The Sweetest Sorrow

We’re off to the world of Walls of Tartarus again today, if you’ve not been before, go check out Hunter for more!

The storm had raged through the city all day. It’s wrath lashing the streets and the unfortunates who ventured out. Long into the night the rain tried in vain to wash the filth from the Old Home Diner. Sat on the corner of fifth and main, the scruffy building was the only reminder of the areas history. Now surrounded by glass skyscrapers as a testament to the neighborhood’s rebirth, the rickety building stuck out like a middle finger to progress.

Never visited by the suits from the glass towers, Old Home survived by catering to the forgotten. The middle-aged man, recently divorced or long-term single, who cared more about the price of his food than what was in it. The kind of man who always had money for a beer on a Friday, but never to tip a waitress. Their indifference reflected in the decor, dirty floors, peeling paint and a cocktail of smells made up of fried food, coffee, stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The Old Home had an atmosphere you could really chew on and certainly never forgot.

Paula slid from her stool behind the counter, grabbed the coffee pot and started her regular patrol of the diner’s patrons. The wrong side of sixty, the waitress grumbled at her overweight frame as she started her rounds. Her chubby feet rammed into pumps making the only sound in the place. Click, click as she moved from table to table, filling coffee cups with rare thanks. She’d worked this graveyard shift for years, learning the type who came in. Sitting alone, flicking through a newspaper or sports section, they ate in silence, only talking to order and mumble thanks on the way out.

But tonight, not half an hour before, a young man had walked in from the rain. At first, Paula expected him to take one look and leave. He was a beautiful man. Standing in the door, his long coat dripping on the floor, he took a moment to look around the room. Quite tall, early twenties in her estimate and medium build, he looked like he belonged in one of the skyscrapers, not here in the gutter. Medium length black hair framed a chiseled face. Then she saw his eyes. Those eyes, they weren’t right. Glowing blue and old. So old. She couldn’t help it, as he looked at her with those eyes, she crossed herself and uttered a prayer under her breath. The young man watched as she did this, a slight smile on his face before he let out a small laugh.

“Coffee, please.” He said, gesturing towards the back of the diner. Without waiting for her answer, he headed to his seat, partly in the shadows, facing the door.

Now, approaching his table, the young man looked up from his empty cup and watched her approach, like a cat watching an approaching mouse. Paula found her hand shaking, she tried to speak but her mouth was suddenly dry. Licking her lips, she tried again, “Coffee?”.

“Is that what it is?” He said with that small laugh again, “Yes, thank you Paula.” She poured his drink quickly and retreated to the safety of her counter. It was only later that day that she realized she wasn’t wearing her name tag.

Penemuel went back to staring at this rancid black muck they called coffee. The whole effort was so futile. Drinking. Eating. He didn’t need liquid or food. Not in the human sense. But, if you spent time around humans and didn’t drink, they noticed. It was always the details they picked up, never the big things.

The fact that he’d been buying his tailored suits from the same, family-run store for over one hundred years? That just made him a good customer. But forgetting to let your coffee cool before drinking it? That had your house surrounded by cops before breakfast. It was all so depressing and explained so much about them. Explained why the corruption was so easy. Why it spread.

Taking a breath, Penemuel calmed himself. He knew he was tense. He’d felt them getting closer for days. He never understood how they tracked him, but they did, every few hundred years. Time for a new face and new country.

But first, time to see who or what was onto him. And so, he’d set himself up here, tonight. Staked out like bait for the tigers to draw them in. He could feel one circling now. Getting closer. But this one felt familiar, it was never normally this clear. Penemuel could almost feel her breathing. Her. She.

Hypnos.

Paula looked up from filing her nails as the door opened and caught her breath. A young woman stood in the doorway, white clothes soaked from the rain, almost see-through. Her long blond hair was cascading in gentle curls down to her shoulders, even though it must be soaking wet. She had light smile on her face, and such a face. Looking into this woman’s blue eyes, Paula felt warmth in her whole body. But the poor creature must be freezing. Grabbing a jacket from the back of her chair, the waitress stood up and almost ran around to the young woman.

“Oh, dear, you must be freezing?” She said, coming to stand before the dripping form.

Turning her eyes to Paula, the woman raised her hand to the old woman’s cheek, “No, my child.” She whispered, with a beaming smile, “Now, go back to your seat and rest. You’ve had a very tiring day.”

Paula smiled back at her, nodding dumbly and suddenly feeling exhausted. She almost stumbled back to her seat as the woman strode towards the back of the diner, every eye in the following the lady in white with awe.

Penemuel hadn’t looked up since the door opened. Waiting. He heard the measured steps across the floor towards him. Sensed the woman sit opposite him, rather than heard or felt anything. Her movements graceful and light. She hadn’t even disturbed his drink in taking her seat.

