Day Two: Dawn
Uriel had traveled straight through the night, racing across the desert sands at more than one hundred miles per hour, kicking up high twin trails of sand in his wake. Black Night had allowed him to travel unseen, and he had followed Jeremiah’s directions to the location of a newly-constructed, underground mirror. Uriel was haunted by the knowledge that there were many others scattered throughout Heaven, but that wasn’t his problem. Rahab was.
Upon arriving at the location, marked by a poorly constructed wooden cross, Uriel leapt into the air and thrust himself downward, arms outstretched as he braced for impact. Jeremiah had been truthful, and an inch of sand gave way to shattering glass as Uriel plummeted directly through the frameless mirror. It was not a random act that he had broken the mirror; never again would a demon use this mirror to cross over. Uriel repressed his growing fear that he would never be returning home.
As always, the thick, sulfuric stench was the first indication that he had reached his destination. Uriel felt claustrophobic as he passed through a dark, twisting cavern comprised of cooled lava rock before emerging into Hell’s ceiling—directly above the Lake of Fire.
He was no longer flying; he was falling, headed for the dead-center of the Lake.
Not a problem, he thought. I’ve been here before…
It was nearly four miles from the ceiling to the lake; Uriel had plenty of time to figure something out.
The humidity was acidic, stinging his exposed body as he fell. The ceiling was not a smooth surface; over the centuries, magma spewed from one of the regions many volcanoes had cooled into long stalagmites that hung from the ceiling. Some of them were almost a mile long, others curved into each other and hung like frozen vines suspended between two trees.
Uriel’s rate of descent increased, and the rapidly-passing humidity started to feel like he was passing through a sheet of hornets. His eyes darted across the sky, assessing and dismissing possible formations to grab onto—a long, hanging U-shaped formation caught his eye, just off to his right. It would hurt, but if he timed it right, he may have been able to reach out and—.
As he rocketed past it, Uriel reached for the hanging rock and grunted as he strained the muscles in his shoulder to their very limits. His shoulder muscles felt like they were set ablaze as they were nearly torn in two, but Uriel maintained his grip. He swung his left arm up to the rock and pulled himself up, slinging his leg over the formation and lying down on his stomach.
He was about a mile from the lake; close enough to see methane-produced flames pierce its surface and burst, releasing that horrible odor, and certainly close enough to hear the endless screams of the newly damned. There were thousands of them; for what few moments they were allowed to breach the surface, they reached up helplessly, eyes bright orange as the fire burned them out, their open mouths producing purple and orange flames as they were consumed from within. Their injuries healed almost as fast as they were created, thus perpetuating the endless cycle that was their existence until the end of time. After a few moments of begging for a reprieve, the roiling magma would send a wave over them, and they would vanish from sight. Others simply passed out, going momentarily lifeless and drifting helplessly beneath the surface. It was the only reprieve they would ever be allowed; within minutes, they would be conscious again.
The first time Uriel had seen this, he had been sick for a week. This was the tenth time he’d seen it, and he felt neither nausea nor pity. Everyone was responsible for their own destiny…and his led to Rahab.
He was surveying the lake, trying to figure out the next move when it was decided for him; a gigantic white stingray-like creature, easily thirty feet across and sporting three elongated, spear-tipped tails, pierced the surface of the lake, rising high before splashing back into the burning liquid. It landed with such force that the magma was thrown high enough to singe Uriel’s already tattered pants. It moved through the lake with unnatural speed, darting and curving effortlessly as the newly damned desperately attempted to get out of its path. Their efforts were futile; the stingray opened its massive jaws, swallowing nearly ten at a time. The sound of its teeth grinding bone into dust was loud enough to be heard for miles, and the crunching made Uriel shudder. He was unable to take his eyes from the spectacle; he had never seen anything like this before.
It wasn’t a hunt; it was a slaughter. The stingray would effortlessly dive beneath the magma and be gone for up to a minute at the time. The damned would pause, looking around frantically, hoping that they were safe from being eaten – even burning from within was better than that. As their screams began anew, the Lake consuming their flesh, the stingray would resurface, tearing some of them in half before tearing across the magma, trapping anything in its path.
Uriel shuddered; he had never seen a demon like this. It was clearly at home in the Lake, meaning that it was either born here, or had been here long enough to curry Yin’s favor. The latter could take centuries. Also, there was something familiar about this demon’s tactics; leading the victims to think they were safe, and then attacking just when the Lake would start taking effect again, ensuring their pain would be at its worst. It was almost as though…it was a game.
