Genesis – Chapter 6: (1) Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, (2) that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. (3) Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (4) The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (5) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (6) The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
And so it was, after those earliest days in the wake of the creation of the physical realm, that we were no longer able to go between the worlds. Save for a few errands handed out only to the chosen few, there was to be no more fraternising between the sons of God and those of men. It had been so brief a time that we had shared with the humans and so long ago now, that the memory had faded for most. The humans had been a disappointment to Him even back then and the rift only grew over the centuries. They were no longer deemed worthy of our companionship and there was certainly to be no bearing of our children. Some of those early human infractions seemed slight now in comparison to the transgressions of later centuries, but He was still fair enough towards them to continue to judge each of them by merit on a case by case basis.
Our team was one of the few who still had any contact, although our interactions always take place in our own environment. There is no reason for any of us to go over to the physical realm and when tasks needed to be done there, He had other angels to do that for Him. It was understood to be that way and no questions were ever raised about the way things were, because we knew that any decision He made was the right one. Even in our roles, there was no real decision-making to be done, because the criteria speak for themselves and dictate the outcomes required.
Candidates are assigned categories before they even come to our attention, but I never thought to ask who made those decisions. I always supposed that He would do that Himself, but it could easily have been delegated to one of the inner circle. Laveziel’s specialist category was the cyclicals, who as the name would suggest are given several chances to live their same life over, often making few changes from their previous choices, sometimes making no changes at all. I was generally charged with the reincarnates, who would each be assigned their next stage according to a rigid scoring system. Intriel dealt with most of the terminations. Apparently that particular word has negative connotations to humans, as they tend to fear the ends of things, but words tend to mean different things to us and besides, Intriel’s cases had the most interesting process. The questioning and scoring process which led to a variety of outcomes was much more involved and intricate than they were for myself or Laveziel. Some would stay, others be banished, still others assigned back to myself or Laveziel to start out anew and try to earn their way back into Intriel’s caseload. It seemed to follow some sort of order, with reincarnates working through their various stages, then becoming cyclicals when they had scored above a given threshold. Cyclicals tend to repeat a particularly challenging life-term, given several chances to make all the correct choices under the same given circumstances. They rarely deviate from the same pattern and get stuck in the same loop over and over again, so it tends to be a tedious and repetitive category. It was only through making some kind of change from their original pattern that they would then progress to termination, which usually seemed an arbitrary change to any of us. The scoring methods seemed to correlate more with the effect of the choices on other humans than on the candidate themselves. It was beyond our comprehension as to why that would matter, but of course that is why these decisions are left to Him and Him alone.
Most of the time, we were each equally satisfied with the rate of work in our own specialities but, when we would have an influx from a localised region of the physical realm, there tends to be a concentration of one category or another. I never took the time to learn what humans meant by East and North and South and West, so I couldn’t tell you whether there were mostly reincarnates in the South of the world, or if there were times of mostly cyclicals in the East or terminations in the North, but apparently He always had a preference for grouping candidates from the various categories together, with obvious exceptions being made seemingly at random. It was common for candidates to be unsurprised by the process that was assigned to them, as their myths and lore were usually fairly congruent with the concentration of similarly assigned fates in their geographical regions. There was probably a benefit to that for them, some comfort perhaps, but I cannot think what that could be. Not that I ever really understood much about the humans.
It came to pass that a plague had been unleashed in some part of the world with a particularly high concentration of termination candidates, so after quickly dispensing with the few who fit into our own caseloads, Laveziel and I started to help with processing some of Intriel’s visitors. The third of my assignments was a soul of great beauty, who must have been descended from the children of angels from generations ago, when we and mankind were encouraged to socialise together. There was something about the soul which was familiar and yet unique, glowing with goodness and yet visibly shaken from a life of hardships and horrors. I was taken aback for a moment at the striking allure of it, having seen thousands of souls but never one so luminescent and enchanting.
“Hello there, my name is Sempyrian,” I made a welcoming motion as the soul entered my sphere.
“Oh, I was expecting Saint Peter and pearly gates….” The soul trailed off as they looked around, with not much to observe.
