A Zaphkiel POV fic spanning from the time of his first trial to the time of his execution.
The lyrics are from the NOIR song, "Salva Nos II" which I listened to on repeat the whole time I was writing this. The translation is given at the end.
~ Dominus deus, exaudi nos et misere Exaudi, dominus ~
Hands clutched at me; hard hands, merciless hands. No, this sterile, white Heaven was not a place of mercy.
I struggled against my captors. Had she struggled, too, when they dragged her down those dark stairs? Had she fought and raged, or had it been too late even then? Had her voice, even as her secrets, already been ripped from her?
"All of your subordinates died in the explosion, so you are the one who will have to take responsibility for this failure... with your own life." A knife given into my bound hands. It's blade was not half so sharp as the cutting stare of the inquisitor. "Take your own life, Zaphkiel, so that you will never again stain the proud name of the Thrones."
This was the greatest betrayal. The proud name of the Thrones. What acts I had committed to uphold that name.
My hands, my very soul, were indelibly stained with the blood of innocents, the blood of my fellows. "Please, stop killing our own kind," she had begged me so prettily. I had not listened. I had been deaf to her pleas even then.
"You're pointing a gun at me. What more is there to be said?"
In the end, who had really betrayed whom?
~ Dona nobis pacem et salva nos a hostibus Salva nos, deus ~
It had all seemed so simple to me, then. Routine. Seek out and subdue. Pull the pin, squeeze the trigger; just a series of simple actions, like drawing a line between two points.
The red of her blood had run into the red of the wig. Her lips were smeared with it, dark and vivid, and far more crude than the garish lipstick painted there.
She was limp in my arms, and still warm, an obscene reminder of all those nights that she had lain so in my embrace. The others would have called it obscene. I would never again see her smile against the pillow. She would never again arch to my touch. I would never again be lulled to sleep by the soft sound of her heart against mine. I had taken those moments for granted. I had taken her for granted, and yet, those kohl-lined blue eyes had starred sightlessly up at me, and even then, there had been no accusation in them.
Accusations had come later.
"Anael was kidnapped by the rebel organization..."
That had not been in the briefing. We had been sent in blind. The red wig, the gaudy makeup - someone had wanted to make sure that she would not be recognized.
"Blowing her up along with the rebel hideout..."
Those handcuffs had been standard army issue; the gun, forced into her hands. Her voice had been silenced so that she could not give herself away. It was that one pin, wasn't it - that fine silver needle that had been set by a knowledgeable hand, one that knew just where to place it to still the lips, to constrict the throat.
".... responsibility for this failure."
The trial was a blur. It did not matter that I was innocent or guilty. It did not matter who had set me up. As I knelt on the cold stone floor, one thought alone kept running through my head; I had not recognized the woman I loved.
"... take your own life."
~ Dominus, exaudi nos Dominus, misere Dona nobis pacem ~
"Take your own life..."
The knife was heavy in my hands. "Thou shalt not kill." Those were the words of our Lord. They would not stain their white hands with my blood. They left it for me to do. Suicide, itself a sin. One more sin to compound the others. What did it matter? I could not be any further damned.
"...so that you will never again walk the paths of reincarnation."
Reincarnation. I had never wanted it. What was there in this world worth coming back for?
"I want to show you. I want to show you that there is still some good left in this world that you gave up on."
What was there in this world worth coming back for... now that she was gone?
"If only I could make one light... even one light... shine in your clouded eyes."
That light, the light that she so prayed for.... had been her... but it had sparked too late. I had snuffed it out with my own hands. I could rage and I could cry. I could blame the Council who had aimed the gun, but my own hand had pulled the trigger. I could blame God Himself for His hypocrisy, for the terrible, unjust, illogic of it all, but in the end, it changed nothing. The sin was mine. It's name - Pride, Lust, Murder, Wrath - meant nothing. Her blood was on my hands.
"Watch, then, slave-dogs of the Creator," I said bitterly. "See with your own eyes how this one shall die."
The cut of the knife was nothing to the pain of my heart, the crushing realization that hit me like a blow to the chest. My fault, all of it.
As I bled, my vision dimmed. It was as if a void were opening up before me, and I knew that that void was Death. I had always thought that, when I faced the void, it would be black - endless, impenetrable black, but I saw... light. It filled my eyes until I could see nothing but the stark white purity of it.
