Legends of the Fall

The old man thumped his walking stick heavily on the wooden floorboards at his feet, and the crowd reluctantly quietened, its collective ear pricked to hear what might come next. He thumbed age-worn skin just below an ear, maintaining a stern expression. His eyes, though… Ever young, they seemed to the watching crowd. A brilliant green, full of life and vigor, even if the rest of the body were starting to fall apart. Those eyes held a merry twinkle that was at odds with his apparent gravity.

"We have not the time nor the location for me to give justice to such a telling," the old man insisted, and he made as if to stand with the aid of the age-blackened walking stick, his fragile, broomstick limbs no longer up to the task alone.

"No!" came the cry from several in the crowd. From across the room, the barkeeper ducked his head and hid a smile; the Poet often toyed with his audiences so.

"Master Dantay," an eager youth managed from near the old man's chair, "if you cannot tell it all, tell us part!"

A cacophony of voices lifted again, gaggling in agreement, before immediately swelling into new arguments of what should be told.

"Tell us of your vision of the shining shores!" came one strident voice.

"We wish to hear of the Heavenly City!" rose another.

"Tell us of your escape from the Blessed Fields!" insisted a third.

The Poet settled himself back in his chair, and let the attention wash over him like a warm blanket, until he felt entirely comfortable. In mock irritation, he rapped his stick across the floor again. The room obediently stilled.

Clearing his throat, Dantay Aligheri raised his voice.

There at the border, as before,
I saw myself anew
My robes were rags; my skin, I saw,
With pox was riddled through.
An itch grew swiftly in my breast,
My mind was swiftly caught.
That from such ill I might find rest
Consumed my every thought.

I scratched in best'yal impotence
And cried out for surcease,
"Fear not," I heard, "for not by chance
We're nigh to Soul's Release.
My guide, she brushed my wretched hands
And stroked my tortured skin
She urged that torment's ill demands
Be purged from deep within.

She bid me look; my eyes they caught
A gleaming, sparkling tarn;
"Down on that shore you'll find there's naught
But blessed healing balm."
My guide, she pulled me gently on
To hidden mountain vale
"Come meet the Lord of all Eron;
Be healed by Raphael."

The Poet let the echoes of his voice fade away, before looking across the crowded tavern's common room. Not a single eye in the room could look away, even now as the old man slowly and deliberately took a drink from his tankard.

"That much many of you have heard, of course. And you know that I was transported into that sacred camp beside the Spring of Gilead, there to meet the Healer himself, Raphael." The Poet smiled to himself, clearly thinking on a cherished memory.

"However, there is a place in the camp that I have not yet told you about. For the story you know has no place in it for darkness of any sort in the Realms Above." Dantay cocked an eyebrow at the audience. "However, I learned that even the brightest of Realms may cast a deep shadow. Indeed there has been darkness, even in Heaven. Listen now, as I will tell you of those injured in the greatest of all tragedies. Listen as I tell the stories of those who reside in the Cadisarium, that most disturbing of hospitals."

Dantay Aligheri pinned the audience with a gaze like an auger.

"These are the stories of the Legends of the Fall."

- - An excerpt from The Poet - -

The Poet drank again from his tankard before clearing his throat.

"The Cadisarium is the Hospital of the Fall. It is a vast white tent, held up by delicate silver poles, and bearing the emblems of all of the Sarim. Though it is true that it lies in the realm of Raphael, the Heralds have never shown a hint of jealousy, and honor their allies more than their own selves."

"My guide flew me gently to the ground at the entrance of the tent. Given the significance of the patients within, I was intrigued to discover no guardians at the gate."

***

I scratched at my skin, sore and red beneath my rags. "No guards?" I managed. My irritation had lessened under angelic ministration, but my discomfort was enough to prevent me from using more than short, sharp sentences.

"We are near the heart of the realm of one of the mightiest beings in the Cosmos," Sjahia responded gently. "The security is sufficient."

My guide's response was vague, and begged more questions than answers, but I merely nodded and grunted, and allowed her to usher me through the shining fabric door.

The tent appeared to be a single room, as vast as a city. I saw bier after bier laid out, each holding a single occupant, while gentle angelic ministrants busied themselves tending to those patients. Braziers by each bier gave off a gentle heat and a soft light; from some I caught delicate scents that immediately lifted my spirits and eased by own malady.

Despite the immensity of the room, and the enormity of its number of occupants, my attention was swiftly drawn to single figure nearby. Clad in loose white pants, but otherwise bare, the figure had skin like tarnished brass and wings largely devoid of feathers. He lay in the fetal position on his bier, wrapping an unkempt, matted and gray beard about his torso like a security blanket. From a distance, I could see his lips moving incessantly, and he shivered constantly. Not able to help myself, I drew nearer.

His skin, on closer inspection, did not appear tarnished; rather, it was worn and weathered, thin in places, wrinkled in others. I turned in shock to my guide.

"He is old!"

Sjahia blinked her blue topaz eyes, considering my comment. "Yes. This is Taiaiel. He is a son of the morning of the angelic day. You would call him old."

