And she began to speak to me—so gently and softly—with angelic voice.
33 Champ de Mars, seventh arrondissement, Paris, 1983
The scientist examined the girl, his fingers pressing into her skin. She felt his touch against her shoulder blades, the knobs of her spine, the flat of her back. The movements were deliberate, clinical, as if he expected to find something wrong with her—a thirteenth rib or a second spine growing like an iron track alongside the original. The girl’s mother had told her to do as the scientist asked, and so she endured the prodding in silence: When he twisted a tourniquet around her arm she did not resist; when he traced the sinuous path of her vein with the tip of a needle she held still; when the needle slid under skin, and a rush of blood filled the barrel of the syringe, she pressed her lips together until she could no longer feel them. She watched the sunlight fall through the windows, blessing the sterile room with color and warmth, and felt a presence watching over her, as if a spirit had descended to guard her.
As the scientist filled three vials with blood, she closed her eyes and thought of her mother’s voice. Her mother liked to tell her stories of enchanted kingdoms and sleeping beauties and brave knights ready to fight for good; she spoke of gods who transformed into swans and beautiful boys who blossomed into flowers and women who grew into trees; she whispered that angels existed on earth as well as in heaven, and that there were some people who, like the angels, could fly. The girl always listened to these stories, never quite knowing if they were true. But there was one thing she did believe: In every fairy tale, the princess woke and the swan transformed back into Zeus and the knight overcame evil. In a moment, with a wave of a wand or the casting of a spell, the nightmare ended and a new era began.The First Circle
V.A. Verlaine pushed through the barrier of gendarmes, making his way toward the body. It was nearly midnight, the neighborhood deserted, and yet the entire perimeter of the Champ de Mars—from the quai Branly to the avenue Gustave Eiffel—had been blocked by police cars, the red and blue lights pulsing through the darkness. A floodlight had been set up in a corner of the scene, the harsh illumination revealing a mutilated body resting in a pool of electric blue blood. The features of the victim were unreadable, the body broken and bloodied, her arms and legs angling at unnatural positions like branches cracked from a tree. The phrase “ripped to shreds” passed through Verlaine’s mind.
He had studied the creature as it died, watching the wings unfold over its body. He’d watched it shiver with pain, listening to its sharp, animal grunts as they dulled to a weak whine. The wounds were severe—a deep cut to the head and another to the chest—and yet it seemed that the creature would never stop struggling, that its determination to survive was endless, that it would fight on and on, even as blood seeped over the ground in a thick dark syrup. Finally, a milky film had fallen over the creature’s eyes, giving it the vacant stare of a lizard, and Verlaine knew the angel had died at last.
As he looked over his shoulder, his jaw grew tense. Beyond the ring of police stood every variety of creature—a living encyclopedia of beings who would kill him if they knew he could see them for what they were. He paused, assuming the cold, appraising position of a scholar as he cataloged the creatures in his mind: There were congregations of Mara angels, the beautiful and doomed prostitutes whose gifts were such a temptation to humans; Gusian angels, who could divine the past and the future; the Rahab angels, broken beings who were considered the untouchables of the angelic world. He could detect the distinguishing features of Anakim angels—the sharp fingernails, the wide forehead, the slightly irregular skeletal structure. He saw it all with a relentless clarity that lingered in his mind even as he turned back to the frenzy surrounding the murder. The victim’s blood had begun to seep past the contours of the floodlight, oozing into the shadows. He tried to focus upon the ironwork of the Eiffel Tower, to steady himself, but the creatures consumed his attention. He could not take his eyes off their wings fluttering against the inky darkness of the night.
Verlaine had discovered his ability to see the creatures ten years before. The skill was a gift— very few people could actually see angel wings without extensive training. As it turned out, Verlaine’s flawed vision—he had worn glasses since the fifth grade and could hardly see a foot in front of himself without them—allowed light into the eye in exactly the right proportion for him to see the full spectrum of angel wings. He’d been born to be an angel hunter.
Now Verlaine could not block out the colored light rising around the angelic creatures, the fields of energy that separated these beings from the flat, colorless spaces occupied by humans. He found himself tracking them as they moved around the Champ de Mars, noting their movements even while wishing to shut out their hallucinatory pull. Sometimes he was sure that he was going crazy, that the creatures were his personal demons, that he lived in a custom- made circle of hell in which an endless variety of devils were paraded before him, as if amassed for the purpose of taunting and torturing him.
