Angelopolis A Novel

The First Circle


Allée des Refuzniks, Eiffel Tower, seventh arrondissement, Paris, 2010

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,”