-The rain is falling
And the flowers are dying
The Eternal is calling
For his lost child crying-

…I remember first waking up. I remember looking around and wondering why it hurt so much, if this place was beautiful. I remember looking around and wondering why it hurt so much if I was in Heaven. I remember looking around and wondering why it hurt so much if I was dead.

And I remember the first time I talked to God. His voice is cataclysmic and soothing, the best thing and the worst thing I'd ever heard. I remember that. I remember I'd fallen to my scrawny, dead knees, and I cried to Him. I was beyond consolation. "You told us, the Children of Israel, that You would always love us, always protect us! What have we done to deserve…this! If You love us so—why are we massacred? How can the Christians kill us by the thousands and call it—purifying their country!"

And I remember the first time God spoke to me. He didn't give me the answers and secrets to cosmic understanding. No. God told me that I wouldn't understand.

That answer would have pissed me off had I been alive at that point. I was beyond pissed off. I was so far beyond anger that I was begging Him to help me understand. I remember getting the impression that He heaved some sort of heavenly sigh, and let me know that while, yes, the Children of Israel were persecuted and murdered, it was not our purpose to die.

Way to find a loophole, God.

I don't exactly remember too much of the conversation after that. The soothing, cataclysmic voice probably rattled my brains. You know. Screwed me up permanently.

I do remember when He said He'd make me an angel. Yeah. That one caught my attention. And not just any angel. He was giving me a job. Now, I was dead at this point; not angel-dead, I was just dead. Any alternative to the big Dead People Place in the Sky worked for me, I remember thinking.

In retrospect, I should've listened when He said that I wouldn't exactly be Gabriel's right-hand man. Girl. Angel. Moving on. Yeah, I probably should have listened when He said I'd be a dark angel, the type that moves about in shadow and spends eternity killing tyrants and pimps to save the good. I probably should have listened when He told me I would often be compared to the Angel of Death, even Satan.

But, I didn't listen. I remember that. I was never any good at listening. Get out of Spain! the man on the road told me. It's not safe for you here! Did I listen? No. Five months later found me bleeding to death in a cold Spanish alleyway, one of Torquemada's many agents having stabbed me. No, I didn't listen. Five months later found me on my scrawny and sadly dead knees in front of God Almighty, the King of Kings, my King and my Father.

So yeah, I remember becoming the Redemption Angel. It's one hell of a title. My job is to find the sorts of people who will end up helping the world—the people who will one day find the cure to cancer or save the dolphins or invent sweat socks that never smell. I work mostly with kids, really. It's depressing sometimes. I help these people because in the conditions they are in, when I find them, they would never help the world. I get the streetwalkers away from their pimps, if the streetwalker is destined to save somebody, something; build something, know something, do something. If killing the pimp is involved, then that's what I do.

Probably, I should have listened when God first explained this all to me. Probably, I should have said no. Probably, I keep doing this for another five hundred years and I'll lose my little dead mind.

But I guess it's sort of, kind of, okay. I mean, I've got these huge black wings. I've seen more than a Jewish girl in 1492 Spain could ever hope to see.

Plus, just by existing, I piss Gabriel and Michael and the rest off so much. Dying at fifteen may have been worth it, just to see those faces every day for more than five hundred years.

The times I cry, alone in a corner of Heaven that's too dark for most angels, I try to forget, but I remember it. I remember all of it.

-…and I'm locked in a dark place, where no one ever goes
my heart is gone forever so my love can never show
it's for my own safety, that's what they say
so lock me up in the darkness and throw the key away-

…I remember when I first met the other dark angels. God, they're great. I'd had friends when I was alive, but they can't quite measure up to the dark angels. Together, there's five of us—

Together, there were five of us. I met Sidya first. I was fresh out of God's audience with a pair of huge black wings on my back and an unshakable knocking in my dead little knees. Alone in a sea of white-winged angels who wanted nothing to do with me, Sidya was my savior. Sidya is…Sidya was not a typical angel either. She had blood-red wings and had the, ah, interesting title of Angel of Destruction.

Suddenly my coal-black wings didn't seem so bad. Sidya told me her name and asked mine. I was born with the name Nesya, meaning 'miracle of God.' I don't remember exactly what I thought at that moment, but I know that no part of me wanted to be Nesya anymore. Nesya had died, for God's sake, had bled to death with the world around her carefully ignoring her last cries. And I just said that my name was Redemption; I was the Redemption Angel. Sidya accepted that.

