-The rain is falling
And the flowers are dying
The Eternal is calling
For his lost child crying-
…I remember waking up. Not at all pleasant. I remember looking around with a monstrous headache and thinking, I'm not ready for this. I don't even know exactly where I am and I know this is not where I should be right now.
I remember God first talking to me. I froze, in horror, in shock, in awe of that voice. It was catastrophic and perfect in my mind. It was—is—not a voice meant for human ears.
I remember it occurring to me about then that I was dead.
I don't remember exactly how the conversation with God began. I know it did because I remember jumping five feet in the air when He spoke again. I think it must've started around when He asked me if I knew why I'd died. I knew that one. I'd spent a lot of time drowning, I recalled, before everything was cold and dark.
And then I remember God asking me if I knew what my destiny was. I didn't. I thought once you were dead, you stayed that way. Destiny sounded like a distinctly alive thing. But, I guess not.
And I remember that was about when God told me that I was sort of the new Angel of Death.
Oh. Maybe you didn't have to be alive for destiny.
I had an age-old image in maintain, as the Reaper. Hurrah for me. Black robes and hood, scythe, hourglasses slowly running out of sand…and of course, only the dead could see me. What a waste!
Hm. Though I'm not sure how the image of the Grim Reaper really got out, then. Maybe people made it up and we conformed to it.
The last thing I got was wings. As far as I knew…know…kneow, I was the only angel in Heaven with, well, clawed bat-wings.
And I remember, just before I left, God told me the dirty little secret of the Angels of Death. There is only one of us at a time, and cosmically, we don't last all that long. Sometimes five hundred years, sometimes less. There is nothing glamorous about reaping, and doing it one too many times snaps your wings. At which point, you're no longer an angel but dead, really dead, in the Garden of Eden and everything, with broken, useless wings.
I remember feeling like it was going to be damn hard to be the Grim Reaper if I didn't look on the bright side, and cheer up.
It took me a while to think of any bright side, but I eventually came up with one. I mean…God had just trusted me with scythe. Who would trust me with a scythe?
-and I've passed the limits of sanity, in my dark and fragile mind
I'm forever in this dark place that no one can ever find
no one could even see me, in this dark and cold hell
I'm crying and I'm bleeding and they couldn't even tell-
…I remember meeting the other dark angels.
…Actually, I remember stumbling into Redemption while trying to get a hold of my wings. I figured out later that I could actually fold them over myself like a blanket…a cold, leathery blanket.
So I guess, because Redemption was the first one I saw, she was the first dark angel I met. She asked me my name and I told her: Aida. She introduced herself as Redemption, the Redemption Angel. I remember being pleasantly confused, but I was always pleasantly confused. She explained that her job was to redeem people who could be great, but wouldn't for the current circumstance. Redemption took care of the current circumstance. At this point, I was extremely pleasantly confused. I think Red knew that because she laughed and introduced me to the next dark angel, Sidya.
Sidya was the Angel of Destruction. What a title! Destruction Angel…And true to that title, Sidya explained to me that…well, she destroyed things. Noachide floods, Mt. Vesuvius burying Pompeii, and the like. She got to utterly destroy manic tyrants. Sometimes.
And next to Sidya was Daron. Daron was Sidya's partner and cosmic opposite in every single way. He was the white male Angel of Creation, and enjoyed creating as much as Sidya enjoyed destroying. When Sidya was done her job, Daron generally showed up to get things moving and living again.
The last angel was Lesetan, Angel of War. He introduced himself as the oldest and probably most eternal of the dark angels. I remember that just by looking at his face, you knew he was calm and easy-going; where I'd find that the rest of us were all high-strung and often in awful moods, Lesetan was always smiling over something. Even in his pissy moods, he'd be better than Red and Sidya on most of their good days.
Looking back, it was probably silly to think I was in love with him then. I'm in love with him now, and I'm still not really sure why or how. I was in absolute, unfettered, sun-blinding awe of him, sure, but not love.
Do I sound stupid yet?
I fell in love with him later. As time went on, I got to know all of them better. Daron, for all his talk of inner peace and personal nirvanas, was a jokester; Sidya, beneath her love for excess and tricks, was a philosopher at heart. Redemption had a fertile, intelligent mind that was happiest devising ways to tick upper-level angels off, but could be frightening when that intelligent mind was mad. She was articulate and cold and it was definitely best not to get her pissed. Lesetan was apparently unconcerned. That describes him best. He was wholly against war, he said, despite his occupation, and peace was all that mattered to him. But it was his job to be war and he'd be damned if he wasn't. He was the oldest of us all and knew every way to trump us, if he wanted to, in our philosophical discussions. He was a bit behind on contemporary trivia, but bluffed like a pro.
