Excerpt from "The Angelic Commonwealth" trilogy, part one
My initiation into the world of adulthood was a relatively quiet affair, considering the circumstances. Though the ceremony was open to the public, no one had made any serious effort to give it wide publicity, so less than fifty people wandered into the Venus Morningstar on the Ninth Hour of the night of my Name day to witness the rite of adulthood. We need not have relocated the birds at all.
Angels joined hands in concentric circles around me as I stood upon the dais before the congregation. The chandelier-lamps were lit, floating attentively overhead and adding their solemn glows to the folds of my muslin frock. Long enough to cover my bare feet, the dress was the color of old ivory, embroidered with moon-colored silk that glimmered in luminous traceries around the neckline of the fabric, fading after an elegant foray around my small waist. My shoulders were bare. Rivulets of hair curled around my face, tickling my cheeks while a small river of the rest flowed down my back, heavy and vivid against the light cotton.
An Angel named Lida had helped me tame it, smoothing the wilder locks with daubs of a pale cream that left lingering scents of gardenias and morning dew. She stood to my right now, opposite the crowd, with her eyes cast demurely on the dais platform. It was heptagonal, a little more than half my height in diameter. I stood tall and felt the smooth pure jade seep coldness through the bottoms of my feet. Lida and the others wore swirling dresses or loose doublets of a green so rich it was nearly black. I saw them and myself reflected hundreds of times over in the solar cells of their folded wings. It was like standing over a dark green sea of silk and mirrors. I could lose myself amid those pinpoints of light and fragmented images, falling into replicas of myself that fell toward me simultaneously. The parquet floor curved away from me; the sculpted walls soared upward, arching proudly toward the great dome of the cathedral ceiling where I knew more Angels perched in bright clusters on jutting ledges or hung from hidden handholds like constellations dotting an artificial sky. I swayed, light-headed, but caught my balance and glanced steadily ahead at Rafael.
He wore a cloak that fell in shining waves of gold from his shoulders to sweep the floor like sunlight. Amber tints flared in his bright hair, just long enough in the back to curl against the darker gold fabric. Nearly invisible slits in the cloak allowed his wings to flare outward resplendently on either side of him as he held the Seraphon before him in both hands. Lotus pale fingers seemed to glow against the gilded covers of the book, the way all the rest of him glowed, like a living statue carved from solid pearl, clad in dark, dark gold. Rafael prayed for the health and happiness of all present and led the Angels in a Latin hymn.
Fit aqua hominum
Dat aqua coelicus
Their ethereal voices rose up around me, seemingly without need for breath. “Laudate pueri…” I closed my eyes. It was beautiful. Some of them were singing notes almost too high for humans to reach. Some had deep, bell-like baritones. I could just discern Rafael’s own low, sweet melody within the perfect blend of voices. Delicate internal harmonies resonated in my ears, “Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula…”
Trembling began at my fingers, turning to warmth as it entered my palms, warm like a house is on a winter night, a warmth that felt like gratitude and spread to the soles of my feet, driving the chill from the jade. My lips curved of their own accord. My body relaxed as if it were a doll’s. Their voices, echoing and swelling against the walls of the cathedral, held me upright, lifted my chin toward a light I saw not.
“Amen,” the music softened, sidling into corridors and melting seamlessly amidst the dawdling beats of my heart. When I opened my eyes, my face was wet. Angel eyes regarded me from all around, faces beatific and peaceful. At the outermost ring, the Angels parted, making a crack in the concentric circles that grew into a wide sliver from the outside inward. The sea of silk and mirrors had opened a path for Rafael. He turned to me, flashing otherworldly in the light, wings curved high and graceful over his body, erasing all doubt that he was the largest of the Sun Angels. A shell-colored bowl rested in the cup of his hands. His steps made no noise as he flowed toward me, a golden vision rising on the air until I realized he truly was floating over the emerald sea to reach its ivory heart: me. The cloak billowed as if a wind were whispering and, though I felt no wind, the pale muslin of my dress fluttered restlessly too, brushing at my ankles and feet. He hovered before me, close enough for me to see cerulean, too hypnotized to move…he must have alighted finally on some corner of the dais. Rafael anointed me with rosewater, drawing the seven-pointed Star of Mysteries on my forehead. Thin drops of fragrance caressed my cheeks as they trickled downward, smelling of roses…and sandalwood. In my peripheral vision, I saw an eloquent hand raise, then lower. Signaled, the ritual of mortality began.
Soft gasps echoed through the cathedral as a bronze-banded Angel approached the dais with a brocade cushion, on which lay the athamé. Its handle gleamed with black pearl, embedded with peridots arranged in elaborate patterns. The edges of the blade shone brightly under the light, sharpened to less than a hair’s thickness. It was mesmerizing. Rafael stood before me, the bronze-banded Angel at his right. His left hand was extended, palm up. His eyes held mine.
And, never once breaking our gaze, the Organic Angel Rafael slowly lifted the knife from its resting place and pressed its point into his left palm. He bled. Before the wound could close up, he made a pale-knuckled fist in the hushed air between us. The liquid dripped reluctantly from his beautiful hand toward the pale jade below. Redness stained the ivory fingers slowly, deliberately, as he opened his hand. The colors seemed to whirl before my eyes: red, gold, pale pearl, silver-in-shadows, a painful twinge of startled violet…I looked at his intense face and felt lightheaded again. Felt his right hand upon my shoulder, steadying me. I could not look away from his eyes. They were so blue now, they glowed. Moonlight-on-water, silver-in-shadows, cerulean, blue blue blue…and another color I had never seen before. Anywhere. When he spoke, his voice carried an unearthly power.
“Remember that thou art mortal.” His left hand covered my heart and I felt a brief pressure. His eyes...his eyes...his eyes…I started to shake. And then I think I fell, down, down, down, down…nearly off the jade dais to the parquet floor before the Angels caught me, bright blood vivid against my white frock, scarlet over moonlight purity, while Rafael stood statue still and magnificent above, seizing my fading vision with that gaze both terrible and sublime.