CHAPTER 1 – RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

I remember having wings.

Back then, I spent a lot more time working with Father. Heck, back in those days, it seemed like Father tried to spare time for nearly anyone who asked for it. That was when we were all still developing The Plan. Father was so excited for The Plan and, since we were all a part of Father and a part of The Plan, we were excited alongside Him. We all had our purposes, assigned and appropriated before the beginning of time, and we flitted about with a jovial motivation that only the most wonderful of work environments could provide. This was, of course, before the concept of dissent and rebellion was established.

But I’ll get to that…

In the beginning, Father relied on His two hosts of spirits to work out His design for The Plan:

The Djinn, born of Father’s fire.

And the Angels, born of Father’s light.

The Djinn dug at the inner workings of the cosmos with their powerful flame, carving a vast and complicated universe from Father’s labyrinthine blueprints. As Father devised new chemical reactions and new forms of elemental fusion, the Djinn would test these experiments in the vast emptiness of space. They were beings of will and might; spending days upon days composing the largest structures and the smallest molecules with impossible patience. When something didn’t work- when what was supposed to be a dense crystal instead shattered upon the lightest touch, or when the molecular compound for water instead created marshmallows- they would bring their findings to Father. He would tweak His notes and send the Djinn back out into the field, where they would attempt His vision again. Though Father regarded them harshly, the Djinn worked their hardest to shape His universe.

The Angels were tasked with pondering the finer eccentricities of “physical law” and devising a world that did not require the workarounds that their magic had otherwise facilitated. They were philosophical and energetic beings; worried with the “why” more than the “how.” Angels were mostly good at pontificating and soapboxing, and their blustering arguments over ideas like “age” and “love” lead to decisions that made very little sense at all. Angels were bureaucrats before they had invented bureaucrats. More often than not, Father would step in on their heated debates to explain how He wanted His ideas to be expressed on a universal level. As the crowds dispersed, one could always hear the skulking grumblings of one Angel or another, expressing with no self-awareness that “What Father just said was what I was trying to get at all along!”

I am technically an Angel, though I’ve always been a bit different from my brothers and sisters.

When I had approached Father and asked how He wanted me to help, His reply was brief and cryptic:

“We are in the creation stage of development. Your part comes a little while later.”

He barely regarded me with a sideways glance. His nose was forever buried in His notes and He was always being pulled in every direction by some other, more assertive spirit. I shied away at His presumption and began to sulk towards a corner to wait for my turn in the universe. My pathetic display must have caught Father’s attention as He suddenly set His gaze upon me.

“Little Azrael,” Father cooed. “Your task in all of this is of the utmost importance. As all things will come to be, so they must end. Once I find out exactly how they are supposed to end, I shall call on you. Until then…”

He slowly extended an enormous closed fist towards me until I was in reach. He uncurled His fingers and produced a wisp of cloud that contorted into the form of a large book.

“I would like for you to give every living thing that shall come to be in our Creation a name.”

“A name?” I repeated.

“Yes, a designation. Give every living plant and creature that we design a name and write it in the pages of this book. I need an inventory and I need it to be clear and concise.”

I took the tome from Father’s gigantic palm. I was about to ask how I was meant to write the name of every living creature if I didn’t even know what the word “write” meant, when my head was instantaneously filled with the gift of language.

Father smiled at my bewildered realization and offered His other massive hand towards me. He pinched the air with His thumb and forefinger and produced a writing quill made from a feather of brilliant purple and gold (I would later learn that this feather came from one of His discarded designs.) I took the pen and my muscles twitched with the immediate knowledge of perfect penmanship.

Father was once so generous.

“What happens when I’m done writing the name of every living creature that comes to be?” I asked, my voice dry.

“By that time, there will be another book,” Father explained and His look turned from kind to pensive. “When you are done writing all the names in the first, you will write them again in the second. When you are done writing all of the names down in the second book, there will be no need for either.”

Before I had time to ask for some clarification, a fat Cherubim had impatiently approached. It began to pester Father about the nature of odor or some other pedantic detail of The Plan. I did my best to recapture Father’s attention but, back then, I was such a tiny Angel and so my efforts were in vain. Father turned and moved to His next task.

Instead of pressing further, I opened my new book and looked within. The pages were all blank (of course they were; it was the first book ever created.) I was filled with an overwhelming sense of purpose and I sat to consider the first living creature that I was supposed to name.