“So you were a Catholic?” I asked, already making a metal note to myself to assign the corresponding score.
“No, I’m not… That is to say, I wasn’t religious, it’s just a cliche thing that everyone seems to think where I come from.” That sadness crept through again as it spoke.
“Ah, I understand, well we just need to go through a few questions,” I tried to adopt my usual reassuring tone, which I knew to be effective despite not knowing the dynamics of why it was useful. “And I am sure you will have questions of your own. Then we shall determine your next stage and you will be free to move on.”
“What kind of things do you need to know?”
“How you have used your one hundred and twenty years.”
“I didn’t get a hundred and twenty years -”
“It is the number of years that all sons and daughters of man are given, but I have not met one who lived them all,” I explained. “Your choices and those of others can all remove time from your allocation. The things you engage with, the energies you trade and consume… There are many ways that your time is compromised.”
“So, like drugs and alcohol?”
“Amongst many other things.”
“Will being gay go against me?” Asked the soul timidly.
“What do you mean, go against you?”
“Will I automatically go to Hell if I lived on earth as a homosexual?”
“No. That is of no consequence at all.” I assured the nervous soul. “We know not of gender here. We had no cause for it when we were created, having no need for reproduction. Even when we were allowed to be with humans, we sought only beauty without knowledge of those things and had not known reproduction had been possible until He made it so. We did not know the differences between you until some types bore children through exchanges of energy, while others did not.”
The soul looked confused and began to speak again, but fell silent.
“None of that is of consequence now.” I continued. “It is a long and complicated tale, which you may have opportunity to learn another time. Those things are not criteria by which we judge. He has only ever encouraged loving one another; a teaching which tends to appear in the myths and philosophies, but becomes buried in other superstitions and dogma.”
I began the interview in earnest, relishing in the opportunity to handle terminations and simultaneously intrigued by the beguiling form before me. The scores bounced back and forth, with actions scoring positively and negatively in more equal measure than I had seen before. A complicated life, with good intentions leading to bad decisions and circumstances dictating desperation. Actions taken without thought for the self, yet many without regard for others. Love and anger mixed with bitterness and kindness. It was proving to be a close case, which may even call for arbitration without a significant pull in either direction.
“How much of it did we have right?” The soul asked, almost absently at a random point in the conversation.
“What do you mean?”
“How much of our religions on earth were right about God and Heaven and how we should be living?”
“There were allegorical truths scattered through your texts, but often obscured or misinterpreted. Some by small errors, others by outright fabrications and falsehoods.”
“What was the main thing we got right?” Asked the soul, its beautiful innocence and inquisitive nature making the energy around us tingle and crackle. I paused for a moment to consider the question.
“I should guess, from what little I know, that it would be of sin and karma,” I admitted. “Neither term is how we refer to it, but the manner by which your lives are conducted is the key determining factor in your eventual fate, so the core of those concepts are sound.”
The soul nodded, looked downwards and, from what I’ve come to learn about their movements and energies, seemed to expect the worst. I felt moved to offer it some comfort, but refrained, maintaining the professional dignity becoming of my station. The list of transgressions was still growing at a similar rate to the acts of kindness and better choices. It could still go any number of ways.
The memories of the soul played out in the forefront of my mind and I felt the energies, intentions and motivations as it propelled and replayed its way through a lurid tale. Despite the ravages of the life it had lived, there were times of such strength and times of admirable tenacity. There were moments of tenderness and of joy which had lit up its face with a smile that warmed the core of me. Then there was the end. The awful, truly terrible end, which stopped me in shock for a moment. I watched it unfold and felt the intentions in the heart of it. Now the sadness in the atmosphere between us was mixed with my own. Those last few moments had scored the case definitively. It was a clear case of banishment; to share the fates of the dissenters and the lost. Yet I was moved to do something… other.
I did not understand it then, nor can I fully explain it now, but my sympathy for this soul had left me feeling changed somehow. A possibility to act otherwise from what had been determined. It was an other-worldly thought, smothered and yet animated simultaneously by the knowledge of the danger in this power. It was doing something other which had precipitated the fall of those before us, yet this was unselfish and I justified the thought to myself as being altruistic. A kindness.
