art by Eleanor Bennett
by Jess Hyslop
***Editor's Note: Disturbing. For adults.***
"Peter Whitt, you have been sentenced to death by the order of the High Priesthood. Your crime is that of the grossest treason: the attempted assassination of our most treasured Angel Ikrael, upon whom this nation's spiritual health depends. In payment for this abhorrent crime, you are to be hanged by the neck until you are dead. May the Lord have mercy on your soul."
The man on the scaffold is grubby, battered, and barefoot. Bruises mar his once pleasant face and his exposed torso shows evidence of prolonged torture. Yet Peter Whitt does not so much as blink as his doom is announced to the waiting crowd. Nor does he spare a glance for the Priest as the white-robed official rolls up his scroll and gestures the executioner forward. Peter does not even react as the masked man strides to his side, slips the noose around his neck, and grasps the lever that will open the trapdoor beneath his feet. He makes no response to the jeers of the crowd, not even when a clod of dirt, thrown by an enthusiastic spectator, flies past his ear.
But as the executioner yanks on the lever and Peter plummets down--in that instant between the trapdoor opening and the rope tautening--the convict's expression finally changes.
The Angel Ikrael writhed in the heart of the Sanctum, its eyes straining wide with pain and shock, its fingers scrabbling at the marble floor of its enclosure. Its wings thrashed open and closed, convulsing with the Angel's panic. It tried to speak, but all that issued from its throat were incoherent chokes--and blood.
The Angel's severed tongue lay beside it.
Peter Whitt knelt just outside the Angel's cage, his head cocked slightly to one side as he watched the victim's suffering.
Silver blood gushed from the Angel's mouth like a perverse fountain. It spattered Angel and Peter both, pooling on the floor and dribbling through the bars of the cage. Peter inspected the fluid as it collected between his knees, admiring the way it shimmered in the lamplight.
A strange, subtle gleam lurked in Peter's eyes. It looked like joy. It looked like satisfaction.
When the guards burst into the Sanctum, he offered no resistance.
The Angel gasped, staring at Peter. "What did you do?"
Peter met its golden eyes, a smile tugging at his bleeding lip. "Something you couldn't."