The angels passed around pictures of the dead person, laughing and telling stories about the deceased’s life. Despite their cheery expressions, a touch of sickness tinged their skin. Bags hung beneath many eyes, but few looked as close to death as Belkor, whose sallow skin clung to their bones. They sat away from the rest of the group. Their hair hung in a loose bun at the nape of their neck, the same red hue as their eyes.
Their parent’s body lie in front of them, still and quiet. A white shroud covered them. Oil dripped from the shroud to the kindling below, and Bel stared. Time passed. Condolences from fellow angels and distant siblings lasted centuries, and the best response they could muster was a shrug and a muttered “Thank you.”
They had known it was coming. In the end, all creatures fell to death. Ganus had lived three-hundred forty-seven years, a full life for anyone. The impact they’d had on the Board and Paradise was immeasurable. Ganus would be reincarnated, soul transformed and given to a new body somewhere in the universe. These were the things Bel told themself in an attempt to calm their grief. It didn’t work.
Belkor was brought back from their thoughts by a hand on their shoulder. They looked up, unable to match the kind smile of their parent. Alouise had been Bel’s second closest parent, but the relationship between them had been nothing compared to the one Bel had shared with Ganus. Ganus had been the one to raise Bel since hatching, to nurture and mold. Alouise had visited every month or so when Bel had been a juvenile, but now they couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen each other.
“You look nearly as sick as me,” Bel said, the closest they’d come to a joke in several days.
“Many angels loved Ganus dearly,” said Alouise. Their hand fell from Bel’s shoulder. “You should join in with the reminiscing. We are here to celebrate Ganus’ life, after all.”
Bel shook their head and turned back to watching oil drip from the shroud.
“I think I would only make everyone feel worse.” Before Alouise could attempt to persuade them more, Bel added, “I won’t die. I promise. It is definitely hard to deal with, but they lived a good life, right? I just with they didn’t have to go so soon. I’ll move on, but I need time.” The words were harder than they meant, but they couldn’t bring themself to care much.
“It’s a natural process in the cycle,” said Alouise, though the words sounded rehearsed.They let silence sit between them until a clap of thunder rattled their seats and shook the dark clouds above.
“It’s time to send off Ganus,” said Alouise. “Are you ready?”
Hearing their natural cue, the funeral guests gathered around the body and sat at the benches, a reverent quietness taking over. Bel breathed deep before standing and approaching the body.
It was much worse up close. The damp shroud clung to the body’s form, barely masking the feature of the body beneath. Bel’s insides twisted, and they struggled to hold back their tears. Throat constricted, they reached forward and held out their hands. A ball of light formed between their palms. It spun in the air as if suspended by a string. Turning their palms down, they watched as the ball descended. Belkor stepped back from the body, giving it a wide berth before the hot orb connected with the body and the whole apparatus went up in smoke, consuming shroud and flesh and wood. From the tips of the fire came lights, sparkling mist that changed its hue as it floated towards the thunder clouds.
Bel couldn’t hold back anymore. Clasping a hand over their mouth, they wept openly. Sobs shook their entire body. Alouise came closer to the pyre to wrap their child in an embrace. Bel tried to push them away first, teeth gritted, but eventually resigned to nestling in the comfort of a familiar bosom. They didn’t pull away until they were able to control themself. Alouise asked if they needed anything, their own eyes wet. Bel shook their head. Once sure they’d be stable, Alouise left them to be alone.
Bel wasn’t sure how long they stood watching the flames before Alouise returned. They felt an arm wrap around their shoulder, and they leaned into it. Alouise put their mouth lose to their ear.
“You’ll kill yourself if you keep grieving like this.”
Bel’s shoulders tightened, as if trying to get as far from the source of the voice as possible. They turned their head just enough to see that it was not Alouise who had come to their side, but someone else, and they tried to push the angel away, stopped only by the other’s strength.
“What are you doing here, Kael?” Bel asked, trying to keep their tone quiet.
“I’m paying my respects to Ganus, of course.”
Bel crossed their arms over their chest, hoping to still their trembling hands. They tried to shoulder Kael away again, but they had a firm grip around them and wouldn’t be easily moved.
“You shouldn’t be here. I don’t want you here.”
“Don’t be so rude, Bel. We used to be best friends.”
” ‘Used to’ being key,” Bel said. “If you’ve come to harass me, could you do it some other time? Not at my parent’s send off?”
“I didn’t come to harass you. I wouldn’t dare to do such a thing.” They sounded so sincere that Bel almost believed them. The pause gathering between the two made them wonder if Kael might actually try a hand at comfort. Maybe they had a shred of decency in them. “However, I must that it was about time that piece of shit died. I thought it was never going to happen. I mean, they’ve been ruining Paradise for over a century, so-”
Bel didn’t let them finish. They spun around, flesh glowing as if a fire had been lit inside them and illuminated their veins. With their entire weight, they slammed a fist into Kael’s cheek. The offender stumbled back, feigning shock, but they had no time to goad Bel further. The angel was too far gone. Kael tried to step away from the punches they threw, but Bel was too fast, advancing and refusing to let up even when Kael had fallen to the ground. The pyre blazed beside them as Bel wailed, teeth bared as they struck their victim over and over. At first, the hits were harmless, more shock than pain, but then Bel’s fist gleamed as if it had caught a beam of sun, and it left burns across the other’s face wherever it touched. It wasn’t until then that Kael began to fight back, but Belkor was relentless.
A group of angels had to pull Bel off, so they resorted to yelling, unable to see anything but Kael sitting up and touching the delicate burns on their face. The sight of them already healing drove Bel crazier.
“I’ll kill you,” they snarled. “I’ll kill you, you piece of filth. You waste of life. I’ll kill you.”
Bel couldn’t hear the angels trying to talk to them. The only thing they could focus on was Kael, who was surrounded by a concerned chorus. Restraints were forced around Bel’s wrists, keeping their hands firmly locked behind their back.
“You planned this,” Bel said, barely a whisper. They stopped fighting back the angels long enough for the fact to sink in. This was a fallable offense. Bel could be banished from Paradise for this. “You planned this. You trash! They planned this!”
As Bel was led away from the funeral, away from the pyre and the last remnants of their family, they swore they saw Kael smile.