It turned out that my job wasn't so bad. I went around rescuing people, and if I had to kill someone, well, stuff happens. But Sidya…Sidya's job was clear: destroy. She had two facets, to give her credit. Occasionally, she got to make earthquakes and forest fires. But mostly, she was the force that eventually came on down and destroyed tyrants, and caused earth-wide floods, and the like, for the Hand of God can't be everywhere at once. Actually, that's a lie, but Sidya had a job.

Sidya led me to her partner next. When she told me she had a partner, I was just a little skeptical. I thought she meant she had a helper to destroy large bits of Earth. But his name is Daron, and he was the Angel of Creation. His job was to tag along behind Sidya, and when the forest fires were done, he planted new seeds; when the tyrants were gone, he watched over the confused masses; and when God sent Sidya to cover the entire world in burning rain, Daron helped Noah plant a vineyard. (That didn't work out too well for Noah—got his wazoo snipped by a jealous son—but we all make mistakes in the early years.) Daron's wings were greyish and had a nearly translucent quality to them.

Daron and Sidya were the proverbial odd couple. Sidya had dark skin and darkly burning eyes; she was filled with tense, just barely controlled energy. I think most of it was anger. On the other side, Daron was light skinned with cool, thoughtful eyes; his energy was smooth and relaxed. I guess it went with their jobs. Daron would create fire from his fingertips just to watch it dance; when he was done, Sidya would ice it over just to watch the dancing die.

They took me to Lesetan next. Sidya was my idol and Daron was my friend, but Lesetan was my mentor. Lesetan, the Angel of War, taught me the things I remember, the things that keep me sane inside of this ever-changing cage of flesh and feathers. Lesetan was the oldest of us all; wise and calm with the strangest sense of humor. His favorite saying was 'Fight for peace, and f--- for virgins!' Lesetan's wings were black, too, except along the bones and joints, where they were iridescent in a reddish way. They looked kind of pretty to me, but Sidya said they inspired fear and courage in mortals, both at the same time. And that was sort of what made them go to war.

The four of us together then trooped off to find the Angel of Death. I remember smiling, feeling confident, for the first time since long before I'd died. I remember exactly what sorts of thoughts were going through my pretty little dead head: Please God, let this never end…

Angels of Death come and go. That was the first thing I learned upon meeting Johan. I was not to ask him questions about any dead ancestors, especially not famous Jewish ones, because he didn't know. He'd been on the job for two hundred years, and his wings were beginning to feel weak.

Out of all the five, the Angels of Death had the worst job. They lasted for five hundred years if they were lucky; during that half-millennium they collected the souls of important people. The end of their approximate half-millennium of infamy was signified by their wings breaking. Broken wings, I learned then, happened only to the fallen, and to the Angels of Death. It meant that they had seen too much; the death had become too heavy for them. In pain and resignation, these broken angels went into the Garden of Eden. By the time their wings healed, several Angels of Death had already picked up the scythe and those Angels of Death had also faded into the Garden.

But Johan had accepted this as fate, and was not about to challenge God's decision. His idea of fun was to shuffle slowly into an area filled with white-winged angels, get a death-grip on his scythe, and swing it around, sending angels scattering like pigeons. It was harmless—the scythe could only kill another angel when God willed it. But seeing the Angel of Death's scythe hissing towards you is a pretty frightening thing nonetheless.

So there we were: Sidya, Daron, Lesetan, Johan, and I. Johan was gone after two hundred and fifty-six more years. I cried for him when he came back up to Heaven and his wings broke. The others cried too. I suspect we were all crying for ourselves too, though. Someday, that would be us, and there would be one less angel to mourn.

-Another gate
Another way
Designed by fate
Angel cries for loss of day-

…I remember when we first met the next Angel of Death, Aida. From the start, Aida was innocent, curious, boisterous, and not at all what we'd expected. I remember everything about Aida at that moment, because she was just so different. She stumbled out from God's audience as every new angel did, winged and shaking a bit. But she was smiling as she shook. Her wings—large bat-like affairs with a claw at the top—were unfurled, and she kept spinning around in an effort to catch and examine one of the wings. I remember thinking of a small mutt. Only, Aida was more cheerful.