“There are many failures in your choices and intentions,” I declared. “Yet there is something within you, some potential, something beautiful. I believe that other circumstances and a different life would have brought about a wholly different outcome for you. Termination seems premature.”
“Definitely!” Agreed the soul with a flash of surprise and a dancing light appearing in the energy around it for the first time. “If given another chance I could show you that I would live a better life.”
“It would be of little use to place you in a cyclical pattern.” I considered aloud. “You shall enter the reincarnate process and be born anew. Your circumstances will all be different to those you experienced in your previous life and we shall see if, in this time around, you can demonstrate the true nature of your soul.”
“Thank you, thank you. I will make you proud.” The soul promised, suddenly revitalised and exploding with happiness and gratitude.
As it left my sphere and I contemplated what had just happened, I was racked with guilt and confusion. The enormity and yet necessity of my action, of even the thought behind the act, was almost absurd. Had I acted against His rule, in opposition to His will? Was it possible for me to have done so? Yet there it was and the thing was done. I wondered if I had justified placing the soul in my own caseload so as to ensure seeing it again one day. Could I have been motivated in such a way? It was made more plausible by the very fact that I could even question it now.
As I considered and wondered and questioned it all, there was a sudden shift in the Heavens. A rumbling came from the central quarters of the realm. It was clear that He knew immediately what had been done. The energy around me flickered, humming with excess and bursting with a bright-burning glow like breathing embers. My head hung to my chest as I sought out Intriel and Laveziel to explain what I had done.
“It seemed unjust to banish a soul so heavy with sadness and so trapped by factors beyond its control,” I explained.
“Unjust?” Intriel’s face bore confusion and disapproval in equal measure. “Do you mean to say that His methods are wrong?”
“No, I have never questioned Him in any way. It had never before seemed necessary or even possible to do so, but this particular instance moved me to special consideration. I do not even doubt Him now, yet my actions are done.”
“Was it the beauty of the thing?”
“That seemed to play some part,” I muttered. “I do not understand the influence of it, yet it stays with me still. It was a sight beyond vision and a presence beyond proximity. It was His work at its apex in indeterminate ways. That sadness, though. The wretch had been moved to its every choice and it was as though I understood the many plights which had found their way to it.”
“I do not understand, Sempyrian. How can it be that your will was to do something other than His will? I cannot fathom it.” Laveziel interjected. Both were shaking their heads and contorting their faces.
“I would explain further if I could comprehend it for myself.” I said, equally bewildered.
There was utter silence for a few moments, all three of us pushed to discomfort by the uncertainty and nonsense of it all. How could it be, indeed? Yet it was. Despite our inability to grasp it, the situation remained and we all knew that I would have to pay penance. I was resigned to it as soon as the act was done.
“Who are they sending from the inner circle?” Laveziel asked of Intriel.
“They are sending word through me, though I am yet to receive any message,” he answered, looking sadly now to me rather than addressing the answer to Laveziel, who in turn averted his eyes to floor. The frame of Laveziel’s form reminded me of how the soul had been when it had been expecting the worst possible outcome.
“Do you think I will share the fates of Lucifer and Azazel?” My voice quivered in nervous anticipation. Neither replied, so I just let the question hang there and joined them in their silence. Now it was my turn to expect and assume the worst.
All at once, Intriel arose and became engulfed with a newness to his aura. Light and power were within him and in a flash it all became known to him. He sank back into his regular form as instantly as he had been magnified, setting his gaze upon me and placing a hand of comfort on my shoulder.
“It is by grace that you have been judged and His penance is fair,” he told me in a hushed and soothing tone. “I think you shall agree it to be so. You shall not be banished to the realm of the fallen.”
“Thank His goodness!” I exclaimed.
“However, as you have gone against His will, you must leave this place.”
“Then where and how shall I serve my sentence?”
“You shall be cast down to earth, to be amongst those who you have shown favour above Him. You showed allegiance to the sons and daughters of man by the nature of your choice, so now you shall have to observe the fallibility of their nature. You shall be amongst them, yet not of them. Sentenced to see and to experience their kind from a watchpost, of a sort.”