Finally, with a sigh, he lifted his eyes to meet hers, “I knew they’d send you one day, Hypnos.”

“Send? No. He asked. I wasn’t sent. I wanted to come, I wanted to see you and give you one last chance.” Hypnos replied, the smile bright and welcoming on her face.

“Oh? Really? For old times’ sake, you mean?” Penemuel replied, his voice dripping sarcasm.

Hypnos nodded, oblivious to his meaning, “Yes, we were friends once.”

Penemuel searched her face, for a hint of irony in the response. A single inkling of understanding to what she said. But, instead, there was only the smile.

“Friends? We were lovers to be married, Hypnos, do you not remember? Did he take that from you as well?”

Her perfect brow creased a little, “Yes, we were, then you left me to go and fight. To fight against the light. To fight against the truth. A traitor to all we could be, to hope, to all that is good.”

Staring deeper into her eyes, Penemuel searched, for something. Anything. A flicker of the woman he loved. He could still recall how she looked on the day he’d left. Standing in the square, wind in her hair. So proud. So strong. Her beauty matched only by her intelligence. Now, all that he could see was the smile. The more he looked, the more it seemed like a death mask. The smile on a human corpse as the skin shrinks and peels back. The grin of madness.

Tears blurred his vision as he turned to the window, his voice bitter as he watched her reflection “What now, then? I won’t convert. I won’t kneel. I won’t be a traitor to our kind.” Penemuel looked back at her as she turned away, smile fading on her lips “What will you do? Take me for judgement then torture or do you have that last shred of decency to end me yourself? Will you save me from torment?”

Hypnos seemed to shrink in her seat, “Yes, if you won’t come with me. If you won’t see the truth. Then I will end you here, I remember that I owe you that much, though I can’t be sure why.” Shaking her head, she sat straight, the smile returning and with it a madness to the eyes. “Come with me now, let’s not scare the good humans. There’s an alley across the street, if you won’t kneel to my God, you can kneel to me as I take your life.”

Searching her eyes one last time, Penemuel nodded, “So be it, my love. I would ask one last favor. Let me say goodbye to those who I must and join you in a moment. I give you my word.”

Hypnos paused a moment, looking at him, “And why should an Angel accept the word of a Demon, I wonder?”

Penemuel laughed, “Is that what I am to you now? Just another Demon? And is that all you’ve become? Simply another of the angelic horde?” Reaching across the table, he grabbed the her delicate hand, “No, you’ll do this one more thing for me. Because we grew up together. We laughed. We loved. We wept. Side-by-side. You fought at my side and I at yours. We had such fire, you and I. Though that is long past, it’s heat is still felt, even now. For what we were. Please?”

Her smile faded again and, for a second, recognition burned in her eyes. Taking his hand to her face, she spoke with the voice he’d known long ago, “Do what you must, my love.” Just as quickly the recognition gone, replaced with anger and confusion. Hypnos dropped his hand and abruptly stood, walking half-way to the door before pausing, her back to him, “You have ten minutes, Demon.”

She continued out of the door, into the rain to disappear into the dark alley opposite the diner. Penemuel watched her cross the street, “Goodbye, angel.” He said, before reaching for his phone and making a call.

Paula shook herself, she felt groggy and disorientated. The beautiful woman was gone, but the man in the back was still there, talking on the phone.

“Yes, I understand, I’ll head to your place now” he said, pausing to listen, “Yes, I was just unprepared. I’ll be there shortly, I’ll ditch everything here. And Dantalion…? Thank you.” Hanging up the phone, he stared at it for a moment, then crushed it in his hand without apparent effort. The glass shattering in his palm as the metal buckled and snapped before being dropped on into the coffee cup. Reaching into his jacket he dropped his wallet on the table, stood and walked to the door. Smiling at Paula as he walked passed, “What’s in the wallet is yours, when the woman comes back tell her I said goodbye and that I am sorry.” Before heading out of the door without waiting for a response.

Paula watched, mute, as he stood on the street looking at the alley across the road. Pausing in the rain, then turning up his collar and heading off at a quick pace down the road into the storm. From the shadows, the woman appeared at the mouth of the alley, stood in the rain and watched him go.

High above, the Watcher saw the Demon pause before heading off down the street. He knew that Hypnos would fail, her feelings for the Fallen were too strong, but she would be punished later for her misdeed. For now, the plan was working as he had foreseen and the rat was scurrying back to its nest. Leading the wolf to a feast.

Standing, the Arch-Angel spread his wings, shaking the worst of the rain from his pure white feathers and preparing to fly. Penemuel had reached the end of the block, turning down a side street and out of sight.

The Watcher jumped from the building, wings spread wide and set off in pursuit of his quarry.

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