I remember Aida stumbling into me, too. She didn't even notice us until she'd walked right into me, at which point she looked around and seemed absolutely delighted to find out that she wasn't the only one with a different sort of wings. None of the rest of us had bat-wings, but in principle, we were all the same.

I remember the slight shifts in Heaven's workings after Aida came. The first time any of us noticed anything different was when there were fresh flowers wrapped around the scythe. They were gone by the time we next saw the scythe. Then there was the time Gabriel had a snit because the loser couldn't find his halo.

Who loses their halo?

I mean…Gabriel hadn't actually lost it. Michael found Aida sitting down, legs splayed in front of her, gripping the halo for all she was worth. On the other side of a halo was some small, dead kid, pulling just as hard as Aida. Michael tells it that the kid finally gave up, and when he stepped back, Aida was pulling so hard that she fell backwards, halo in hand. Aida still claims—Aida claimed from then on that the kid did not give up, she won. Not a one of us ever believed her, but we smiled and nodded and kept her happy.

I remember the few times we saw Aida sad. Sometimes—not often, but sometimes—Aida would come back up, scythe in hand, black hood down, staring at the clouds beneath her. She would walk numbly past us, not seeing anyone but managing to not walk into them anyway. Aida would get away from the main fairways and then stumble into the nearest vertical surface, be it tree, pillar, or dark angel, drop the scythe and sink down, arms hugging the pillar or angel tightly. She wouldn't cry, but she would just sit there, staring out, for any length of time. I remember the other four of us standing nearby, watching, and worrying that her wings were about to snap. Sometimes Lesetan would go over and hold her; sometimes she pushed him away.

And I remember the one time I came across Aida doing her job. It was the first time I'd seen any Angel of Death reaping. It was…it's must've been in the 1980's. It seems weird to me; I had been Redeeming for four hundred and ninety years, and until then, I'd never seen the Reaper reap.

Worst part was, I wasn't technically even on the job anymore. I'd saved the guy, I was sure I had. He had a little problem with crystal meth, but I'd done a pretty damn good job of scaring the dealers the hell out of town. The guy had nowhere to get his meth from, and I'd promised to stay on Earth for a little while to watch over him.

That didn't mean, however, that I couldn't try as hard as possible to get drunk off my nut after the sun went down. That was the agreement: I took care of the daytime monsters. Bogeymen and demons in the night were not my issue. Unless, of course, something actually attacked him, in which case I'd lash out like a proverbial mother animal thingy.

So I was sitting there, wings hidden, and getting drunk off my nut. The guy I was watching over had actually been sitting next to me for the better part of the night, until he decided it was really time to get a start on his hangover.

And I remember sitting there for no more than five minutes when I heard the scream from outside. Everyone else in the bar ignored it. But I'm—but I was an angel, no matter how dark. And it sounded like my charge.

I ran outside, but the truth was, I was drunk off my nut. So, when I say I ran outside, I mean there was a lot of stumbling involved. And the truth was, I messed up. It was dark outside, and I didn't immediately know where my guy was. I located the next scream in the alley next to the bar, but I couldn't do anything. I was too late. By the time I'd stumbled into the mouth of the alley, the guy with the gun pulled the trigger. That was when I saw Aida. She'd probably been sitting there for a few minutes. She was looking at the hourglass in her hand (Aida loved the image of the Reaper carrying a scythe and your personal hourglass).

When someone who has been Redeemed (meaning I've saved their butt) dies, they are one of the important people the Angel of Death is sent to collect. And so Aida was at one end of the alley, and I was at the other. For some reason, I couldn't move. My feet felt like lead. Neither of the mortals saw me, and I don't think Aida did either. I saw her there and I knew I'd failed.

There was the crack of a gun. The shooter ran past me like I wasn't there; I remember thinking that maybe I wasn't, maybe it was bad dream. But I knew it wasn't. Aida stood up and walked over to what had once been my charge, my responsibility …and he still was. She met my eyes. She wanted me to save him; the sand wasn't all gone. But I stood still, not quite comprehending. Aida kept looking at me until her eyes slid down to the hourglass. My eyes followed.

The sand was gone.

I remember, before that night, I didn't know how the Reaper reaped and I didn't want to know. I knew the scythe was important—the Angel of Death always carried some sort of weapon—but I didn't understand until then.