“Able to see them and yet not made human?” I asked.
“Cast into stone – a statue. You shall be above and amongst them, sentenced to observe the imperfections of them until such time as the statue is no more. Only when the stone into which you are cast blows in the wind as sand and dust can you return, only then having seen enough to atone for your choice.” He spat the word ‘choice’ as if it was sulphur against his tongue. Angels do not make choices.
I nodded in agreement, though it was not my agreement to make. I thought this justice beyond any fairness I should have expected. It was gracious and merciful by virtue of His nature. I was thankful, though now feeling fear for the first time. I did not care for it. Intriel dropped his hand from my shoulder and turned from me, though from the energy around him I could feel his sorrow and continued bafflement at any and all of it. He was frustrated at the situation and at me for inventing it. He reached out a hand to Laveziel and they bowed their heads to each other in a moment of silent fellowship. Then they turned to me and, still holding hands in between them, they each raised their outer hands and channelled His will. It took but a light-soaked instant before I heard wind and birdsong around my head and the chattering of humans below my feet.
I am a strange paradox in my new form, displaying publicly my true self and yet concealed by a disguise made up of what I truly am now. A statue of an angel; so an angel still, yet only stone and not truly an angel at all. All at once I was truth and lies, because I was awake and so, was I not still an angel? But confined in this form, in this realm, I could not be further from my heavenly form and so, not really an angel any longer. Am I simply a statue if I think and can see with the thoughts and the sight that belonged to me as an angel? But how can I be any more than a statue when I lack the power to move or speak or to influence the world around me in any way? I cannot touch or feel, not that I would know what either of those sensations meant in this place any longer. I could not communicate beyond my own inner monologue, nor could I do anything but observe, so I was in a state of ambiguity. More angel than statue, yet much more statue than myself.
When people were nearby, I knew them. I could see the thoughts of their minds and the intentions of their hearts. I knew their desires and their fears, their motivations and their histories. I experienced the whole of them in a moment. When there were groups, I knew them all, from the corners and edges of the square to the balconies and rooftops. Sometimes I knew hundreds of souls at once, while other hours passed without anyone to know. I could only know them while they were in my view, being torn from them as they passed beyond the walls.
Decades passed with many lessons learned. Brawls spilled from the tankards of bars, families squabbled in front of their neighbours and cast heinous insults upon each other, protests turned to riots and theft was rife whether the square was lit by sun or moon. There were conspiracies to deceive and betrayals and lies in almost every heart. Having been created out of love, they had, as a whole, betrayed their fundamental cause and had lost any resemblance they once had to us or to Him. It did not take long before I understood why He was infuriated, frustrated and wounded by their ways.
Worse still was the sadness. Before we knew of men and women, we also knew nothing of sadness. No such energy existed with the angels, because we were with Him and that was all we wanted or needed. Even now, the only ones who ever experience it are those who have dealings with the sons and daughters of men and only by means of sympathy. Down here it was heavy and thick in the air, clogging the hearts and clouding the minds of so many. I had to feel it all along with them and could offer no comfort nor ignore the wails of their damaged souls. We were spared such hardships because we had not wants or needs, yet these wretches lived and died for things they either desired or required, held out of reach by tragic circumstance, or else by the greed and designs of the more privileged or more devious.
The weight of it would have crushed me if not for the glimpses of goodness I saw. Couples in love, children playing, sons taking their mothers to the markets and friends taking care of one another. These were the moments of connection with the humans which I cherished. I once saw a man carry his injured cat through the square, supporting it one hand so that he could stroke its head with the other. He whispered comforts to it in a language that he knew the cat could not understand, but hoping his tone and all the power of his love for the animal would ease its pain and return it to health. The man was crying for the cat and the strength of his love for his fellow creature would have melted the metal armour worn by men of hatred.