I remember falling in love with Lesetan, for what it's worth. Sidya had told me that he had a tenderness towards me that was before unshown in the Angel of War; he went out of his way to protect me. The times when I came up to Heaven and all I wanted was to be left alone and shiver and be nauseous, he was there for me. And right about then—wait for it—right then I realized I loved him. It was certainly odd to realize that. I'd thought, for all the years I'd been the Grim Reaper, that I was incapable of love. Oh, I know I had friendship, and I know I loved—love—the other dark angels. But that was different. I loved them and was wholly in love with Lesetan.
And I remember it seeming a bit inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, because in less than half a millennium, I'd be gone.
-Leaves have fallen from the trees
Forsaken autumn is in the air
Cold sunshine falls over the angels fair
And smoke and embers are all I see-
…I remember the first time I stopped and realized that my position in Heaven, in death, in eternity, was wholly unfair. Mostly because I had no eternity. Lesetan had been around since humanity had realized that stabbing your neighbor would get you their cave and yours, too. Sidya had been around for longer than that, though for a long time she was a nameless angel. It was when she became Sidya, Angel of Destruction, that she became the Sidya I knew. Daron was the first dark angel to find his post after being a mortal and exiting the typical mortal exit of dying, but he'd been around since long before good Jesus found himself nailed to a couple of sticks. Redemption was the most recent non-Angel of Death dark angel, having died in the Spanish Inquisition. But humanity would always know that stabbing your neighbor would get you their cave (or land, or money, or power, or whatever), and so Lesetan was eternal. Similarly, nature would always be a destructive force, and humanity would be too, so Sidya was eternal. Daron was yin to Sidya's yang; nature was a creative force no matter how destructive it was as well. Redemption's job was as certain as Lesetan's. Someone, somewhere, would always be oppressing someone else, and Redemption's job was to fix that situation.
But me? Me, Aida, Grim Reaper, Angel of Death? Death was more certain, more eternal than war or humanity itself. Death had been the very first certainty in the world, outside of perhaps Adam trusting God not to mercilessly slaughter him just because the sun went away.
But I had not been the first certainty in the world. Lesetan was war; Sidya was destruction and Daron was creation. Even Redemption was…well, redemption. But there was never anyone who could claim, I am Death. No, I—and the countless Angels of Death before me—could only say, this is my scythe, and by the way, you're dead. We could only say, we're here to take you away. As horrible as it sounds to say, we could never say—I'm here to kill you. Redemption could say she was here to redeem, Sidya could say she was here to destroy. But the Grim Reapers? No.
We wore a mantle that was terrible and dark. Though I was the newest dark angel in the pack, my job was the reason there were dark angels. And what thanks did I get? What did I get for upholding the most sacred, the oldest certainty in the world?
I would die, too.
I remember figuring that out. I would die, too, though not in the typical sense. My wings, the wings I had even come to be fond of, would snap and I would be left with, perhaps, bones jutting from my shoulders and scraps of leather. And I would find my way to the Garden of Eden—I would be in paradise. But it wouldn't be, not for me. I had friends, I had a purpose in Heaven, and the Garden of Eden would have none of that. Oh, yes, I'd be happy, but there would always be a part of me that would cry and grieve for the angel that was, the angel that had broken.
And I remember sitting there thinking: Why did I take this? Why did I let God tell me I would be the Angel of Death when I would get nothing the others get in return?
But I also remember that Daron, Sidya, and Redemption all saw me sitting there and kept walking. They didn't do it for any malicious reason. Normally, when I just sat down and sulked, I was inconsolable and snappish. I appreciated their walking on. It meant they knew me and respected the boundaries I set for myself.
Then Lesetan came and sat beside me. I remember that. He sat beside me and said nothing for a long time. Then he asked me what was wrong this time. He noticed what the others had missed: I wasn't wearing my long, black robe, nor was I even carrying my scythe.
By accident, I told him. I told him everything, how much I realized I hated what I did, how unfair it was to me. He listened wordlessly. I remember him looking earnestly into my eyes when I was done and saying, in almost exactly these words, "Aida, you have a unique burden, and you've carried it better so far than any have before you." I remember turning away from him, but he gently took my chin in his hands and turned my face back to his. "And I love you, Aida, I love you and want you to be happy again."