Numb and shaking, I watched Aida pull the hood up over her head. She held up the scythe and in an instant, she'd plunged it into my guy's back. Now I knew how the Reaper did her reaping. His soul left his body and somehow found its way into the hourglass.

Um.

When she had his soul, Aida spread her bat wings and was gone without looking at me again.

I remember standing at the mouth of the alley for a while, contemplating life, death, and how Aida fit into it all, until the sirens started and I was gone.

-Flickering lights
In the darkened eve
Still-aired nights
Won't hear me scream-

…I remember falling.

I remember falling from Heaven. It was such a blur at the time that it didn't make any sense at all, but later, when I regained consciousness and feeling, I was able to piece most of it together.

Heaven had been quiet and tense for a day or so. The quiet before the storm…I should've been able to see it, but I remember just looking around with faint amusement on my face. The other angels were ignoring us even more than usual. No one spoke to us, and the only angels to make eye contact were high-level stiffs and the angels who had never, never liked us.

And when it started, I remember knowing, deep inside: knowing that it wasn't fair—but fair never won out. I'd learned that when the Christian mob had burned my home, killed my father, my mother, my sisters and my brother. I'd learned that when the priest had stabbed me, though I'd done nothing wrong. And I remember thinking why Heaven should be any different.

I'd never personally seen an angel fall, at that point, so I didn't know whether or not our fall was…normal. God was nowhere to be found, which is pretty ironic, seeing as he's, you know, God. Go figure. Who was around was a bunch of angels. Archangels—Michael, Gabriel—seraphim and cherubim. Crap, seraphim and cherubim can be scary. There's revolving swords of flame, six wings…it's like Mix-and-Match-Angel. But that's not what I was thinking. I don't think I was really thinking at that point, actually.

They found Aida first. Sidya and I heard Aida scream and we ran over to find her being cornered by this group of white-winged angels. She was holding her scythe confidently. I remember exactly what she said. I doubt I'll ever forget. She was the only one who went with any grace or dignity, and God dammit, she went out with courage.

"I can't kill you," Aida said. "But I can sure as hell make it hurt."

At which point, I remember one of the angels telling her that if she used her scythe on them, she'd only be further proving that she had to fall.

"It's not fair to the other angels if you just give it to me," Aida said. I remember standing next to Sidya, still a little far off. We were shaking in fear and anger, but Aida was standing straight-backed, sneering at the angels and handling it like it was nothing. Maybe she wanted to fall, she was saying in her eyes. "I'll have to earn it."

I remember it being about then that several things happened. Lesetan and Daron were running towards us, screaming to Aida. Sidya and I realized what was happening because we were screaming for Aida to stop. But she didn't want to, anymore. I remember the way her scythe glinted, silver as she brought it down into the shoulder of an archangel. And the way it glinted after—I remember that too. Silver and red. It took that archangel and three seraphim to push Aida over.

I remember there being a lot of screaming after that. The four of us were shouting and asking why Aida had fallen? And the bleeding archangel smiled awfully at us. I can't remember what he said. I'm fairly sure my heart stopped right then anyway. But I remember knowing we were about to fall, too.

I remember, as they started to corner us as they had Aida, that we were kicking and screaming, almost frothing at the mouth. We were no heroes. Our only hero had already fallen.

But when the seraph touches you and you realize you're about to fall—I remember no terror like it. I remember wishing, as I teetered on the edge of Heaven, that I had never been made Redemption—who would redeem the fallen Redemption? I remember knowing no rational thoughts in that moment; I remember seeing no faces.

And then—we fell.

In our defense, I do recall distinctly being pushed all the way off the edge.

I remember falling taking a frighteningly long time. There's all of Heaven to fall through before you burst through the figurative cloud cover, fall another few miles, and crash into the ground. The first few seconds are a blur of fear and pain and hate. And then, the senseless thoughts of abandon begin.

Why am I falling?

What did I do?

Why has God forsaken me?

I only remember the darkness when we entered the view of the mortals below. I don't know how many, if any, saw us; I was once told that a shooting star is really a falling angel. Must've been one hell of a meteor shower. It was night; the moon was out and everything else was a blur.