But these were the kinds of thoughts that could land him in a sanitarium. He had to be careful to keep his balance, to remember that he saw things at a higher frequency than normal people, that his gift was something he must cultivate and protect even as it hurt him. Bruno, his friend and mentor, the man who had brought him from New York and trained him as an angel hunter, had given him pills to calm his nerves, and although Verlaine tried to take as few as possible, he found himself reaching for an enamel box in his jacket pocket and tapping out two white pills.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. Bruno stood behind him, his expression severe. “The cuts are indicative of an Emim attack,” he said under his breath.
“The charred skin confirms that,” Verlaine said. He unbuttoned his jacket—vintage yellow 1970s polyester sport coat of questionable taste—and stepped close to the body. “Does it have any kind of identification?”
His mentor removed a wallet, its pale suede stained with blood, and began to sort through it. Suddenly Bruno’s expression changed. He held up a plastic card.
Verlaine took the card. It was a New York driver’s license with a photo of a woman with black hair and green eyes. His heart beat hard in his chest as he realized that it belonged to Evangeline Cacciatore. He took a deep breath before turning back to Bruno.
“Do you think this could really be her?” Verlaine said, watching his boss’s expression carefully. He knew that everything—his relationship with Bruno, his connection to the Angelogical Society, the course of his life from that point forward—would depend upon how he handled himself in the next ten minutes.
“Evangeline is a human woman; this is a blue-blooded Nephil female,” Bruno replied, nodding toward the bloody corpse between them. “But be my guest.”
Verlaine slid his fingers between the buttons of the victim’s trench coat, his hands trembling so hard he had to steady himself to make out the shape of her shoulders. The features of the woman were utterly unrecognizable.
He remembered the first time he had seen Evangeline. She had been both beautiful and somber at once, looking at him with her large green eyes as if he were a thief come to steal their sacred texts. She had been suspicious of his motives and fierce in her determination to keep him out. Then he made her laugh and her tough exterior had crumbled. That moment between them had been burned into him, and no matter how he tried, he had never been able to forget Evangeline. It had been over a decade since they had stood together in the library at St. Rose Convent, books open before them, both of them unaware of the true nature of the world. “There were Giants on the Earth in those days, and after.” These words, and the woman who showed them to him, had changed his life.
He hadn’t told anyone the truth about Evangeline. Indeed, no one knew that she was one of the creatures. For Verlaine, keeping Evangeline’s secret had been an unspoken vow: He knew the truth, but he would never tell a soul. It was, he realized now, the only way to remain faithful to the woman he loved.
Verlaine tucked the driver’s license into his pocket and walked away.
McDonald’s, avenue des Champs-Élysées, first arrondissement, Paris
Paris was full of angelologists and, as such, one of the most dangerous places in the universe for an Emim angel like Eno, who had a tendency toward recklessness. Like the rest of her kind, she was tall and willowy, with high cheekbones, full lips, and gray skin. She wore heavy black eye makeup, red lipstick, and black leather, and often wore her black wings openly, unafraid, daring angelologists to see them. The gesture was considered an act of provocation, but Eno didn’t have any intention of hiding. This would be their world soon. The Grigoris had promised her this.
Even so, there were angelologists lurking everywhere in Paris— scholars who looked like they hadn’t left the Academy of Angelology’s archive in fifty years, overzealous initiates taking photographs of whatever creature they could find, angelological biologists looking for samples of angelic blood, and, worst of all as far as Eno was concerned, the teams of angel hunters out to arrest all angelic creatures. These idiots often mistook Golobiums for Emim and Emim for the more pure creatures like the Grigoris. Hunters seemed to be on every corner lately, watching, waiting, ready to take their prey into custody. For those who could detect the hunters, life in Paris was merely inconvenient. For those who could not, each movement through the city was a deadly game.
Of course Eno had strict rules of engagement, and her first and most important rule was to leave the risk of being captured to others. After she had killed Evangeline, she’d removed herself from the scene quickly and walked on the Champs-Élysées, where nobody would think to look for her. She understood that sometimes it was best to hide in plain sight.
Eno folded her hands around the Styrofoam cup, taking in the ceaseless motion of the Champs-Élysées. She would be going back to her masters as soon as possible now that her work in Paris was finished. She’d been assigned to find and kill a young female Nephil. She’d tracked the creature for weeks, watching her, learning her patterns of behavior. She’d become curious about her target. Evangeline was unlike any other Nephil she had seen before. According to her masters, Evangeline was a child of the Grigori, but she had none of the distinguishing characteristics of an angel of her lineage. She had been raised among regular people, had been abandoned by the Nephilim, and—from everything that Eno had observed— was dangerously sympathetic to the ways of humanity. The Grigoris wanted Evangeline dead. Eno never let her masters down.
