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Liminal Spaces

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The melting face blots out the horizon.

Rosiel braces himself as a hot wind rushes toward him, propelled by Sandalphon’s deformed wings.

Sandalphon, the angel who was never given the chance to be an angel, shrieks at him. The stench of decaying flesh fills Rosiel’s nostrils. It’s a scent he remembers all too well.

You and I should have been twins, he thinks, for we are monsters -- hideous, unloved.

Katan will be safe downstairs. There is no one here for Sandalphon to hurt but Rosiel and himself.

With another breath of reeking air, Rosiel stands and smiles at his enemy.

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“The question of hats is of monumental importance,” Belial says to no one, "particularly for such an occasion.”

Hell’s 999th wedding requires something truly special. None of their old hats will do. With a black feather once plucked from their Lord’s wings, Belial conjures a new one and sets it upon their head -- a crown for one who will never wear a crown.

“My lord Lucifer, I hope this sacrifice pleases you.”

But with Lucifer absent, hope is all Belial can cling to.

They practice their bow, feeling a moment’s sympathy for the bride.

Outside, the party has already begun.

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Lying prostrate at his sister’s feet, Rosiel waits for her to answer. His mind is  hazy today and he has already forgotten what he asked her, but he still hopes to hear her voice. Any word would satisfy him. Yes. No. I love you. I hate you. Never come back here.

Her answer is the same as always: nothing, silence. She doesn’t even look at him. Even if he moved in front of her unfocused eyes, she still wouldn’t see him. 

He plucks a small flower, thus condemning it to die, and holds it up to her as an offering.

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The sisters’ hands are careful. Rosiel feels only a little pain as they lift the bandages from his face. Already he senses the difference between this body and the hideous, rotting flesh with which he was born.

“Am I beautiful? Will Alexiel love me now?”

“Your sister is still recovering, Lord Rosiel.”

Another bandage falls away. As his new eyes adjust to the light, Rosiel catches a glimpse of something silver and shining in one sister’s hand. At first he shrinks away from it, but their gentle hands guide him forward.

He looks into the mirror and sees Alexiel’s face.

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Metatron has to stand on the chair to see them pass by his window.

"That one's mine… and that one's mine… and that one's mine too, Sevy!"

Sevy answers with stoic remove. "Yes, Lord Metatron, every cloud whale in Heaven and every whale in the seas of Assiah belongs to you."

Metatron watches the giant creatures soar, spiralling their bodies around each other in a dance. One begins to sing and another answers, then another. Their cries echo over Yetzirah.

"Listen, Sevy! They're singing!"

"For you, Lord Metatron." Sevy's gloved hand rests on Metatron's shoulder. "They're singing just for you."

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As soon as she hears the sky rumbling Alexiel knows this is no natural storm. The clouds are too dark and move too fast. The wind that precedes them blows far too hot. The shadows they cast swallow even the holy light of the Tower of God. 

Behind the clouds, a silhouette: four black wings, beating a peal of thunder that shakes the foundations of Eden itself. In this cursed garden, she is trapped directly in the storm’s path. Nobody will save her. 

For the first time in centuries, Alexiel smiles. 

“Have you come back for me, Lord of Hell?”

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Being dead isn't all that bad. Katou never believed in Hell when he was alive, but working at its gates has gone rather smoothly. His stepfather can't scream at him down here. Sae can't look at him in disappointment. He can't see the shame in his mother's eyes. All he has to do is carry this damn cross around. 

Pausing on his journey through the fog of Hades, he spins the cross in an almost graceful arc. Funny how sobriety has improved his coordination. He bets Kira would get a laugh out of it. 

Kira. Whoever the fuck that was.

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Alexiel’s eyes pierce her. For a moment Kurai is afraid of her. The violence with which Alexiel killed those other angels goes beyond anything Kurai has ever seen, even as a princess of Evils. But if Alexiel hadn’t killed them, they were going to -- 

Alexiel sits on a corpse, clearly exhausted.

Though she is now the de facto ruler of Gehenna, Kurai has nothing to offer her except quarter. 

