[AGttA] Chapter 7.3: The Warren of Hell

Continued from Chapter 7.2, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 7: Remain positive.

Once Vinrael had agreed to help us, he didn’t spend any more time sitting around his office.  As soon as he shook each of our hands (“Devil’s handshake,” he said with a grin to us that made me feel like he was about to take a bite), he immediately headed for the door. 

“Well, are you lot coming?” he asked over his shoulder, as we all turned to him.  “We can’t hang around here!  Do you know what sort of trouble I’d be facing if someone finds out that I’m consorting with mortals?  Or worse, him?”

“I feel quite the same way,” Eremiel replied stiffly, looking back with distaste at the finger the devil pointed towards him.  “The sooner this ends, the better.”

Clearly, neither of our allies felt quite comfortable with each other.  Alice and I shared a look of commingled frustration, and then nodded.   Continue reading

The Countdown

“Three… two… one…”

Counting under my breath, I ticked down the fingers, bracing myself against the crumbling stones. Just after I hit “one,” the ground shook beneath us, and a mighty roar filled my ears, leaving them ringing despite the earplugs I’d inserted. They said that we wouldn’t have much sustained hearing loss, but who believed them these days?

“You were early, I think,” Harry said next to me, after the ringing and echoes had died away.

Across from me, Donson nodded. “Yep. Half a second or so.”

“I’ll get it next time,” I replied, as we hauled ourselves back to our feet on the still-quivering earth. Continue reading

Oh Gosh.

I balanced up on my tiptoes, stretching to grab the plastic bin off of the top shelf of the storage closet. “Come here, you bugger,” I growled up at it, my fingers brushing against the handle but not quite able to wrap around it.

Who had decided to put the popsicle sticks all the way up on the top shelf, anyway? It must have been one of the clueless parents, I decided. They came in on Fridays to help out in the kindergarten class, doing their best to foster the growth of their precious little angels, but not considering more obvious issues.

Issues like the fact that the teacher of their little terrors was barely five feet tall – on a good day. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 7.2: Negotiating with the (a) Devil

Continued from Chapter 7.1, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 7: Remain positive.

When I stepped through the magical doorway hanging in the middle of the air, I expected to find myself in Hell proper on the other side.  I imagined stifling heat, rivers of lava, maybe some tortured souls, or at least a few pitchforks stabbed into skeletons.

I saw none of that on the other side.

Instead, Vinrael’s office turned out to be, well, an office.  I felt like I was stepping into the personal quarters of a mid-level music executive, back in the eighties.  There was a thick but slightly worn red carpet under my feet, and dusty framed pictures hung on the walls.  There was a green leather couch pushed against one wall, and a large desk made of dark-stained wood, looking heavy enough to crush a car if it fell out a window.

I glanced around, and noted that there were no windows.  No danger of anyone being crushed, hopefully. Continue reading

Modern Arranged Marriage

I looked around the office, trying to control the anxiety building up inside my chest. Just breathe, Jake, I told myself. You’re just here to find out how it works. You haven’t signed anything, haven’t agreed to anything yet.

Whoever designed the office, at least, had been well aware of the anxiety that its visitors might feel. Most of the walls were paneled in dark wood, and a large fountain in the middle of the room sent a small waterfall cascading down amid lush green vegetation. I felt more like I’d accidentally stepped into a spa, or perhaps an upscale massage parlor, rather than a dating service.

“Jake Hoffman?”

I glanced up at my name, and saw a tall, efficient-looking brunette in a tightly tailored navy suit looking back at me. “Yeah,” I said, rising up from the low bench where I’d been sitting and gazing blearily into the stream of falling water. “That’s me.”

She smiled at me, an efficient and businesslike smile that she’d probably practiced a thousand times in the mirror. “Right this way, Mr. Hoffman.” Continue reading

God Discovers the Platypus.

Almost no one thinks about the knees of an angel.

No one really sees them, under the toga. Nobody ever stops to consider whether angels have knobbly knees, the kind of knees usually seen on scrawny fourteen-year-old boys who’ve only just barely managed to survive their first real dose of hormones. Of all the exalted, perfect qualities of angels, knees are fairly low on the list.

Quiniel looked down and frowned at his knees as they knocked together nervously. Like everyone else, he’d never stopped to consider his knees until now, and he found himself thoroughly annoyed with them, especially as they bounced together and added another level of anxiety to his already-flustered state. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 7.1: Vinrael

Continued from Chapter 7.0, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 7: Remain positive.

A few hours later, I’d noticed the first strange thing about Hell – it seemed to grow warmer the further that we descended into the depths of the cavern.

With Eremiel leading the way, we headed into the depths, picking our way through shattered and scattered boulders.  No breeze stirred the dust, so we left a pretty clear trail of footsteps in the dirt behind us.  Alice asked if we needed to worry about concealing our trail, but Eremiel just replied that anyone who wanted to follow us wouldn’t be using our footsteps, so not to worry about it.

Somehow, that reply wasn’t totally reassuring to me, but I decided to hold my tongue. Continue reading

The World Below, or, On the Stupidity of Fish

Even when all things are considered, fish are fairly stupid creatures.

Admittedly, there’s no real reason for them to be smart. The buoyancy of water means that they can build up much more muscle and fat mass, and although they need some complex three-dimensional trigonometric calculations for determining optimal paths through an environment where height is more than just the “the empty space above my head”, there’s not a lot of real intelligence in a fish.

Perhaps, at some point in history, a short-lived branch off of the evolutionary tree showed some signs of real intellect. Maybe, at one or more times, a fish blinked, looked around at its fellows swimming through the water all around him, and thought to himself, “Hey, I wonder who created this maze where we all hang out!”

That fish was probably the first to be eaten by a dolphin, because instead of swimming away like his fellows, he stopped and tried to negotiate with the dolphin. Continue reading

Filmed before a live studio audience!

“And we’re back in five, four, three…”

For just a moment, Azistopheles glared at the producer. Why did the damned soul never say the last two numbers? The whole point of counting down was to reach zero. He never seemed to make it there, always stopping with a couple numbers to go.

An instant later, however, the devil’s expression brightened, and he beamed into the camera. “Welcome back to ‘Who Wants To Be A Torture Victim?’!” he announced happily. “If you’re just tuning in, which you shouldn’t be since you’re all in Hell, we’re about to bring down our next contestant!” Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 7.0: Welcome to Hell

Continued from Chapter 6.2, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 7: Remain Positive.

Somehow, I expected that opening up a portal to Hell would be a very dramatic event.  I imagined hours of chanting, blood sacrifices, and all sorts of nasty, forbidden activities that would make most priests blush.

Instead, once we’d drawn out the complex summoning circle, the actual procedure was quite straightforward.  Eremiel had us put on the robes, but then just stepped up to the circle, said a few words, and then waved his hand a few times over the diagram, being careful not to smear any of the painted lines.

As soon as he finished speaking (chanting?  Did this really count as an incantation?  Is ‘incanting’ a real word?), the lines glowed for a moment, flaring up with reddish light, and then faded back again until the glow could barely be seen.  I had to really stare at them to tell that anything was happening at all.

“And there we go,” Eremiel said, sounding a little relieved.  “No one coming through; I’m betting that all the devils are probably busy with their own preparations for the Apocalypse, after all.” Continue reading