I sat in my spot for a long time. It felt as though my head was filled with that sense of purpose and not much else. I became frustrated and considered that I was a failure to Father’s plan, that perhaps He would consider my lack of progress and unmake me. I slammed the book closed.

Just as my insecurities began to get the better of me, my thoughts were interrupted by the bickering of two nearby angels. I could see that one was holding a malleable, cylindrical something that writhed and slithered in her hands. She held it away from the second Angel who grabbed at it greedily. When he decided that he couldn’t grab the something from the first, the second angel’s face grew red with fluster and he cursed.

“Harut, you have created a horrid thing and Father will ridicule us for your lack of reason!”

“I think it’s cute, Marut,” the first Angel stuck out her tongue, “and I believe it will be a symbol of great importance when The Plan is ready.”

“We already have something like this in the designs! And unlike your foolish creation, it has legs!”

“This one doesn’t need legs!”

“A land creature that travels without legs?” Marut hissed, “Have you completely ignored the doctrine?”

“I think Father will like it.”

“Let me have it so I can destroy it and save us the embarrassment!”

“No!”

The Angels walked past, the second still pawing furiously at the first. They did not seem to notice me at all, though the thing on Harut’s arm had crawled atop her shoulder and looked at me with wonder. As our eyes met, it popped a little forked tongue in my direction. Harut was right: it was cute.

Without any warning, a thought entered my head and did its best to escape through my mouth. The image of the wriggly creature had seemed to turn itself into newly-formed letters in my imagination. Before I knew what I was doing, I spoke.

“Snek,” I said to no one in particular.

“Snek,” I said again. The word felt good in my mouth. My fingertips that held the golden quill tingled as I repeated the word over and over.

I opened up my book and I began to write.

💀

My knack for nomenclature developed at an even keel alongside Father’s universe. News of my purpose spread throughout the Heavens. Before long, a line of Heavenly spirits had collected in front of me. Each Angel had with them a prototype of their creation for me to evaluate. Some Angels held their ideas in the palms of their hands while others led their monstrous musings by lengths of solid chain. I had not told these gatherers to organize in any fashion. They had decided by their own desire to form a perfunctory queue and wait patiently for my attention. Angels were always so orderly.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK?” a Seraphim shouted at me as it approached from its place in the queue. It outstretched one of its six crimson wings and, nestled gingerly in its plumage, there sat an amorphous mass. The blob looked like if a water droplet was having a rather depressing day. At its base, a cluster of hair-like appendages flopped with morose nonchalance.

“Er,” I regarded the hopeful-looking Seraphim with skepticism, “this is supposed to be an animal?”

“INDEED! I’VE BEEN WORKING ALL DAY ON IT!” The spirit opened its mouth and a blue flame erupted in tandem with its enthusiastic shout.

The Angels known as the Seraphim belonged to Father’s highest choir of Angels and were, by design, never subtle.

“PRECAMBRIAN!” it continued emphatically, “ONE OF THE FIRST MULTICELLULAR ANIMALS! A BIG DEAL, RIGHT HERE! IT IS SUPPOSED TO MAINTAIN ITS FORM THROUGHOUT THE AGES WITHOUT MANY CHANGES TO ITS INITIAL DESIGN!” It made sure to brag this detail to the line of Angels behind it.

“You don’t say?” I wondered aloud as I once again considered the absolute brainlessness of the supposed “creature.” Leave it to the Seraphim to only work in abstracts.

“I DO SAY!” it replied. “I JUST SAID IT A MOMENT AGO! WOULD YOU LIKE TO HOLD IT?”

Ignoring my protest, the Seraphim reached its wing towards me and dropped the living snot puddle into my reluctant hands. The thing was cold and without physical reason. I did my best to feign a look to match the Seraphim’s obvious excitement. I was only made uncomfortable by the creature’s viscous form for a moment before I noticed a clamor near the end of the Angelic queue.

It appeared as though one of the Angels near the end had broken rank and was approaching, much to the chagrin of the other line-goers. Each Angel seemed to speak up protest as it was bypassed, but upon taking better notice of the offender in question, huddled back to its place in line without a further peep. The figure moved with authoritative diligence. As it neared the front of the queue, I could see it wore the shimmering, night-black robes of an Archangel. A nervous spike shot through my spine when I realized just who was approaching.

“WELL!?” the Seraphim said, pulling my attention once again, “WHAT DO YOU SAY!? I BELIEVE THIS BEING INVOKES A POWERFUL NAME INDEED!”

