Lucifer needs a favor.

When I walked into my office break room, I’d been hoping that there’d still be a half-full pot of coffee sitting in the machine, maybe a couple extra donuts left over from the day’s lunch meeting. If I got unlucky, I figured that I might see Doris sitting at the flimsy Formica table on one of her many “breaks”, poring over the newspaper as if it contained more of the gossip that she loved sharing around the office.

What I wasn’t expecting to see, however, was a man in an elegant suit of pure blackness, sitting with his feet propped up on the table and a cell phone in his hand.

“Um, can I help you?” I asked, feeling strangely uncertain. Normally, I didn’t need to even try in order to project an aura of composure and competence – it just came naturally to me, I suppose. But in this moment, all of that ability seemed to desert me.

The man looked up at me, and grinned. “Ah, Alex. Good to see you.” Continue reading

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[AGttA] Chapter 8.4: The Summit

Continued from Chapter 8.3, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.  

I stood on the top of Mount Megiddo, the fabled ground zero of the Apocalypse, the mountain foretold in Biblical legend.  The wind whipped around me, pulling at my tattered clothes, cutting through the layers of insulation and hitting like knives against my bare skin.

“Now what?” I asked out loud, even though the words were stolen away by the ever-blowing wind.

A little part of me had hoped that, when I got to the top of the mountain (the real summit, not the false one), I’d find a sign of some sort.  Of course, I was thinking more of a circle of stones with crackling energy swirling inside of it, although I would have happily settled even for a real life sign, maybe one that said something like “Click your heels together three times to go to Heaven”.  

But instead, I saw nothing but rocks and desolation, the mountain sloping down and away from me in all directions. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 8.3: The Climb

Continued from Chapter 8.2, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.

When I woke up, the lion was still there.  He yawned at me when I crawled out from beneath his paw, revealing incisors big enough to easily bite my entire face off, but didn’t seem inclined to attack me.

“Uh, hi,” I said to him.

He blinked huge, golden eyes at me, and then pushed his head forward.  For one terrified second, I thought that he was about to rip into me, but instead he tilted his face aside so that his cheek rubbed against my shoulder, and a low rumble drifted out of his mouth.

“Oh.  Right, cat.”  I reached up and tentatively, still a little worried that I’d draw back a bloody stump, scratched him along his big jaw.  The massive cat purred louder, tilting over to one side so that I could reach all the way under his chin. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 8.2: The Journey

Continued from Chapter 8.1, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.

It turns out that deserts are hot.  And the sand really stings when it blows in your eyes.  And even though something doesn’t look that far away, as you start walking towards it, you realize that yes, it really is that far away.

In short, deserts suck.  

I repeated this thought to myself over and over as I trudged through the sand, the tip of the sword blade dragging along as it hung low from my belt and leaving a long track behind me (at least, until the blowing, shifting sand covered it up). Through sunburned, slitted eyes, I glared at the mountain of Megiddo, which appeared absolutely no closer than it had started off whenever I first began hiking.

“Screw you, Apocalypse,” I coughed out from between dry, sore lips before I closed them, trying to keep the last little bit of moisture from seeping out of my husk of a body. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 8.1: Megiddo

Continued from Chapter 8.0, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

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. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 8.0: Battle

Continued from Chapter 7.3, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

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.

“Yes, but-”

“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.

[AGttA] Chapter 7.3: The Warren of Hell

Continued from Chapter 7.2, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

Axiom 7: Remain positive.

Once Vinrael had agreed to help us, he didn’t spend any more time sitting around his office.  As soon as he shook each of our hands (“Devil’s handshake,” he said with a grin to us that made me feel like he was about to take a bite), he immediately headed for the door. 

“Well, are you lot coming?” he asked over his shoulder, as we all turned to him.  “We can’t hang around here!  Do you know what sort of trouble I’d be facing if someone finds out that I’m consorting with mortals?  Or worse, him?”

“I feel quite the same way,” Eremiel replied stiffly, looking back with distaste at the finger the devil pointed towards him.  “The sooner this ends, the better.”

Clearly, neither of our allies felt quite comfortable with each other.  Alice and I shared a look of commingled frustration, and then nodded.   Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 7.2: Negotiating with the (a) Devil

Continued from Chapter 7.1, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

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. Continue reading

God Discovers the Platypus.

Almost no one thinks about the knees of an angel.

No one really sees them, under the toga. Nobody ever stops to consider whether angels have knobbly knees, the kind of knees usually seen on scrawny fourteen-year-old boys who’ve only just barely managed to survive their first real dose of hormones. Of all the exalted, perfect qualities of angels, knees are fairly low on the list.

Quiniel looked down and frowned at his knees as they knocked together nervously. Like everyone else, he’d never stopped to consider his knees until now, and he found himself thoroughly annoyed with them, especially as they bounced together and added another level of anxiety to his already-flustered state. Continue reading

[AGttA] Chapter 7.1: Vinrael

Continued from Chapter 7.0, here.

Read it from the beginning, starting here.

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. Continue reading