Then there was the woman who threw herself into the path of an oncoming horse and cart, knocking a young child out of the way so that she would be trampled and run over by the wheels in the child’s stead. Even in the haste of the moment, she knew the painful fate before her and cared not a speck for her own well-being. The child had not been known to her, but there was a flash of the love for her own children as she launched her body into the road. She escaped with her life, but was only ever seen in the square on crutches after that day, not that her handicap ever dampened her spirit and I knew that she had no regret for her action that day.
There had also been a different child who had shown incredible kindness to a vagrant. It is probably my favourite memory of the humans. Having seen the man feeding pigeons each day in the square, the child had asked why a man with so little would cast food on the floor for the birds.
“Because,” said the man, “I know that the birds will be hungry and that no-one else is willing to feed them. Without my kindness, they will go hungry or survive on scraps which might be bad for them. I just think someone should care for them, because they are not able to do it for themselves. I may not have much, but a little of what I have is better than the nothing that they would have otherwise.”
The boy had taken this to heart and had returned later that afternoon with a sheet he had stolen from his own bed, as well as snacks and a bag of clothes. His father was with him and they gave the things to the homeless man, the father insisting that he take them and placing some money in his hand.
“We are not rich ourselves,” the father had said “but what you said to my son earlier has moved him to repay your kindness. Your being kind to the birds has made him want to do something noble and kind. I wanted to come and make sure that you accept his gifts and to give you my thanks.”
“Whatever could you thank me for?” Asked the ragged pauper, inspecting the offerings as though they were treasures beyond the imagination of men.
“You made him want to be kind to others with what you said today and I want him to see that it is a good and noble thing. It is the type of lessons I want him to learn so that he grows to be a good and decent man.”
He had shaken the vagrant’s hand as they departed and they returned every month with new gifts and supplies. The child and his father were the only ones who ever broke into smiles upon seeing the man, but he never became discouraged by the blank expressions and dismissive tones of everyone else he encountered. He came to the square every day to feed those birds, until the day came that he never came again. Still, that memory warms me inside, to think of the man with so little who still gave what he could, the kind boy and the father who rewarded the kindness in his son, hoping to make the world a better place for his son being in it.
It was these moments of goodness amongst the mire of the usual afflictions of the human spirit which sustained me as decades turned to centuries. Strange changes came with the passage of time, be they in attitudes, appearances or the habits and methods of the people around me. While my stone prison was admired in the early days for its grandeur and newness, the novelty of my presence had worn off almost completely after a decade or so. I truly was hidden in plain sight, with everyone so used my being there that few would even look towards me, unless by accident or when looking for something else. I found it peculiar when I became of interest again in my second century, having withstood the effects of the floods and fires which had ravaged the buildings in the square and beyond into the city, or what little I could see of it over the rooftops. I could not determine if it was the stone that my visage was carved from, the age and resiliency of my form, the shape and pose of my design or some other peculiarity which drew them to me. Still, they came in trickles at first and then in torrents as the years went by. After a few more decades it became almost daily, with several groupings of them arriving at different times, some groups accompanied by a guide, others finding their own route and marvelling for themselves. Their presence was a gift to me, for those who gathered had no inkling of malice and no wicked intentions. Many had travelled hundreds of miles and their only greed was for beauty and awe. When they were gathered around me, I could soak in the goodness of them and all but ignore the conniving and depression beyond the edges of their huddled mass. As I reached the middle of my third century in this form, these gatherings below me had become a sanctuary in the slow torment of my stillness.
Around that time it came to pass that I saw a familiar soul one night, passing through the square under cover of darkness. It was the soul for whom I served this sentence, but its beauty was clouded and shrouded in a blanket of anger. It was not alone as it marched with purpose and dark intent, accompanied by a demon who followed close behind. The demon moved without movement and I could feel that his core was riddled with suffering and fury. He was a black hole in the darkness of space, so much darker than the night that he stood out against it as if he was made of light.
As they passed beneath me, the demon turned his head and looked directly up to me. He paused a moment and turned to resume his path, but something stopped him, perhaps a sense of my energy, if indeed demons can sense these things as we do. He slowly turned his head again, peering and staring at me. Then, in an instant, he leapt through the air and was on me, crouching on the wing of my cold, grey shell and looking into the chiseled eyes of what men thought angels looked like. He glared and pondered, eyeing me with suspicion and doubt.
