Farewells

Salvation: Chapter Nine

The day’s work was over by the time Gadreel and the silver-toothed man returned to the yard. “You got lucky, taking your audience with the court so late. Not enough time to judge you and prepare for your punishment. One more night under my watch it is. Just maybe we’ll excuse the rest of the lot from pounding rocks tomorrow so they can watch the people passing by to watch your execution. To listen for the sound of the cheers when your head rolls.”

Gadreel nodded, taking in the words, but holding back his response. He was excused through the building and to the yard without another word.

The fire between the prisoner’s shacks burned brighter than the two nights previous. A few heads turned his way, taking in again his unlikely presence. Piers stood and met him halfway. “Once again, you return from the castle. It seems that you are a person so complex that they cannot decide what to do with you.”

Gadreel shook his head, approaching the fire with Piers at his tail. “No. I have had an audience with the king of this land. It is decided. I am to be executed.”

More sets of eyes landed upon him, only daring a glance, before furrowing themselves once more before the heat of the flame. Arthur stood up from the edge of the group, arms crossed. “And you don’t seem the least bit worried. A shame it seems our deal is going to fall through.”

Piers blinked at the big man before begging for Gadreel’s attention again. “When? What sort of crime are they charging you with?”

“Tomorrow.” Gadreel answered. “They say I have attempted to poison the minds of the people who inhabit this land. I have yet to be here more than a small collection of days and hardly have my words gone outside of this group of people here, behind these walls. Your king… his word is without question, it seems.”

Piers shoved his hands under his arms to warm his fingers. “What he says… people believe. That is the ease that being a king has. And it seems his belief is that a stranger, an outsider… is the biggest threat to us all. Even if nobody can seem to understand what sort of meaning your words carry.”

Gadreel nodded and pushed up to the fire, gently making way between the others attempting to soak up the warmth. “I beg of you all… I sense the capacity in you all to accept salvation. To come to God after your time here on this land has come to an end, at whatever point that may be. That is my offering to you all before I leave this place. All you must do is choose to believe, and the Lord will reach out to you when the time comes.”

Gadreel looked for those craving acceptance, but only saw the downward glances of those who either did not understand or care to do so. Piers grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. “I’m sure you mean well, Gad, but the best most of us can do is live each day on its own. The end… is just that. No more toiling. We wish for no more. But your presence here has been… something unique for all of us.”

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Royals

Salvation: Chapter Eight

The thin coverings on Gadreel’s feet wore through in several places. The thin skin of his soles made contact with the cold, smooth cobbles as they marched back into the city and up to the constable building and their place of belonging. The cart, rattling full of scrap wood and jagged kindling stopped first.

The silver-toothed man greeted them at the door, looking them up and down with crossed arms. “Everyone decided to act civilized, it seems. And what a good haul,” he finished, placing himself behind with wagon to examine the load, hands on his hips. “These big scraps will burn for a long time. We’ll just take a few for ourselves.”

Piers trudged forward the best he could, ankles still bound to the others behind him. “I heard for sure that the weather was going to change for the warmer. But seems you’re still cold too, eh?”

The constable huffed and sent the back of his hand into Piers’ ribs. “Get inside, or you’ll all just head back out to the yard with your shackles still on.”

Arthur grabbed at Piers’ shoulder and turned him to face the door. “Move.”

Gadreel’s body felt immediately lighter as the metal descended from his feet. The fabric of the trousers had begun to fray. Beneath, the skin upon his legs had taken on red abrasions. The others were freed and pointed out the door to the yard, but the silver-toothed man held him in place with a heavy hand. “You will stay. We need you.”

Gadreel nodded and caught Piers glancing back at him before he was shoved out the doorway. The silver-toothed man stared into his eyes, arms crossed until a smile crept across his face. “Let’s not keep his highness any longer. They wanted to see you today. I’m not sure who decided to let you go off with those blokes all morning, but at least you’re back now. I hope you don’t care for more walking.”

Outside, the cart was being unloaded of its haul and passed through the fence by the other constables, who smirked at Gadreel and the silver-toothed man behind him. They marched the opposite way of the forest, back to where they had gone before to be examined by the strange men of the castle.

