“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”
He was crowned in a garland when we left. The blooming colors of paradise, twined around his brow. Poetic or something, I guessed, but really I just liked picking blossoms. It was the only halo he had now: a child’s flower crown. Lucifer always humored me.
Petals dislodged when he moved. His skin scintillated like scales in the gloaming; the air near him hung heavy with myrrh. I could see why artists thought he was beautiful.
Me, well, I was his shadow. Cleft from a rib and regrets. Adam had given me orders – Lucifer gave me a choice.
Temptation, my descendants called him, like the apples that hung from above. Little did they know how the fruit of his Tree had moldered. Now the scab-red globes lay wormy at the roots, their bruised skin shriveled, and Lucifer’s proud majesty was dust- not that he had pride to begin with. When we were young (were we ever children?), he was a wanderer like me, come to Eden with a mind chasing stars.
Though Father warned humans, He never forbid angels from tasting the Tree. When Lucifer pressed the fruit to his lips, God breathed death upon his soul.
The fruit had no effect on the seraphs Lucifer shared it with, for the seeds only work if your heart is wanting – if there are coals of discontent to be stoked. Perhaps that is why it cursed me.
The fruit took its toll. Lucifer changed. There was a new weariness to him, hard lines under his eyes. I had known him all his days, followed him to the outer boundaries and back. But I struggled to make this new journey with him, a quest for truth that guided his every actions. Even though I was curious, I was never a quick learner like him. It was hard to keep up.
In the end I fell with Lucifer, into a sea of could-have-beens. It swaddled us in potential, the nurturing abyss, like a womb.
Only the Lightbearer had the passion to burn in the void of Hell. Lucifer set it aflame with his love for God, still intact after everything Father did. The Devil’s prayers flared so bright that Hell had some semblance of Heaven. Lucifer created Hell in the image of our Father’s kingdom.
I much prefer the mud and grit of Eden to Heaven, for paradise is a flaming thing. A kingdom of blinding light. Hell still burns to this day, its fires unquenchable by many waters, still undampened by the tears we shed at God’s hand.
I don’t like Hell much either. I tend to stick to the wilds of the underworld, far away from the simmering Styx, for its flaming waters reflect one in the most unflattering light.
Lucifer’s fire is a purifying force: stripping souls and confronting them with their natures. Like the Tree’s fruit, it enlightens, at a cost. The taste of his tears, freshly drawn from Hell’s tributaries, is searing. It is the only water we have. As fierce as the spice of my heart, as loud as the rallying cry of heaven’s ragtag third. You either love or hate the stuff.
(Often, when one drinks from the Styx, one is left with more questions than answers. Usually I prefer to go thirsty.)
But it is not Hell I wished to speak of. That is a place I know too well, for we have dwelled there far too long.
It is the abandoned gates of Eden I dream of – that is, when I don’t have nightmares. The towering portal we had returned to, locks unbolted, Uriel long gone from her post.
Lucifer walked through the entrance, head turned skyward, as if remembering sunlight on a lover’s face. He opened his crystal-cut gaze to survey our fallen home.
Brambles and roses grew recklessly, and the choked paths were all but forgotten. We walked them anyways, my angel careless of the thorns. I watched my step, wary of the snakes that crept from the depths to follow the Mourning Star.
We finally arrived at his Tree: once majestic, now a crippled thing. He stroked the bark and spread his wings to catch the breeze that trailed through the woods. I stayed back, allowing him time.
We all mourn the loss of something, placed on a loom above a skein of what-ifs. Perhaps it is a parent, perhaps it is a place.
Or perhaps it is simply a Tree, sprung from a seed that we planted, cut down in its prime. A Tree that clings to a ghost life, a husk devoid of its former beauty.
The angels lost many things in the war. The humans, too. I lost a friend I cherished above all.
But, like all losses, there are things forged in blood to clot pain. I lost a companion but found a king. He goes crownless, save the flowers I pick him.
Lucifer tended to the Tree, clipping and pruning it as he always did, pouring such careful love into its upkeep that he made an art of it. He raked the leaves round its base and, once done, combed his hands through the dirt.
“There is nothing like loam under my fingers that reminds me of Father,” he said. The snakes that had followed him thronged round his ankles. He sprinkled dirt over their brows as if baptizing them in an underworld faith.
Lucifer smiled at their hiss. “It was no curse God placed on me – to go on my belly, always eating the dust of my failures. It is an honest way to live, knowing how to crawl wounded.”
I sat in the bend of a vine. “Not this again. Your grace is unbroken. I wish you would stop calling yourself crippled. You are nothing like this Tree you care for, year after lonely year.”
“Unbroken?” Lucifer laughed. “Father wounded me so that I am knelt in prayer, bowed down before Him like the snake skates on its stomach. I am the Tree, sterile and fallen. See how its branches bend, gnarled and twisted downwards? Its leaves still thirst for light. Like them, I am insatiable. Father knew I would never be fulfilled. He created me to always be wanting. Father is the sun that shines on the Tree, which warms the blood of the snake. Ever merciless in His heat, and far kinder in his light.”
I shook my head. ”You are wrong. About Father, about everything. I hate this place. You seek solace in the Tree because you can’t see yourself like I do. You are the rock of Hell’s angels. My anchor. Without you, we would be rootless. Please, just leave this Tree. I do not understand why you tend this wretched thing.”
Lucifer smiled, gazing up into the branches. “Wretched, Eve? I suppose, in certain lights, it is ugly. Yet it still struggles to bear fruit. I like to think the Tree’s perseverance is a quality you and I harbor. That its growth is the key to wisdom: never surrendering one’s goals.”
He returned to tending his garden.
Resigned, I picked up an apple, then bit in despite the dirt.
It tasted like hard-earned dreams: long-fought-for goals and longing. I ate it, worms and all.
Lucifer placed his garland on Father’s headstone. He pressed his ear to the adamantine coffin.
Sunlight slightly shifted. Lucifer whispered a prayer.
Perhaps it was the fruit’s poison –
I thought I heard a reply.