Maybe this was delirium. Distantly... so distantly I could hear voices crying, "Wha- what is this light?" before it engulfed me totally.
~ Sanctus, gloria ~
A vision. Framed in that light was a form, a face so achingly familiar. So like hers. But it was not hers. This face, so coldly serene, so excruciatingly beautiful - this face was the face of the first angel, the Holy Living Creature, Adam Kadmon.
"Thou shouldst search for me if thou wouldst have thy heart's desire." The creature's voice was like the resonant, melodious sound of bells heard from far off. I heard it. I felt it. It echoed throughout my entire body, suffusing me even as the warm light wrapped me round and round.
Long after that warmth had faded, I could still see that light shining behind my closed eyes. It is all I have seen since.
~ Dona nobis pacem e dona eis requiem ~
That holy light burned everything away. It burned away sin, burned away pain, left me on my knees coughing blood, sightless eyes wide, one hand clutching, uncomprehending, at a throat that was whole and should not have been. When I rose, no one stopped me. No one spoke against me. All about me, in the soft, strange light of my new blindness, I heard the low sound of heart-broken weeping.
After that incident, the trial was dismissed as if it had never been. No evidence. No witnesses. The angels of the High Council, all of those who had stood over me, accusing, no longer had the voices to do so. In that one glorious, miraculous moment, when the light touched me, I had been redeemed, but the power and the beauty of that light had been too great for even an angel to behold. In exchange for my life, I had lost my sight, and they.... had lost their very selves.
Lord Metatron's guardian, Sevothtarte, stepped in to fill the void left by the Council. Control of Heaven, control of the Hosts of the Lord, control of me - all of it fell to him. The White Angel burned the brand into me with his own hands. 'Peccato', the mark of my sin forever etched onto my flesh as permanently as it were etched into my very soul.
Though I could not see him there before me, I could well imagine him, beautiful and remote, his cold grey eyes, triumphant above the veil, watching with interest as I sagged in the arms of the ones who held me.
He leaned close to me. His long white hair, brushed my naked chest where the brand burned with fresh agony. His veiled mouth spoke in a parody of a lover's whisper beside my ear, "Remember this pain. You belong to me."
~ Inter ovas locum voca me cum benedictus ~
"I accuse you, Lord Sevothtarte!"
The audience chamber was dead silent in the wake of Raziel's outburst. No one even dared to gasp. Even I, the so-called Great One of the Thrones, knew better than to cross the White Angel. I only prayed that Raziel would not have to learn that lesson as harshly as I did.
"Foolish youngster who knows no fear, what do you think someone like you can hope to accomplish by making such a fuss?" The prime minister's voice was filled with contempt. "They were the scum of Heaven. This was a good opportunity to purge our land of their presence."
"How could you? First you reduce them to living in that darkness.... and then you just kill them off?" Innocent Raziel. He was too young yet to understand the ways of the world. Whether the Kingdom of Man or the Kingdom of God, it made no difference. Hate, fear, greed, and envy all wore the mask of righteousness. What was it that made him innocent, I wondered? Was it pity, charity, compassion for those children? Or was it only the blind eye that would see no evil? Was innocence, then, only another form of ignorance?
Sevothtarte was speaking. "Those deep blue eyes of yours... their hypocritic light which would have you believe that they know no filth, no disgrace, no impurity.... I really can't stand them. They revolt me." He ordered Raziel taken into custody. A survivor of the Shemayim explosion, he said, suspected of aiding and abetting the terrorists. But that wasn't it. Sevothtarte's vision was of a White Heaven, pure and free of all taint. But secretly, I knew, he hated innocence. He hated purity... because he could not find it in himself. And Raziel... pure, innocent Raziel... would be crushed by that hatred.
So, once again, I threw myself on his mercy. I knelt at his feet, and I found that this time, it was not so difficult because I knew his secret shame, and he knew mine, and it was all nothing more than a passion-play being played out between us."Please wait!" I begged. "Letting such an imprudent person out into the field was an indiscretion of the Great One of the Thrones. Responsibility should lie with none other."
If this was a play, then it was one that I had played before, and I knew my lines well. "Just this once, I beg you, give him to the Great One of the Thrones to deal with. I beg for mercy!"
"Lord Zaphkiel... please stop!" Raziel cried. He was ashamed. Ashamed of me. He was so young. He didn't yet understand how far pride could be bent before it finally broke. Even now, he pleaded his innocence, and he couldn't see. He couldn't see what he had done.