I had only one thought then: Somebody had screwed up, and it wasn't us. There was no more darkness left it Heaven. Death was gone; Destruction had fallen, and with it Creation. There was no more War; no more Redemption. I had several jobs…redeeming, Downfall, Catalyst…all gone.

I remember that thought ended with the pain. When I died, it had hurt. The priest's blade had entered deep, and I was left in pain to bleed to death. In all my life, I'd never known pain like that; in death, I'd never known it either.

Until now. Until I fell. With no air in my lungs to be knocked out of me, I hit the ground. There is no pain like it. I felt my wings snap beneath me—my beautiful black wings—and I remembered nothing else.

-In my death I see the darkness I have become
Celebrated more now than when I had the light
The darkness claims me, but no—I am still here
But no, says the darkness, I am still here…-

…I remember waking up. I remember looking around, but this time I knew why it hurt so much. I remember knowing. I was fallen.

I also remember that almost as soon as I'd opened my eyes, another pair of eyes was staring curiously down at me. I remember shrieking when I instinctively tried to jump up. My wings hurt so much. I looked up at the eyes, scared and in pain. The eyes belonged a man who couldn't have been more than thirty. His eyes were black—as dark and limitless as my own. He had black hair, cut short, and black stubble on his chin and cheeks. He wore a black T-shirt—Metallica, I remember it was Metallica—and black jeans. He was also wearing a black leather jacket and gloves with the fingers cut out.

I remember when I first noticed his wings, I thought I was dreaming. I had to be—this was just some punk mortal who'd found me and was about to be very surprised when he found out the mass of feathers under me were once wings.

But I kept staring and blinking, and the wings remained. They weren't wings like I knew them, though. They were thin and jagged, almost like bat-wings, but nothing like Aida's. The thing about them was, they had no feathers. They were swirling faintly. His wings were made of shadow.

He was looking at me intently, curiously. When he spoke, his voice was soft and kind. "Fallen, have we?"

I didn't say anything. How did he know I was an angel? How did he know I had fallen? And what on Earth was wrong with his wings? I remember a few moments of silence, where he just stared at me. There was very little pity in his eyes, but he wasn't amused by my condition either. I don't remember exactly what he said, when he spoke again. "My name is Chaos," he might have said. "I'm fallen, too."

As soon as he said his name, something triggered in my mind. I knew that name. Chaos…Chaos…

Chaos: After Lucifer and his followers had fallen, Chaos was the next to fall. He did not fall in serving Lucifer; no one spoke of his crimes, and no one spoke his name. He had given himself the name Chaos after falling; in Heaven, it was said that he couldn't remember his name—or his crimes.

Chaos: Though he'd fallen—and I distinctly remember Lesetan telling me this, once—he was still immensely powerful. Before falling, he had had powers unequalled by almost any angel. When he had fallen, his wings had shattered completely; become mangled beyond use or even recognition. And so, Chaos had created for himself new wings, wings of shadow, in the image of his old ones; and they worked well enough to carry him.

Chaos: His own fallen angel. He served Lucifer when it suited him, and was on his own the rest of the time. He was the only fallen angel who didn't stay with Lucifer—and didn't go insane afterwards.

But I remember, after I'd thought this, I still didn't say anything. Whether I was in shock of just in too much pain, I have no idea. So Chaos said, "Lucifer sent me to get you."

And I remember, that prompted me to finally speak. "Where are the others?" I'd rasped. But Chaos looked at me blankly, and said, "Lucifer sent me to get you."

Chaos gently put his arms under me, avoiding the shattered bones of my wings as best he could, and lifted me up. I remember shrieking and gasping in pain, both as he picked me up and as he began walking. I wanted him to laugh at me, then—I wanted him to laugh at my pain and uselessness. But he didn't, and I could see the pity in his eyes, then. That was worse than laughter. I had never been pitied—was I pitied as I died? Was it pity that chose me as the Redemption Angel? No.

But he pitied me, now.

I wanted him to laugh at me—useless and broken. But he didn't, and I was left to dwell on, as he silently carried me towards Lucifer, what would happen next. I didn't know where the others had gone; Sidya and Daron—were they together still? And Lesetan—would he still protect Aida when her heroism failed? I didn't know if they had even survived their fall.

I remember blacking out again, before Chaos and I reached Lucifer. I hated it; I felt it as I slipped into the cold. The last thought I had before another black pain was—

Who would redeem me, the fallen Redemption?