A thin bell clanged and Ninlein dropped dropped the wet sheet she was holding back into the large wicker basket full of wet laundry. “We have to go back to Avourelpolis,” she told Torralei.
The recently-born new angel was glad of the break. Her knuckles were red and raw from scrubbing, and there was still more laundry in the laundry room to get to.
Instead, the two of them carried the basket away from the clothes lines back to the laundry room, then continued up the hill.
“Avourelpolis?” she asked as she trailed Ninlein up the rocky path.
“It’s what our city is called,” said Ninlein. “Avourelpolis. The holy city of the high god Avourel. The land all around us is Lamacoln, and the city is Avourelpolis. You really need to start paying attention. I know it’s only your second day…”
“No, I just was just wondering why it’s called a city. There are what, less than a dozen buildings? The temple, the cloisters, the holy palace, the granary…”
“That’s all the buildings we need,” said Ninlein. “Why are you asking all these questions? The world is as is it should be, as it always was, and as it always will be. You should study the holy writings tonight. You’ll understand then.”
Torralei followed Ninlein back to the circular plaza that was in front of the temple. The other angels were already there. The lord god Avourel stood over a body, surrounded by his Seraphim, one of whom had tears streaming down her face. Two angels dressed in black, wearing leather armor and swords, stood on either side of the entrance to the temple. They were tall, easily a head taller than any of the other angels. They had grim expressions on their faces and their muscular fists were tight on the helms of their swords.
“Those are Powers,” Ninlein whispered to Torralei. “They enforce Avourel’s will.” The two of them joined the other angels in a semicircle around Avourel, and the Seraphim stepped back so that they could all see the body. Ninlein gasped. “That’s one of the Powers.”
Torralei leaned forward. The angel on the ground at Avourel’s feet was dressed in black and armored. His sword was on the ground next to him. His head had been bashed in. The bloody murder weapon, a heavy jagged stone the size of a bowling ball, was on the ground a few feet away.
Avourel kneeled down next to the Power and cradled his head in his hands.
“Ailduin,” said Avourel. “You were one of my strongest Powers, my right-hand man. It pains me that one of my children has done this to you, after all the love and kindness I have shown them.” The god rocked back and forth and a tear slid down his face.
The seraphim standing behind him began humming, and after a couple of beats the rest of the angels joined in. It was the same song as the day before. “Hear and obey, hear and obey, hear and obey…” but this time it was sung softly and with sadness. A funereal dirge.
Avourel looked up. “Do not be sad, my children, for I have the power over life and death. Those who live, live at my will. Those who die, die at my command. Ailduin is neither dead nor alive, not until I decide if he is dead or alive. So do not mourn for Ailduin, but glory in my power.”
“Power to Avourel in the highest,” the angels sang, and after a couple of bars, Torralei joined in without any prompting.
Avourel lowered the Ailduin’s head back to the ground and stood up. Torralei noticed the bloodstains on the god’s white robes. They were going to be tough to get out. The important thing was to get them into cold water quickly, before they set.
“Take him to the Holy Gate,” Avourel said. It took four of the Seraphim to carry Ailduin’s body through the Plaza and into the temple. “I will now examine my heart,” said Avourel. “Will I be kind and merciful? Or will I be strong and just? When children disobey, it is the job of a loving parent to correct them, so that they do not go astray.”
“Kind and just, kind and just, kind and just,” the angels sang. Ninlein elbowed Torralei in the side and Torralei joined in.
“Leave now,” said Avourel. “Cleanse yourselves. Return in half an hour when the bell tolls for my judgement.” He turned and went into the temple. The angels continued to sing until he was out of sight and then began to disperse. Only the crying Seraphim remained, staring at the blood-stained spot where Ailduin’s body had lain.
“That’s Ilyrana,” Ninlein told Torralei in a low voice. “Rumor is, she and Ailduin were seeing each other. She’s just trying to suck up.” Ninlein grimaced. “I bet she’s not even all that sad. She’s probably the one who killed him. It’s always the spouse who did it. Or, in this case, the groupie.”
“She’s tiny,” Torralei said, glancing at the crying Seraphim.
“She probably surprised him,” said Ninlein. “He trusted her, turned his back on her, and wham.”
Ninlein pulled Ninlein away and lowered her voice further. “I heard that Ailduin was planning to dump her.”
“Wo what do we do now?” Torralei asked.
“Go change into your other robe,” said Ninlein. “Wash your hands, face, and hair. You’ll have to go to the river, probably. But hurry up. If you’re late, you’ll be punished.”
Half an hour later, Torralei had run back to the plaza, holding up the hem of her other set of robes, the too-big ones she inherited from the disgraced angel Alosrin.
