Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.
Okay, I told myself as I forced my eyes open. Think about good news and bad news.
The good news was that, although I couldn’t confirm for certain that I was in Megiddo, the surroundings around me certainly matched my mental picture. All around me, dust and sand blew across a constantly, ever-changing surface. Ahead of me, I could see a single mountain rising up into the air, the scene shimmering in the heat radiating off the sand.
It certainly didn’t look like Hell, at least. No enclosed cavern, no stalactites hanging from the ceiling, no demons flitting about on their little red wings and waving pitchforks.
So that was good, at least. I’d made it out of Hell, back up to the surface of Earth. Presumably, Heaven was just a single step from here.
Of course, I didn’t know how to get to Heaven from here. Eremiel hadn’t bothered to share that part of his plan with me. Add that to the “bad news” column.
I turned and looked behind me, just in case the doorway to Hell still remained. Maybe there would be a doorknob hanging in the air, and I could duck back in? Now that I’d gathered my wits about me, I could go help Alice and Eremiel win their fight against the massive demon, so that they could-
Nope. No doorknob hanging in the air. Nothing behind me but more sand, already being swept into new patterns as the wind blew across the desolate wasteland.
I turned back forwards, back to the mountain, my only point of reference. Was Megiddo the mountain? It didn’t make much sense for an Apocalyptic battle to take place on a mountain – wouldn’t the fighters be in danger of falling off?
Still, if I was thinking of a place around here to make an entrance to Heaven, that mountain seemed like the only real possibility. Maybe there’s a temple or something in front of it, I told myself hopefully. Somewhere other than at the very top of the mountain, so that I won’t have to try and climb my way up there.
As if I haven’t already been through enough today.
Is it even the same day? I wondered next. How long had I spent wandering through Hell, following after Alice and Eremiel and Vinrael? I hadn’t grown sleepy, sure, but maybe that was just the effect of Hell, of being transported to another plane. Perhaps, up here on Earth, years had flown by without my knowledge. Maybe the Apocalypse had been raging for hundreds of years by this point.
My mind awash with these disturbing thoughts, I took a step forward in the swirling sand, towards the mountain – and immediately tripped and face-planted forward in the sand as my foot caught at something.
“Dammit,” I growled around a mouthful of dusty sand. How, in a desert with absolutely nothing, had I managed to trip myself?
Something hard had hit my foot. I sat up, took a moment to try and brush the sand off of me before giving up on the futility of the gesture, and then rooted around in the loose particles down near my foot. Sure enough, my hand closed on something hard, feeling a bit like a hand-grip on a pole.
I grabbed the object and pulled.
To my amazement, a sword rose up from the sand! The bright sunlight glinted off the blade, nearly blinding me. This certainly hadn’t been out here for thousands of years!
But then, thinking back, I remembered something whizzing past me as I stepped out of the portal, out of Hell and back to Earth. That must have been Eremiel’s sword, I realized as I connected the dots. Whether he’d thrown it at me on purpose or if it just happened to fly by and nearly decapitate me, I couldn’t say – but I’d take it with me now.
“How do I make you light?” I asked the sword, looking at it skeptically. There didn’t seem to be any sort of button-
With a whoosh like a deflating balloon, the sword burst into blue-white flame! I yelped and dropped it in surprise as the excess heat washed over me. The sword extinguished itself as it slipped out of my fingers, but it was still hot enough to fuse a bit of the sand at my feet into glass.
I picked it up, frowning at it. “Flame on,” I said, and this time managed to keep ahold of the weapon as it obediently sprang alight again. I concentrated on it, and the flames winked out, guttering to nothing like I’d turned off the dial on a stove.
Okay. Sword that responds to mental commands. Got it.
“Don’t suppose that you can point me to Heaven?” I asked the sword, not really expecting an answer. Maybe, if I put it on the ground, it would turn like a compass needle to point back towards Heaven?
I gave it a try, and felt very silly when the sword just lay on top of the hot sand and did nothing.
“Well, looks like I’ve got some hiking to do,” I finally said, after giving the sword a few more seconds to do anything at all besides lie on top of the sand like a lump of inert metal. I picked the sword up and, after a bit of fumbling, managed to tuck it into my belt in a way that didn’t trip me up any more than once every three or four steps.
I ran my tongue over my lips, already feeling the heat. I’d dropped my pack when I ran through the doorway, and I didn’t have anything to even keep the sun out of my eyes, much less to quench the dryness in my throat.
Maybe Megiddo would have fountains, I hoped, as I started trudging my way through the sand. I let my mind drift. Fountains, full of water, and maybe a nice diner where I could order a gallon-size soda and a big, freshly cooked hamburger, and some greasy french fries, and with the air conditioner running full blast against the heat from outside…
The mountain hung in the air ahead of me like a mirage, and the sound of my thoughts slowly faded from inside my head. Before long, I couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t even think about anything.
I plodded forward through the sand, my eyes squeezed almost all the way shut to slits, walking towards Megiddo.