Axiom 6: Formulate a long-term plan.
“This doesn’t seem like a good idea,” I said again, although I probably ought to have learned by this point to just keep my mouth shut.
Indeed, no one responded to me. Alice sketched out a few more lines in the intricate diagram that she’d painted on the middle of our floor, and then sat back to appraise her work. She stuck the paintbrush in between her teeth to free up her hands, making her appear slightly like a deranged pirate artist.
“What do you think?” she asked me, glancing up as she sat back on her knees.
“You’re not listening to anything I say, are you?” I replied morosely.
“Nope. Not even a little bit.”
I sighed, but at least she didn’t lie to me. I took a step closer, accepting the sheet of paper from her and trying to not notice how the curves of her body stood out as she rested on her knees beside me.
I moved my eyes back and forth from the page in my hand to the large circle on the floor. Nearly four feet across, the “circle” actually consisted of several concentric circles, with a variety of eye-twisting shapes and symbols in between each ring. Several lines skewered the sets of circles, connecting various points but somehow managing to avoid cutting through any of the symbols.
It took me a couple of minutes to work my way around the circle, very carefully making sure that every single line on the diagram was replicated on the floor. When we talked with Eremiel, he refused to explain what might happen if we drew any part of the diagram wrong, but his silent shudder was enough to set both of our imaginations running.
We wanted everything to be correct.
“I think you missed a line over here,” I finally said, three-quarters of the way around the circle. I bent down and held the diagram out so that Alice could look.
“Ah, good catch.” She pulled the paintbrush from between her teeth and dipped it into the small little pot of red liquid that she used as paint. I grimaced as I watched her soak the fibres of the brush.
“Doesn’t that weird you out, using that stuff?” I asked, as she carefully drew the line in place on the floor.
She looked down at the little pot. “The blood smells a little funky, and it’s a bit watery as paint,” she said, “but it does kind of work. I’m used to it.”
I nodded, not commenting on how, despite kneeling and crawling around on top of the painted diagram on the floor, Alice took fastidious care to not get even a single droplet of the blood on her skin or clothes.
We both stood up to examine the complex shape one last time, just as Eremiel re-entered the building. “Ah, you’ve got it drawn out,” he said, looking over both of our shoulders (not a problem, given his height). “I’ve got the other components here.”
Moving aside to make way for Eremiel, I watched him deposit a shopping bag on the table, several round objects spilling out. I reached out to pick up one of the spheres, noting uncomfortably how my fingers slightly squeezed it. The texture felt uncannily like flesh.
“Grapefruit?” I asked, confused.
“Trust me, we’ll need those,” he answered. “And I’ve also got a couple of robes for you and Alice to wear. Hopefully, they’ll make you look more like proper cultists.”
From inside the bag, Eremiel passed over a couple of black robes to us. I unfolded the robe and held it up. It wasn’t a cultist robe. Rather, I guessed that it was a graduation robe for a high school senior, especially given as how a graduation cap fell out from inside the robe’s folds when I held it in the air.
“Do we really need the robes?” Alice asked, eyeing the shapeless garment doubtfully.
“Er…” Eremiel hesitated. “Well, no. They’re not necessary, per se. But they do help give this the proper feel, if you know what I mean.”
In response, Alice crumpled up the plastic garment and tossed it aside. “If it’s not necessary, I’m not wearing it,” she announced. “Besides, the thing just gets in the way of me reaching for my weapons.”
I saw Eremiel start to open his mouth and protest, to say something, but he bit back the response with an effort. He was learning, it seemed. When Alice made up her mind about something, not even a heavenly being could change it.
“Fine,” he said after another minute. “Well, gather up your belongings, and let me know when you’re ready. Take care of any of those mortal functions that you might need to attend to, and then we’ll be off.”
“Mortal functions?” I echoed.
I felt a little surge of petty satisfaction as the angel grimaced. “You know. Bathrooms and such. All of that disgusting stuff.”
Next to me, Alice grinned as she exchanged glances with me. In the last day or so, as we’d prepared for our grand voyage down to Hell, we’d both grown proficient at teasing and needling Eremiel, enjoying all the ways that we could make him squeamish.
But despite his stuck-up attitude and our teasing, I did think that we’d grown a bit closer to each other, just from the forced proximity, from having to rely on and interact with each other. I still looked at the angel as a bit of a poof, stuck-up and lording it over us “poor little mortals,” but I didn’t look at him with quite the same disgust or hate as when we first captured him.
I didn’t have any solid evidence for my assumptions, but I also suspected that Eremiel was warming up to us, as well – and that this warmth bothered the angel, although he’d never admit it to us.
I headed over to grab the backpack full of items I’d assembled for the trip. I didn’t have a lot of personal effects. I brought this journal, obviously, and a few pens, as well as some food and snacks, a first aid kit, and a flare gun that Alice insisted that I carry. She told me that it was for my own protection, in case we got separated – but I suspected that I had been given the flare gun because she didn’t have any more room for weapons on her person. When she stepped up to the circle, wearing her own backpack, she practically clanked every time she took a step.
“Ready,” she announced grimly, her hand resting on a large machete she’d managed to attach to her belt.
I threw my own backpack over my shoulders, taking a deep breath and trying to keep down the rising anxiety inside my chest. “Ready,” I echoed, standing beside her at the edge of the circle.
Eremiel eyed us, and then nodded once, solemnly. “Very well.” He turned to the circle, raising his arms like a preacher. “Then let us begin.”