, wild, wide eyes. To refuse one of the greatest among us, on top of my ‘crime,’ was to seal my own fate. But I was tired of watching people used as pieces. I wouldn’t be one too. I would not dance to their tunes, to their manipulations, any longer.

            Something hard – a sandaled foot, I believed – thudded into the back of my knee, sending me down. But I’d said what I’d said, and no forced subservience could fix that. “Kneel before your Lord, Remiel, or you will be made to kneel,” Raphael intoned from his place opposite Gabriel.

            “ENOUGH.” The word from Michael carried a weight he never could have projected. We all knew instantly who the voice belonged to, and a few angels fell to their faces, whispering prayers of adoration and praise. “REMIEL, YOU HAVE BETRAYED THE TRUST PLACED IN YOU, ABANDONED YOUR CALLING, AND JEAPORDIZED THE PLAN. WHAT HAVE YOU TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?”

            I took a deep breath before answering, then looked directly into Michael’s ruby eyes. “Your trust is more curse than blessing. I wasted away for centuries fulfilling your designs.” My head bowed in shame as I spoke. “I lost myself among the dead, forgot even the color of my own wings.” Gasps at that. The greatest loss, the greatest pain, was to lose your wings. It was to lose yourself. “I gave everything to your Plan, until I had nothing left.”

            “YOU ALWAYS HAVE MORE TO GIVE IN SERVICE TO YOUR LORD. I CREATED YOU AS YOU ARE, AND SO I KNOW YOUR LIMITS. WHY HAVE YOU BETRAYED US, CHILD?”

            “Because you are wrong!” There, I’d said it. This time, not even gasps rose from the assembly. Everyone was too shocked to speak, to terrified to breathe. “The Plan is wrong. That child deserved life, Lord. He deserved a chance. So I gave it to him.”

            “AND ARE YOU A GOD, REMIEL? SHOULD THE WORLD BOW TO YOU?”

            I hung my head once more, letting the fire in me die. It left me feeling hollow and consumed, broken and frail. “I seek only justice, Master. Do what you like to me for that.”

            A hush fell over the choir, a silence unbroken by even the rustle of feathers. Then, suddenly, Michael’s eyes closed again and he released a long sigh. His arms fell to his sides, wings folded neatly behind his back, and he staggered into the chair waiting for him. So I was disgusting enough that even the Lord couldn’t look at me any longer. Perfect.

            “Our brother Remiel has been found guilty by the Lord. His punishment, however, is left to us. What say you all?”

            I didn’t even turn to look as voices called for my blood. Jofiel screamed that I should be stripped and banished to Hell, to burn in the darkness with my own kind. My heart quickened, but no one else immediately jumped on the suggestion, instead suggesting their own methods. Camael called for burning embers, to give me pain enough that I should repent my crimes, but found support only in Uriel and Samael. Amon shouted that death was the only sufficient punishment for my blasphemy.

            Through it all, the three greatest angels and I stayed silent. Raguel spoke only to suggest clemency, recalling my years of faithful service. And then I heard Shekinah, whispering so that only I and those closest to the platform could hear.

            “Who is she, Remiel? What is she to you? Is she worth this?”

            I smiled at Shekinah, a sad, twisted smile. “I don’t know who she is, or what she means to me. And stay out of my head. I need none of your twisting.”

            The angel of purity and love snarled at that, at the insinuation that she was anything but faithful in her duties. “I saw the blood on the wall, brother. I saw the pulse of a beating heart. She is mortal. She will never know your true glory.”

            “I seek no glory, no fulfillment. I did what was right when I had the chance to. If I die for that, then so be it. I would think you, at least, would understand matters of the heart enough to realize that.”

            Shekinah grinned at me then, a smile even more beautiful for its ferocity. Then she turned to address the entire assembly. “Remiel has betrayed us for love of a mortal girl. So, then, let him have her. I suggest that he Fall.”

            Michael sat up at the idea, running a hand through his sandy hair in thought. He turned to his companions and they deliberated silently for a moment, and then he looked at me. I met the red eyes boldly, knowing that whatever I did or said made no difference anymore. I’d made my choice.

            “In three days time, the Archangel Remiel, Fifth of our Order and Guardian of the Souls of the Righteous will be stripped of his wings and banished from these halls. Zerachiel, as his crime involved a mortal child, is there a place for him upon the earth?”
            “A place can be made.” Zerachiel’s voice was sad and deep, as if he was already mourning Remiel’s Fall.

            “This is our decision, then. Let him be held until then, so that he may repent his sins and have time to reconsider his actions.”

            At the words, the gathering disbanded swiftly, angels walking or winging their way out into the light, until only I, Raguel, Uriel, and the three greatest Archangels were left.

            “I am truly sorry for this, Remiel my brother. I wish that it could be any other way, I really do.” Raphael’s voice was soft and sincere, and I believed that he spoke truth. He always did hate to see anyone in pain, and even the thought of having my wings stripped away sent shudders through me. Then, with a final clasp on my shoulder, he was gone.

            The other two didn’t speak, but Michael’s look told me enough. He knew that, even if I did repent, it was too late. I was doomed, and all eternity could do nothing for me now. Finally, only Uriel and Raguel were left, and they took me wordlessly out, into the nearby building where I was to be kept. As we had nothing like cells here in Heaven, they made do with a small room in a building set aside for that use.

            I had no windows, one door. The ceiling was low, my wingtips brushing it even when folded, and the walls close. I paced the floor. Five feet by seven feet. Without the light of the outside air, it was dark and stuffy enough to remind me of the world outside the Gates.

            The only furnishing was a mirror and a threadbare carpet to kneel on, so that I might reflect on my sins. I ignored the carpet and went instead to the mirror, looking at my face for the first time in eons.

            The darkness outside the Gate had drained me of all color in my face, leaving it wan and sickly looking. In fact, it wasn’t that distant from my bleached-silver hair and white wings. The only color I had was in my eyes, which now were shadowed by the fear I was struggling not to acknowledge. I turned to study my wings again, looking at them mournfully. Maybe they weren’t the grandest, or the largest, or the most reflective and elaborate. But they were mine. My soul, in a way.

            Even the white feathers were stained from the ashy air. It seemed as if my whole self was corrupted by it. That long away from the Lord’s light would have been enough to drive anyone mad. At least I had that excuse. Lucifer had stood where Michael did now, and still had fallen to the taint. None of us was really safe, not anymore. I was just the first casualty in a long time.

            A morbid curiosity overcame me, nagging at my mind as I stood there. My hand reached up as if of its own volition and gripped a single pearly feather. Then I pulled.

            The plume tore free easily enough, but the pain of it sent me to my knees, clutching at the little trickle of blood soaking into my wing, dripping onto the stone floor. I gasped and reached up to find a similar wetness on my face. My eyes were bleeding? This new clear blood was something I’d never seen before. Something I’d never even heard of. What was it called? Was there even a name for it yet, or was I the first to have it?

            The torn feather lay on the ground, a warning of what was to come. Already my blood soaked it, staining it as red as Michael’s eyes. Did those cold, harsh eyes bleed this new blood as well? Or was it a symptom of my sin? A sign of the corruption within me?

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