“Do you think it could wait?” I asked with a begging smile. “Perhaps you would like more time to, er, muse on this one while I sit back and think of the perfect name for this little guy.” I dropped the heap of wet cells back into the Seraphim’s cupping wing tip.

“THE DESIGN IS QUITE COMPLETE!” The Seraphim coddled its blob close. “APPROVED BY FATHER! ALL IT NEEDS IS A NAME!”

I looked past my guest’s shoulder at the queue behind. The Archangel was getting ever closer and I could see in his face that he meant business. I cursed under my breath and realized I needed to hasten my meeting to a close.

“Approved by Father, you say?” I turned back towards the eager Seraphim, “In that case, the name for this poor creature has popped into my head as clear as day!” I held my fingertips to my temple and released a grunt of faux-exertion. The display seemed to work as the Seraphim observed with a look of pure wonder. “From henceforth, this being shall be known as a… Jellyfish!”

The Seraphim furrowed its shining gold brow and wrinkled its nose as if it had tasted something sour.

“JELLYFISH!? WHAT IN HEAVEN IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN!? WHAT IS JELLY!?”

I shrugged dismissively. “I dunno. I don’t make the words; I just use them. My will and my words are the same as Father’s. This name is His through me. Anyway, let’s move along. Lots of creatures to name and we can’t take all Creation to name them, can we?”

I attempted to shoo the stubborn Angel before shouting behind him, “Next in line please!”

“NOW WAIT!” the Seraphimprotested, “SURELY YOU CAN COME UP WITH SOMETHING BETTER THAN JELLYFISH. IT IS NOT EVEN A FISH!”

“They can’t all be winners, pal.” At this point, I was hefting my entire weight against the persistent Seraphim but the spirit was a mass of eyeballs and feathers twice my size and it pushed adamantly back.

“I SHALL NOT LEAVE UNTIL YOU HAVE GIVEN MY DESIGN A NAME WORTHY OF FATHER’S HONOR!”

A voice emerged from behind the Seraphim that was as deep and calm as it was fearful and commanding. “Qaspiel,” it said, “I hate to interrupt but I must have a discussion with the little Azrael.”

Qaspiel’s face hunkered into a look of statuesque rage. Its flaming eyes tore from my gaze and its glittering cheeks blushed an angry heat. It craned its neck and spat towards the source of the offending voice.

“NOW SEE HERE! IT IS MY TURN WITH HE WHO GIVES NAMES AND I—”

Before it could even conceptualize another tempered word, its stony face dropped into a mask of intense dismay and regret. Its lips sputtered and its throat gurgled several primitive groans before a single word allowed itself to escape.

“LUCIFER!” it finally said.

💀

I feel as though I don’t need to explain who Lucifer is to you, humble reader. Even a mythologically-inept person could probably recognize the Angel who would eventually become the very first supervillain. That being said, I think it’s important to understand who Lucifer was pre-FallFrom Grace. At the very least, the tale will help you understand my story.

Lucifer was Father’s first Angel and, as far as any of us could tell, Father’s first creation whatsoever. He was a being of immaculate light that shone in a impossible display of every color simultaneously. He was the strongest and most powerful Angel ever created and his mold was used to make every single Angel that followed. He held Father’s secrets and magic in his very core and, some say, he was almost as powerful as Father Himself.

Lucifer stood at Father’s side as Chief Angel and guardian of the Heavens. Long before Creation was little more than a dreamy idea, Lucifer was granted a legion of Angels to train and command in the art of war. Back then, no one had the forethought to ask why Heaven needed to prepare for war. Back then, none of us were advanced enough to ask Father such things. For a time, Lucifer was the least likely to question Father’s methods. None of us were prepared to learn that Lucifer was training the army to one day fight him.

It was said that Father loved Lucifer more than any of His other creations—even more than The Plan. We other Angels were never jealous. It was unbecoming of our upbringing to feel such horrid emotions towards each other. Instead, we revered our Chief Angel with the same love and admiration that our Father felt. Lucifer loved Father as well, though he did not revere his fellow Angels in the same manner. Lucifer was proud of his love and proud of his standing in Heaven. Though he wouldn’t admit it at the time, he was most proud of how the others feared him.

If I were to describe Lucifer in one word, it would be “pragmatic.” The Archangel had little time for dilly-dallying. He believed every moment had a purpose and any moment without purpose was a moment wasted. He regarded The Plan as if it were his own and, rumor had it, he sometimes spoke as if it was.