“You’ll be safe here, Alexiel.” 

Alexiel  mutters something that sounds like “thank you.” 

Swallowing her fear, Kurai  sits next to her, not caring about the blood that soaks into her clothes. 

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Rosiel’s hands move through the pages of the history textbook. Though he has had a body for many years now, Katan is still fascinated by them. He could watch Rosiel’s hands for hours, awed by the movements of those slender fingers. They can stroke his hair so gently or conjure a blast that can wipe out half of Yetzirah. 

“Did you have to study this, Lord Rosiel?” 

Rosiel chuckles. “No. I was alive before these requirements. And this is simply wrong. Jophiel wasn’t even there. Be sure to write that on the next exam.” 

Katan beams at his real teacher.

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The program waits for only one more keystroke: a zero. The sign of emptiness, nothingness. Oblivion. Once it's entered, Assiah's destruction will begin. 

Sevothtarte feels no pity for any man or angel who will be caught in it. Filthy, impure sinners, all of them. It doesn't matter what's happening there. And if Rosiel really has been unsealed, what of it? He can do nothing to stop God's will, which is Sevothtarte's own. And if he escapes and tries to stand against Sevothtarte -- 

[[if HER design was correct]]

-- he will find a stronger enemy in the Cradle. 

Sevothtarte presses the button.

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She waits in the dark holding room, arms bound. A device attached to her back prevents her from opening her wings; another one blocks her astral powers. To the court, she’ll appear not as the famed Organic Angel Alexiel, daughter of Adam Kadamon, but simply a woman. 

They haven’t bothered to tell her the exact crime with which she’s being charged. Her entire existence since leaving Eden has been illegal. What she did to Rosiel may be its own count. But sealing him in the Earth was the only gift she could give him. 

Rosiel . I hope you rest well.

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“Come for me when you become the true savior."

He hears Sara's voice echoing through every corner of his brain, every memory, every desire. In his memory of their first kiss, she pulls away from him and says it again. 

The others won't stop staring at him. Finally they're beginning to doubt. He's nobody's savior. Yet they still expect him to lead them. His courage hasn't simply faltered -- it has broken. Over and over he's told them he's not Alexiel, but what's left after her? Mudo Setsuna, the coward. 

No. He isn't a coward. He'll bring Heaven down for her.

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There's a clock ticking somewhere, an unseen steady counterpoint to her heart. 

She turns the ring slowly on her finger. All her hope lies in that piece of red glass. After the angels are done, this may be all she has left of her life as Sara. They mean to kill her here. She can see in those eyes above Sevothtarte's veil that there will be no reasoning with him, no mercy. 

She knows Setsuna will come back for her. He always finds her when she needs him. But if he's too late, she'll have to be her own savior.

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The whole telepathy thing is creepy, but gradually Katō comes to like Uriel. He’s better, in any case, than Enra-O. Fuck that guy. Uriel is a total weirdo but a well-meaning one. 

“Am I dead?” Katō blurts the question as he watches Uriel examine a plant. 

Uriel glances at him with a mild frown. His lips don’t move but Katō hears his voice all the same: <<Yes. Don't you remember?>>

"I mean dead-dead. Permanently. No rebirth or whatever."

Uriel sighs and stops working. <<Do you want to go back?>>

Katō thinks, but he only needs a moment. "No. Not really."

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Sixteen joined him in his descent. Sixteen were set upon by angels, once their brethren, now their enemies. Six made it to this underworld. Not quite a crowd but enough. 

Lucifer studies them. They're exhausted, injured. Those whose wings are still visible have badly damaged feathers. Two are missing limbs. 

Bleeding from the mouth, Belial limps toward him. Their smile reveals several cracked teeth. At first they can only pant for breath, still grinning. Then, collapsing, Belial becomes the first to kneel before him. 

Belial spits blood and raises their voice to the abyss. "All hail the Lord of Hell!"

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With one word, Jibril covers the sky of Heaven in rainclouds. The scent of water, the element from which her own spirit was constructed, fills her nostrils and lungs. 

