The bloom is off the rose, meditated the Archangel of Judgement as he
smoothly flowed across the cathedral floor. The gilt is off the
gingerbread . . . Sometimes I ponder the essential nature of Judgement, and
I wonder, what's the bloody point?
The distant singing of the choir lifted his mood. Surely it is the service of God. Do I ask why I have been given this task, or do I rather strive to complete it? The second. Without a doubt.
He stepped into the confessional, seeing that the door on the penitent's side was already closed. As his own door shut behind him, he bowed his head for a moment in prayer.
Silence hung in the air.
"Speak, my child. Your confessor awaits." His mellifluous Seraphic tones rang inside the booth like polished crystal, a liquid expression of Truth.
There was a beep from the other booth. It sounded uncommonly like a mobile phone. There was also, now Dominic came to think of it, a certain fragrance in the air, differing uncomfortably from the odour of the incense outside.
"It's Opium," a voice purred from the other booth. "I might have known you wouldn't recognise it, pet."
Dominic's back stiffened. "Prince of Hell." His voice could have replaced Arctic ice and caused the Pole to reach hitherly unknown levels of absolute zero. "Do you desire to confess your sins?"
"Actually, yes." The voice was a living thing, a tangible movement against the skin, silk in the air, flawed dangerous amber. "Will you hear my confession, Father?"
Dominic raised an eyebrow, knowing that he could not be seen. "Do you present it in humility and contriteness, Prince of Lust? He who comes before God with a full heart, God will not turn away." An unlooked-for hope blossomed briefly in his heart. "Speak, my son. I listen."
There was an artistic sigh from the other booth. "What is a confession, ultimately? I confess weariness, pet. Oh. Father. So sorry. Father, my pet. I confess ennui. I confess a jaded spirit and a no-less-jaded body. Far more jaded, if you want me to be really frank." The voice dropped to a whisper. "Shall I?" It hinted nameless depravities, it tempted, and it was a pollution of the Heavenly air.
Dominic lowered his head and closed his eyes. Another failure. Another mockery. As he said, "Speak, my son, and say what you wish," he wept within himself for the loss of one who had once been an Archangel.
Surprisingly, Andrealphus was silent for a long moment.
When the Beautiful Prince spoke, his voice was ragged with the long edges of desperation. It still held the power to mesmerise and seduce, but that was a mere quality of its nature now, and not its primary impetus. "I hate you," he said.
"Hate," said the Archangel of Judgement, "is a sin."
"So is Lust." There was a sigh. "So is it all. And, Dominic, my brother who once embraced me, sometimes I listen to my Symphony, and do you know what is at the centre? Nothing. Nothing at all. How dare you still hold? All of you. What is it that you have which keeps you whole? What kind of misplaced hope, mistaken faith . . ." He broke off. "It was easier once. Shake hands forever, cancel all our vows . . ."
Dominic recognised the quotation. Half in hope, half in fear, he replied, "Now, if thou would'st, when all have given him over, from life to death thou mightst him yet recover. Andrealphus."
"That isn't why I'm here." The Prince's voice regained its earlier smoothness. "I have made a confession. You know that if I take your penance, it'll only be to amuse myself, don't you?"
It had been a mistake to hope. Dominic schooled his voice to calm patience. "Nonetheless, my son, I will give it to you if you ask me. I am your confessor, and you have come to me to confess your sins."
Silence hung in the air, like the fumes of the incense outside, like the light of the long sunbeams, as much a part of the essence of Heaven as the ceaseless music and praise of God.
"I came," Andrealphus whispered, nothing human in his voice any more, only a desperate hunger and grief, "because you are so beautiful."
There was a single click from the penitent's cubicle, and the sense of another's presence was gone.
The silence enfolded Heaven again, wrapping around the Archangel of Judgement as he remembered the days before the Fall, and grieved once more for what was lost.
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