“No Quarter” Day: Excerpt the First.

April 3, 2012

Here’s an excerpt from “No Quarter.” It’s a scene between the Archangel of Death, Samael, and Archangel Gabriel’s two adopted children, Mira and John. It provides some of the back history of the Archangels in the form of a story told by Samael.

Samael smiled at Mira as she joined John in sprawling on the floor of the living room. While some of the Heavenly Host might sneer at the prospect of spending time with Gabriel’s adopted human children, and consider it little more than babysitting and a demeaning trial and waste of time at that, Samael was entirely the opposite. Humans were made by God; Archangels were commanded to guide and protect them. To Samael, it was as simple as that.

Gabriel’s two children were also two humans that Samael was deeply fond of. Mira, with her long, wavy blonde hair and green eyes, was a delight; her laughter was infectious, and she had always, even from when she had been a small child, questioned him closely about the meaning of the stories he had told her. He had helped Gabriel teach her, helped raise her, comforted her in the night when she had woken from nightmares while Gabriel had been away on a mission. He had bonded with her almost from the moment Gabriel had handed her to him as a tiny two-year-old toddler, her eyes wide and glassy with tears, her lower lip wobbling as she tried not to weep as he took her into his arms. She had been so small then, so delicate, he had been half-afraid he would break her. But Gabriel trusted him, and Gabriel’s trust and confidence in him were not things that Samael intended to lose. When Mira had smiled a small, shy, hopeful smile at him that day, she had reached out with her tiny hands and claimed his heart. Samael was as devoted to Gabriel’s daughter as he was to his son, as he was to the rest of his kind.

John, Gabriel’s younger child, had come to Gabriel in tragic circumstances, and Samael remembered the day that he, Gabriel, and Remiel had found the infant, squalling helplessly upon a crude altar in the jungles of South America. He had felt rage unlike anything he had experienced for thousands of years as he had beheld the zealot who strove to sacrifice the child to the Son of God. Gabriel had lopped the head off the man wielding a knife above the baby’s sternum without a word and scooped the child up in his arms, as Samael turned and laid waste to the cultists who had rushed to defend the man who would sacrifice an infant.

That day was one of the days that Samael, Archangel of Death, would never forget, and he had seen many such days. John, once he had settled into life with Gabriel and Mira, had grown into a quiet, shy, intense child. His intensity had given him a gravitas that made him appear much older than he really was. He had eschewed the companionship of humans his own age, preferring to spend his time with animals, and at school he had spent his free time in the library or helping his biology teachers. He was as introverted as Mira was extroverted and had dark blond hair and hazel eyes.

The two children also resembled Gabriel. Perhaps it was a mark of the Archangel who had raised them as his own that had somehow imprinted itself upon them, but there was a familial resemblance that sometimes made Samael do a double take. Gabriel had adopted children from all over the world over the many centuries of his life, and none of them had resembled him so closely physically as Mira and John.

Now, with Gabriel away training humans in specialized combat for Michael, Samael had taken it upon himself to spend the day with Gabriel’s children. The way they called him “Uncle” never failed to stir his Grace, the light of an angel’s soul, and he treasured every time they used the term with him. While he and Gabriel were not brothers, they were of the Archangel Brotherhood, and Mira and John’s love for him as their uncle was one of the most precious things in Samael’s life.

He toyed with a feather that had dropped from one of his wings, the black plume longer than any of those from a peacock’s tail. Angel wings were more than nine feet long at their fullest stretch, Archangel wings being longer still. Thus, their feathers were longer, finer, and stronger than those of birds.

“Is that from your wing, Uncle Sammy?” John regarded the feather in fascination.

“Yes.” Samael smiled, holding the feather out so they could see it more clearly. There was a deep, rich indigo sheen to the feather, more visible when direct sunlight shone on it. “From time to time, we lose feathers. It is a natural part of our biology.”

“Papa’s wings are like vulture’s wings, he said.” Mira was staring transfixed at the feather. “They’re all black and gray. Are yours like his too?”