The silver-toothed man remained stiffly behind, his hand on Gadreel’s wrist held against his back. “You’ve grown more docile since we brought you in. Tamed. Not a single word of ‘blas-fe-me’, even to our collection of prisoners you made nice with. They themselves have done much worse than I could ever bring myself to do.”

Gadreel shook his head gently. “I believe in forgiveness, as in the way we wish all to be.”

“Eh, we believe in forgiveness as well, just after a few months or more of hard time working the yard,” he chuckled. “Or perhaps you were intending to save all of them from that? That’s what your order was… Salvation? Not that I would receive nor accept any in the first place.”

“All are deserving,” Gadreel stopped walking for a moment to turn back. The silver-toothed man shoved him to keep walking, and he continued, “You too may be saved. I would hope you would accept it if you knew its worth.”

“I’ll tell you again, I don’t want any, whatever it is. Save your words for the King. He shall be the one to decide if your words have any warrant being uttered in this land.”

“The King?” Gadreel asked, but was only met with a hurried shove to the back.

Ahead, the cobbled street continued to rise, up to the highest point of the town where the structures towered up way above them, walls of rock and fine timbers, with wide doors and windows of glass. The largest of all of them, decorated with pale banners, was their destination.

The castle was guarded by knights in light panels of leather armor, standing straight-faced and straight-bodied for all to see. Gadreel and the commanding constable were offered sole gazes and allowed further in until they reached a wide set of doors, which opened for them to the foretold meeting place.

Fires burned in the corner, offering a warmth that Gadreel had not felt in some time. The walk up to the throne was clear, but people of all sorts in fancy and colorful clothing clamored lowly at either side, looking upon them, but particularly him.

“He simply looks like a man.”

“He is dirty.”

“The constable has had his way with him.”

“What could he do?”

“He’s been with those other prisoners in the yard.”

“He carries wings beneath his clothing, I’ve heard.”

Without a warning, all those voices were suddenly extinguished. At the back of the court was a set of doors that opened for the wide man, dressed in red and black and white, toddling out to find the seat that looked out upon the audience. Sitting shifting backward towards his seat with the help of his servants, his gaze landed on Gadreel.

The silver-toothed man pushed one last time at his back and stepped off to the side, sliding up to the crowd. A thinner man in fine robes stepped up beside the throne and spoke with delicate yet voluminous words. “I present the King, His Highness, Lord Cassian.”

A deliberate round of clapping washed over the crowd then disappeared as soon as it began, allowing the King to sit and finally speak for himself.

“Stranger who comes before us today. State your name.”

Gadreel felt all the eyes of the room on him, and he answered, “Gadreel.”

“Gadreel,” the King repeated, his chest rising and falling under the robes. “Many a person who lives in this city has heard of your presence. Certainly, it would not be long before all who reside in this kingdom know of it. And they know not just of the words you have attempted to spread, but of your peculiar form. You hide them now under your clothing, but there are those who saw your true form, uncovered, upon your arrival. Constable, allow the people of the court to gaze upon them.”

The silver-toothed man nodded and stepped back out into the aisle, jerking the back of Gadreel’s clothing up. The bare wings, just barely sprouting the nubs of fresh feathers, unfolded and flexed in the sight of the courtiers. The constable guided Gadreel around, allowing all eyes to fall upon the appendages, urging forth murmuring.

When all were satisfied, the King spoke again slowly, allowing the crowd to reset. “Tell me, Gadreel, in what land, what kingdom, do folk sprout wings like birds?”

Gadreel lifted his chin to speak, “In the Kingdom of Heaven. Those of us who are angels, messengers of God.”

“God,” the monarch repeated, leaning back into the throne. “We receive visitors from far and wide. Never have I heard of such a place or such a king. Why, at this point in time, have you come before us? Before my people?”

“It has become known to us that this is a land escaping the salvation of his holiness. The Lord desires that you come to understand and receive this salvation.”