Uriel’s mind raced back to That Day, when he had been responsible for twenty-seven of the three-hundred and thirty seven lives lost. Rahab had appeared as a being of rotten water that day, imprisoning those children and forcing Uriel to choose the method of their death. Their feud was legendary; it had begun when they were both mortals, and their hatred for each other had transcended death to continue on in the afterlife. In each of their encounters, there had always been some sort of interruption; something that always kept one from delivering the fatal blow. It was as though fate itself conspired to keep them fighting forever.
Before the Slaughter, before Black Night, Uriel had hoped the matter resolved. During the skirmish that destroyed the heavenly city of Yethra, Uriel bound the demon in chains and cast him directly into the Lake of Fire. Yet, somehow, in his soul, Uriel knew that Rahab would find a way back.
His mind snapped back to the present even as the stingray surfaced and the feeding frenzy renewed;
Rahab was native to water, and as he had evolved—or devolved, it seemed –he’d learned to manipulate all liquid. So much time in the Lake of Fire; it was possible Rahab had taken a form that allowed him to survive there.
Uriel cursed under his breath; that meant he was responsible for Rahab’s latest…change.
I should have killed you long ago…
The thought involuntarily escaped Uriel’s mind as he found himself growing angry.
The stingray disappeared beneath the magma again—and stayed gone. The rampage had done little to deplete the number of damned. Uriel wondered if the creature was passing them just as quickly as it consumed them. As the damned began their hopeless screaming all over again, the creature did not resurface. The game appeared to be over.
Enthusiastic, happy, high-pitched chattering could be heard from the torched, barren shores far off to the right. Uriel adjusted himself to see; in the distance, there was a host of imps leaping up and down merrily, wary of the magma as they applauded. Dramatically, his arms outstretched as though he brought the light of the world with him, Rahab slowly emerged from the water in humanoid form, brightly glowing orange as though the Lake fueled him. Upon his arrival, the imps whooped themselves into a frenzy as if welcoming their hero. Rahab bowed, savoring every moment.
“My friends, my friends,” Rahab began, raising his head once again. The imps continued to cheer, and Rahab mocked humility, gesturing for them to quiet down. “I so hope you enjoyed today’s show. I also hope that your final memory in this life stays with you through recycling…”
Rahab trailed off as the imps slowly calmed down, realizing the implication of his words. Just before they could turn and run, Rahab leapt into them like a lion into sheep. The cheers turned to screams of horror and pain as Rahab was able to grab up to three of them at a time and ruthlessly, gleefully sink his teeth into whatever flesh was closest. Imps, the lowest of Hell’s creatures, struggled in vain to escape, only to meet the same fate as the newly damned.
Uriel couldn’t help but pity the little bastards. He’d seen enough.
Uriel reached to the small of his back and pulled the two pieces of gunnery, remembering Sira’s instructions: point the long end at your target and squeeze the trigger. Group your spears at the center of your target.
Replacing one of the gunnery at the small of his back, Uriel clenched his right hand and was pleased to feel his arm warm up as it began to glow.
Uriel stood up and faced the shore. Rahab’s frenzy had come to its conclusion, and he was surrounded by the twitching remnants of the imps.
Rahab whipped, placing his hands over his eyes and squinting. “Uriel? Is that you? Here?!”
Uriel exhaled. Rahab sped into the magma as if racing to meet an old friend. “Stay there! I’ll come to you!”
Placing his arms out front, Rahab dove into the Lake and vanished.
Summoning fire to both of his hands, Uriel relaxed and waited. For a moment, Hell was deathly still.
Rahab—again as a gigantic stingray—burst through the surface of the Lake directly beneath Uriel, who could make out a wide jaw with millions of needlelike teeth. The stingray bellowed a screeching cry as it rose hungrily towards Uriel.
Uriel placed his palms inches away from each other, quickly creating a ball of fire between his hands. Clutching the fireball in his right hand, Uriel hurled it down towards the oncoming demon. The fireball caught Rahab squarely in the mouth. Rahab exhaled a wisp of smoke, making an odd sound that almost sounded like pain. He fell, lifelessly, back onto the lake. The landing was so forceful that Uriel fought to keep his balance, even as magma was fired into the air, singing his ankles. Uriel braced himself on the treacherous rock formation he was perched on and watched as Rahab slowly fell beneath the surface of the lake.
Seconds later, the demon exploded from the surface, flying at double speed, mouth agape as it came for Uriel. “Did I fool you?” Rahab spoke into Uriel’s mind, “Did you think that was it? Really, fire, Uriel? Did you forget where you are?”
Not at all. Uriel allowed himself to feel proud as he reached to his back and drew forth the gunnery. As he pointed it towards the oncoming stingray, Uriel tried not to smile as he felt Rahab’s confusion enter his mind. Simultaneously, Uriel squeezed the triggers to both weapons, his arms jerking as the weapons kicked back in his hands.