“No, child, mine are just black. Save for this,” Samael indicated the sheen of indigo at the edge of the feather with his index finger. Against the darkness of his skin, the blackness of the feather seemed even more intense. “That is the color of my power.”

“Purple?” John looked confused. “Death’s purple?”

Samael laughed heartily at that. “No, dear one. Indigo. Death is shadows and light, death is everywhere, but death is not the end. Indigo is a mood and a color and a shadow. So it is with my power.”

“What about the other Archangels?”

“What about them, Mira?” Samael smiled fondly at her.

“What are their wings like? What color is their power?”

“Ah.” Samael sat back comfortably, idly turning the feather between his thumb and forefinger. “Michael’s power is gold, and his wings are russet, like those of an eagle owl. Gabriel, as you know, has black, white and gray mottled wings, like a vulture, and his power is silver. Raphael’s power and wings are both white, like a dove. Uriel’s wings are a dark gray, like a hawk, and his power is orange, like fire. Mine, as you can see with this feather, are black and my power is indigo. Metatron’s wings are mottled white and pale gray like a goose, and his power is pale blue. Tzadkiel’s wings are spotted and banded black on white, like a peregrine falcon, and his power is copper colored. Remiel’s wings are russet, tan, white and black, like those of a Mandarin duck, and his power is deep green. Haniel, Archangel of Love, has wings that are a soft gray, like the gray dove, and his power is red. And Raziel, our youngest Archangel, has dusky brown and white wings, like the swan goose, and his power is the color of bronze.”

Samael watched the two young people as they digested his words. Mira’s expression was thoughtful as she rested her chin in her hand, propped up on her elbow as she lay on her stomach. John, leaning back against the armchair in the corner of the living room with one of his legs stretched out, the other tucked beneath him, wore a slight frown on his handsome face.

“What troubles you, John?” Samael smiled. “I can see you are thinking hard.”

“Nothing really,” John admitted. “I just… they don’t say any of this stuff in the Bible or any of the other holy books.”

“No,” Samael agreed, “they do not.”

“Why?”

“Because there are things that humans are not meant to know. Consider how many wars have been fought because of religious disagreements. How many more would there be if such things were common knowledge?” Samael shrugged. “It is how things are. We are told that the information that exists about angelkind is enough for humanity to understand and no more and no less.”

“But you and Pops tell us stuff that isn’t in the Bible. Or stuff that’s hinted at,” John pointed out.

“True. We do. But you two are not about to declare war upon a nation, are you?”

John grinned. “No. That sounds like too much mingling with people for me.”

Mira laughed. “You’ll be the mystery man wherever we live, Mr. Solitary with his horses. I feel like I should buy you a cowboy hat or something,” she teased.

John shrugged. “Animals I get. People I don’t.” He was silent for a moment, and then, as Samael tilted his head to one side, John said, “But you’re not brothers, are you, I mean, not like we humans think of brothers, right?”

“No, we are not related in the way that humans define brothers or sisters.” Samael smiled a small smile. “We are of the choir of Archangels, which is best described as being akin to a religious order. You are both aware of there being many religious orders, such as the Brothers of the Christian Schools or the Christian Brotherhood of Ireland or the Little Sisters of the Assumption. The men and women who are part of these orders address each other as brother or sister; thus it is with us. We are, however, much, much older.”

Mira laughed at that. “You don’t look a day over forty, Uncle.”

“Thank you, dearest Mira.” Samael smiled warmly at her. “Does that description help you, John?”

“Yeah, yeah, it does.” John grinned. “I know angels are a totally different species to humans, but the way you describe the different choirs of angels as like different religious orders makes a lot of sense. I was sort of thinking it might be like different countries or something, but you’re all the same race, so that wouldn’t really work as an analogy.”

“Quite so.” Samael nodded. “You are wise, John.”

John flushed. “Not really,” he demurred.

“Uncle, can you explain how angel society works?” Mira canted her head slightly to one side. “Papa tried to explain, but he totally confused me.”

