Chapter 3: The Key to the Abyss
Wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth from those both living and not, both condemned and not, tormented Radin’s every waking thought. Unfortunately, he was very much awake for every moment of this; sleep never to relieve. The cacophony of anguish never ceased. Crucified upside-down on a weathered and beaten wooden cross, his feet bled at the ankles where they were pierced with a thick and rusty iron pike. His wrists never stopped throbbing, where they too were pinned to the old, thick wood that pricked at him everywhere about his naked body. He should have bled out by now, but death wasn’t allowed here unless it served a purpose not his own. The molten coals just beneath his forehead kept him painfully aware of his surroundings—as did the trio of massive black scorpions keeping watch over him. Pincers erect and wide at the ready, Radin heard their clicking constantly in his thoughts both conscious and not. His blood hadn’t obfuscated both his eyes—not yet at least. He still had partial vision out of his left eye as he exchanged glances with the scorpion more than close enough to do him in if it so chose. He wasn’t just hanging from a cross. He was hanging on the balance between life and death—between the living and the soul.
A glance away from his scorpion tormentors fortuned a look of giant beastly feet with six toes each—each toe the size of his hand—walking right in front of him. A beastly and guttural laugh every time it passed him left him wondering how much he would continue to suffer… And for how long. Time mattered not here. A thousand years, or a thousand moments, they were all the same, allowing his torment to last an eternity regardless of how much linear time he actually spent here.
Radin tried to take notice of everything he could—at least in between the very brief moments of clarity. Seeing the fiery, acrid demon’s whip trailing across the hot coals that made up some of the ground here, he watched the Balak walk away behind him. He didn’t know how long he’d have before the Balak returned to twist the spikes in his wrists and ankles again, but looking off into the distance he noticed a great gate, more immense than anything he’d ever seen. It must have been more than a dozen times the height of the Balak, with twin doors—each mirroring the other—ten times the width of the massive Balak. The colossal charcoal gate displayed every known hue of grey misery against the backdrop of Hellish, lava-red leading up to it.
A mostly blank but cracked canvas of grey stone curtain wall—save the great blood spill-gates spaced evenly along the wall—sharply changed at the colossal door casings made of great overlapping chevron-shaped shields cascading down either side of the Gates of Hell. Each cascading shield column provided false ladders of hope for those senseless enough to think escape possible. Diamond patterns in positive and negative shades of grey checkered the field of each door to the Gates of Hell with a great living representation of what he assumed was the Dragon of Darkness writhing about the center of the seam—its tail moving before Radin’s eyes as its eyes locked with his in a glowing repose of molten, amber hatred. Upon the checkered field of diamonds lay one circle high, another low, illustrating symbolism he didn’t fully understand. The fierce, malevolent face of a great demon flanked by massive snakes formed the capstone of the gate he understood well enough as the blood spilled in rivers down and out the fork tongue of the demon atop the Gates of Hell. Great pikes marched along the top of the massive curtain wall displaying ever-decaying skulls run through so the top of the skulls fell just below the rim of the tips of the pikes. There were no images, tales, or nightmares that could have prepared him for the sight now before him. It was…terror incarnate. It was the inescapable and unrelenting agony of all who’d come before him and all who would come after. It was the Abyss of all things living and not!
Even his flashes of the pure-white light amidst an endless crystal lake and booming voice had been silenced by this opaque termination of all things hope. The living energy of the arcane inaccessible here; attempting to cast again was both futile and justification for more attention. Attention was the last thing he wanted here!
The thud of beastly footsteps returning stirred coals around his head as the Balak slowly twisted his rusted iron pikes.
“AHHHHHHH,” Radin cried out, causing the Balak to belly laugh; tufts of molten fire burst from its lips with each heavy guffaw. Radin’s tears hissed as they fell to the coals below.
Another great laugh from the Balak as he tossed dropped feces on Radin’s feet, watching them trail sources of infection down Radin’s bloodied legs and waist.