“You… are an angel…” he mused aloud in sly mockery. “A real one, encased in a statue. But why?”
I did not answer him, as I had never had dealings with demons and had no desire to satiate his curiosity. I wished him away, but yet he stayed and continued to tilt his head in different directions, flicking his tongue and curling his lips in sinister amusement.
“I know you are there,” he said playfully before leaning towards me with a growling whisper, “I can feel that you are there. It is as good as sight. You may as well speak.”
“What do you want?” I reluctantly asked.
“So, you are in there!” He exclaimed with delight and laughed. “Why is an angel trapped here as a statue?”
“That is of no consequence to you. What are you doing with that soul?”
“What, that thing?” He casually motioned downwards into the square with a jerk of his head. “That’s mine. I acquired it some years ago through a trade. What do you care?”
“I am a son of God, we care for all of His creations.”
“Even the likes of me?” He asked with a voice dripping of sarcasm and a mouth twisted in sadistic pleasure.
“You all decided your own fate by going against Him.”
“And how did you go against Him?” His sickening smile never faltered. “You must have done something to subvert His will or question His judgment – Wait! I think I know you…”
“How could you know me? We do not know any of your kind.”
“My kind, eh? Charming, that. Well, whether you know us or not, we all know all of you. We study you. We watch you, all floating around and doing His will with barely a thought. What kind of existence is that if you have no thoughts of your own?”
“It is the only existence.”
“Evidently not,” he chuckled. “For here you are.”
“Just leave me be.” I tried to dismiss him, but he crouched still.
“You are one of the Judgers.” He said accusingly.
“I have never heard that word, so how could I be?”
“Well, that’s what we call you. The Judgers. The ones who pass His judgement on the dead and send them to their next stage. You are one of the three.”
“You are mistaken,” I lied.
“No, I’m not. You’re Laveziel… I think. Or… no, wait. It’s Sempyrian. Yes, that’s it, you’re Sempyrian.”
“How did you know my name?” I demanded.
“Oh, because you’re so important Sempyrian,” he laughed maniacally. “Or, at least, you were. How the mighty fall, indeed! The gracious and Holy Sempyrian, cast down to earth. The righteous passer of judgement, having judgement passed on him!”
The whole of him shook with his raucous laughter, intoxicated with his amusement at my plight. As he laughed I looked down to the soul he had left in the shadows beneath me. It lurked still, unmoving and in a state of readiness for something unkind.
“What are you doing with this soul? What purpose do you have to own it?”
“Tell me why you’re here and I’ll tell you what I have planned for it,” he said through a sharp-toothed grin.
I refused at first to barter information, knowing that knowledge is a dangerous thing to pass between realms, but equally that knowledge of his plan afforded me no power to stop him. Then I realised that if they can watch and study us, that he would be able to find out the cause of my banishment from elsewhere, but if he told me his plan I may be able to convince him to do otherwise. In the hope of my limited ability being enough, I told my sorrowful tale to widened eyes and involuntary gasps of wicked glee. I omitted the detail that the soul in question was the same one as in our presence, of course. If he were to know that, I suspected that no amount of reasoning would work, although as I saw the revelry in his countenance at the telling of my story, I wondered if he would be capable of reason at all.
“This is fantastic!” He bellowed at the end. “What a tale this is. The mighty Judger, being judged for passing judgement which went against His judgement!”
“I am not a ‘Judger’ as you call it. It is not a matter of us passing judgement.”
“But that is what you did in this case, no?”
“Yes, it seems so,” I admitted, “But what we do is not passing judgement.”
“Then what would you call it?”
“We simply process the souls. There is little to no consideration on our part. We know what His will would be and we just refer or transport the souls accordingly.”
“And is that not judgement of some kind?”
“We are arbitrators, acting accordingly from His criteria.”
“Just following orders, sir!” The demon sneered with a mocking salute. “You are all pathetic. You cannot even take credit for your role with Him.”