Samael chuckled. “Angels are a species,” he explained. “As you know, we are divided into choirs—what humans would call races as well as religious orders, as I explained previously. Thus, I am of the choir of Archangels. Gabriel commands the choir of Seraphim, who are the warrior legions of Heaven. Michael is the Commander in Chief of all of us, but he is not a ruler; his title is Prince of Heaven, yes, but he does not rule over us. We are ultimately responsible to God Himself.

“The Archangels are ten in number,” he continued, “and there are so few of us compared to the other choirs because we are the most powerful, the strongest, the most feared weapons and tools of Heaven. Even those whom you would consider to be noncombatant: Raphael, the Healer; Remiel, the Merciful; Haniel, the voice of Love. All of us fight when we are commanded to do so, and all of us have a blade and armor. We are the first made, along with Lucifer himself. After us came the other choirs. The Seraphim, Ophanim, Thrones, Dominions, Cherubim and the like. They all answer to us and we to God. Does that explain the structure of society of angelkind?”

Mira nodded slowly. “I think so. It’s like a race that’s governed by a body of ten and you answer to God?”

“Quite so, beloved Mira,” Samael said with a warm smile. He regarded them both thoughtfully and changed the subject to one he thought more important. “How do you both feel about this proposed move of Gabriel’s?”

“Good.” Mira nodded. “No, really, I do. I mean, I like it here, but it’s been really uncomfortable for a few months now. I wish what happened to me hadn’t, but… I can’t say I’m going to miss this place.”

“Same here.” John leaned back, resting his hands behind his head. “Wherever family is and my horses, I’m good.”

“You are good people,” Samael said simply.

“So are you, Uncle.” Mira smiled at him. “Can you tell us a story?”

He chuckled at that. “I see, you flatter me in the hopes of tales of the past!”

“You tell good stories.” The smile broadened into a grin. “You tell us stuff that even the Apocrypha only hints at. It puts things into perspective. Wasn’t that what you said yesterday, John?” She turned to her brother.

“Yeah, I did.” John reached over to ruffle her hair, and she lightly smacked his knee in retaliation. “Ow, brat.”

“Oh hush, you, I didn’t hurt you.” Mira rolled her eyes theatrically, and John laughed. She turned back to Samael. “So, will you please tell us a story?”

“A story, then. What sort of a story?”

“From the early days,” John said instantly.

“On Earth,” Mira added.

“The early days on Earth.” Samael pondered it and smiled slightly. “As you wish.”

As Mira and John got comfortable on the floor, Samael began to speak.

“When the Earth was newly made, there were three races of beings. There were the angels, the demons, and the monsters. There were no humans then, not yet, for God had decided to send us down to ensure that His creation was safe and would be welcoming when humanity began to walk the Earth. The Earth was young and beautiful, and her seas were a rich, lustrous blue, her lands green and lush.

“The demons sought dominion, and they went forth, born as they were out of the first moments of Lucifer’s rage after his Fall. The Fallen Ones, angels who had followed him to Hell, remained at his side, and these newly made demons swarmed up out of their natural realm and onto the Earth.

“They strove at first to draw the monsters to their banner—they wheedled, they promised, they cajoled. And when their entreaties did not work, they used more foul means, but still the monsters remained firm and would not be drawn into their conflict. The monsters, what humanity calls such creatures as vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, djinn, faeries, dryads, naiads—all of these creatures and more—were born out of God’s regret, born out of His tears as Michael threw Lucifer down into Gehenna. They were—are—God’s children, even as we all are.

“One night, a werewolf by the name of Aiyah sought out Michael. She was weary and mortally wounded when she found him in council with the rest of us, but she survived long enough to tell us what the demons were doing. They were torturing the monsters, who sought only to survive and embrace the world made by God in peaceful existence, into doing their bidding. And by doing so, they were driving some of the clans of the monsters insane.

“She died in Michael’s arms, and he wept, for she was a valiant and steadfast friend to us all, and then he took up his blade, which shone with the golden light of his power. ‘Archangels,’ he said, ‘we must go forth and punish these iniquities so they know their place. They must not overrun this planet; they must not take control or break the balance that God wishes us to maintain’.

