The Lightbringer attended to his duties.
Idly, he ate a wormy pomegranate, dressed in a white tunic. Black veins ran like a map across his back, spreading to chalk-white shoulders. He lingered in the shadows, watching the Milky Way canoe toward the outer boundaries of heaven. The stars hung like fireflies above, reflecting off the perfection of his skin as he stood under the boundless moon. The satellite drifted slowly across the hours, and the music of the spheres churned as time’s machinations moved the night to day.
Cherubim whirled above, shifting mixtures of man and beast that carried the heavens on their backs. They shepherded the stars, singing in ethereal tones. At a glance they resembled dragons with human faces blossoming from pearly wings. Their backs were shelled like tortoises or jeweled beetle carapaces that upon closer inspection resembled intricate, interlocking armor. One could not discern if their human forms were consumed in biological plating or if they truly were chimeras.
He watched them. Once, that had been his duty, but no more. He softly touched the twin scars that mounted his shoulder-blades. The old red fire of the wound flared. He smirked, then put out the Morning Star – proudest in all the constellations – with his thumb. The planet Venus dimmed, only to blaze into life again when he lowered his hand. He laughed drily and finished the fruit, tossing it over the canyon rim below.
The song of the cherubim lilted. They descended like flaming wheels, swooping down below into the landscape obscured by night. Their voices faded to silence. The angels’ chimeric forms resolved into those of men. In hollows of darkness they stood, flesh beginning to glow, then blazed into pillars of light. Each beam rocketed up into the sky to match a star above. The stars flickered in time with their breaths.
He smiled at his brothers’ devotion as his chest began to thrum like a drumbeat. The skin over his heart glowed blue-white, burning with sweet agony. He contained a scream that would have rose to ragged ululations of ecstasy, just as each of his brothers held their tongues.
Gritting his teeth, he let his glory pour forth. It seared, the substance of divinity firing upward to Venus. His mind was consumed; he let the waves of pain rush against him like water crashing to shore. The frothing foam scattered memories like sea glass: his Father’s hands in his, teaching him to shape the cosmos to his will. His fingers on the locks of a yellow-haired girl, braiding them meticulously with roses. He recalled how his hands had fumbled then, picking the thorns off for her before wending the vines between the golden strands. He had had no callouses then, no scars-
The fires of the heavens roared like a waterfall. The sun was on the verge of rising. His pain intensified. He closed his eyes, clasping his hands in prayer.
Hands told stories; some said they determined fate. A heart line slashed across a palm spoke of love, a six-lined star meant protection. The meanings, for mortals, were endless.
His hands were blank. The only marks on his skin were the ones he had earned.
“Where is your fate line?” she had asked long ago, laughing.
“Fate line? I have none, Eve.”
“That is a pity. How can you choose your destiny, if you have no guide to it?” She traced the absence of his palms.
He flexed his pinions. “I have my wings- that is enough.”
She touched their snowy whiteness. “Flying is one thing, brother, but without a map, where will you go?”
“I know where I am going, child. Some paths are best left unknown.”
But he had strayed down shady roads in the coming eons, and the pearly wings grew to not be enough.
One evening, he tried drawing delicate curves on his palms with her sewing needles. Over and over he dug them, deeper into his flesh, until the needles stuck through his hand. Each time they healed, devoid of scars. She caught him unawares and screamed when she saw him.
“Not like this!” she had howled, plucking the needles from his palms and bandaging him with torn strips of her dress. She ran her fingers through his hair, hands so soft and cool against his temple they could be milk. So small he could enfold them like a butterfly, which he did. He steadied her shaking, afraid she would crack like a doll. “This is my fault,” she wept as he rocked her. “You have no need of stupid fate lines. Your wings are enough to guide you. Can’t you see how whole you are? I am not. I was jealous of you, brother, jealous! You are the prince of the angels, have all and I have nothing. I am made of dust and sorrow; I walk through the dirt and mud. Father regrets me – he damns my curiosity, I, who was merely made to revel in creation. I am a broken thing: I go against my nature in craving to create what I am meant to enjoy. Ever since we were expelled from Eden, I cannot read the damned things on my hands.”
He clasped her hands in his, wings enfolding her. “I can,” he whispered, “and you are the most whole thing I have ever known.”
“You can read them?” she asked weakly. “What do they say?”
“They say that you are the wisest of all creatures, Eve, and that nothing I have done is your fault. That in you lies the fire of a million generations. The only fate we control is our own.”
Her gaze could still the ocean: “Then promise me you will never do anything that hurts you, ever again, Lucifer. Promise me you will be gentle as you have always been and treat yourself with the same care you give me.”
“I promise, Eve. Though I would not call myself gentle-”
She silenced him with a kiss, both ignoring that the way their paths were headed, it was a promise he would not keep. He recalled how he had cupped her face like it was manna. His hands, entwined in her hair –
The sun crept closer to the rim of the horizon. His heart scorched, ribs burning in his chest. Tears welled in his eyes. Those hands, which he would now shudder to place on her snowy flesh, broke their fervent prayer.
