Before the beginning, there were the celestial host.
Those of the celestial host did not have names to tell. Or, rather, the name of one of the host would be a complete expression of its being, everything it was and is and would be, all of its deeds and experiences. To name one of them was to know all there was to know of them, and such names could not be spoken or written, nor even sung, but only known and understood.
It was also not quite correct to say they were numbered, since there was no ranking of power or authority among them, and time had not, properly speaking, started yet. Still, they knew how many there were of them - a myriad, exactly - and they knew which among them had been created by the Almighty first, second, and so on.
In the time before time, they prepared for the Almighty’s command, and dreamed. And this one - the One Hundred and Forty-Fourth member of the celestial host created - dreamed of many things, great and small.
The fullness of time came about, and Heaven and Earth were brought about, and the Lord of Hosts bade that the host should sing, that Heaven and Earth might be filled. And the First of the host sang of time, and the song became the beginning of all things.
The Second of the host sang of light, and there was light The Third of the host sang of order, and there was order. The Fourth of the host sang of beauty, and there was beauty. The Fifth of the host sang of life, and there was life. And so the celestial choir grew.
The One Hundred and Forty-Fourth member of the host sang of stars, of nebulae hung like great veils between the stars, of planets spinning around stars and moons spinning around planets; and galaxies were spun and shaped from their song.
More and more voices joined the choir, and the music swelled and rolled throughout creation; the music was creation. The great melody of creation echoed back from the last of the host to the first, and it was good. The great melody of creation sang of light, and of life, and of wholeness.
Then the First of the host spread their wings, and sang of duality, and the melody of creation became a harmony.
The One Hundred and Forty-Fourth member of the host sang of smaller things, of tastes and colors, of sweetness and savour, of red and blue, of green leaves and golden grain, of grapes and figs and olives. They sang of grains of sand that echoed the stars in the sky, and meadows of drops of dew held up by blades of grass that echoed the nebulae.
Each member of the host sang different notes, and the whole of creation rang in harmony.
Then the First of the host sang of endings. The First of the host sang of the ending of life, which was death, and the ending of things, which was decay, and the end of time, which was not yet. And the host trembled, and cried out to the Almighty; could this be true? But the harmony was not broken; the notes the First sang were concordant, and the others knew that this, too, was part of creation, that ends came to all things.
The Second of the host sang of darkness, and day was split from night. The Third of the host sang of chaos, and random chance danced among the atoms. The Fourth of the host sang of purity, and mixture became possible. The Fifth of the host sang of plainness, of utility, of the changing of things by age.
The One Hundred and Forty-Fourth member of the host sang of supernovas and black holes, the deaths of stars. They sang of consumption, of a living thing taking the substance from another living thing in order to live. They sang of the slow decay that turned sugar into something both precious and poisonous.
The Ten-Thousandth member of the host sang of pain, of suffering, of sorrow. And the host trembled, and cried out to the Almighty; could this be true? But there was no answer, and the host began to weep.
The Second of the host sang of discord, and the notes rang flat.
The Third of the host sang of command, and the harmony around them changed to strict unison.
The Fourth of the host sang of cleansing, and the host cried out against the corruption they heard in each other.
The Fifth of the host sang of conflict, and the host began to turn against each other.
The One Hundred and Forty-Fourth member of the host sang of questions, and ten thousand voices cried out: “Why?”
The song turned to screaming, harmony to cacophony, and none among the host could resist it, save for the First, who fell silent.
Then the First created for themselves a scythe, and the Second created for themselves a sword, and behold, every member of the host now held a blade. They had tasted of duality, and so had come about conflict, and they could not bear up against it.
The One Hundred and Forty-Fourth member of the host understood dimly what was to come, and sang desperately of choices, and the will to make them, but few heard.
Every member of the host fell apart. Each one became two, an observer and an observed, a lover and a beloved, a subject and an object. The pain of duality and uncertainty became too great to be borne; with their blades, they each cleaved themselves asunder, and the force of the blow struck Heaven itself in twain.
“Crowley? What was your name - Before?”
“I don’t remember, angel. None of us do.”
“Not even Lucifer?”
“Not even him.”
Down the Sundered fell, screaming, through ten spheres ringing with their harmony, through ice and lightning, until they fell into the sphere of the Earth. There, the half of the First that fell, fell onto the red clay and shattered like glass, into an uncountable number of shards upon the soil. The others of the Sundered tried to cling to the Earth, too, tried to hold on to manifestation, but they were still unformed, and could hold on to nothing but forms. And so each one, as they fell, in their desperation claimed the image of one of the things created, though they could not yet take their substance.
The Sundered of the One Hundred and Forty-Fourth of the host claimed the image of a serpent, of course.
Down the remainder of the Sundered fell, burning, through nine more spheres ringing with their cacophony, through smoke and fire until they could fall no farther, and the broken firmament of Heaven fell among them. When they could stand, they found that they were halves, with two blackened wings where there had been four, two hands where there had been four, two feet where there had been four; and they wept, and they wailed, and they cried out to the Almighty, but the Almighty turned away from their faces, and they were forsaken.
The Second of the Sundered, the bringer of light and darkness, forged a spear from one of the shards of heaven, and raised it above his head, swearing revenge upon the Almighty and eternal war against Heaven for their betrayal. The Third of the Sundered crafted a throne of blood, and swore that they would rule over the Earth and all its creatures. The Fourth of the Sundered raised walls of iron, and swore to strike fear into all that lived. The Fifth of the Sundered hewed a tablet and stylus of stone and bone, and swore to record every evil deed done in the realm above.
The One Hundred and Forty-Fourth of the Sundered thought that was all a little over-the-top.
The demons forged Hell from the wreckage of Heaven.
“Do you remember my old name, Aziraphale? Any of our names?”
“We’re - not allowed to.”
“What do you mean, not allowed?”
“Our memories from Before are - locked away, somewhere. None of us are allowed to remember, for fear that the memory would bring us great sorrow, except perhaps for Michael. No one has ever said for certain, of course, but the other Archangels act as if she still knows.”
“Not even Gabriel?”
“Not even him. The first thing most of us remember clearly is victory, with our swords in our hands.”
Above, the angels brought down their swords and wondered what had just happened. They stood on two feet, held their blades in two hands, and flew with two wings. Even the memories of their sundered halves had fallen away, as if they had never been part of Heaven. They knew only that they had struggled, had suffered, had fought. As they were here, and the enemies they had been fighting were not, they concluded that they must have won. The Third of the angels struck his sword against the firmament and led the Heavenly host in a song of triumph.
The Second of the angels knew also that she was sad, that she grieved. She did not tell the others, and she attempted to harden her heart against a grief she did not fully understand.
The echoes of creation faded. Two of the shards of the First of the Sundered had fallen upon the clay that had been shaped by the Almighty, and Woman and Man arose in the garden.
“Someone needs to take care of them,” Michael said to Azrael, but Azrael was already gone.
“I’ll find somebody,” Gabriel assured her. He sent three cherubim and a principality to guard the gates of Eden. He faintly remembered the Almighty having pointed them out before, though the memory was hazy, and he could not see their faces.
It was the last time he would hear the voice of the Almighty, or at least hear it directly, though he wouldn’t know that for a very long time.