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The light’s gentle embrace began to leave Kale the moment his feet hit the floor of the waiting room. His wings shuddered as they unwrapped themselves from the spirit they’d been holding.
“Is this Heaven?” the man asked. His brow furrowed as he took in the small, empty, white room. “Not really what I was hoping for.”
Kale offered him a faint smile and stepped forward, raising his right hand. He knocked three times on the white, double doors before him. Each of his steady knocks echoed within the chamber on the other side. As always, the doors opened after the last knock.
Kale turned to the spirit and indicated with his left hand to the room. “If you would please enter.”
“Why?” the man asked hesitantly, his eyes focused ahead. “What’s in there?”
The word whispered through Kale’s mind as he stood watching the spirit. Inside the chamber sat the Angels of Judgment, of Punishment. The Council. The angels who decided where each mortal soul would be placed for the next decade.
The default answer fell from his lips. “This is where it shall be decided where to place you.”
“See, I thought you said Heaven was what I choose it to be? And I have to tell you, this is not what I chose.”
“I understand. Once the Council has explained the rules, you will be escorted to your own…room. However you would like to spend your time there will be waiting in that room for you.” Kale hoped the explanation would be enough to convince the spirit to enter. If he refused one more time, Kale would be forced to drag him into the chamber,
something he really disliked doing.
“Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so?” the spirit replied with a confident smile as he walked through the double doors.
Kale thought it would be best not to mention that everything he had just said would only be the case with a pure spirit, with a soul who had not wronged others and had lived a good life.
New spirits’ auras were always white. Even if their souls were indeed unclean, the aura would only begin turning color the moment they were in a Collector’s presence. Yet Kale had watched this man before he made himself known, and this man’s aura had been black the minute his soul left his body.
Even if this man’s aura hadn’t turned black so soon, if Kale hadn’t seen the way the man had died, he would still be able to sense the sins lurking in him. They radiated from him.
The Council would only have to take a simple glimpse at him. Kale had no doubt that their judgment would be quick.
Kale followed him into the circular chamber, watching as the spirit walked confidently into the center of the room, crossing the faint line that formed a smaller circle upon the floor. From the moment a spirit stepped over that line, there was only one way they could leave the Council’s chamber, and that was by being sent up, or down.
Every inch of the room was a crisp, blinding white. The ceiling climbed upwards, forming a high arch where a large orb of white light hovered. The Council sat across the way from the door on a raised, curved, platform. Apart from the marble chairs they sat upon, the room was completely bare. The only door leading into and out of the chamber was the one that had just shut behind him.
Kale placed himself directly in front of the double doors and gave a firm nod to the angels across the room. The seven members of the Council regarded him with a single glance before their attention zoned in on the spirit before them. His aura had become a slit of darkness in the light of the room.
Yes, the Council’s judgment would be quick. By their expressions, Kale would guess that they had already decided what to do with this one.
“So, I guess you’re the welcoming committee?” The spirit laughed.
Kale sighed at his remark. What happened to the days of respect? The days when a mortal would be in awe to behold the faces of these Angels? Of any Angel, including myself?
But he already knew the answer. Lucifer. The first of the fallen. He was kicked out of Heaven for seeking to posses the Creator’s throne, and now he reigned over Hell, the only place the Creator would allow him to dwell. Those who fell with him became demons, as the mortals tended to call them. Dark angels, their powers corrupted by Lucifer’s and his
constant battle to overthrow the Creator. They wander the Earth, pouring their vicious lies and ideas into mortal’s ears. Corrupting them. Turning them to sin.
Then the watchers were born. They were sent to Earth to stop the demons from condemning the mortals’ souls. Only, the demons turned on them, twisting their minds to the unthinkable, and the mortals got a frontrow seat to the humiliation they cast upon every angel. For their disgrace, the Creator threw them into the abyss for all eternity. After that, the mortals faith—belief—had wavered, faded. Their souls became easier to corrupt.
“Alexander John Benson. Born nineteen-sixty-seven.” Rehema’s soft voice broke through Kale’s musings.
Kale turned his attention back to the task at hand and watched as Alexios’ green eyes narrowed at the human. “You have spent your years cheating, thieving, lying, abusing, and murdering.” As he spoke, the blank walls flooded with images, replaying Alexander’s entire life, a play-byplay of all the unspeakable things he had ever done.
“Whoa.” Alexander jumped back, looking at the images around him. “What is this?” he asked, looking up at Kale. “What the hell is going on here?”
Kale kept his gaze fixed firmly on the Council. His duty was done; he had no right to speak unless they wished him to.
“Am I on trial or something?” Alexander turned back around to face the Council.
“Yes,” Bana stated boldly. Her thin lips were pressed into a line, her gaze hard as she stared at the mortal. “Your life has been weighed.”
“Your soul is black,” Nathifa commented. “Full of corruption and poison.”
“Your sins are many and not easily forgiven,” Rueni finished.
“Therefore we sentence you to four decades in Hell,” Minkah proclaimed, raising his white staff.
“What?” Alexander exclaimed, trying to step forward. “You—” He stopped as he realized he couldn’t move his legs or feet.
“On the final day of your forty years, you will be brought here and measured again,” Iob told him.
“If we find your soul is still corrupt, a new sentence will be made,” Rehema finished.
Bana smiled slightly. “Do you have any last words, Alexander?”
Alexander’s eyes were nothing more than dark slits as he glared over his left shoulder at Kale. “You lied.”