“It is not a matter of taking credit, it is simply a matter of doing what is right. What is right is whatever He determines it to be.”
“Evidently not,” he chuckled, just as before. “For here you are.”
I felt the crush of defeat at the hand of his observation. Overwhelmed for a moment with sadness, I glanced down again at the soul poised in the cover of darkness below, using my shadow for extra cover in the already suffocating night.
“Now it is your turn,” I demanded. “Tell me how you came to own this soul and what you plan to do with it.”
“Okay,” the demon said, growing more serious for the first time since he had flown up to me. “Well, I first saw it a few years ago, back when I had another soul in my possession. Something about grabbed my attention, it was just so beautiful. I couldn’t quite explain it. So, I started to watch it every now and then, coming back around to check on it and wait for an opportunity. I would have happily taken on two at once if it meant that I could have that one. Anyway, it didn’t work out that way because the first one had managed to win his freedom from me on a wager. I like to take wagers. It makes things interesting. After that one had gotten away, I was angry for my loss and I waited and waited to get an opportunity to take this one. I got the chance a few years ago when it went through a time of hardship and loss. It was near destitution and offering prayers to God and all of His angels, but as usual, there was no reply. That’s when it got so desperate that it shouted out from the pits of its lungs, demanding an answer to its prayers “Whether it be from the Heavens or from the Devil and his demons…”, which sounded like an apt invitation to me. So I came to it and changed its fortunes. Now is the time to repay its debt to me.”
“And how is it to do that?” I asked
“By taking the life of the first soul who outmaneuvered me on that wager,” he smirked. “You see, I have manipulated them against each other, which was easy enough to do. They are both in the forms of men at present, so are easily swayed by the visage of a woman. The first soul is married, so I put this one with the first one’s wife and now the first is on his way here to try to kill this one. When he arrives, he will meet his demise.”
“How do you know that this one will kill the first and not the other way around?”
“Well, I don’t really care all that much, to be honest. It could go either way and I would still be amused by it, but even if it went the other way I could seek another way to end the first soul. This one has something about it which makes me think it will be strong. It seems like it may be descended from when humans and angels could breed – something… extra about it.”
I thought best not to question him further on the subject, not wanting to rouse his suspicions of me. I thought about how odd it was that a demon saw the same unknowable quality about this soul as I had myself when I first encountered it. I had never considered demons and angels to be alike in any way, so it was uncomfortable for me to think of it now. But yet that quality exists in that human soul and we could both see it, even now, though dampened and concealed by the agent of evil in its company.
“What if I was to tell you that I have wager for you, but that it would be for this soul?”
“No. Entertained as I am by the thought, it is too late to save it from this fate now.”
“It is not too late until the first man arrives to fight.”
“I don’t care. I have set these wheels in motion and am keen to see them turning.”
“But, you just said that you could easily seek retribution another way.”
“But why bother, when I have the means at my disposal now?”
“For the sake of making a wager with an angel. What a story that would be, to tell to your kin when you return.”
He tilted his head while he considered my proposal, but ultimately shook it dismissively.
“This soul must be valuable to you if you would be willing to make a wager with the likes of me, so therefore it would be valuable to us. I shall keep it and when the deed is done the fate of it will be sealed. It will be coming to us when it expires.”
With that, he leapt the ground beside his cohort and waited the few minutes before another man burst into the square with a yell. I was helpless as the two clashed and beat each other without mercy. Both were bloodied and struggling to breathe, swinging their fists and soaked in the laughter of the demon as the echoes of it swilled around the square. I had to watch as they crashed each others’ heads into the floor and kicked each other in the face, as they punched and choked each other. The fight seemed to last an age, until it came to a slow, painful and unwilling end. The two gripped each other and lunged, smashing their heads together with an almighty crack and falling to the floor. They fell apart from each other and lay still. Each unconscious but alive, for now. The cold of the night would take care of the rest. The demon stood over them, watching as they took their final breaths, first the one, then the other.
“Fantastic!” Exclaimed the demon, turning his head towards me and raising his arms in triumph. “They have each murdered the other. Both shall be judged accordingly and will be sent back to us when your friends are done with their process! What do you think of that, Sempyrian?”
