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.
I followed behind Eremiel, while Alice moved along behind me, bringing up the rear of our little party. When I glanced back at her, I saw a shotgun out in her hands, even though we hadn’t seen any other signs of life since we’d arrived.
“Where is everyone?” I asked Eremiel after a couple of hours. “Isn’t this place supposed to be, well, filled with demons and souls and people?”
“Most of the devils have headed up to fight over the Earthly plane,” he answered. “They usually bring the demons along, too, although they mainly just serve as cannon fodder. There’s only a skeleton crew left behind to serve as guards, and they’re spread pretty thin.”
“And we’re looking for one of them?”
He nodded. “Vinrael. He’s down by the magma pits, usually.”
Oh. Magma pits. That might explain why it was so warm in Hell, and growing warmer as we descended deeper into the massive crater that seemed to form most of the interior of this realm. “Actually, it’s called lava, not magma,” I volunteered after a minute.
Eremiel turned and frowned back at me. “What?”
“Lava is once it’s above ground, on the surface where you can see it. It’s only magma while it’s still underground.”
“Yeah, but all of this place is underground,” Alice chimed in, apparently listening in on the conversation. “So it’s technically not at the surface.”
“I think it still counts as above ground when it’s in a cave – as long as you can see it, it counts as lava, not magma.”
Eremiel sighed. “Is the terminology really that important?”
“Well, no,” I admitted. “But it’s something to think about instead of just walking.”
“I prefer the silent walking,” he said shortly, and silence soon fell back over us, like a muffling, dampening blanket.
Finally, we came around a corner, and I saw glowing red from up ahead. “That must be it?” I asked. “Lava pits?”
“Magma pits. Yes.”
I rolled my eyes behind Eremiel’s back. “Whatever. So this Vinrael dude, what’s he look like? Are we expecting a big, fiery demon or something? Balrog crossed with the dude straight out of Diablo?”
“I don’t know what either of those things are,” Eremiel said stiffly. “But no, Vinrael tends to adopt some of the more… modern appearances.”
“What, little kid with black eyes? Scary twin girls dressed in white dresses that come crawling out of televisions?”
Eremiel just looked lost and confused at these references, so I gave up on the pop culture. Behind me, however, I heard Alice snicker, so at least someone got it. “Seriously, what’s he look like?”
“I believe you call them ‘lawyers’,” Eremiel said, just as we heard someone clapping, up ahead of us.
“Ah, look who it is!”
As soon as I looked up at the newest arrival, I knew that we were face to face with a devil.
Vinrael (I assumed) looked a bit like a lawyer had mated with a shark, and the resulting offspring had been raised in an Armani store and fed a diet of whitening toothpaste. The man who strode towards us was dressed in a perfectly fitted black suit, and his teeth practically gleamed as he smiled broadly at us. His black hair was slicked straight back, giving him the impression that his cousin Vinnie was the kind of guy who’d do a number on your kneecaps in a back alley in Jersey somewhere.
Vinrael spread his hands wide as he advanced, still wearing that heartless, sharklike grin. “Eremiel, my brother!” he called out. “It’s been far too long, and here’s the last place that I expected to see you! What brings you here?”
“Vinrael,” Eremiel growled, and the angel reached for his belt. A moment later, he’d pulled a long, silver blade out of nowhere, and both Alice and I took a step back as blue flames licked up along the sword’s length.
“Whoa, easy there!” The lawyer – devil – Vinrael held up his hands. Now that he’d advanced a few steps, I could see small, almost petite little horns poking up on either side of his slicked-back hair. I wondered if he had a tail coming out from behind him, or if he hid it away inside the suit. Did that require special tailoring? “No need for that! I just got this suit in the last century, and I’d hate to singe it. Do you know how much this stuff costs by the foot?”
“No, and I don’t care,” Eremiel answered, pointing his flaming sword at the devil. “Now, stay where you are!”
Vinrael, however, had panned his gaze over to us. I saw his eyes widen for a moment. “Now, this is more interesting,” he purred. “Mortals? Down here, without even being dead first? Eremiel, just what exactly are you up to?”
Eremiel, I was pretty sure, wasn’t ready to answer that question, but I stepped forward before he could snarl something else at the devil. “Actually, we’re here because we need your help,” I jumped in. “We need to get to Megiddo.”
“And why is that?”
“Because we’re trying to stop the Apocalypse.” A little part of me wondered if I should really be telling the truth to a devil, but what the hell. At least we wouldn’t need to worry about keeping our lies straight. “And we have to get to Heaven to do so.”
“Interesting, very interesting.” For another minute, Vinrael just gazed intently at us, ignoring Eremiel’s drawn weapon as it blazed away, adding to the heat in the air.
“Well?” Alice asked after another minute. “Either you say yes, you’ll help, or I shoot you in the face. Not that hard.”
Ah, the Alice method of negotiating. Vinrael, at least, didn’t seem fazed by it. “Tell you what. You come over here, step into my office, and we’ll discuss the possibility of me throwing my lot in with you.”
“Your office?” I repeated skeptically. “You have an office in Hell?”
Vinrael raised his eyebrows at me. “Have you been in an Earth office? They’re practically modeled after ours.”
And then, before anyone could say anything else, he reached out into the air behind him, grabbing at nothingness, and twisted.
A doorknob appeared in his hand and turned, revealing a doorway, set into the open air, with nothing around it. Vinrael stepped through, leaving it open behind him.
I exchanged glances with Alice and Eremiel. Eremiel still looked angry, but Alice had set her lips in that thin line of determination that I’d come to recognize. “Let’s go,” she said, and strode towards the open doorway.