He examined them, removed. They profaned all they touched, sullied with the stains of ages. Blood, tears, piss, plagues. Yet no matter what he did, they remained clean. His brothers were all the same. Try as they might, they could not write their own stories. All they did was erased from their skin.
Their fates had been determined for them. The only scars they were allowed to keep were those earned at ultimate cost.
The stars blotted out one by one, waiting. He flexed his fingers. Once, the slender digits had brought life to mortal lips. Now they drew souls out of mouths. Just like he had cast off one name for another, he had traded purposes after the Fall:
“No,” he had pleaded, tears in his eyes. “My name is Lucifer. The bright and morning star.”
“And now it is Samael, the poison and venom of God. Your gifts will be suffering and death.”
“No! I am the Lightbringer!”
“And now that light would burn you. Death cannot bear life. You killed her in your folly! To repeat that would be madness-”
“I am beyond madness and your wretched salvation, Michael. Do not offer me repentance. I was trying to save her. I will save her! What is dead can be brought back to life. Eve’s soul is mine, mine.”
“You damned her from the moment she met you.”
He roared her name in agony. The Morning Star stood belfry to the first rays of sun. Pain forgotten, he was lost in the onslaught of his mind.
Hell is not a place, but the past. He carried it with him always. The angels below were lost in their own tortures. They pleaded their cases before the sun. Perhaps, this morning, they would be forgiven. For his brothers were each of them fallen, bereft of their Creator, alone.
The sun rose in judgment, washing out the light of the Morning Star. He screamed and doubled over as his flesh seared to the bone. The penetrating rays licked him the clean white bone of the Reaper, rendering him into a skeleton. He saw with eyes that were black hollows, and rose to embrace the deadly radiation.
The landscape pooled before him. A red desert raced out to brimming golden mountains, where dawn gently lapped over the ruins of a once magnificent city. It was carved into the cliff faces like Petra, inhospitable to humans. No steps or bridges connected the towering abodes – sheer drops followed the open doors – and there were none of the comforts of civilization, merely bare floors dusted with wildflowers. The fallen angels shook below as they prayed, flesh peeling as their blood pooled on the ground. Wind stirred the sand into molten plumes, like hourglasses in reverse, grains snaking through fallen pillars and stories upon stories of sandstone. It buffeted him, sliding between his ribs. A great thundering came from the distance.
“Welcome, brother,” he murmured as the solar angel stirred to his vigil. Soon, a figure shadowed the sun. Michael landed atop the sere cliff, facing his twin. “Time to slay the beast,” the Morning Star said.
Tears were in Michael’s eyes. “You know this is never necessary, Samael.” He laid his weapons at his twin’s feet.
“Your sword, dear brother, through the neck. Or the heart, if you prefer. I seem to lack one, I suppose. A downside to being bone-”
“Why, day after day, do you torment me with this?” The question hung like the gallows over their heads. “Our brothers below us are suffering. Above us, they are weeping. All Heaven and Hell become one, and you prolong it with your murder.”
“It is yours too, my twin,” he said, almost tender. The bone-man walked to Michael’s side, dabbing at the tears with his claw hands. “Damn these things,” he said, looking at his fingers in disgust. “I have had too much time alone with my palms.”
“In that we may find solidarity. Mine tire of bearing weapons. If you would only quit your stubbornness, the War would end immediately.”
“If only it were that simple. I always envied you your straightforward thinking. Whose load is heavier, brother: the Lightbearer, or he who bears the sword? One’s burden is insubstantial-”
“Enough with your damn riddles!” Michael roared, slapping the skull’s cheek. “Repent! Come home, brother. Be whole.”
Samael’s hand lingered on his smarting jawbone. “No.”
Michael took his brother’s shoulders in his hands. “Each day you pray for forgiveness, and we grant it to you. Then you reject it. You – all of you!-” he yelled across the canyons, down at the fallen ones, silver tears in his emerald eyes, “-choose suffering over redemption. Why, my brother? Why?”
“Because, Michael. It is our lot. The suffering, the scars, make us whole. There is no going back to Eden.”
“I know,” whispered Michael, sorrowful, “but I can hope.” He embraced his brother slowly, shaking, and kissed his bony brow.
“What is dead cannot be brought back to life, as you said so long ago. Look at me as I truly am,” Samael laughed drily. “Such a prince of angels I would make. No, that path is now yours, and your halo is ill-suited for me. The only crown fitting me is one of thorns.” He lifted Michael’s sword and pressed it to his ribs. “For her?” Samael asked gently.
Michael obliged. In a scene old as time, he slayed the beast, killing the darkness which would rise once more next evening, only to be slaughtered come morning tithe. Over and over they engaged in the battle, trapped in their own hells, hearts torn asunder anew. Samael had died many times – in truth, he craved it. As the Angel of Death, it was him. Each time, it brought him closer to her- in the blackness he could feel her, the hollow emptiness of his heart that marked her unknown grave.
Broken, Michael pushed him over the edge. Gabriel trumpeted above.
The earth opened like a great maw to swallow him up.
“Eve,” Samael called softly, plummeting into the abyss. The ground sucked the fallen angels down into the pit, denying them God’s saving grace. In their fall, they burned proud.
Michael wiped his blade clean of rot.
The tithe was paid.
The day was born.