“Your mask.  It is unnecessary,” whispered Ellise.  “I know what I’ve agreed to.”

Her speech was barely audible, a mere mutter, despite the fact that her captor stood across the chamber, past the smouldering embers of the fireplace and out on the cold balcony.  He would hear her.

The toothy skull that covered his head did not move as he responded. A thick voice echoed from the hollow bone.  “No.  You do not.”

He turned from the broken landscape and came inside.  He was naked despite the chill, pale, and the dark hair that flowed from beneath the mask dribbled a slick oily substance.  The fluid smelled rotten and slithered around his body on its way down.

Ellise didn’t look at him.  “Do not take me for a fool.  I am as old as you are. I know what I’ve sacrificed.”

He took her wrist and turned her around to face him.  “So you know the answer, then?”

She pulled her arm back, a black stain marring the skin where he’d touched her.  Her eyes locked on the shadow alcoves of the mask, with her face set in angry determination.

He chuckled. “You don’t.”

Ellise clenched her fists.  “I know that you’ve released innocent souls in exchange for me.  That is all I need to know.”

He stepped in close and put his face near her ear.  “You’re not at all worried?  None can say what happens when angels die.”

“We are taken to the bosom of the Father.  I am certain.”

Slowly, he slid his arms around her, leaving dark smudges on her feather dress.  She didn’t resist.  His body bent strangely, and his head tilted back to accommodate the bone skull.  She was surprised how tender his flesh was, mushy and un-muscled.  He held her still and whispered. “If that were the case, don’t you think we would have killed ourselves?”

This gave her pause.  He could see a flicker of fear in her eyes.  It was intoxicating.

“No.  It’s different.  We’re not the same… we’re…”

Her unfinished words bubbled on her lips. He tilted her back, luxuriating in her doubt.  Her body loosened, slid, and trickled away in his grip.

“Then go sister.  Go and see.”

She slipped,

faded,

and

. . .