The King nodded. “Such are the words that our wise men gathered from their meeting with you as well. But we are at a loss understanding the true meaning of this salvation that you so wish to bring us. To be saved, it is said? From what?”

“Salvation is to be saved from the unknown, from eternity. To know God’s grace, and to allow him to take you with him into the afterlife.”

“Afterlife? There is no life after death, if that is what you mean to say. There is nothing. Nothing, unless you may allow us to count the accomplishments that follow us. As the ruler of this land, I know such things better than most. I work towards bettering this land and birthing strong heirs to take my place when I am gone. That is my legacy. Surely you understand these things? But perhaps, I will ask, what would become of us if we decide to forgo this salvation?”

Gadreel shook his head deeply and solemnly. “To know of salvation and then to forgo it is to doom oneself to the eternity of darkness, nothingness… Purgatory. Possibly worst of all, the tortures of Hell.”

“I see. Purgatory… Hell. Names unheard by anyone here. Look at the faces of the people of this room. Your words do not reach them. They cannot fathom what you say. You cannot frighten us with things that are simply nonsense.” The King nodded and a smirk crept across his face. “But I assume that you, yourself are saved, good angel of God?”

“I know it in my heart that my existence and my deeds are eternal, separate from this world and this form I have taken.”

“Then to you, something like death is meaningless? If we were to enact the punishment for treachery, for poisoning the minds of the people of this land… to remove your head… you would not contest it?”

Gadreel took in the words and offered a sole nod of his head. “If it were inescapable. Yes.”

The King clapped his hands several times before clasping them together. “Then we shall test, to the last moment if necessary, if your salvation will stay your conviction. Tomorrow, the guillotine shall fall.”

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Trees

Salvation: Chapter Seven

The morning was cold, just like the others, and Gadreel found his body difficult to move. The fire pit between the shacks was quiet, only its meager warmth remaining to signal that the glowing embers deep inside still lived. A thin film of ice had grown and partially melted in the troughs of water that the men washed themselves in. Before reaching the front of the line, Piers stepped out and knocked at the door of the constable’s shack.

Gadreel watched from the line as the door opened for him. “Breakfast isn’t ready yet. Get.”

“We’re running low on wood. Our fire is going to die off at this rate.”

“I don’t care,” the man on duty huffed. “It will get warmer soon, you won’t need much more. The calendar doesn’t lie.”

“The calendar doesn’t set the weather, that’s the wind’s doing.”

“Then stay out of the wind’s path.” The constable shrugged, preparing to shut the door.

“Tell that to the holes in our clothing and gaps in the siding.”

“What a pain. Fine, you know the drill. Choose who you want with you. Five people, max. Someone’ll yell when the supply cart comes this way.”

Piers nodded and retreated gracefully. He cut back to his previous place in line, rejoining Gadreel’s side. “That’s done.”

“Get to the back!” A few of the others grumbled and shouted.

The younger man jerked his head back. “I’ve done what ya’ll won’t, ask for more firewood. Who’s with me for getting more?”

Some ignored him or shook their heads, while others shrugged and wearily nodded. Gadreel pulled his attention back to Piers, proceeding to the wash basin. “I will gladly join if it is to aid the others here. It cannot be much more of a hardship than the rock-breaking?”

Piers washed his face with quick swipes in the freezing water, pushing back his shaggy hair from his forehead. “I hoped you would say so. I fathom it isn’t too much worse. Certainly preferable to freezing to death. But it’s often the company that makes it more difficult.”

Arthur pushed up past the others, ramming his shoulder into those who weren’t paying attention as he passed. “I’m with you as well.”

Piers finished his business and stepped out of the line. “Be my guest.”

After the morning meal and a brief bout of work, the silver-toothed man stepped out into the yard, rubbing his stomach and drawing attention of the workers. “Piers, we’ve got the cart ready. Grab your helpers. N’ make it quick!”

Gadreel laid down his hammer as did a few of the others. It was Piers, Arthur, and a few other young but weathered men joining them. The silver-toothed man counted off five individuals as they went into the guards’ living space. “That’s enough. Stay where y’are now.”