“Our kind do not lie,” Nathifa stated.
“You told me I was being brought to Heaven.”
Of course, Kale had told him that, because it wasn’t a lie. He had brought him to Heaven. He just hadn’t told Alexander that this would be the only piece of Heaven he would be seeing.
As if reading Kale’s mind, Rueni replied with a crooked grin. “And so you have been, Alexander, but I am sure Kale never told you that you were staying here.”
“He is not the one to make that decision,” Minkah said standing, his white staff clutched firmly between his hands. “We are.” He lifted the staff higher before swinging it down and slamming it on the floor before him.
The inner circle shook on impact. A crack emerged beneath the orb of Minkah’s staff and traveled along the length of the faint line. Each crack sprouted off, growing more cracks, the pattern forming like the branches of a naked tree. They traveled swiftly through the entire circle, snaking around Alexander, who tried frantically to move, but couldn’t.
The Council had him, and they weren’t letting him go.
Wisps of gray smoke seeped through the cracks, rising upward as the floor crumbled away. Blistering heat flooded the width of the inner circle as the floor broke into shards, opening the cracks wider and wider, until Alexander was left standing on a small patch of floor, looking down into Hell’s mouth.
Kale tried not to flinch as the heat brushed against the barrier of the circle, so desperate to touch his skin. He tried to ignore the knots forming in his stomach as he waited for what was about to happen.
Hell’s fire danced deep below them, the light so strong it always managed to cast red and black shadows upon the chamber walls, turning the white orb sitting in the arch into a bloody red. Screams echoed from below. The usual stench met his nose, causing him to hold his breath.
“Please. Please,” Alexander cried, his gaze focused on what waited below. “I will do anything. Anything.”
“And that is exactly the reason you are here in the first place,” Iob answered. “You have always done anything to get what you want. Anything to the people around you, without considering the pain you caused.”
“Without considering the consequences for your actions,” Alexios added.
“And there are always consequences,” Rueni promised.
The steady thump of wings met Kale’s ears, and he watched as Ianos jumped through the crack in front of Alexander. The Keeper’s loose, black garments wore burn holes and rips; his dark skin and bald head were smudged with ash and blood. His giant black wings flexed, brushing against the boundary of the circle, as his fiery gaze fixed on Alexander.
“Someone has been very, very bad.” He grinned, studying the man’s aura with hungry eyes.
Alexander’s head shook from side to side. “No. No…”
“Oh, yes. Yes.” Ianos’ smile widened, showing every yellow fang that sat inside his broad mouth. His nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. A groan left his mouth, and his eyes turned red. “Tasty.”
His wings shuddered and curled around Alexander, who punched him repeatedly in his scarred, broad chest. He fought to move away from the demon, but his screams were suffocated by the wings that pulled him close.
“Hit me again and again.” Ianos laughed as the floor beneath them shook and fell away. “Nothing will save you from what I have in store, mortal.”
Kale disliked watching this, even though he knew he shouldn’t. It shouldn’t bother him to watch an unclean soul taken to Hell. Not after knowing what the soul was capable of. After seeing everything it had done while it was on Earth. It shouldn’t bother him after thousands of years, but it did.
The floor vanished. Ianos winked at Kale as he fell, taking Alexander’s spirit deep into Hell’s cavern. The demon’s tormenting laughter was bloody and rough as it echoed around the room.
Minkah lifted his staff, allowing the floor of the inner circle to begin fixing itself. Shutting out the heat, the smell, the sounds, closing the cavern until another soul was sentenced to the fiery pit.
It shouldn’t affect him. He was a hand, one of the Collectors. He was the one who came for a person’s spirit when they died. It was his job, like the others of his station, to open the gateway of light and deliver the spirits here, into the afterlife. Without him, a person’s spirit would be trapped between worlds, unable to cross.
He had lived for centuries and watched millions of people die in many different ways. He knew that those who had wronged themselves and others should be punished so that they could learn and be placed back on Earth to try again. But knowing what waited down within Hells cavern for them, knowing the punishment the unclean must endure, caused his entire being to shiver.
Silence engulfed him. White light surrounded him. It was over. His gaze remained fixed on the floor. The smooth, white, never ending floor…
“Kale?” Nathifa’s unmistakable voice called him.
“My lady,” he acknowledged, bowing his head slightly, his wings mimicking his action.
“Do you not think this soul deserved its sentence?” Rehema asked softly.
His chest clenched, and he straightened his spine as he looked up to meet their intense gazes. His opinion wasn’t important. They had never asked such a question before. Why do so now?
“But of course,” he replied. “His soul was black; he is where he should be.”
“Yet it affected you?” Bana asked softly, while she carefully studied him with her bright blue eyes.
He shook his head. “No, of course not.”
“Good.” Minkah pointed his staff at him. “It is not wise to think upon the judgment of mortals.”
“Of course, I agree, Sire.”
“Better make sure all remains that way,” Minkah finished.
Kale nodded and left the room quickly.
He let out a breath as he stood in the small white waiting room. The Council had just given him a warning, and one to which he must pay attention. It wouldn’t do him any good to let a soul’s condemnation affect him. It was not his business. None of his concern. And it definitely was not his right to feel anything. So why had he felt so…uncomfortable?
Shaking his head, he stepped forward. His wings fluttered as the light began to curl around him once more.
Collect and deliver. That was his only purpose. He would do best to remember it.
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