The Fall That Saved Us
Nephilim—humans with direct lines to the angels—are natural demon hunters. All nephilim, it seems, except Cassiel. The weakest among a family touched by archangels, she’s abandoned her angelic inheritance for a mundane life as a bookseller. But even in the noise of the city, she remains burdened by the strict tenets of her old life. And recently, something far more sinister haunts her.
Avitue is a succubus out for revenge—though she has little say in the matter. As part of the greater demons’ plan to ruin Cassiel’s family for slaying a duke of Hell, Avitue’s been sent to claim a particular nephilim soul, one she’s told will pose little challenge. It should be an easy seduction. Quick, fatal. But Avitue is surprised to find her own pain reflected in Cassiel, a nephilim deemed fallen by her own family’s standards.
By choosing trust, they reveal the lies that bind them, but as unwilling participants in an eternal war, trusting each other is the most dangerous thing they can do.
I try not to speak to the angels, but sometimes, I still hear their songs—when my mind is empty in the white noise of the shower, when I clumsily bloody my hands with the kitchen knife, when I stir sugar into my tea. These incidental joys and pains and nothings are the only times in my new life when I’ve been able to cry, compelled to do so as if by divine command. Their words course through me like molten gold, precious and searing. The world flashes white, then settles anew, unchanged but briefly brighter. Here’s the proof that they still turn their eyes to me. I wonder whether they see a wayward child.
The first time I heard their voices, I’d regained consciousness on the cold cellar floor of my childhood home, my face tear damp. It’s not so incapacitating as that anymore, but neither familiarity nor my angelic inheritance can fully diminish an encounter with the divine. I’m still human despite what my mother would like to believe about us.
Their songs are louder today, more frequent, as if the angels, too, have been keeping count.
Today marks the third anniversary of my leaving. I don’t know what the angel song means on this day, whether the chorus is passing judgment or merely observing with me. They sang the night I left, bright and clear. I took it as a sign.
Three years ago, at midnight, when my sister Zuriel caught me descending the stairs of our family estate, I begged her one more time to come with me out into the world. It’d been our secret for months that I planned to leave, to live in the city among regular people. I’d needed to tell someone, and she was the only one I could tell. My truth turned our relationship tense. We tried to be each other’s shelter as we always had, but it couldn’t last when I was trying at every turn to convince her to leave while she tried to convince me to stay.
“We can survive this if we have each other,” she’d say to me—when she braided my hair, when we traced protective sigils into each other’s skin. We sparred harder at the end as if winning meant the loser would have no choice but to adopt our perspective. I knew that as long as she would fight with me, she would fight for me.
But on those stairs, she’d stared too long at our clasped hands, and I doubted her. I couldn’t breathe. Two stairs separated us, she above, framed by the darkened stained-glass window on the landing. I, below, looking up. A terrible look crossed her face, as if this final meeting was a test of her devotion.
I’d wanted her to say something about us. Instead, she invoked duty and legacy.
“Don’t be like Gabriel,” I said.
We rarely called her mother. To us, she has always been Gabriel. For some, she’s a beacon.
Our records of all the angels and their nephilim are inconsistent, but the one most thoroughly documented through history is Gabriel. For the generation before my mother’s, there was no Gabriel born, no nephilim namesake of the great archangel. The reappearance seemed a sign for some. Other archangels, too, had claimed nephilim in our family. We’d clearly been blessed. When I was young, pilgrimages to our home were common—and also how our mother spread her philosophy of denial and restraint as the way. She was a beacon, and I should’ve been grateful to be her daughter. Our Aunt Raphael might’ve become a black sheep, but in Gabriel’s eyes, my siblings could make up for her lack. Because of their namesakes, Michael and Zuriel were burdened with more expectations, but Zuriel internalized the pressure the most. And suffered from it the most.
My sister gave me a tight smile. “You’ll come back,” she said, withdrawing her hand from mine to weave a familiar blessing in the air. For good fortune and protection, the one we drew before a hunt we knew would be especially dangerous. She pushed its energy toward me, and it settled into my skin with a light shimmer.
I wanted to tell her she had it wrong. I wasn’t the one entering a dangerous world. It was a wasted blessing, and we didn’t waste blessings.
I wanted her to say she’d miss me. I wanted an affirmation that we’d made this life less terrible for each other.
She retreated silently up the stairs, and I fought to breathe in her absence. Alone on the dark stairs, my bag cutting an ache into my shoulder, I considered scrambling after her, making one last bid for us. Together. As we’d always been.
But that had never been the way our family handled emotion. Big displays were anathema to us. For the last time, I followed her stoic lead, this time away from her.
Tamara Jerée (they/them) is a graduate of the Purdue University MFA Program and the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Their short stories have appeared in the Shirley Jackson Award-winning anthologies Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness and Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology. Their poem “goddess in forced repose” in Uncanny Magazine was nominated for the inaugural Ignyte Award. They’ve worked as an indie bookseller and a writer in the video games industry. The Fall That Saved Us (out 9/5/2023) is their debut novel.
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