“We rose with him and we went out and we made war. Dreadful, terrible war, the first war outside of Heaven. This war was long and brutal, and it drew out those gifts we were made with when God first created us out of His thought. Gabriel, the General; Raphael, the Healer; Uriel, the Guardian; Michael, the Commander in Chief.

“It was sixty years into the war as you now measure time, and Gabriel went to Raziel and Uriel and commanded them to build a place of safety. For, he said, our forces were being injured, and we were not omniscient. Raphael and Remiel would need a secure place to practice their arts of healing and mercy, and the monsters who fought beside us and the Seraphim, Gabriel’s warrior angels, would need a place to rest in between battles. And so Raziel and Uriel went from the plain where battle raged and found a valley, a rich, beautiful valley, verdant and green with plant life, and there, too, were the first animals: unicorns and dragons, saber cats and mammoths. There was water—a crystal clear river that mankind later named the Euphrates, and there were flowers, wheat, fruit and vegetable plants and great, leafy trees stretching as far as the valley went.

“Together, Raziel and Uriel built a wall, a great, high wall, one hundred and forty feet high and sixty foot thick surrounding this beautiful valley. They created a gate out of Celestial steel and covered the stones of the wall with their power, protecting and reinforcing it. And then, within the boundaries of the wall, they built a city, a city the likes of which no human has seen since they were evicted from it by the command of God.

“Eden, Raziel named it, with its spiraling towers that almost touched the sky, its broad promenades and buildings with many windows to let in the light and air. Eden, which in the old language of angelkind means sanctuary. And Uriel left the city to gather up the wounded and Raphael and Remiel, who were caring for them all, and bring everyone there so that the injured might recover and heal.

“And Michael and Gabriel came with them, and Michael wept tears that became glass as soon as they touched the sand of the desert that lay for miles outside the borders of Eden, glass that was stronger than any glass that has been created since. Such glass can still be found in places in the Sahara and the Gobi. His tears were of relief and of joy, for he knew that God’s plan was truly working as it should be and progressing as it had been foretold, for Eden had been a concept that he had long discussed with God before there was such a thing as Time.”

“This is better than any movie,” Mira said softly as Samael paused to take a breath.

“No kidding,” John agreed.

The two of them fell silent as Samael took up the story once more. “God looked down on the workings of Raziel and Uriel and the destruction and carnage caused by the war fought by our kind, and He decided to end it. The demons were banished again to Hell, bound there by spells and sigils and wards that some foolish beings have tried to use to their own ends, raising demons for their own selfish purposes. He blessed those of the monsters who had fought with us and gave them lands and places wherein they could prosper. And then He blessed Eden and called it the Cradle of Civilization.

“There was a great, blinding light then, and we all shielded our eyes against it, for even though our true forms are bright light and energy, the light of God is brighter still. When it faded, we saw there in the city of Eden, you. Humans. God’s voice was heard then as He issued us our first commandment in that place.

“‘Thou, my beloved children, angels and Archangels, will guide, nurture, and protect these humans. Thou wilt serve them as thou serve Me, for such is My will, and the rewards shall be great.’

“There was great rejoicing, and Michael sent those of the Host who were not Archangel back to Heaven, leaving the ten Archangels of God to walk the Earth and serve. And the rewards were great and continue to be great, yes, even after the expulsion from Eden. For that, too, was a necessity, and it was intended to be a blessing in the long run and not a curse.”

Samael fell silent then and watched Mira and John who were gazing at him with expressions of open awe on their faces.

“Wow,” John said finally. “I’ve never heard that story before.”

“It has not been told since Adam was the Prince of the Garden,” Samael said reflectively. “He was a modest soul and his wife also.”

“Who told it?” Mira asked.

“Tzadkiel sometimes, Metatron other times.” Samael’s voice was soft. “Uriel, Michael, Gabriel, and I patrolled the walls of the city and kept guard. Raziel wrote a guide for Adam, a book of secrets and mysteries. Raphael made sure there was no unhealed sickness or injuries, Haniel arranged marriages.”

“Where did the Grigori come into it, then?” John asked.

