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.
Vinrael settled in behind the big desk, and Alice and I both sat down in the two low-slung chairs positioned in front of it. Behind me, I saw Eremiel finally come through the portal into the office, but he remained standing, glaring across the room at the devil.
“So, Megiddo,” Vinrael remarked, interlacing his fingers on the desk in front of him. “Megiddo’s located on the mortal plane. Getting to it from here’s a rather roundabout route, isn’t it?”
He raised his eyebrows at us, inviting us to open up and explain.
Alice, however, didn’t seem interested in chatting. “We told you, we need to get there to stop the Apocalypse, and that’s all you need to know,” she insisted. “And we need you to get us there.”
Vinrael sighed, rolling his eyes like he couldn’t believe that he had to deal with such amateurs. “Come on, work with me here,” he pleaded. “Devil, remember? I can’t just go ahead and agree to something for nothing. I’ll get screwed by my bosses if they hear about me making shoddy deals like that!”
Alice just looked even more set in her ways, so I quickly opened my mouth. “The trouble with getting to Megiddo on Earth,” I explained, “is that we would have to find a way across the ocean. And given that there’s a whole war going on there, it’s not exactly easy to get around.”
“About what I figured,” Vinrael said, nodding as if he’d expected this. “But so you come here, asking for my help. Why should I help you?”
Next to me, Alice started up, probably about to advance her “shoot you in the face” method of negotiating. I reached out quickly to lay one hand on her arm, trying to head off that explosion.
“Look, you can’t be happy about this Apocalypse happening, right?” I tried, leaning forward towards Vinrael’s desk like we were buddies.
“Of course I am!” he responded. “We’re totally going to win this fight against those stuck up pricks in Heaven, and put things how they should be.” He glanced up at Eremiel. “No offense.”
I expected Eremiel to reply with “none taken”, but he just growled a little and shifted his grip on his sword. It still burned with a muted flame, and I noticed with a grimace that it was leaving a small singed mark on the carpet. Hopefully, Vinrael wouldn’t notice the damage to his office.
I turned my attention back to Vinrael, still doing my best to project that friendly image. “You say that you’re happy about the Apocalypse,” I repeated his words back to him, adding a bit of question into the tone. “But you seem to be stuck here, not participating.”
“No harm in leading from the rear,” Vinrael countered, but I thought that I heard a note of unease in his tone.
“Sure, you’re taking the safe route,” I nodded, laying it on thick. “But are you going to get any recognition, after the fight is over? No one’s going to be offering you lots of praise for protecting the rear.” I glanced around the dusty office. “And it doesn’t seem like you’re seeing a lot of enemies showing up here. You’re not going to be able to brag about how well you fought. How’s that going to reflect on you?”
I saw Vinarel trying to ignore the implications of my words, but he looked increasingly uncertain. “So? I can’t go desert Hell, leave it unprotected,” he pointed out.
“Right, that would be dereliction of duty,” I nodded quickly. “But wouldn’t it be better if this whole Apocalypse was canceled? Just called as a one-off?”
“No way, it’s already in progress,” he said, but now there was no missing the doubt in his voice.
“Yeah, but doesn’t it all feel a bit rushed? Like it just came out of nowhere?” I pushed him. “Maybe, in fact, this whole thing was unscheduled. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen at all. Maybe this thing is a false start, and we just need someone to step up and point out that whoops, we shouldn’t have broken out the burning swords quite yet.”
Vinrael frowned, his mouth open but not saying anything yet. I could see the gears in his shark-like little mind turning, and now I just had to wait, hoping that I’d managed to push him enough in the right direction.
“And you sorry lot think that you can put a stop to this?” he finally asked us, raising his eyebrows and looking doubtful.
The doubt was okay. He was asking the question, and that’s what I had wanted to get from him.
Next to me, Alice nodded, shifting her grip on the shotgun in her hands. “We’re not happy about our world becoming ground zero for the fight between you lot and his lot,” she stated, jerking a thumb back over her shoulder at Eremiel. “So yeah, we’re going to do whatever it takes to put a stop to this.”
“And this way,” I picked up where she’d left off, “when the Apocalypse really does happen, you can be one of the devils out in front, earning all the honor and glory for yourself.”
Vinrael frowned at me for a moment. “Second row,” I amended hastily.
We sat back, waiting, as Vinrael examined us, his jaw working like he was chewing up a fat fish. I could feel both Alice and Eremiel fidgeting, but I sat silent, just waiting. All I could do now was wait.
And then, finally, Vinrael gave a nod. It was a single, reluctant nod, but it was unmistakable. “Fine,” he grumbled. “Let’s make a deal.”