Beside the main room was an open doorway to the old kitchen where Gadreel had been captured and plucked free of his plumes. One of the brutes glared at him and the others, waiting for their boss to give the next directions.

Gadreel and the other captives lined up as the big constable stood by the back door. The silver-toothed man blocked off the exit that would have led them to freedom otherwise. With a grunt, he grabbed something off the wall, a long object that rattled with a metallic clank. “A reminder,” he growled, “if any one of you is seen trying to get these off, you’ll return bring dragged behind the wagon.”

The device was tossed down in front of them; a set of shackles to bind their ankles together, with more links of rusted chain running between each pair to connect all five men in a single group. Gadreel watched as Arthur clasped the iron sections around his legs. The cuffs of their trousers winkled as the tight connection held them inseparable from one another. Gadreel did as the others, attaching the shackles and tightening them with a bolt and pin.

The silver-toothed man kicked at the chains on the ground to make sure that the group had properly become one, and one of the other guards twisted the security pins with long-handled pliers to hold them tighter.

“Alright then, Piers, lead the way.”

The constable pushed open the door and they trudged out carefully, the chains and their own movements holding them at a poor pace. Outside on the cobbled road awaited a cart drawn by a skinny donkey, its breath making clouds in the cold air. The captives lined up at the back of the cart in a single file with Piers at the front. The constable climbed up on the meager driver’s seat and flicked the reigns against the donkey’s back. “Keep up now.”

The worn wooden tires of the cart crackled and creaked as they began to move forward. Piers kept the pace, while the others moved their legs in barely matching strides.

“That isn’t for us?” Gadreel asked.

Arthur, directly ahead, chuckled. “It’s for the wood. Nothing but walking for us.”

“And keep up,” the constable at their rear added with a huff.

The city folk lining the cobble road glared and shook their heads as the group of prisoners passed. Some mumbled to each other, or spat. Small children giggled and ran close, before dashing back, biting thumbs at them. Gadreel attempted to seek out the stranger’s gazes, attempting to make sense of the feelings they held. He recognized a few of them from the days previous when he had been free from the walls. Someone amongst them had reached out to the constable to have him arrested. He felt himself being tugged forward, the cadence in his steps suddenly failing as the person in front of him continued on without noticing.

The city thinned out the further from the prison yard they descended. The cobbles faded under the wash of old dried mud, and eventually dwindled down little by little until the path was nothing but dirt and weeds. By that time, the road was lined with trees, and beyond, a few meager houses and farms that peeked out from behind the foliage.

Beyond most signs of people is where they stopped. It began with the sound of the driver yapping at the donkey to halt, followed by the rumbling of the cart’s wheels, then the cease in the jangling of the chains that connected the five prisoners in a line. They stretched their legs and bent their knees to the lengths they could manage and took in the newfound silence.

The driver and the rear guard met somewhere in the middle and mumbled to one another. The driver then turned back and waived at the group to leave the road. “Go and get’cher wood. And don’t try anything funny. We’ll be watching.”

Piers took them forward, off the road, and into the old dry grass. The trees were nearly naked, with tiny green buds sprouting from the tips of the branches. The remains of their shedding littered the ground, in piles of decaying leaves and shards of old branches. The captives stepped out of the line the best they could to gather up the old shattered boughs left to rot and desiccate on the ground.

“The quicker we go, the more they’ll let us gather,” the young man second to last in the line spoke forward.

“These aren’t the best pickings…” Piers sighed, trudging forward.

Despite the conditions, their arms became laden with viable sticks and logs that would provide them with the heat they desired. At first, they held the loose bundles under their arms, then supported them between their outstretched grasps until most of the men were sufficiently weighed down.

“Let’s get back, my arms are tired.”

“Ahead,” Piers shook his head. “A snag, it looks like. Old dead wood, thick too.”

“We can’t carry that.”

“As a team, we can,” Gadreel spoke up.

Piers trudged to a halt before the barely-standing tree and scanned its near branchless features.

“Let’s just drop off what we got.”

“Who knows if they’ll let us head back out this way again,” Piers sighed. “Those oafs are too lazy.”

