The light moved slowly across Har Nast, slowly illuminating the buildings and the few people who were moving through its streets.
Along one of the steep and terraced streets closer to the squalor of the docklands, a place still dark and likely to remain dark for another hour or more, Angels descended.
They moved lightly, two files of ten men approaching the terraced buildings from the top of the street where the wagons waited. Two more files were moving up from the bottom of the street. On a neighbouring roof, the fifth file of the platoon were staring intently down at the cramped yards and back doors of the tenement. They spoke quietly and held their crossbows ready. Their eyes flickered from the doors to the moat of brick walled yards and rubbish strewn alleys before darting back again. A quiet joke got a few small smiles but no laughter. The sergeant judged the light and moved from man to man, tapping shoulders and quietly giving orders. The smiles faded as the Angels knelt and rested their bows. The sergeant cocked his own and carefully fitted a bolt before taking his place. The steel limbs of the bows thrummed with tension.
Silver steel masks and deep blue silk tunics lined either side of the door to the tenement. An officer in black silk with a bright crimson sash nodded. An Angel, huge even by their standards, grinned before running his hand across his shaven head and hefting the ram at his feet. He braced, feet planted wide apart and swung the ram. Heavy iron impacted into the cheap pine door and the wood burst apart, the noise sounding a terrifying knell to the people within. Three files of Angels rushed through the door and into the building as the ram bearer stepped aside. The other file and the officer waited outside, uncoiling rope halters and nooses.
Inside, smaller doors were broken down and dark uniforms entered. Crowded homes of one or two rooms were invaded and the terrified occupants cowed with long truncheons and unflinching violence.
One of chamber held a family, silent and frightened. They filed out meekly and held their hands up for the waiting ropes.
One chamber was filled with stinking day labourers. Bachelors new to the city who worked the long hours for copper half pennies given to unskilled workers. A sometime stevedore with a neck like that of a bull screamed an oath to his prophet and his god in the mongrel tongue of Har Nast before attacking an Angel with a stool leg. The Angel stepped back and avoided the enraged assault. He drew his dagger and took the stevedore apart. The other workers watched in shock as their friend died. A second Angel entered the room and the following chaos was short lived. The Angels wiped their blades clean and wiped the soles of their boots on the thin carpet before moving to the next chamber, calmly and quietly, like lumber workers moving to a new glade.
On another floor in another squalid single-roomed home, a mother stabbed at one of the intruders with a carving knife so often sharpened it looked more like a needle with a handle than a knife. The Angel grunted in surprise and split her skull with his truncheon. His face was calm as he looked at the small tear in his uniform before gathering her terrified children to him and roping them up with bloodied hands. A young boy began to cry as the rope was drawn tight and they were dragged away.
As sunlight began to illuminate the front of the building, the four dozen survivors of those who had lived within were led out bound with ropes, daubed in blood, dazed and confused. They were herded to the top of the street and crammed into the wagons.
At the rear of the building the followers of the Prophet scrambled over the walls to escape, the Prophet herself with them, all of them in the fine new robes they had tailored so recently. They threw themselves over walls and fell to the other side, cloth flapping around them like the wings of great pink and orange crows. Plunging down into the shadows like ships over a waterfall, each worshipper was steered by a feathered rudder that sprouted with a dull thud in their backs. The Prophet gained two between her shoulder blades, a third in the small of her back and a fourth which cut through her dark hair and buzzed off into the distance as she fell.
The tenement quelled, the Angels turned it upside down, rooms smashed and pawed over, the remaining doors kicked in and locks broken. They found the small altar in the basement. The incense was still smouldering and the cramped chamber was still warm from the interrupted ceremony. The altar was simply decorated with herbs and flowers gathered from weeds growing in the cracks of the pavements: a sad and pathetically hopeful symbol of defiance.
The printing press was discovered in a secret partition of a room in the attic, along with the pamphlets already printed and the stacks of paper ready for more. On a lectern under a grimy skylight lay the handwritten book of words, rumoured to have come from the God of Compassion.
They piled the papers, smashed the wood and emptied the trays of lead letters onto the broken cobbles and filth in the yard at the rear of the tenement. From windows and yards, cautious and frightened faces peered. They saw the kindling doused with oil and with no ceremony, lit. Their task done, the Angels left.