The two tiny spears tore through Rahab’s flesh just beside his face, and black blood burst forth from the wounds. When the demon screamed this time, it was genuine.
Uriel squeezed the weapons three more times as Rahab flailed helplessly, falling back into the lake. Six spears shredded Rahab’s flesh, nearly tearing his right wing off as he crashed back into the lake. He flailed, screaming, refusing to submit to the magma as it dragged him under. It was almost vindicating as Uriel raised the gunnery, aiming it at his ancient enemy one last time.
“Choose.” Uriel Reached coldly into Rahab’s mind, but only felt pain, confusion, and anger. Through his rage, Rahab responded. “What the hell does that mean?!”
“I’ll give you the same choice you gave me at Eden, you sick bastard.” Uriel seethed telepathically, “A quick death by my hand…or a slow one in the lake.”
“FUCK YOU!!” Rahab bellowed into Uriel’s mind as magma poured into his injuries.
Uriel grit his teeth. “So be it. I gave you a choice.”
Uriel squeezed the triggers repeatedly, the weapons kicking in his hands until they had run dry. Tiny arrows jettisoned from the weapons, each one hitting their mark and tearing through Rahab. The final two arrows struck the demon’s black eyes, which bubbled and exploded like heated tar. The demon ceased its screeching as it finally passed beneath the lake.
Uriel Reached downward, but could sense nothing. No repressed rage, no anything. All traces of Rahab had vanished.
Uriel’s shoulders sagged and he enjoyed his first moment of total relaxation since this entire ordeal had gotten started. At long last, after centuries of endless conflict, Rahab was –.
Uriel’s stomach tightened as he shot a look back to the magma, which was virtually still. The damned had begun surfacing again, but they were so few that their screams didn’t travel. Uriel looked back to the gunnery, trying to remember Sira’s instructions on re-arming.
First step; release the empty cartridges. A toggle switch placed at the left of each weapon allowed the gunnery to release the spent cartridges. Uriel fumbled a bit, pushing the switches down in a quarter-circle motion. The cartridges fell out of the bottom of the weapons, falling against the rock before tumbling down into the lake.
A colossal magma wave fired up out of the lake, arcing to the right towards Uriel’s perch. The wave would easily reach him, and was hot enough to melt the rock—and anything on it.
Uriel had one option. Turning away from the wave, he jumped off of the rock. As he began to fall, he heard the wave crash onto the rock, hissing as his former perch was destroyed.
He was falling like a stone, the humidity like ticks tearing away at his flesh. Uriel kept his head; reaching into his pockets and pulling forth one full cartridge—it was all he had time for, and allowed the other weapon to fall into the Lake. It was instantly consumed in a burst of fire and disappeared on the surface. Uriel used the palm of his hand and shoved the cartridge into the bottom of the gunnery. Something within the weapon clicked, registering that it was ready for action.
Nearly torn in two, blind, gravely injured, Rahab burst forth from the magma, its jaw ready to catch its prey. “You don’t know how to kill me, Uriel,” Rahab growled telepathically, the playful tone gone. Uriel pushed away his fear; either the teeth or the lake would get him, but in seconds, he’d be dead. The most he could hope for was to take Rahab with him. Aiming at the demon’s throat, Uriel took careful aim. “You talk too much, Rahab–.”
Uriel suddenly and unexpectedly felt himself snatched from the air, something holding him by his armpits and throwing his aim off. His arrow went high and wide, disappearing into the distance. Angrily, Uriel looked up and saw a Valkryie in full battle regalia. Her mask was pulled down over her face, and the crimson shining-star-shaped jewel at the center of her breastplate marked her as a Captain. She flew effortlessly towards the shores where the dead imps lay, and let Uriel fall to the ground. He landed solidly on his feet, watching the Valkryie land a few feet ahead of him, her back to him.
“At least turn and face me, Sira,” Uriel said darkly.
The Valkryie complied, turning and touching her mask with the palm of her hand. The mask automatically receded to the top of her head, inside her helmet. “Uriel,” she acknowledged him, attempting to avoid a confrontation. “I figured you would be a little more–.”
“Why are you here?” He demanded, cutting her off.
Sira’s slight smile disappeared, along with any pretense of being polite. “By order of His Royal Highness Yang, seconded by my Lord Odin…” She began, her voice trailing off as hesitance became apparent. Uriel’s irritated confusion turned into hurt and anger at the betrayal. Sira drew the sword at her hip and pointed the apex towards Uriel. “You are under arrest, Uriel.”
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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