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.”
“I thought the Apocalypse already happened, and that’s why we’re doing all of this,” I said, confused.
“Well, it’s started, but it hasn’t ended yet.”
I frowned at him. “The Apocalypse is ongoing? I thought that it was the sort of thing that just, well, happened.”
Eremiel shrugged. “Not my decision. But now the portal’s active. Don’t step on it until you’ve got everything that you need.”
Moving in unison, Alice and I took a step back from the painted shape on the ground. “We just step on that, and we’ll be in Hell?” Alice asked, her hand dropping to the big machete at her belt.
The angel nodded. “Easy as that. The journey down a planar level is easy. As I said, it’s getting back up that proves more challenging.”
“I thought we’d need to make sacrifices and things,” I said, still not fully convinced that this mystical portal to Hell was truly open. “What did you get those grapefruits for?”
“Later,” Eremiel said, as if this explained everything. “Now, let’s get going.” He frowned at Alice. “Are you sure that I can’t convince you to wear the robe?”
“Why? The portal’s already open,” she pointed out.
“It’s more for when we meet any denizens of Hell,” he said. “They’re traditionalists, you know. They kind of expect the robes, whole cultist sort of vibe.”
Alice crossed her arms. “Not happening.”
We’d been through this argument before, and I doubted that Eremiel would have any better luck this time than on the previous attempts. To head off the inevitable arguing, I adjusted the backpack on my shoulders and looked down at the portal on the floor, taking a deep breath and trying to steady myself.
“So do I just step onto it? Anything else I need to do? Hold my breath, keep all my hands and feet inside the circle as I go flying through the bottom of the world, anything like that?” I asked.
Eremiel looked up, distracted from the argument, and shook his head. “Nope. Just step on it, and that’s about it. Portals are pretty easy to use, once you know all of the planar vectors.”
“Oh, wait!” he cried out a second later, as I started to turn back towards the portal.
There, I knew that he’d been holding out on me! “What do I need to do?” I asked, prepared to be pushed to my very limit in order to survive the journey.
“When you land on the other side, move out of the way, so that we don’t run into you and fall over,” Eremiel said. “I don’t want to end up getting stabbed by the rogue mercenary contingent over there.” He nodded at Alice and her array of weaponry.
Great. Move out of the way. “Thanks,” I muttered.
Well, nothing else to do but try it, then. I took one last breath, prayed to whoever might be listening that Eremiel did, in fact, know his planar vectors, and then stepped forward onto the circle.
Again, when I next looked around, I felt a bit disappointed.
I’d kind of expected that the travel to Hell would be like falling into a long, twisty tunnel of light, full of all sorts of disorienting sensations and with special effects going off around me like a hundred Michael Bays from various universes had teamed up to create the ultimate action movie. Maybe flames would rush out, maybe I’d have the feeling of being turned inside out, of having my mind warped by exposure to eldritch horrors that no human was ever meant to confront.
Instead, I just blinked, and the scenery around me changed.
One second, I was standing in front of the shape on the ground, in the Starbucks. The next moment, as soon as my foot hit the ground, the carefully painted shapes and symbols of the portal were no longer beneath me. Instead, I stood on a slightly sandy, rocky outcrop, and more desolate scenery surrounded me.
“Okay,” I said, looking around and sighing. “I guess that’s about up to the standard of the rest of this Apocalypse so far. Potentially cool, but ultimately just disappointing.”
A moment later, something hit me in the back, and I tumbled forward, catching myself roughly on the rocky ground and scraping my palm a little.
“I told you to move out of the way!” Eremiel said from behind me, sounding annoyed. “Here, keep crawling forward, Alice is about to-”
Halfway through his sentence, a clank of metal on metal announced Alice’s arrival in Hell. “That was disappointing,” I heard her say as I pulled myself up from where I’d landed on the ground. “Not even any swirly light tunnel.”
“I know, right?” I said, climbing up to my feet. “But at least it looks like we made it to Hell.”
I looked around once I was back on my feet. Hell, it seemed, looked like a massive underground cavern. The walls were too far off in the distance for me to see them, but the ceiling hung above us, with huge stalactites (or are they stalagmites?) hanging down like massive teeth. Everywhere was the same dull, drab brown color. There didn’t seem to be any sun; the light came from nowhere in particular, the whole place just vaguely illuminated by a dim sort of glow in the air. The air felt dry and dead in my lungs.
“Doesn’t seem so bad,” Alice said. “A lot less fire than I expected.”
I nodded. The air was warm, but not what I’d describe as hellish. Rather, the place felt a bit like an attic of an old house on a warm summer’s day. Dusty, still, and full of dust.
“Trust me, the place doesn’t grow on you,” Eremiel said, planting his hands on his hips. “Now, let’s get going. We need to find a contact of mine.”
“Who’s that?” I asked, not expecting to receive an answer.
I didn’t receive an answer. Eremiel looked around for a second, and then set off, his white robe rubbing slightly against the dusty floor. Alice and I exchanged a glance of shared annoyance, and then set off after the angel.