Axiom 9: Don’t lose hope.
Although this really, really didn’t seem like the time for introspection, I couldn’t help but reflect, as I ran through what seemed to be Heaven’s equivalent of a loading dock, on how I ended up here.
Just a little while ago (days? weeks? months?), I’d been living a totally ordinary life, headed out to the mall to pick up another pair of jeans from Gap. Next thing I knew, the Apocalypse hit, I’d been plunged into living like a hermit in a Starbucks, and I had no idea what, if anything, would exist in my future.
And then, first Alice stumbled into my life, and then Eremiel. Somehow, even though I’d only known the two of them for a few days, I found myself intensely attached to them, barely able to consider the idea of living without either of them filling my life with irritation and adventure.
And just as this realization hit me, they were both ripped away from me. In Hell, no less. Literally. Both of them, missing and presumably killed, fighting against a massive demon so that they could buy enough time for me to escape.
All of this, so that I could get to Heaven and try to, somehow, bring a stop to the Apocalypse. Somehow, they believed that we could find a way to undo all the catastrophic damage that had been done.
So now, armed with an angel’s magical sword and pursued by shouting angels clad incongruously in white robes and fluorescent orange safety vests, I ran headlong through Heaven, doing my best to duck and dodge around the constantly shifting, opening, and closing portals, as well as the angels passing in and out of them. If I messed up and slipped through one of those, I didn’t know where I’d end up – but I suspected that none of them led to anywhere good.
From one nearby shimmering portal in the air, a tongue of flame shot out a good dozen feet as I ran past. I somehow managed to avoid the blast of fire, although several of the angels behind me got unfortunately singed. I heard their shouts of anger turn to cries of surprise and pain.
There, up ahead of me! I spotted the set of white stairs leading upward, the stairs that the arrival angel had pointed out to me before he realized that I wasn’t supposed to be in Heaven. I tried to force my exhausted legs to run faster, taking the stairs two at a time as I reached them.
Perhaps a hundred steps up, I risked slowing down just long enough to look behind me.
At first, I felt relieved; the angels that had been chasing after me had all stopped at the foot of the stairs, not climbing after me! My relief turned to panic, however, as I realized that, instead of chasing after me up the stairs, the angels at the bottom were calling over some other white-robed individuals.
And these newcomers had huge, white wings spreading out from their backs.
My blood went cold as I realized how quickly those fliers would be able to catch up with me. I couldn’t hope to climb stairs faster than they could fly.
I’d just have to reach the top of these stairs, wherever it might be, before they could close the distance between the bottom of the staircase and myself.
I turned back forward, resuming climbing. My legs already burned, feeling like they wouldn’t be able to support me for much longer, but I did my best to ignore that searing pain. I needed to do this. For Eremiel. For the rest of the world, to stop the Apocalypse.
I climbed and climbed, losing track of how many steps I’d ascended. I didn’t dare to look behind me, for fear that I’d trip and fall – and once knocked off my feet, I didn’t believe that I had enough energy to climb back up to my feet. Instead, I just ran, praying to any deity that would listen that I’d make it.
There! Up ahead, I saw something resolve itself from the whiteness ahead of me! It was small, gold, seemingly hovering in the air. It was…
I drew closer. I could almost make it out. Just a little further, legs! It looked like it was…
Sure enough, a doorknob hovered in the air, right next to the top step. I slowed, not wanting to pass the knob – and a good thing, too, as I realized that the steps actually ended abruptly beyond the doorknob.
There wasn’t any door around the knob, mind you. Just in case that wasn’t clear. Just a knob, floating in midair, with empty space all around it.
Curiously, I reached around the knob. Yep, nothing there. There wasn’t even a knob on the other side, just a blank piece of brass. I gave the knob a tug, half expecting it to drop out of the air and land in my hand, but it remained in place. Sturdily anchored to nothing, it hung in front of me.
As I did my best to suck air into my lungs, trying to ignore the spots that danced in front of my eyes, I tried to think, tried to figure out what to do next.
It was then that I made the mistake of looking back behind me, down the stairs that I’d just ascended.
Sure enough, those angels with the wings had taken off, climbing up after me. I could see them, now, small white dots that steadily grew closer under the beating of those huge white wings. Against the white background that seemed to be ubiquitous in Heaven, they were difficult to make out, and I couldn’t judge how much more time that I had left before they reached me – but I guessed that it was measured in seconds.
One of the angels flying up towards me shifted, pulling out something long and thin. Something that, with a twitch, ignited into flames.
Oh, perfect. They had flaming swords, too.
It looked like my two options were clear; I could either stay here and, using Eremiel’s blade, try and fight off the angels, or I could try this doorknob floating in midair and take my chances with whatever might be waiting on the other side.
It wasn’t much of a decision, given my lack of skill with a blade, and the number of attacking angels versus the number of people on my side. (For anyone who needs the numbers, the answer is “too many” against “just me”.)
I grabbed the doorknob, took one last deep breath of air (in case there wasn’t any oxygen on the other side), and twisted the knob. I pulled, and something opened.
I plunged through without a glance back at the oncoming angels.