I remember some kissing after that. Eh, I remember a lot of kissing. And somehow, Lesetan had managed to push away all the doubts from my mind, all the sadness and all the pain. Lesetan knew he'd made me complete, and he planned on never letting go. I remember him telling me, some time later, that he would follow me into the Garden of Eden if I wanted him to. I told him I'd have to think on it, but we both knew I would say no. I wouldn't break his wings, too.
After that I was happier, somehow freer. Sometimes Redemption, Sidya, and I would all sit together and discuss our feelings. That's a girl thing, that is. Theirs were generally of anger, and they were always surprised when I shared none of their sentiments. I don't think I ever told them that on some nights, after returning from Reaping, I would dream of myself as a broken angel, their backs turned to me, and even as I stood by the gates to the Garden, Lesetan was nowhere.
-And in the spiraling darkness,
You've lost the path you made;
You'll only ever know the darkness,
Little angel, it's time to be afraid-
…I remember the first time any of the other dark angels saw me Reaping. Don't get me wrong, now—Sidya, Lesetan, and Daron had all seen reaping before, but that was before my time. They knew how to avoid me and still do their jobs on Earth. But poor Redemption…no one had warned her.
The instruments of the Angel of Death are all sort of incorporeal devices. What they look like generally depends on who is holding them. In my case, I like to carry around a big scythe and an hourglass on a chain. The hourglass represents the time left in a person's life, or at least, that's what it should look like to them. Every Angel of Death has carried a weapon of some sort, the scythe being the recent favorite. When your victim—er, mortal, I mean—is just very barely physically dead, you plunge your weapon into them—anywhere. The wound will never show up, because the weapon is designed for things higher than the physical. It takes the soul from the body. The soul then goes into a designated holding area. You guessed it—the hourglass.
There is only one Angel of Death at any given time, and so I couldn't be everywhere at once. Mostly, I took away 'important' people. That sounds callous, but I don't mean I take away celebrities and politicians. I take away men and women of various religions who have dedicated their life not to the right God but to helping others. I take away the people who discover the cures for diseases. And I take away the people that were once redeemed by the Redemption Angel.
That sounds like Redemption and I would come into contact with each other all the time while on our jobs, but she was fairly good at saving her charges. Really extremely good. If they got hit by a bus a week after being saved, that wasn't Redemption's fault.
I remember being a little startled to find that Redemption had just saved a guy and I was supposed to pick him up. The thing was, Redemption was still on the job, more or less.
Basically, there was the Kid (that's how Redemption referred to all her charges unless they were, you know, eighty). The Kid was in a lot of trouble with some local drug dealers. The drug dealers weren't happy and had the idea to kill the Kid and see if that wouldn't help (I didn't say it was a good idea). However, Redemption had found out that the Kid would one day find a cure to AIDS, and Kids like that should not be allowed to die.
So Redemption went down and persuaded the drug dealers that if they didn't leave the kid alone and leave town really fast, they'd regret it. When that was done, the Kid was still alive, but was afraid that the dealers would come back to finish him off when Redemption left. She decided to hang around for a little while longer to make sure the Kid was all right. The Kid then had an idea that turned out to really be his last: They should go hang out at a bar.
Redemption got extremely drunk with the Kid. The Kid staggered out of the bar eventually, leaving Redemption to finish her final beer.
That's where I came into the episode. If Redemption had only stayed with the Kid, I could have come down and just…left, fate proving my hourglass wrong. Anyway, the dealers had come back into town and jumped the Kid in an alley next to the bar. I was in the back of the alley, watching. I'm not—I wasn't allowed to interfere with these things, just take the souls when the bodies were dead.
Redemption came stumbling out, very drunk and confused. The dealers happened to notice that she wasn't on top of her game and ignored her.
I remember her noticing me. Her eyes slid up from my feet to my face. She shook her head in disbelief. She didn't want to fail. I couldn't interfere; all I could do was sit and hope Redemption would do something! I didn't want her to fail, either. I looked at her, begging her silently to just kill the damned dealers and get it over with.
I don't know why she didn't. She looked like she was in shock, and also she was drunk. But it doesn't matter. All that matters is that when the gunshot rang out, Redemption couldn't move. The murderers fled past Redemption, forgetting she was even there—and she let them go. She watched, horrified, as I lifted my hood up and plunged my scythe in.
And I left. Redemption stayed down on Earth for just a little while longer, so she didn't see my entrance into Heaven.
The others were waiting for me, they told me later, but I ignored them completely. I remember throwing my scythe as far as I could, and then my legs failed me and I collapsed. I remember hitting the ground in a pile of robe and limbs and not caring at all. I wrapped my arms around myself and began speaking to no one in particular, because Redemption wasn't there—yet.
