Continued from Part 8
I awake to a scene out of nightmares.
I had thought the Box of Hades a dark place. Even the Cylinder of Shame wasn’t so bad, since the worst parts had already been covered with the Blood of Jesus.
But once I touched The Blot, the bottom had dropped out. Literally.
The seemingly limitless Box of Hades must have been but a thin facade over this hell-hole; one that activating The Blot has ripped away.
Below, I hear hideous shrieks, smell noxious fumes, and see wretched creatures scurrying along the limbs. Whether they are willing demons or tormented souls I can’t tell; perhaps they can’t either.
My heart sinks. I have criss-crossed heaven and hell and been killed and reborn many times. I have fought, taught, and forgiven, and finally seemed at peace with both my self, and my erstwhile enemies.
Yet now all that hard-earned healing seems but a worn-out bandage on a wound the size of a planet.
Worse, a malevolent shadow starts growing in the air around me. The temperature drops, and a cruel wind tears at my flesh. I glance around for Hermes to rescue me, but my escort is nowhere to be seen. I try to hope he escaped, perhaps even ran for help.
But hope does not seem to belong here. In fact, this looks like the very place hope comes to die.
“That’s right, bucko. Welcome to the Boss Level.”
Summoning as much bravado as I can muster, I face towards what seems the heart of the shadow, from whence the rasping voice emanated.
Earnest: If this is the boss level, then I must be here to learn to defeat you.
The voice laughs gratingly, like steel rasping over concrete. I try not to wince.
Satan: Sure, sure. This is all a beautiful little fairy tale, where good triumphs over evil, hero beds heroine, and they all live happily ever after. Right?
I refuse to let him bait me. I know I am
in way over my head, but I’m pretty sure he’s bluffing too. After all, if he just wanted to kill me — and was allowed to — he wouldn’t waste time talking with me.
But it seems as if he can read my thoughts, or at least my face, as he erupts in unearthly cackles.
S. Kill you? Heavens no! Why, adventurers like you are the only real fun I have. Not defeating them; that’s far too easy. Turning them, that’s the real art.
I grin, nodding.
E. Good to know! That means it is both dangerous and unnecessary for me to fight you. In that case, I’ll just have a little look around, then be on my way.
I deliberately turn my back on him and start climbing down the branch. Affecting nonchalance despite the way my skin crawls, expecting icy claws to stab me at any moment.
S. Hey, now wait a minute! You can’t just wander around here whenever you want!
I take a deep breath and count to ten, then turn around, a look of forced casualness on my face.
E. Oh? Are you offering me the guided tour then?
The shadow looks… baffled. Disappointed, even. He seems to have been expecting a warrior or a holy man filled with righteous indignation, coming to denounce him.
Not… whatever it is I am.
E. No? No matter, I’ll find my own way, thank you.
I carefully climb down until I reach a limb wide enough to stand on. My gorge rises at the horrific stench and ghastly torments all around me, but I focus all my attention on controlling my breathing. I start to pray under my breath.
E. Peace… righteousness… truth… salvation… the word of God
As I speak each word, a glowing piece of armor appears on my body, ending with the sword of the Spirit strapped to my hip. I suppress a grin as Satan draws a hissing breath.
E. Don’t worry, Old Scratch. I will not attack you today. The systems and structures of this world are corrupt and infected with your lies, but they are also the only thing holding the world together. It will take a generation to build an army, and a Kingdom, that can redeem and replace them.
S. Arrogant fool! Then perhaps I should just destroy you now!
E. Perhaps you should. It doesn’t matter to me. My life is not my own, and He can spend it however He wants. I suspect however, that the last thing you want is the blood of a martyr spilled on the roots of your tree.
The shadow draws in upon itself in frustration.
S. Very well, mortal. It pleases me to let you think you have won this round. I will even open a portal so you may depart.
E. Not so fast, Mr. Scratch. I believe you have something of mine here I need to reclaim.
I didn’t realize it consciously until I said it, but my eyes have been scanning the area ever since they acclimated to the gloom. There is something I needed to find, and bring back with me. But what?
I almost missed it. It looks like a little white mouse, scurrying about in a place where no wholesome thing breathed. I run over and scoop it up, placing it inside my breastplate.
Satan roars in anger.
S. Fool! You have doomed yourself. Surely you know no mortal may carry anything out from the realms of the dead.
E. Then it’s a good thing I’ve got an immortal Uber.
Filled with sudden certainty, I repeat the whistle used by Zeus. Hermes appears instantly, holding out his hand. I grasp it. In the instant before we vanish, I hear Satan start to scream:
To be continued