And they, she was certain, would not let her down either. The Grigoris would take her home to Russia, where she would blend into the masses of Emim angels. In Paris, she was too conspicuous. Now that her work was done, she wanted to leave this dangerous and loathsome city.
She’d learned the dangers of Parisian angelologists the hard way. Many years ago, when she was young and naïve to the ways of humans, she had nearly been killed by an angelologist. It had been the summer of 1889, during the Paris World’s Fair, and people had flooded into the city to see the newly erected Eiffel Tower. She strolled through the fair and then ventured into the throngs in the fields nearby. Unlike many Emim, she adored walking among the lowly beings that populated Paris, loved to have coffee in their cafés and walk in their gardens. She liked to be drawn into the rush of human society, the exuberant energy of their futile existence.
In the course of her stroll, she noticed a handsome English soldier staring at her from across the Champ de Mars. They’d spoken for some minutes about the fair, then he took her by the arm and led her past the crowds of foot soldiers, the prostitutes and scavengers, past the carriages and horses. From his soft voice and gentlemanly manner, she assumed him to be more elevated than most human beings. He held her hand gently, as if she were too delicate to touch, all the while examining her with the care of a jeweler appraising a diamond. Human desire was something she found fascinating—its intensity, the way love controlled and shaped their lives. This man desired her. Eno found this amusing. She could still recall his hair, his dark eyes, the dashing figure he cut in his suit and hat.
She tried to gauge whether the man recognized her for what she was. He led her away from the crowds, and when they were alone behind a hedge, he looked into her eyes. A change came over him— he’d been gentle and amorous, and now a wash of violence infused his manner. She marveled at his transformation, the changeable nature of human desire, the way he could love and hate her at once. Suddenly the man withdrew his dagger and lunged at her. “Beast,” he hissed, as he thrust the blade at Eno, his voice filled with hatred. Eno reacted quickly, jumping aside, and the knife missed its mark: Instead of her heart, the soldier sliced a gash across her shoulder, cutting through her dress and into her body, leaving the flesh to fold away from her bone like a piece of lace. Eno had turned on him with force, crushing the bones of his throat between her fingers until his eyes hardened to pale stones. She pulled him behind the trees and destroyed all traces of what she had found beautiful in him: His lovely eyes, his skin, the delicate fleshy curl of his ear, the fingers that had—only minutes before—given her pleasure. She took the man’s peacoat and draped it over her shoulders to hide her injury. What she couldn’t hide was her humiliation.
The cut had healed, but she was left with a scar the shape of a crescent moon. Every so often she would stand before a mirror examining the faint line, to remind herself of the treachery that humans were capable of performing. She realized, after reading an account in the newspaper, that the man was an angelologist, one of the many English agents in France in the nineteenth century. She had been led into a trap. Eno had been tricked.
This man was long dead, but she could still hear his voice in her ear, the heat of his breath as he called her a beast. The word beast was embedded in her mind, a seed that grew in her, freeing her from every restraint. From that moment on her work as a mercenary began to please her more and more with each new victim. She studied the angelologists’ behavior, their habits, their techniques of hunting and killing angelic beings until she knew her work in and out. She could smell a hunter, feel him, sense his desire to capture and slaughter her. Sometimes she even let them bring her into custody. Sometimes she even let them act out their fantasies with her. She let them take her to their beds, tie her up, play with her, hurt her. When the fun was over, she killed them. It was a dangerous game, but one she controlled.
Eno slid on a pair of oversize sunglasses, the lenses black and bulbous. She rarely went outside without them. They disguised her large yellow eyes and her unnaturally high cheekbones—the most distinct Emim traits—so that she looked like a human female. Leaning back in her chair, she stretched her long legs and closed her eyes, remembering the terror in Evangeline’s face, the resistance of the flesh as she slid her nails under the rib cage and ripped it open, the frisson of surprise Eno had felt upon seeing the first rush of blue blood spill onto the pavement. She had never killed a superior creature before, and the experience went against everything she had been trained to do. She had expected a fight worthy of a Nephil. But Evangeline had died with the pathetic ease of a human woman.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and as she reached for it, she checked the crowds walking by, her gaze flicking from humans to angels. There was only one person who used that number, and Eno needed to be certain that she could speak privately. Emim were bound by their heritage to serve Nephilim, and for years, she had simply done her duty, working for the Grigoris out of gratitude and fear. She was of a warrior caste and she accepted this fate. She wanted to do little else but to experience the slow diminishing of a life, the final gasping for breath of her victims.
Fingers trembling, she took the call. She heard her master’s raspy, whispery voice, a seductive voice she associated with power, with pain, with death. He said only a few words, but she knew at once— from the way he spoke, his voice laced with poison—that something had gone wrong.