And my own helpless bitterness welled up in me and made me merciless. "The one who brought this disaster about is you, Raziel," I spoke harshly. "You must have known that Shemayim was suspected of harbouring a rebel organization, just as you must have known that the High Council didn't have a strong hold in that land. All those toys and books and cakes you requested to be sent there as relief goods - you must have known that they would go to the I-children - must have known that they were hiding there, and yet you gave the High Council the perfect excuse to enter that land without so much as a thought to the consequences of your actions. Oh, you felt so proud of doing something nice for those children, but while you were wallowing in your self-satisfied stupor... your stupidity was massacring them!"
Raziel's face changed, collapsed in on itself as if he had been deflated... all the air... all the life seeping out of him. Though I couldn't see it, I knew. Ironic how, in my blindness, I had become more perceptive than I ever had been with my sight. I could hear Raziel's utter shock in the sharp intake of his breath, in the pained silence that followed. How well I knew the crushing weight that guilt placed on a soul. He had loved that girl, and his blindness had killed her, just as I...
His cries were pitiful. They were the soul-tearing sobs of one who has realized that everything he knew, everything he believed, was a lie. "Aaaah!" he cried. "Aaaaahhhh!" On and on, until there was no more sound left in him.
"He is painful to listen to," Sevothtarte spoke mildly. Raziel's suffering was no more to him than would be the struggling of a pinned butterfly, which one watches, curious and faintly amused. He seemed to consider for a moment. The look he gave me was strange; at once searching and somehow knowing. Though I could not see his face - I don't know if that was a blessing or a curse - I could feel his eyes on me, weighing me, judging me. He seemed to come to a decision. He waved a negligent hand. "All of you... except the Great One of the Thrones... leave me at once."
Sevothtarte rose and came to me. I heard his soft steps upon the stones. I heard the whispering of his robes. "Now then..." Sevothtarte spoke slowly. "That was quite some monkey show there, Zaphkiel. Do you really want to help that boy so much?" The question held that same mocking amusement with which he had addressed Raziel. Compassion was a grand joke to Sevothtarte.
"I don't like this at all," he whispered. He came closer, too close. His hands fisted in the front of my robe. Strangely delicate, those hands. "Show me," he hissed. "Show me the proof of your sin... because it seems that you are forgetting something important here, and that would not be wise."
Clasps released. Cloth parted. His gloved hands moved over my naked chest, soft and silken. I didn't protest. I didn't recoil. I stood straight, and stared over his shoulder at nothing, but it was just one more show, this indifference, and Sevothtarte knew it. In defending Raziel, I had exposed myself.
Fingers whispered over the scar at my throat, and I couldn't help it. I shuddered. It pleased him. "You shouldn't forget this wound, nor just who it was who saved you back then."
Cold grey eyes, triumphant above the veil, watching with interest as I sagged in the arms of the ones who held me. "Remember this pain. You belong to me."
"Haven't I impressed upon you with these very hands that you must never again forget your oath of loyalty to me?" His hand covered my heart, covered the brand that was burned there for all eternity. Peccato. The brand of the cursed, the rejected, the Fallen.
Gloved fingers traced livid designs on raw flesh. "Remember this pain."
"You had better not try to betray me again." Fingers dug into flesh.
"You belong to me."
"You had better not try to refuse me again."
~ Pie jesu domine, dona eis requiem Dominus deus, sanctus, gloria ~
I knew the price of rebellion, but even knowing, I could not have done otherwise. Between the Messiah and I, I knew who was the greater loss, so I went again before the court of the White Angel. The sacrificial lamb.
I anticipated imprisonment. I anticipated torture. I was a traitor. But this sentence: the Wing Drop. I was filled with terror at the very thought of it. Pain and pain and pain, unending, that's what it meant. The bruises, the burns, the lacerations, all I had suffered thus far was nothing next to the horror of such a fate. To become a ghoul, one of those lost and miserable souls that wandered the vast emptiness of Hades, aware, but mindless, existing, but not living. A walking corpse. My God, I couldn't think of it. I would go mad if I did. And I could do nothing, nothing but wait, and the horrible scene played over and over again in my head. I hung in my chains, waiting numbly for the axe to fall. And fall it did.
Sevothtarte saw me personally. He came like a ministering angel, calm and solicitous.
