Laylah walked through the streets, stopping by every so often to speak with some of the homeless people who’d taken up residence in the neighbourhood. The truth was that she let them speak to her: it gave them some power. Thus she sometimes merely gave food, to others she gave time and yet others she spoke with. Some knew her: after all she did this every evening. It was way to keep the demons at bay, to give hope – at least for a time – when there was none. And night was a dark place sometimes. She knew. Laylah couldn’t make choices for them, but she could at least give them the opportunity to realize they had one. Or more.
Like this young woman: she was barely 17. Terrified. She’d ran away from home because her stepbrother raped her. There were other places for her than the streets. Laylah didn’t judge, she never did. What could she know of the torments in their souls? She listened, asked questions and opened the path in their mind. They would walk it or they wouldn’t. That was each human’s prerogative.
She was getting to the middle of the neighbourhood when she noticed him. He’d never been here before. Something about him… Had she seen him before? Somewhere else. He didn’t look to have been on the streets long: his clothes were dirty but not so that they looked like rags. His features showed tiredness more than hopelessness or acceptance. She rarely did this: it was their choice to speak or not to her. She was careful about always leaving them the power to engage the conversation. Somehow now… his demeanour called to her. She approached him cautiously.
He whipped around, as if surprised. But somehow he wasn’t. He’d seen her. He might just be surprised she talked to him.
“Are you ok?” She asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. I lost my way.”
That could mean so many things. He was in denial still about the situation. Or maybe… There was movement behind her. She didn’t think. In a matter of seconds, she’d pulled out her sword from its scabbard and turned to face the three demons standing in front of her. She took a defensive stance before casting a glance behind her. The young man had disappeared. Good. Or…
A first attack cut off her trail of thoughts. They came at her together and she barely could keep them off. She felt their weapons bite into her skin but somehow… they weren’t trying to destroy her. Merely to weaken her. Didn’t they know? She cast off her disguise for a mere second revealing the light of her grace and they stepped back. But something felt wrong. She was cold: she never was cold. She spun around. The young man was right in her face. But he wasn’t a young man. He appeared one. She stepped back, gasped, as she hit an invisible wall. She looked down and back up. His mouth was curved in a feral smile. How could she be so stupid? She was always careful; how could she fall for this? Of course… they knew her. He knew her.
“You like my angel trap Leliel?” He asked.
“What do you want?” She retorted instead.
His smile widened; she shivered. She may be angel but she wasn’t immune to fear; in an angel’s cage, she couldn’t pray. The only good thing was that he couldn’t enter… maybe. Except that his smile was wicked. One never knew with him.
“I want you, sister.”
“I’m not your sister. You relinquished the right to call any of us siblings when you defied Him.”
“You’re right, you’re not my sister. You’re my prisoner. And soon you’ll be… oh I won’t spoil the surprise. It’s too good.”
He entered the cage: how could he enter the cage? He shouldn’t; all fallen that he was he remained an angel. What restrained them should restrain him. But it didn’t; and in the moment she was shocked, he seized her sword and rested it upon her neck. Stupid! Stupid! Careless and stupid.
“I can tell you’re wondering how I can be in here. It’s a long story. And as much as I’d love to chat with you, we don’t have time. You don’t want your little proteges to find us.”
He looked away towards the alleys she’d come from; people would have heard the noises. They would come. She looked back at him.
“You were always so easy Leliel. You love humans too much. You do realize they’re all headed to me. All those you’re trying to save. Even that young girl – Sophie – oh her fall will be so good. I can see it from here.”
She took the bait; she knew she was taking a bait but she couldn’t let him spoil the child with his plans. She reached for her weapon. But his hand closed around her wrist, cold and… She toppled down in pain. Anathema. The shackle was decorated with runes: well not decorated. Armed with…
“There it starts. Let’s go.”
He moved… what did he do? He stepped outside the cage and opened it, erasing one of the lines on the street. She pushed herself up, tried to spread her wings, but she couldn’t. It burned. She looked down. The bracelet… It shone. What had he done? She tried to pray but it felt as if there was a wall between her the Heaven. She was locked out. How? What had he done? She looked back at him and he laughed at her distress.
“You’re mine Leliel. The doors of Paradise are closed as long as you wear this.”
She turned her head: her wings were still there, but from the extremities dark ink was spreading, drawing more runes on her white feathers. No.
“No, no, no, no, no. Don’t do this Lucifer. Please.”
“I like the sound of your begging Leliel. But I’m doing this. Let’s go now. People are coming. You don’t want me to hurt them, do you?”
She took his extended hand. What other choice did she have? He nodded, approving. Suddenly they were gone from earth.
And stood in his realm: she gasped. Everything here hurt. There was so much pain; she could feel it through her every nerve. The heat hurt, the fear too. She couldn’t see the damned but she felt them; every single soul that wasn’t saved. She could barely breathe. She stumbled behind him. Fell on her knees. He’d let go of her hand and both were holding her head: their screams echoed in her mind, their begging to stop knowing that it wouldn’t. Millions upon millions of souls sentenced to damnation and its eternal torments. And she felt it all. Oh Father did these unfortunate souls not deserve your Forgiveness?
“Stop. Stop it.”
She opened her eyes; he was squatting in front of her. His black eyes considered her.
“Did you just question our Father?”
“Stop it, please.”
Tears ran down her cheeks, uncontrolled, the pain unbearable. Her failure, her siblings’ failure. They hadn’t helped these men and women keep on the path to their Father, be he God, Allah, Yahveh or however else they called him.
“Oh no Laylah. That’s what they call you on earth, your little projects. Well you’re my pet project now. Your grace won’t help you here. It’s only going to be a curse. You’ll always feel that pain. Only I can alleviate it. So you’ll have to deserve my… mercy. I can be merciful like our Father.”
“What do you want?” She breathed.
“I told you what I want. I want you.”
“You could have annihilated me up there.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to destroy you. I said I wanted you. You all seem to think I’m so single-minded. There are other ways to reconquer Paradise.”
What was he going to do? Fear… He stood and walked away. She remained there. She couldn’t move.It was… Pain shot through her, deeper. This time, she screamed.
“Oh yes… I should have warned you. One of these runes, it will ensure you never stray too far from me Laylah.”
She stumbled up and after him nursing her wrist. What could he be planning? She tried to think it through but the pain coming from everywhere into her mind made it impossible. On earth she could shield it, but here… it was overwhelming, all encompassing. So much pain, so much fear. Was he saying something? She blinked hoping to chase the pain away but it wouldn’t go.
“It will become a part of you the pain. You’ll get used to it. You may even learn to love it. I did.”
She opened her mouth but found she couldn’t speak. She was going to be sick.
“You must feel so weak right now Laylah. What will you give to keep the pain at bay?”
Nothing. She would do nothing; she wouldn’t give him anything. He laughed.
“Not now. But you will. Soon enough.”
The walk to his… what was it? Apartment? Place? It was awful. She’d stumbled more than once, falling on her knees in the burning sands of hell. She’d pushed herself back up, burning her hands and followed. When he closed the doors of the room, the pain receded ever so slightly. It wasn’t much better but it felt like she could breathe again. He could have landed here. But he’d wanted to teach her a lesson. Here her grace meant nothing: she was as powerless as a mortal on earth. That was why he’d called her mortal name: Laylah. She should have been more careful.
In response to the Daily Post writing prompt Careful