“Just leave this place.” I said in disgust, wishing I could turn away from the pathetic and tragic sight before me.
The demon did leave, but I could hear his chilling laughter long after he was gone.
It was hard to find pleasure in anything after that. A soul I had thought was pure and beautiful had been corrupted and destroyed, condemned to damnation, without a doubt. The corruptibility of man was a sad thing to see, but it was everywhere and I could no longer ignore it. Even the crowds who gathered in their search for beauty failed to inspire good feelings within me. Then came the war, when smoke and explosions and death filled the air for years at a time. There was a brief respite for a time and the people in the square gathered and spoke of peace talks and negotiations. Then the bombs came.
As the explosions tore through the houses and ripped up the cobbles from the ground of the square, people screamed and ran. I wondered if this would be my time to return to Heaven, having fully learned my lesson and having seen the disappointment that the human race had become. Then the blast. It tore through the body of the statue, exploding it to powder which rained down around the hysterical men and women who were searching for cover. Unfortunately it did not take all of me, but when what was left hit the floor there was an almighty crash and the head was smashed from the neck with a loud crack. Then, a painful silence as everyone waited for another explosion. Thankfully for them, it did not come.
As my head rolled around over the disrupted cobbles and thick black dust, I could see the chunks of my body and wings cast asunder and scattered across the whole square. There were sections of buildings and broken bodies lying all around. It took days for the debris to settle and days more for the rubble to be cleared away. I hoped that they would destroy my head now that the rest of me was gone, but I was carried away and left in a silent room with other artefacts recovered from the battlefield and the remnants of a culture that had been ravaged by destruction. There I stayed for three decades, gathering a different type of dust in the forgotten stillness.
When they eventually came for me, I was placed on display inside a glass case in a museum along with other religious art. Soon enough I was surrounded by crowds again, all in search of beauty and knowledge of a world that came before them. It was not the same as it had been before, but it was better than the silence and further away from men and women with cruel intentions. The crowds would gather and wonder at the beauty and intricacy of the paintings, trinkets and sculptures from centuries past. They pointed and marvelled as they had done when I was towering above them in the square, speaking in hushed tones about who could have created such a wonder and what story he had been trying to tell.
Then one day I saw a soul I had seen before. Not the beautiful soul who I had saved in vain so many years ago, but another who had struck me. It was the father whose child who had been kind to the vagrant in the square, who had brought him blankets to repay the kindness that the man had shown to the pigeons. The child was not with him, but I did not expect it to be so. The father was in a new form and living a new life, reincarnated to try again with different challenges and circumstances. The child had probably grown into a good and kind man as the father had hoped. If so, he would have been sent to termination when he passed and probably resided in Heaven with the other souls who had earned their way. The father was now in the form of a child and was staring at me through the glass.
As he stared, a little girl nearby in shabby clothes and with a shabby father began to cry. She wanted a drink, but the father tried to hush her, telling her that she would have to wait until they get outside. He looked embarrassed and whispered to her that he could not afford to buy her a drink in the museum, but that he would buy her a fruit juice when they passed by a shop. The girl cried louder and the father’s face grew redder. The little boy turned around and looked at them, then reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a carton of fruit juice and looked at his mother. She nodded and he ran over, handing her his drink and telling her that everything was okay now. The father looked to the boy’s mother, who mouthed that it was fine. He mouthed back “Thank you” and smiled a humble smile. The boy came back to his mother looking purely happy as the girl slurped her drink with a giggle, her tears but a memory. It was but a tiny act, but one which I hoped would signal that the soul could become as good a man as the son he had once raised. Maybe this time he would be moved to termination and a welcome to the ranks of the worthy in Heaven.
Then I wondered how long it would be until I could return to Heaven and what I would say when I returned. They would ask me if I had learned my lesson, which I have. They would ask me if I felt shame for what I had done, which I do. They would ask me if I held the sons and daughters of man in contempt and I would have to tell the truth. No matter what the outcome, no matter the risk of further penalty. I would have to tell them what I had learned:
“There is still good in them.”