Everyone was already filing into the temple when she arrived, and she joined the end of the procession.
Avourel was standing in front of the gate, his robe once again sparkling white. Torralei was relieved that she wouldn’t be expected to scrub them clean. But also, how did they get clean without laundering them? Did Avourel have the power to magically wash clothes? If so, why did they have to do the work by hand?
The angels arranged themselves in a large semi-circle around the perimeter of the temple, the Seraphim in a smaller circle closer to the gate. Two Powers stood on either side of the gate behind Avourel. Ailduin’s body was nowhere to be seen.
“Glory and power, glory and power, glory and power,” the angels sung.
Avourel raised is hands and the singing stopped.
“I have decided that Ailduin still has a purpose to serve,” he said, and stepped to the side of the gate. “Welcome him back,” he told the angels.
“Return and rejoice!” the Seraphim sang.
“Return and rejoice!” the angels sang in return.
“Glory to Avourel in the highest!” the Seraphim sang.
Torralei tried to join in on the refrains and then, suddenly, the gate ripped and Ailduin stepped through, his head wound miraculously healed and his robes pristine. Though, of course, being black, it would have been hard to see blood stains, anyway.
“Welcome home, Ailduin!” Avourel raised his arms and Ailduin prostrated himself on the stone floor in front of the god.
“Glory and power, glory and power, glory and power,” the angels sang.
“Rise!” said Avourel, and Ailduin stood up.
“Tell us,” said Avourel. “Tell us about your journey to the other side.”
Ailduin drew a breath. “It was horrible,” he said. “I could feel the heat. I could see the flames in the distance. I was standing on a hill, looking down, and there were people in chains, being whipped and dragged across hot lava. There was screaming.” He shook his head and wiped his face. “I can almost hear them still. The agony. It was indescribably.”
“And then what happened?” asked Avourel.
“I heard you calling,” said Ailduin. “And I heard the sweet sound of the Seraphim singing.” He glanced up at the rest of the angels. “And all the angels, of course. But more than that, I heard the voice of my lord god Avourel.”
“And what did the demons do when they heard my voice?” asked Avourel.
“Umm… they fell back? Uh, yes, they were frightened. They had been reaching out for me but then they stopped, and ran away, back down the mountain.”
“They ran back into the depths of hell?”
“Yes. They all just ran away. You saved me.”
“I will always save my children,” said Avourel. “I will always love you and protect you, because you are mine, and are a part of me. Whoever shall wrong one of you, wrongs me, just as if it was a wound to my very own flesh.” Avourel paused. “Not that I can be hurt, of course. I’m totally indestructible, being a god and all. But theoretically speaking…” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, what happened then?”
“Then I saw the gate form in front of me and I stepped through,” said Ailduin. “And now I’m back home, back in paradise.”
“And now,” Avourel said, “I’m going to decide on the punishment for your attacker.”
The angels glanced around at each other. Torralei wondered which one of them did it. Was it really Ilyrana, like Ninlein said?
“If Ailduin was hit from behind, he probably didn’t even see his attacker,” someone whispered. Terrain looked around but didn’t see who spoke.
“I see all and know all,” said Avourel. “Ailduin, I know that one of my flock snuck up behind you and, like a thief in the knight, struck you with no provocation. They probably thought they could get away with it. Though why they would think that, I don’t know. Everyone knows that you can’t hide from my fearsome sight.” He glanced towards the Seraphim to his left.
Torralei recognized Elnaril and Heifiel from the day before. Elnaril was the suckup. She hoped that he was the one who turned out to be the would-be murderer. Heifiel had been nice to her and showed Torralei around the cloisters. Ilyrana was standing next to them. Was Avourel looking at her?
“Kind and just, kind and just, kind and just,” the angels sang. Torralei joined in the second “Kind and just.”
Avourel raised his arm and pointed. “It was you, Heifiel.”
Heifiel gasped and stepped back. “No!” She dropped to her knees. “I swear, it wasn’t me!”
“Oh my God, you’re exactly right,” said Ailduin. “She sneaked up behind me, thinking I didn’t see her. Of course, I did, but I wanted to see what she would do. I never expected that she would behave the way she did!”
“But I didn’t!” wailed Heifiel. “I swear! I’m innocent!”
“I can’t believe it,” one of the angels whispered, then immediately slapped a hand over his mouth and looked around to see if anyone had heard him.
“I see into all hearts,” said Avourel. “And your heart, Heifiel, has grown dark and evil. Stand up!”
Heifiel staggered to her feet.
“Prepare for your punishment!”