“Too big.”

“I’ll split apart soon as it hits the ground. Or you want to freeze yer toes off, burning only this kindling?”

“Fine.”

“Arthur?” Piers leaned into the old bark and looked to the big man.

He dumped the load from his arms and shrugged, stretching his shoulders. “Fine,” he grumbled, pushing into the edge of the tree with the others.

The ground beneath their feet began to shift, old roots hanging on barely to the loam beneath the cover of the leaves. There was a snapping, followed by a low huff from the men catching themselves, and the low thump of the dead tree meeting the ground and separating into jagged sections. “There we go.”

“A few proper scraps.”

Arthur cracked his knuckles as he followed the others to the fallen bits of wood, glancing back. “If we can do something like this, ya’ll think those two guards would give us any resistance?”

“All it takes is one of us to fall and drag down the rest of the line,” Piers huffed, tearing up a section of wood out of the mass of timber.

“You heard what he said,” Gadreel spoke up. “They will tow us behind the wagon for acting out.”

Arthur shook his head. “Why so wary, new guy? You’re obviously special to them, they wouldn’t dare it.”

Gadreel shook his head. “Attacking these men would be unforgivable. They are simply doing a task given to them.”

“So soft now, are you? Even after being whipped?” The big man teased. “Or perhaps you’re just a piece of limp twine no matter what? Remember that we’re prisoners because they decided we should be.”

“Yes, we are deserving,” Piers interjected knowingly. “Best to serve out our time, and not cause these men any undue trouble.”

“That’s quite easy to say for someone with the most meager of crimes, even if it was done while serving the court of the king. The poor man who’s serving time for some debauchery.”

The two other men chuckled. Gadreel leaned forward around Arthur to glance at Piers, who pursed his lips and turned back forward.

“What was it,” Arthur taunted, pushing at Piers’ back. “Courting with the Queen’s chambermaid while at work? Perhaps even more? Even though the Royal family won’t see your face again, you’ll be out to walk elsewhere.”

Piers huffed loudly and leaned forward on one knee. “Let’s get this back before they decide we’ve been out here for too long.”

Arthur stood in place, anchoring the others. “Piers here is cocksure enough to know he can be uppity with the guards, but not enough to get in their way and really find himself on their bad sides. As for me, no sense in trying to play nice when they’re going to hold me as long as they like no matter what. Getting more blood on my hands doesn’t phase me.”

The hair stood on Gadreel’s neck, a feeling like never before. He gazed at Arthur’s wide palm, rough and stained from the work and deep with cracks. As if guided by an unknown force, he reached out and took the wide hand in his own, turning Arthur back his way forcefully.

“Don’t touch me,” the big man huffed, trying to pull away. His strength left him for that moment, allowing Gadreel’s hold to stay.

“I feel it,” he mumbled slowly, eyes glazed over. “The blood. The soul of another. You took someone’s life.”

The man behind grabbed at Gadreel’s shoulder. “Stop this.”

“Gad…” Piers said, worry creeping into his voice.

“Enough,” Arthur found the strength to yank free. “I do not need your cryptic words. You must know by now we’ve all heard enough. You don’t know what you’re doing, nor for what reasons. If you want to aid me, you already know what our deal is.”

“What are you talking about?” Piers spoke up.

Arthur jerked his leg back, pulling the chains attached to the younger man’s ankles. Piers fell forward, catching himself on his hands. “Let’s get this picked up and leave. It’s long past lunch now,” Arthur huffed, glancing up at the sky through the clearing.

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Threats

Salvation: Chapter Six

Gadreel felt his consciousness fading from him again with the light of the day. He had grown accustomed to the feeling every night, assuming the work he did during the day made it worse. The light in the sky would become dark, then his eyes, and before he knew it, the day would return. But that night was different.

A rough touch brought him back to consciousness, tucked into the corner of the cot. The low but threatening voices came with a shove to his side, pulling him away from his repose on the creaky platform of wood. “Up, freak.”

“It is… not daylight yet.”