I turned to look again at the angel. "So even the immortals grow old," I almost whispered. This was a thing I had never considered.

"Ahh," Sjahia responded with a slight shake of her head. "I misunderstood your meaning. Taiaiel is one of the oldest of the solars, but that is of no consequence to his form. Nafielon the Judge is a peer of Taiaiel's, and appears in what you would consider the vigor of youth."

I gestured at the wretched form. "Then why does this angel seem so much like an old man?"

From the bier before me, a tremulous voice responded. "Because…" The voice showed hints of what would have once been a deep, melodic tone, filled with strength. It made Taiaiel seem all the more pathetic for that echo. "Because I grew… weary. Weary… in an instant. And filled… with sorrow. More sorrow… than could be borne… and remain hale."

I looked at his closed eyes, which even as he spoke he did not move to open; brief tears leaked from behind those brassy eyelids, and Taiaiel seemed to shrink in on himself.

Instinctively, I thought back on what my guide had said of this place. The Cadisarium, hospital of the Fall; before me was an angel in whom the impact of the Fall remained, even after many ages had passed.

"Noble Taiaiel," I murmured, drawing near to the ancient angel's head, and kneeling with reverence, "will you tell me your tale?" A quick glance at my guide yielded a brief nod; my actions were not inappropriate.

The old solar's head nodded slowly, but deliberately. "I will," he wheezed. "But see… that you… heed me well."

Wanting to honor that sentiment, I settled myself in to listen.

*

It was Beelzebul who Woke me from the Sleep Before. He pulled me from the Shining Sea, whilst my brothers and sisters looked on from the shore nearby. The first thing I felt was acceptance, love. He whispered my name to me with joy and song, and I felt a thrill of identity, even as the others waded in to offer welcoming embraces. Taiaiel, I was named, and I instinctively understood its meaning: Trust in holiness.

From the first, it was clear that my brother was beyond us. He stood head and shoulders above all on the shore that morning, excepting only myself, and he topped even I. His wisdom and perception dwarfed our own, such that I discovered that the others had allowed him from the first to perform the Awakenings himself, whereas in all my experience since, this is performed collectively. That he was the first to Awaken on this day should come as no surprise; however, I noted that he held himself as an equal almost from the first with those of even the First Awakening.

At the crest of the gleaming, silver-sand covered beach, I saw for the first time beautiful Aravaut. Her form seemed so different to our own, and it was only afterwards, once I had worked amongst mortals, that I was able to comprehend that she appeared as a young human innocent, though with hair like a silver flame, and eyes that shone like the moon. On her head, an intricate silver tiara gleamed.

We walked towards her, and she smiled with simple joy over us.

"You are well come," she giggled, though I recognized that she was serious. "There is a great work ahead."

"What is to be our work?" Beelzebul responded in his mellifluous voice; Aravaut's voice sounded harsh in comparison, at least to my ears. Oh, how I loved him!

"The Cosmos is changed from what it once was. You have Awoken in the Age of Mortals; it is to them and the newly risen Gods that we need you to minister." Aravaut tapped a finger against her rosebud mouth, considering. "But first, you must learn."

Once again, Beelzebul spoke for us. "What must we learn?"

Aravaut smiled in patience. "How to appropriately represent our interests. How to speak. The skills of diplomacy. Metatron will help you."

"But we already know how to speak," I responded, somewhat confused.

Aravaut smiled, but it was Beelzebub who answered. "We must learn how to present the messages that we are to deliver," he explained; the rest of us nodded in sudden comprehension. "We must learn what words to speak, and when, and how. We are to win hearts and minds in peace."

"Very good," the child-like Virtue nodded in approval, speaking to Beelzebul. "You will earn the trust of my peers quickly, it seems. Can you also bow?" She smiled winsomely, and Beelzebul laughed his perfect laugh, melodic and pitch perfect.

"Our lady jests with me," he explained. Turning back to her, he continued, "Nevertheless, I do not know of this 'bow' you speak of. Will you teach me?"

"Very well," Aravaut responded with a delighted laugh. She looked to her side, and suddenly an image of Beelzebul, picture perfect, stood beside her. The simulacron immediately bent the knee to her, showing the ideal bow for the celestial courts. The image then faded away. "You see?"

Beelzebul nodded, and immediately made a perfect imitation of his simulacron's bow. The others and myself made our own attempts; all were flawed. Beelzebub's superiority shone through once again.

"The structure you wear in your hair," my brother continued boldly, "it is beautiful. You are made more perfect in its wearing."

"Thank you," the Virtue Faith responded. She took it from her head and extended it towards Beelzebul. "It symbolizes excellence or leadership. If you wish it, you may have it. It is called a crown."

My brother immediately knelt and shook his head. "Nay," he sang in reverence. "But I will learn its making, and create one of my own, when the time is right."

"I have no doubt of it," Aravaut smiled. "A name you have already, Beelzebul, but a second I will give you in honor of our meeting and your excellence. Triel, I name you."

I measured that name across my lips. Triel, she had called him, and we instinctively understood its meaning.

Perfection of Holiness.