"I'm sorry," I remember whispering. "Oh, Redemption, I'm so sorry… Redemption, why didn't you move faster? Why did you make this my fault?"
I remember feeling so guilty and horrible after that. I wasn't mad at Redemption for failing to save the Kid, but at myself for having to take him away.
And once again in my mind, I was the malach ha'mavet, the skeletal hand beneath the black robes reaching out to end any joy the world ever had.
-Scythe and bone
No light to see
Where the moon once shone
There is only me-
…I remember falling. I remember it very well.
I was sitting, minding my own business, with my scythe in my lap, when all of a sudden, several figures blocked out my sunlight. I looked up and saw an archangel—always a bad sign—along with a few seraphim and cherubim. Cherubim, by the way, are not chubby naked babies. Nup, nuh-uh.
So I looked up and inquired innocently as to just what the hell they were doing. And a seraph curtly informed me, in these words, "Your time in Heaven is over. Aida, Angel of Death, you will be fallen."
I remember jumping up, my hands carefully wrapped around the scythe. "What did I do?"
"It doesn't matter," said the seraph again. Greeeeat.
It was a bit of blur, what started happening next. There was some shouting from outside the circle of my pushers, but I don't think I listened to it at all. I remember hitting one of the angels in front of me with my scythe. I couldn't kill him—the scythe couldn't kill another angel unless God Himself willed it—but I didn't really care. And I told the angel I'd hurt that I knew I wouldn't kill him—I just wanted him to suffer.
I remember being cocky. It didn't matter to me anymore; Heaven didn't matter. If it didn't need me, I didn't need it. I said something like, "It's not fair to the other angels if you just give it to me! I'll have to earn it." I remember seeing Sidya and Redemption rushing over from one side, Daron and Lesetan on the other, but I remember thinking that they had nothing to do with this and it'd be over soon enough.
They pushed me over with my scythe still in hand.
All I could really see while I fell, as I remember it, was the shining red blood on my shining silver scythe. And I remember, as I fell, that I was glad I'd done it—but then there was nothing, no gladness or regret.
There was only darkness.
-My mind wanders
And falls toward the dark
A frightening view
Of a landscape stark-
…I remember that it was dark when I opened my eyes. It wasn't pitch-black, because then I would've assumed I was blind because of the fall and started screaming until someone hit me across the face and knocked me back out. No, I wasn't that lucky. I wish I had been blind then.
It was a half-dark, lit by candles whose flames were balancing themselves precariously against the wind. And by the half-dark, I saw Daron looking at me. It took a long moment for me to realize that I wasn't in some gross part of Heaven, but that Daron had fallen, too. He was bleeding gently from a wound near his temple. I could see that his hands and feet were bound, and his beautiful, grey wings were broken. The bones had snapped and feathers were sticking out in disarray all over. I remember that one of his wings looked stunted, but the other still had part of the wing hanging on from where it had broken.
"Hey," he said hoarsely. "The little hero's awake now."
I remember being suddenly, painfully aware of my wings. They weren't broken; the bone structure of my wings had actually stayed intact. But I could feel great, gaping holes in the leather stretches, huge rips that felt like my skin had been torn apart. There might have been blood, but I don't remember if there was. "Whaddya mean, hero?" I said slowly, breathing deeply.
"Did you even know what you were doing before they pushed you over?" Daron asked. I shook my head. I mean, of course I knew that I'd said and done things, but I didn't really know what Daron was getting at. "You stood up to those other angels. You fought back."
"I can't believe you fell. I mean—the Angel of Creation."
"We all fell. You, me, Sidya, Red, and Lesetan." Daron coughed. "I don't know where any of the others are. I woke up and here we were."
I remember looking around and realizing painfully that it was, in fact, just Daron and me. It looked like we'd been laid out on stone biers in the middle of a cave. We couldn't have landed in a cave. We'd been brought here. "No one else fought like you did," Daron continued. "Not even Lesetan. We were all screaming and crying, but we didn't fight. We struggled, but you…you jumped over. Did you mean to do that? You didn't even let them push you."
I was quiet then, I know. I wanted to know why we'd fallen. Not one of us had done anything that we weren't made to do. I wanted to know. I spotted my scythe lying on the ground beside me. I thought if I could fall down next to it, I could cut my bonds. But as I struggled to roll over, I felt a cold hand on my shoulder. I remember the trepidation I felt as I turned over.
I was looking into blood-red eyes, the eyes of a demon. Daron was only a few feet away from me, but staring into those horrifying, honest eyes, I had never felt more alone.