“Get up, and keep your mouth shut,” Arthur’s deep, restrained voice was forcing him to attention in the darkness. It was only the embers of the dying fire that cast a light that night. The big man’s silhouette stood out against the glow.

Before he could shift himself upward, the thick gnarled hands tugged him up by the edges of his vestment and dragged him out into the yard. The clothes upon his legs met with the dew-soaked dead grass, lapping up the cold liquid before he was tossed down helplessly onto his side.

Through the cover of clouds was the glow of the moon, shining just enough light upon the others, the big man and two of his underlings. “What are your desires with me?”

Arthur sneered and huffed at the question. “Let’s have a chat about that, huh? There’s somethin’ unnatural about you. Those little things dangling from your back? What’re those?”

Gadreel sat up and rubbed his hands together, scraping off the sticky mud. “At one point, they were wings. That which all those of my kind bear.”

“That, I thought so,” The big man nodded. “My friend here was made to clean up the mess you made of them, all that fine, white plumage. Thought it was a bird, but instead it was a man. The feathers, they grow back?”

“In this form… I cannot be sure,” Gadreel shook his head slowly.

“That form?” Arthur grit his teeth, “Your words don’t make a lick of sense. Howsabout if they do grow back, can you fly?”

Gadreel imagined standing up, but something about the three men standing over him made him decide the opposite. “In this form…”

The big man leaned down close to his face, one hand on his shoulder with the other curled into a fist. “I don’t care to hear about your forms. They must have plucked you for a reason? To keep from simply flapping yourself over the walls here? If you can fly, I will make you aid me in getting out of here.”

“The possibility of all things aligning in such a way is unlikely.”

Arthur pushed himself up, tired, and began pacing about Gadreel in a circle. “I’d say the same for my chances of them letting me out as a free man. I need to get out. I’ve been here long enough… but waiting for you to sprout new feathers is something I’m willing to wait a little longer for.”

“You simply desire escape?”

“I’ve heard your words of salvation,” Arthur said, head shaking. “I don’t see any other way of making good on that sort of promise or whatever.”

“You are mistaken, sir.”

Arthur stomped loudly near his back. “You’re brave to say something like that to me. Here, a promise in return. I will make sure that they don’t lay their hands on you again while we await your wings to sprout again.”

“Your desires are clear, but I believe these men who keep us behind these walls will not make an escape easy.”

“They won’t havta’ know,” Arthur shook his head furiously, “As long as you keep things to yourself. From that Piers bloke the most.”

“Your ideas are intriguing. I shall focus myself on this task the best I can. But you must temper your expectations.”

“I don’t need your nonsense words. Just a word to let me know you understand what I want from you.”

“I understand.”

Arthur looked at the others, nodding his head. “Good. Get back to bed before they notice any of us up.”

Gadreel stood after the others departed and made his way back to the bunk alone, but soon found yet another person whispering to him in the dark. “What did they want from you?”

“Piers?”

“I was going to interrupt, but luckily it seemed like they only wanted to talk.”

“Yes. That is correct.”

“He must have wanted something from you.”

Gadreel almost spoke, but he remembered the words that the big man had said. Keep things to yourself. The desire to utter words that weren’t true entered his mind; a lie. Instead of speaking, he turned over and held his lips pursed together, awaiting the sound of Piers losing interest and turning back over.

“I can understand if you don’t want to say anything. But I wouldn’t agree to do anything for him. He’s not the kind of person you want to play around with. None of us are, to be honest. That’s why… we’re in here. But I won’t keep you awake any longer.”

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Wounds

Salvation: Chapter Five

“I’m sorry that had to happen to you,” Piers caught up with Gadreel, voice low, after the tools had been stored.

Gadreel shook his head tiredly, settling down on the ground in front of the dwellings. “I understand that I broke one of the rules of this place. I had to accept the consequences.”

“That’s hardly it,” Piers scoffed, setting himself down beside. “They want to make sure they are able to perform their spectacle of beatings to show that they aren’t going soft on us. You’re the newest and just happened to be outta’ place at the right time. There was someone you were talking to though, right?”