"Does it hurt?" he asked gently. "Yes, of course it must. But you also suffer the misfortune of being blind."
"I pity you. For one so proud to be brought so low," he continued, as if my suffering had not been of his design. I knew what virulent hatred boiled beneath the surface of this pleasant facade. This strange tenderness of his, it was so sublimely absurd that I nearly laughed. I might have, because in the next instant, he showed me his true face.
"You will not die so easily," Sevothtarte promised, voice hard, all trace of kindness burned away like a morning mist. "Just as I had them heal the bullet wound, so will I have them heal these wounds inflicted on you today. I will heal you even as you stand there, just like in the legend of Prometheus, doomed to have his liver eaten every day by an eagle."
And that was what I was promised for my betrayal, unending suffering, like that of Prometheus who had defied the gods for the sake of Man. Without my wings, without that astral power which was my life-blood, I would decay in body and in spirit. I would rot while I still lived, but I would not die. I would never die, because, even wingless, I would still be an angel, and unless I were mercifully killed, this torment could go on forever. And Sevothtarte had come here to me while I was still sane, while I was still myself, to make sure that I knew this.
"You will rot here, away from everyone's eyes, suffering your wingless fate, your appearance disgusting to behold, your very soul violated by pain and decay," he said. "As long as there is life left in you, you will suffer an unending death in this cell. A fitting punishment... for the one who betrayed me!"
I listened. I heard his words, but they meant little to me. I was stunned. There was such hatred, such fury in his voice... but underneath it all... pain, despair of a kind that I knew well. I thought: I could not be hearing this. "Why... ?" I whispered, forcing the question from a hoarse throat. "Why... do you hate me... so deeply? ... Why must you...?"
"Because you sullied her!" Sevothtarte's voice wavered, high and desperate. Fragile.
"You corrupted Anael. Her name was dragged through the mud by her involvement with the Great One of the Thrones. It was you who cut off those beautiful wings... Zaphkiel... So you will, I trust, have no problem with me taking these wings away from you..." Gloved fingers stroked blood-matted feathers in an obscenely gentle caress.
Slowly, I shook my head. The movement gave pain like a star exploding, brighter flashes in the endless white of my vision. "You... you do not... understand anything," I struggled to speak. "You are... even more blind than I. Your eyes... lost their light so long ago... you don't even realize... how ugly your spite has made your face."
"Silence!" It was not the screamed command that quieted me. It was the strike of the staff that followed it. The heavy metal cracked across my face, whipping my head back before it lolled forward. I spat blood.
Sevothtarte raged. All calm, all grace was gone from him now. "If I am full of spite, then you are no less so! And at least..." he hissed, "it wasn't my spite that led Anael to her death. Yes! I was you who shattered Anael's life to pieces, and it was you who shattered Anael herself! A demon of a man who would abuse even those he loves until he ruined them in the end. That's you, there, Zaphkiel! That's you!"
I was silent. Perhaps I expected another blow, or perhaps.... perhaps I knew, in my heart of hearts, that Sevothtarte was right. But no blow came. I heard the ring of metal striking the stone floor, and slender hands knotted themselves in my dishevelled hair. Cool and soft as silk, long hair not my own brushed over my naked chest. Soothing. The warmth of another body against mine. A head rested on my shoulder. Veiled lips whispered against my neck, "Why?"
Sevothtarte's voice trembled. Impossible, but it seemed that he was close to tears. "Why do you, who was once the most brave, the most fierce, the most fearsome warrior in all of Heaven... Why do you, whose pride once knew no bounds.... Why do you appear before me like this? Why do you torment me so?"
I couldn't. I couldn't stand this quiet and loving despair. Accusations, curses, blows, I could have taken, but not this: the White Angel pressed so close to me, so like.... So like her. So like her that he had killed... That I had killed.
"It was you..." Sevothtarte whispered. "It was you who corrupted me."
Time had stopped for us. Ever since that terrible night.
I turned my face away.
"Here now," came the whisper, "will perish the last thing that could move my weak heart."
Lord God, hear us, the wretched Hear us, Lord
Give us peace and save us from the enemy Save us, God
Lord, hear us Lord, have mercy Give us peace Holy, Glorious
Give us peace, and give them rest In this place of rejoicing, call me with the blessed
Merciful Jesus, give them rest Lord God, Holy, Glorious