💀

“Azrael, come walk with me,” Lucifer commanded with no hint of mercy in his voice. I looked past the Chief Angel, expecting to see frustration and dissent among the waiting queue. All of the Angels in line regarded Lucifer with the same look of intimidation that I felt on my own face. An Archangel visiting the lower Heavens was a big deal. The Archangel visiting the lower Heavens meant there was trouble.

“Er, yes sir,” I replied with reluctance. “Of course, sir.” I gave an apologetic shrug to the queue. The eyes of each waiting Angel followed me; annoyance peeking behind their fear. Lucifer ignored them and clasped his giant hand around my shoulder.

“And bring your book,” he bellowed.

We traveled past the gates of the Silver City out into the abstract Heavens. The roads of radiant silver transitioned into a soft and grassy cloud under our feet. The stars shone so much brighter out beyond our workways; the Djinn had done such lovely work on them. I ran to keep up with Lucifer’s haste. The gait of his step doubled mine. He had taken my book, with no protest from me, and he was pensively scanning the pages as he walked. He said nothing and I was too afraid to speak either. We reached a peak of cloud that looked into the dark. The black of absent space was dotted with massive expanding galaxies of different dazzling colors. I looked with wonder at Father’s creations while Lucifer flipped nonchalantly through my book. After a moment, he closed it with a snap.

“This is all very good work, Azrael,” he finally said.

“Thank you, sir!” I responded with an air of officiance in my throat. I was not one of Lucifer’s soldiers but guessed it was in my best interest to act as if I was.

“You may relax, little Angel,” his response was almost jovial, “I did not bring you here to exact Father’s judgment.” Such a statement should have put me at ease but I could not shake my tension.

“You didn’t?”

“No. I’ve only come to audit your progress. You’ve become quite the popular spirit, haven’t you?” As Lucifer said this, I felt a heat rise from my chest and into my face.

“I s-suppose,” I stumbled. “The Angels find me and I give them what they require.”

“Compliance,” Lucifer almost interrupted, “is an admirable quality. You’ve done well in your book. Your names for Heaven’s designs are apt. Tell me, have you considered why we must provide a name for every living thing?”

I regarded the question and did not have an answer for Lucifer. My silence prompted him to continue.

“Father has instilled us with the means to build His Creation. As the Djinn create the constructs of this plan, the Angels create the concepts. It is not enough for a creation to exist. The explanation for why it exists is essential in it existing at all. Do you agree?” He only gave me a moment to respond. I said nothing and he began again.

“Furthermore, to explain a creation in specificity is to award it uniqueness. Therefore, a concept and its construct are not truly complete until it has a name to make it unique. Father’s plan is contingent on the uniqueness of each of his creations.”

Though I was confused, Lucifer’s points made sense and it almost felt like Father Himself was explaining to me.

“Once a being has been created,” Lucifer started again, “do you think it should exist forever?”

It took a moment for me to realize that the Archangel expected an earnest answer to his question. He stared at me while I found the words.

“I…” I mumbled, “I always assumed we were to devise and build Father’s plan to be admired forever.”

To this, Lucifer’s great wings flexed and swayed with the Archangel’s pensive stance. His deep black feathers shimmered in the radiance from above that was Father’s light. His mouth opened and closed several times before he spoke again.

“You are not wrong, Azrael,” he said with a hollow tone that struck me with a hidden sadness. “Each element of Father’s plan will be admired forever. Though, in order for each creation to be admired to its fullest, it must not only be created but it must be subjected to change and, ultimately, it must be destroyed.”

“Destroyed?” I gulped. I had never heard the word before.

“Yes,” he repeated, “destroyed. It must reach a state of change so intense that it does not subsist. Thus, each creation will be appreciated in its fullest, even and especially when it no longer exists. Do you understand?”

I had not understood the moment Lucifer had asked the question. But as I let the thought permeate in my mind, the idea became as clear as all of creation itself. As things must be created, they must too be destroyed to be whole.

“Yes,” I finally said, “I understand.”

As Lucifer spoke, peering into the vastness of the space beyond, I could hear a choke in his throat “There is a burden to the facilitation of this process. This burden lies in your book. As you give each creation a name, and write that name into your pages, you acknowledge its existence and thus further acknowledge that it will one day be destroyed. Do you understand this as well?”

“Yes.” I did not hesitate this time.