Gadreel nodded. “One like me.”

“Another outsider?”

“…Yes. If that is your word for it.”

Piers licked his dry lips. “You said… when you first got here, that this wasn’t your place, after all. I suppose it is like many people to look at someone who isn’t known around here and immediately think the worst of them. I’d even say that you don’t deserve to be behind these bars here. But I guess there’s more to you than I could ever know.”

“I will speak to you of anything you wish.” Gadreel forced himself up, his raw palms sinking into and pushing against the cold ground.

Piers glanced up at the man before looking back away. “Unless you really have a desire to talk about yourself, I don’ think I’ll be pryin’. I don’t think anything you say would stick with me, nor anyone else here. The impression I get from you, though, is that you’re the type that doesn’t belong.”

“It is more than of myself. Do you wish for salvation?” Gadreel asked despite the previous words.

“To be saved? From what— this? This place? I suppose that may come in time. But right now, I can only wish for a good portion of supper tonight,” Piers sighed, rubbing his neck, still sticky with sweat and growing cold.

“But after?”

The young man raised his eyes up at the sky as if to feign himself thinking. “Should I be thinking that far? You can only live in the moment, I’m afraid. At least, that’s what it feels like for me. Tomorrow, the next day, the day after that, next week… who knows for how long… we’ll be working away here behind these walls. Most of us will eventually be freed, made to leave this place. But then we just turn to another form of toiling.”

Gadreel shook his head. “I do not know much of this place, but I can be sure there is more than that.”

“If one has money…”

“In my home, there is no need for money, or toiling, or even suffering.”

“Maybe after we get out, we can find the road back there,” Piers offered a tired smile.

“It is a place where no roads lead,” Gadreel said without hesitation. “You must only open your heart to it, and at the end of your time here, it will accept your arrival.”

Piers nodded and shrugged. “I’m not sure what that means, but if we happen to meet up outside of this place, you can show me… tell me the way to do all that. But as I said, one day at a time.”

Gadreel nodded and glanced back at the others, sitting listlessly or poking at the meager fire, sometimes shifting out of the way of its smoke.

The dead grass growing up from the edge of the walls crinkled as Piers stood up. “You’re bleeding, Gad,” he said lowly.

Gadreel peered back. “Bleeding?”

“The bloodstains are soaking through your tunic. The crack of the whip can be tough on untrained skin. I should know. Nothing to think much about, really, but we should wash it off from the wounds before the flies start to swarm about.”

Gadreel nodded and watched as Piers pick himself off the ground. He followed as they walked towards the old troughs of water, filled little by little with the trickle from an old pipe. “It’s cold, but take off the tunic just for now.”

Gadreel glanced back at the shacks where the others had gone to rest. He slipped the collar up around his head and pulled the rest of the ratty clothes over his shoulders, forcing the bare wings to flex and reveal themselves. The cold air stung his skin and forced the fine hairs upon his body to stand on end.

Piers ripped a section from the hem of his own clothes and soaked them in the water before turning to Gadreel. “I see, the bulk from under your clothes…”

“I recognize no others here in this place possess such a form. These… they have been stripped of their coverings,” Gadreel explained, his back to the other man. “The people of this town did not seem comfortable with their appearance. It is simply the form I was given. Do not feel ashamed to look upon them. If you do not wish to, I will wash my own self.”

“You couldn’t reach these spots easily,” Piers sighed and pressed the clammy rag to Gadreel’s back, rubbing at the spots where the blood had dried. “The people of your land… do they all have… wings?”

“Those of us called Angels. Those who carry out God’s will.”

“I do remember you saying that. I suppose the will that your… God… imposed on you this time was to… be a messenger of sorts?”

“Yes. And to learn.”

“A shame you aren’t learning anything but how awful people can be,” Piers concluded. “There, cleaner than before. The bleeding had already stopped.”

Gadreel carefully pulled the clothing back over his head and shoulder. “The fact of people as a whole being… awful… is not accurate. Despite your place here… you have been kind. Why? To me, of all people?”

“I do not believe anyone needs a reason to be kind to another person.”

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