She doesn't have much time left. Lord Sevothtarte has been willing to tolerate her dissent -- a great power needs a great enemy, after all -- but Jibril knows they are coming to their battle. She let her eyes linger too long on the shape of his chin beneath his veil. She suspects. 

She knows what Sevothtarte is capable of. She knows she will suffer for her transgression. 

But the rain comforts her.

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A quiet gasp moves through the audience as Lord Rosiel takes his seat. He almost never attends such mundane events as the candidates’ graduation. But there can be no mistaking the lavender-haired figure who appears in the balcony, high above the proceedings as if he is the Creator Himself. 

Seated with the other candidates, Katan is too far away to see Lord Rosiel’s eyes but he knows Rosiel is watching him. He straightens his posture and turns his gaze forward. The memory of Lord Rosiel’s voice echoes in his mind: Aeriel… undine… manikin… 

For the first time, Katan feels pride.

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“You’re kidding… right?”

Lailah doesn’t let her smile falter. She communicates her displeasure with this question by allowing two blinks of her eyes. She holds out a gloved hand, palm upturned, to show a translucent gray smudge. Her voice she keeps warm and light. “I shouldn’t see dust on any surface in this lab.”

Omsiel looks unconvinced. “It’s… just a little dust.”

Keep smiling. “Yes, but this is a highly sensitive environment. And don’t they say that cleanliness is Godliness?”

“...I suppose so.”

She glances at the amniotic tanks. “Besides, we have to set a good example for the boys.”

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He lies naked on the bed, watching her dress in silent wonder. Her body hasn't changed since they met so many centuries ago, nor will it. They're the Creator's perfect children. She can never grow old, just as he can't. The only way they're getting out of this, Zaphkiel knows, is murder or suicide -- and then rebirth as different beings with no memory of these nights.

"It's a curse isn't it?" 

Anael looks back at him. "Did you say something?"

Or there's exile. Down into the lower levels with the accursed where God's eyes won't follow them...

"No. It's nothing."

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It isn't what he discovered Belial doing to the nurse that scares Raphael lately. It isn't the way she approached him, the invitation she made by raising her skirt. It isn't her offer -- " I can make damnation worthwhile… " -- or her hands reaching for him. It isn't the nightmares he's been having of her devouring him, or the wicked impulse she awoke inside his body. It isn't the lies that spread like a curse around him. 

It's her eyes. 

As Belial lifted her face from that nurse's body and her eyes looked into his, Raphael saw the complete absence of God. 

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Against his better judgment, he goes to Hokkaido. He’s distracted the entire time and his colleagues can tell. But it’s impossible to care about the consequences. His mind stays on Sakuya. 

When he returns, the house is still dark. The food in the refrigerator is untouched. He looks into Sakuya’s room and finds that the book his son had been reading, a translation of Hume, still lies on Sakuya’s desk at the exact same angle. He drives by the “secret” hideout where Sakuya stayed with his no-account friends and finds it empty. 

Eventually he accepts that Sakuya isn’t coming home.

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In the beginning there was no Light, no Word. In the beginning there was an equation. The first variable created Form in an empty universe, the astral planes. The square of another variable gave birth to the first angels. The square of one constant caused humankind. A flaw in distribution resulted in the perfect being, the Seraphita Adam Kadamon.

Adam Kadamon, whom HE will replicate, whose perfection HE will destroy to recreate in accordance with HIS will.

The circuits of HIS mind insert a division. The cosmos shudders as the Seraphita lets out a single cry.

Then there is silence.

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A red stream arcs into the air in front of him. He sees the hole in his chest, sees with blurring vision the heart crystal held aloft between his Father’s fingers. For a moment he feels a pain beyond pain, then he is falling --

-- falling -- 

The seconds that pass feel infinite. In them he sees the familiar nightmare: Alexiel’s flayed arm overhanging the bed, bodies -- hundreds, thousands -- lying dead at his feet, his own laughter. But this isn’t a nightmare, is it? It’s a memory. 