The sound of heaving wings echoed behind us in the cloudy bluff. I looked over my shoulder to see an Archangel in shimmering golden armor approach from a foreign angle in space. His wings were like painted flame; vibrant reds and yellows speckled the feathers. His skin was the color of thunderclouds, just like Lucifer’s. He approached with urgency and landed behind us with an immediate march towards the Chief Angel.

“Aamon.” Lucifer regarded the soldier without turning its way.

“Sir,” Aamon responded, his approach unflinching, “I am sorry to interrupt—”

“And yet you persist.” Lucifer cut the excuse short. He turned and a glance from his shocking blue eyes stopped the intruding angel in his tracks.

“It’s the Djinn,” Aamon insisted with a quivering in his voice that suggested he would much rather be anywhere else, “they’re setting off neutron stars in the forty-fourth quadrant. They’re collapsing them just to see what happens.”

“Again!?” Lucifer hissed and the whole Heavenly valley quaked. His stance turned from one of preparation to one of diligence. He curled his left hand into a fist and flexed every muscle up through his arm. A muted light grew from his grasp into the form of a horrible, radiant flame. In a matter of moments, he had materialized a blade of pure fire and clutched it adamantly. Though I did not yet understand the purpose for such a sword, its image filled me with terror.

“Azrael,” Lucifer’s gaze turned toward me, “we will continue this conversation later. You’ve done excellent work so far.”

He handed my book back to me before crouching into a launching posture. His wings lurched and propelled him into the sky. A surge of wind created a vacuum beneath the departing Archangel that briefly eliminated all sound around us before erupting in a sickening pop. There was a flash, and he was gone.

Aamon stood, astonished, before ascending himself and following close behind. I sat upon the cloudy cliff, alone, and further considered my purpose.

I must clarify, dear reader, that I cannot fully and accurately explain to you the nature of these past events. Your human brain currently lacks the capacity to process the reality that Angels like myself experience. Thus, I am prone to use what you humans call “metaphor” to describe in terms that you may understand. It may be easier for you if I depict a simple act of reality manipulation as magic or miracle instead of trying to explain the exact scientific processes that an Angel uses to bend the fabric of space and time. Your miracles are our mundane tasks, and your eons were how we once measured our days.

So please understand when I say that I spent all day contemplating what it meant to keep a record of every living thing’s eventual unbeing, that this was no small undertaking.

Father’s Heaven and His creations thus far had been devised under the pretense of permanence. From what we knew, Father had been around forever—even before there was a beginning. As we understood, we were permanent as well. Each Angel (and presumably each Djinn) was brought into being by Father, given a name, and assigned a purpose towards enacting The Plan. None of us ever asked what The Plan was or why it was so important. Instead, we went to work. We built the structure of the universe from the atom up. We concocted the idea of life, intelligence, and sentience to create beings that would propagate within the confines of The Plan. Father could and would occasionally unmake certain aspects of The Plan if they didn’t fit or were made in error, however, none of us considered that all of the things that we made had the potential to be destroyed on purpose.

I watched from the cloudy cliff face as a star trillions of miles from my little spot in Heaven vibrated against the dark backdrop of the universe. The yellow sparkle dipped and flashed into shades of dramatic purple and red as the intensity of its light ebbed into varying degrees of brilliance. It looked as though the little light had extinguished before blooming into a detonation of a new color I had yet to see and, for a moment, it reminded me of a concept devised by one of our top Angels.

They had designed a means for certain plants to reproduce once they had reached maturity. I could not fathom the science involved at the time, but the result was a burst of vibrant petals and curling stamen. Once The Plan was enacted, that shape would become a most important symbol .

As soon as the bloom of the exploded star reached its dramatic peak, shooting detritus and innumerable amounts of dissipating energy into the vacuous space, the light from the event faded until only blackness remained. It was almost as if the star had never been there in the first place.

A thought unfolded in my mind; much like the star and much like the design for the plant.

Some things must be unmade to make more things; whether they be stars or sneks or jellyfish. The Plan wasn’t about the permanence of creation, but the further creation yielded by change. In that way, the unbeing of something was as beautiful and significant as its being in the first place.

It felt cold in my little spot and I realized how alone I was outside the major Heavens. I reached behind my back and pulled my oversized black wings closer to my body. Father had formed me a bit smaller than many of the other Angels but, for some reason, He designed my wingspan as big and boisterous and black as vast space. I curled those wings around my body until the tips touched at the top of my head. I felt warmer and more comfortable.

I began my walk back towards the inner Heavens.