Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.
I wasn’t sure what I expected to find on the other side of that door. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe an army of howling demons. Maybe, and I desperately hoped for this outcome, a bunch of nubile young maidens who’d just laid out a lovely lunch of grilled paninis and didn’t have anyone to enjoy them with.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single maiden on the other side, much less a panini sandwich. There wasn’t an army of devils or demons – but the devils I saw were more than big and scary enough to make me hesitate.
“There are many demons in Hell,” Eremiel had said before going through the door. Now, we saw one of them, and I understood why Eremiel looked so anxious the entire time that we were passing through Hell.
We’d entered a large cavern, and this demon occupied most of it. While Vinrael reminded me of a snarky salesman, a devil in one of Noel Coward’s upper English crust style plays, this one appeared to have stepped right out of the pages of a paperback fantasy novel. Horns protruded not only from his head, but in a jagged line down his spine. His eyes were two portals into pure flame, and more fire licked out of his mouth each time his jagged tongue came slipping out. The demon was definitely male, I observed, trying to avert my eyes from where they kept on being drawn.
More importantly, he stood between us and the door on the far side of the cavern, and he was most definitely angry.
“Easy there,” Vinrael urged, looking tiny as he stood in front of the massive demon, his arms up in a placating gesture. “This isn’t as bad as it looks. There’s a reasonable explanation for all of this, promise.”
“ANGEL!” the demon roared, pointing one long-clawed finger at Eremiel. He looked ready to spring right over Vinrael and attack Eremiel, and the angel hefted his flaming sword higher, like a batter getting ready to swing at a pitch.
“Yes, but he’s here on demonic business!” Vinrael pleaded, but the huge demon was apparently no longer listening. With a single, almost lazy swipe of his huge arm, he backhanded Vinrael all the way across the cavern.
I winced at the sound of Vinrael’s body smacking against the rocky wall. It sounded like someone slapping a wet lump of ground beef. Before anyone could move towards the stricken devil, however, the demon lunged forward to attack.
The next couple minutes devolved into chaos.
Eremiel proved to be quite a deft hand with that flaming sword, and Alice added to the firepower as she started blasting away with the shotgun in her hands. However, the demon was huge, angry, and apparently invulnerable to bullets, and he threw back his head and let out a roar that shook the very foundations of the cavern.
“Jack!” Alice shouted at me, diving to the side as a demon claw swept through the air where she’d stood only moments before. “Move!”
Still gripping the pistol that she’d handed me, I turned and looked at her, my brain feeling like it was filled with molasses. “What?” I asked dumbly.
“The door!” She pointed at the far side of the cavern where, through the haze of smoke coming off of the massive flaming demon, I could still see the door that Vinrael claimed would lead to Megiddo. “You need to go!”
For a moment, I thought of arguing, but then the demon came charging in at us. With a growl, Alice shoved me out of the way, and the demon slammed into the wall where we’d been standing moments earlier. Chunks of stone came raining down from the ceiling with the force of his impact with the wall, several of them landing within inches of my sprawled limbs.
“Go!” Alice shouted at me again, rolling to her feet and firing the shotgun directly into the demon’s open mouth until the weapon ran dry. Rather than bothering to try and reload it, she just threw it at the monster and reached for other weapons at her belt.
I didn’t stick around to see what she tried next. I scrambled up to my feet and staggered across the cavern, doing my best to dodge the flailing limbs and gouts of fire that erupted from the demon as it fought against the angel and the mortal.
After what felt like an eternity of getting thrown off of my feet, slammed into walls, and diving to the floor to avoid various attacks, I reached out – and felt cool metal under my fingertips. I glanced up with wide eyes, and saw my fingers curling around the handle of the door on the cavern’s far side!
“I’m at the door!” I shouted, turning to look at how Eremiel and Alice were faring against the massive demon.
Not good, I quickly saw. Alice kept on attacking, but one of her arms hung uselessly at her side, and her expression was twisted in pain. Eremiel stood right in front of the demon, blazing sword swinging back and forth, but even as I watched, the demon slammed his claws down on top of the angel, all but crushing him against the wall.
Alice glanced over at me. “Go!” she shouted again.
“I said go!” She looked down at the ground between us, but even I could see that it was too far. She couldn’t make it to me, not before the demon caught up with her and attacked from behind. “Get to Megiddo!”
“And then what?” I couldn’t even remember the rest of our plan.
“Stop the Apocalypse!” Alice looked as if she wanted to say more, but then the demon roared again, and she spun around to try and fight it off for another few moments.
I hesitated an instant longer, but I realized that I couldn’t do anything else here. If I waited, her sacrifice would be in vain.
I grabbed the handle of the door in front of me, twisted it open, and stepped through the doorway. For one last instant, I heard the sounds of battle coming from behind me – and just before the door closed after me, cutting off all sound, I thought that I heard a female scream, even above the demon’s roar. Something shot past me, a whoosh of air just past my ear.
On the other side of the doorway, standing in shifting, blowing sand, I squeezed my eyes shut and failed to fight a rush of tears.