The angelologists examined the body. It was intact, without decay, the skin as smooth and as white as parchment. The lifeless aquamarine eyes gazed heavenward. Pale curls fell against a high forehead and sculptural shoulders, forming a halo of golden hair. Even the robes—the cloth woven of a white shimmering metallic material that none of them could identify exactly—remained pristine, as if the creature had died in a hospital room in Paris and not a cavern deep below the earth.
It should not have surprised them to find the angel in that preserved condition. The fingernails, nacreous as the inside of an oyster shell; the long smooth navel-less stomach; the eerie translucency of the skin—everything about the creature was as they knew it would be, even the positioning of the wings was correct. And yet it was too lovely, too vital for something they had studied only in airless libraries, prints of quattrocento paintings spread before them like road maps. All their professional lives they had waited to see it. Although not one of them would have admitted so, they secretly suspected to find a monstrous corpse, all bones and fiber shreds, like something unearthed from an archaeological dig. Instead there was this: a delicate tapering hand, an aquiline nose, pink lips pressed in a frozen kiss. The angelologists hovered above the body, gazing down in anticipation, as if they expected the creature to blink its eyes and wake.