“Long after those warm, peaceful days.” Samael sighed sadly. “They came, they watched as they were commanded. And then Ishtahar was born. When she was sixteen, she was made to be high priestess of Semjaza, for she was born at a certain time when the stars and moon were in a certain place in the sky, and so it was her destiny.”

“The one they call the Mother of Nephilim?” Mira’s eyes had grown large. “Because wasn’t Lilith the first wife of Adam and she went off and had giants as children?”

“Quite so, beloved Mira. The stories and histories gloss over the pain that Ishtahar endured in her role as high priestess and unwilling wife to an angel, but Semjaza was smitten with her, and he had to have her.” Samael shook his head sadly. “He was always selfish. He broke the laws of God—angels must not marry humans or breed with them—and so he was punished by Gabriel and locked into the constellation of Aquila. The other Grigori who believed as Semjaza did were thrown down into Hell and imprisoned there by Michael. It was just. Ishtahar was a quiet, shy, beautiful girl, she was intelligent and kind and compassionate, and she did not deserve the agonies he forced upon her.”

“Ishtahar… wait, isn’t she Uncle Remi’s girlfriend?” John frowned in confusion. “If the Grigori were punished, then how can they be together?”

Samael chuckled. “We—angelkind—are barren. We cannot procreate. We cannot breed, God saw to that after the Grigori were punished. We can, however, love, and so we do. We do not marry for that is not our way—that is a human ritual. We have our own rituals for lasting relationships. Generally, we do not take long-term partners that are human. It is… painful to do so. We live forever and humans do not, and the death of loved ones who are mortal is painful. Ishtahar, for her part, was punished with immortality, made to wander the world forever and made barren. Harsh, perhaps, but she has turned what was seen as a punishment into a blessing and done much with her extended life. She and Remiel are well suited to each other, and he adores her. God approved the match—neither can have children now and both are immortal. She is no longer truly human by virtue of her immortality.”

Mira’s face screwed up in thought as she turned that around in her head. “It sounds complicated,” she said finally.

“These things are often thought to be so,” Samael agreed. “Yet they are actually very simple. However, it is the simple things that are complex because of their simplicity.”

Mira blinked several times. “What? You totally lost me, Uncle!”

John laughed. “He lost me around Albuquerque, Mir. About all I got out of that was that angels don’t marry or have natural-born kids and Ishtahar’s immortal and no longer human.”

“That is correct.” Samael smiled a small smile. “In sum, that is correct.”

“You couldn’t just say that?” Mira asked.

“I could, but then it would have less impact, would it not?”

“Are you sure you weren’t a school teacher as well as an Archangel?” Mira teased, and Samael laughed loudly.

“No, dear child, not I. I am feared because I am Death. It is you and your brother, and your father, who welcome me most, who do not fear me. And so, I tell you these things so that you understand and appreciate what it is we all do.”

Mira got to her feet and moved to the sofa, sitting beside Samael and hugging him. It was an awkward hug, but Samael didn’t appreciate it any less as he hugged her in return.

“So angels don’t marry,” John mused, “then what do you do when you’re in lasting relationships, as you put it?”

“We bond.”

“Bond?”

“Yes.”

“And that means…?”

Samael smiled. “That is a story for another day. You two need rest, for the hour is growing late. I will tell Gabriel that you are both excited for the move to Deep Bay.”

“Fine.” John sighed with great exaggeration as he got to his feet. “But you should rest too, Uncle Sammy, okay?”

“Okay,” Samael said with a grin. “I will.”

“Good.” John gave him a quick hug and left the room.

Mira stretched up to kiss Samael’s cheek. “Thank you for telling us the story,” she said softly. “It was amazing.”

As she stood up, Samael held out the feather to her. “Here, child. For you.”

Wide-eyed, Mira took it. “Really?”

“Really.” Samael smiled. “Take it as my gift to you and sleep well.”

Mira’s fingers closed around the feather, and she nodded hard. “Thank you,” she said. “Good night, Uncle Sammy.”

“Good night, child.”

Samael sat back as she left the room, turning off the lamps with a thought, and reflected on the wonders of humanity as he waited for Gabriel to return home.

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