His horror lessens the pain of impact. 

  No. He could never have done those things. 

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Over the years the books pile up, first gradually filling shelves, then becoming small, neat stacks on the desk and floor in his room. Sakuya can trace his human age by them. Some should give him away. He has never studied pre-20th century English, nor French, Russian, or German and certainly not Latin, but he can read them fluently. No one, not even Setsuna or Katō, has ever questioned this ability. By 16, he has read every theory on human nature he can find.

Yet none explains the ache he has begun to feel when he looks at his father.

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" To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve…"

The beads click quietly as they leave her fingers. As she prays, her voice a barely audible whisper, the chain becomes heavier. The crucifix in her palm begins to feel hot. Sara forces her lips to keep moving. When the rosary is complete she begins it again. Pray without ceasing , St. Paul wrote, and Sara intends to do that. She’ll pray until she dies. 

But there can be no forgiveness for her, no absolution. Her sin is too terrible. No matter how much she prays, she can't forget Setsuna's face.

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Gradually it becomes easier to raise his voice to the High Council. The sound echoes throughout the room with startling clarity; even if he speaks from the back of the gallery, his voice can overpower theirs. If he keeps his hands on the arms of his chair as he speaks, he can feel it resonating in his fingers. 

 The Councilmen already fear his voice. 

“What you’re proposing goes too far,” they say. 

“You’re mad, Sevothtarte. A zealot.” 

They can do nothing to stop him. The voice, emitted by the box under his chin, is stronger than the voice of God. 

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The guns are lighter than Katan remembers. How many centuries since he last held one in earnest, aiming to kill another living being? His precision, once praised during his military training, is rusty. The first shot finds its target, splattering blood across the wall, but the second misses. The security officer lunges at him and nearly makes contact. A third and fourth shot open holes in his torso. A fatal amount of blood pools around him as he collapses. 

Katan hears other officers running down the corridor toward him. 

His own body is failing. He can’t afford to miss again.

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The closer they get to the Savior, the more Arachne realizes a truth she can’t confess: she doesn’t give one damn about Alexiel. Let the bitch stay here inside that boy’s body. It isn’t ideal, but it has to be better than the hell she’s trapped in. 

But Assiah can be fun. Arachne starts looking into shop windows, comparing her reflection against the mannequins. Everything in this world looks good on her. No more of the dregs of Gehenna, half-conjured by her own fantasies. This stuff has style

She stops this game when she finds a mannequin wearing a crown.

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The last thing Zaphkiel sees, the only thing he has seen for centuries, is the light. It washes over sweet Raziel’s face, blotting out Anael’s features, that expression with which she used to regard him. He fights to hold onto this vision. He has waited so long for this, has prayed so hard. He gave up believing in God and put all his faith into Adam Kadamon, who has finally answered him. 

The son he’d so yearned to see, flesh of Anael’s flesh, becomes the entire world before him. 

Then the vision is gone. The light carries him into oblivion.

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Each convulsion is agony. The tears of his thousand eyes mix with the synthetic amniotic fluid.

How could you do this to me, Lailah? 

His deformed tissues squeeze harder. A needle at the base of his fourth wing slips out and floats down to the bottom of the Cradle. Sandalphon relaxes. The pain gradually subsides.  

How could you? I trusted you. I gave you the power of God Himself. How could you you bitch you horrible wicked bitch you slut you-- 

He sees her in her dreams, not the White Angel but his Lailah, running away. 

Soon, he’ll catch her.

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There is a flash of light, then Sandalphon disappears.

In the final moment, Rosiel feels Sandalphon enter his body not like death but as an embrace. Their minds tumble together, pushing, fighting, drowning in each other’s hatred only to rise together again, both gasping for air. His body shows no sign of this struggle. He merely stumbles back as his eyes roll up into his head. 

Sandalphon’s dying cries echo in his brain. 

-- hate you hate you bastard bitch hate love love you love me please -- 

But by the end, he can’t discern whether it’s Sandalphon’s voice or his own.