Lila felt a droplet of sweat trickle between her breasts as she adjusted the reflector to see the pale young man standing beside her chaise. She looked at him above the frames of her oversized sunglasses.
“Um.” He looked at her. And then looked around. “Um, are you from around here?”
“As lines go, darling, that one is a loser,” she said, lifting the reflector back into place. A warm red glow settled back on her décolletage. She didn’t hear the dismal fellow walk away. She sighed.
“It’s over there,” she said, pointing to a desk across the pool.
“Oh, um, thanks,” he said. She looked up to see him hurrying away.
“You’re not in Kansas anymore, darling,” she said to no one in particular. The mood was ruined anyway. She folded up the reflector and sat up, stretching her wings in the rubine glow of the fires. Perhaps a dip in the pool, she thought. She removed her sunglasses and twisted the ink-dark coils of serpents into a messy topknot.
She glanced over at the desk. The pale man was trying to get the attention of the receptionist, who was filing her talons and ignoring him spectacularly. Lila lowered herself into the chasm of roiling sulfur, standing for a moment before pushing off from the edge to swim across. The repetitive motion was soothing and the heat of the molten rock soothed her aching shoulders. Girl’s gotta have a day off, she thought.
She heard raised voices coming from the distance. She looked over. The receptionist had left her desk and walked over to the edge of the chasm. Oh. Break’s over, Lila thought.
“Lila, we got a fresh one,” the receptionist said. The pale young man stood just behind her. Lila paddled over to the edge and pushed herself out of the water, beads of cooling stone crumbling away from her body.
“All work and no play, right?” Lila replied, walking over to her chaise and hoisting the great key that sat there next to her reflector and a thoroughly melted frozen beverage. “Looks like we get to go home together after all, darling.”
“Oh, you’re gonna like this one, Lila,” the receptionist smirked.
“Um, hello again,” the young man said. Lila took a look at him. Pale, young, with a sadness in his eyes. She wondered why he wasn’t sent to the woods. He seemed too quiet to be here for any other reason. But she supposed he had just left behind plenty of neighbors saying the same thing. “He always seemed like such a quiet fellow…”
Of course, there was another possibility.
“Come on, darling,” she said. “Play time.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
“So, what’re you in for?” she asked.
“No need to be coy. We’re all here for a reason.”
“Oh, yes, of course. I’ve been assigned here to learn about pain,” he replied.
She took another look at him. His alabaster skin seemed to glow in the light of the fires. Assigned here.
“Wait, what did you say your name was, darling?” she asked.
“I had not said,” he replied. “But I am called Remiel. I gather you are Liliani, the Flail? I had heard of your work. I requested to be assigned to you personally.”
“An angel,” she muttered to herself. “An angel with a fetish.”
“Not a fetish, Liliani,” he corrected her. “An assignment. It is my duty to learn of the pain of the mortification of the flesh. I have been made flesh for the occasion. To know what awaits those who fall into the pit.”
Of course. Leave it to the guy upstairs to use her kind as a cautionary tale.
“Getting a little uppity on the boss, Remy?” she asked, fitting the key to the lock on a great bronze gate.
“I do not understand what you’re saying,” Remiel replied. “I was merely assigned here for the betterment of my divine task.”
“Yeah, right. We’re here.”
She waved an arm at a collection of flails and shackles. He looked at them and grew paler, a feat Lila had to see to believe. But his eyes glowed. Yeah, he was going to enjoy this. Sick angelic fuck. She sighed.
“I don’t need to chain you, do I?” she asked.
“If you think it integral to the experience,” he replied, offering his wrists.
She clapped him in irons, as it were, and pulled them taut against the splintering wooden surface of her work table. Spread out like that, his pale skin against the reddened wood, he looked enticing. She raised a flail.
He cried out at the first strike, and it sounded like pain. She struck him over and over again, until her arm ached despite the therapeutic soak in the chasm she’d taken earlier. She looked at his face. His eyes no longer glowed with anticipation, but they didn’t have the despair she had grown used to. She wondered if she was losing her touch.
“That was… interesting,” he said, shifting slightly. “I can see how that would be an effective deterrent. And yet, there is still an influx of souls.”
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Don’t you find it odd that our Creator would allow his treasured creation to be so chastised when it was his own hand that created in them such flaws as necessitate chastisement?”
“Come again?” Here it came, the philosophical discussion.
He grew paler, seemed to glow white, swallowing up the carmine glow of fire for a moment, and then he was standing next to her, out of his shackles, his skin unmarred by her flail.
“I apologize for being abrupt,” he said. “I mean to suggest that our Creator may be wrong. About punshment, I mean.”
“Mmhmm,” she said. Yeah, I bet you do, she thought.
“Thank you for your time, Liliani the Flail,” he said, vanishing.
“Be seeing you, Remy,” she said to no one in particular.