* * * *
(Evanyil’s Domain, The Abyss, Time Neutral)
The long hallway of smooth, satin-finish stone flooring was lighted smoothly and evenly by seemingly star-like portals in the apex of the ceiling, though each rib in the composition of the rounded, bone-like support beams held behind it a nasty surprise hidden in shadow. It wasn’t Kellen’s first time here, but he hoped it would be his last. Every protection he had was up right now, and his most potent offensive weapons at the ready. He was channeling right on the edge of his capabilities, but he couldn’t take any chances here. This place was dangerous—even for him.
The hall opened into an abdomen-shaped massive chamber with exactly nine other points of entry, not including the one he’d just come from—one of the antennae. The bulk of the other entry points representing legs. A pair of spiders twenty-spans-tall flanked Evanyil on either side of her throne of Human bones. Her ever-present poisoned dagger hung tight on her magnificent right hip. Kellen was immediately reminded of what Damon saw in her, but she was far beyond insane. She was genius to the extreme and radically dangerous. She acknowledged his entrance in much the way a child would acknowledge the existence of a pest.
“Evanyil, it’s been a while,” Kellen intoned, walking smoothly and confidently as he closed the distance between them only to see both spiders up and in an attacking position immediately as he got within ten paces.
“Sit,” she ordered, immediately causing her familiars to heel. Her warning systems had told her of his presence, but she wanted to allow him all the way into her trap before she decided whether or not to kill him. She did need him after all—for now... He was an important part of her plans with Damon. But after that… Then, she would re-evaluate Kellen’s value to her and her future plans.
“I wanted to hear your plans from your lips.”
“Wow, your foreplay needs work, Kellen the Destroyer.” She smiled, but she was furious inside, and her dagger ached to be freed on his neck. How dare he?!
“Yeah, well I’m betting my immortality and my legacy on your little plan, and I want to be certain we’re all on the same page.” His eyes looked left, right, up and down almost constantly ever since he walked into the chamber. He might have been legendarily powerful, and immeasurably confident in his abilities, but he certainly wasn’t comfortable with this ‘visit.’ Still, she’d never dare come see him on his turf, and arranging a neutral-site meeting had proven to take an eternity.
“Not like you to question your best and only pal.” He wasn’t questioning Damon. He was questioning Evanyil, and she knew it, but he was here, and she was bored, so why not toy with him…? Cocking her head ever so slightly, she rose from her throne in her shimmering and diaphanous black and silver bodice, letting her right hand fall to the grip of her familiar dagger as she began pacing around Kellen.
Kellen’s eyes were now forced to follow her while keeping an eye on her familiars and all the entryways; it proved too much. He was spread too thin. He needed to force the issue. “Stop toying with me, Evanyil, or I’ll pull out of this little venture of yours. You need me.”
“She knows about our plans.”
“She doesn’t know the when, the where, or the how—only the who and the why.”
“Exactly—the WHO and the why. Therefore, you can’t pull out. You’re already a named accomplice.”
She was right. He was committed. Like it or not.
“I just want to hear the plan from your lips. That’s all.” Kellen’s demands came across as a lack of trust of Damon. After all, this exact information had already been disseminated to Damon to give to Kellen.
“What do you want to know beyond the fact we’re going to unseat her?”
“I got that part.”
“What more is there to say?”
“How about who gets what afterwards? That would be a good start.”
“Ah, now the legendary Kellen comes out to play.” Evanyil rushed him head on, skidding to a stop inches from his face where her beautiful, feminine fingernails tapped delicately, on his cheek just under his left eye.
He didn’t like her being this close to him, and his eyes darted downward, carefully watching that dagger of hers. Still hanging on her hip—good. He didn’t want to let her see him freaked out, but he was way beyond unsettled inside. He managed to force his eyes to make contact with hers. “You’re insane.”
Pouty lips acknowledged the truth of his words. It was a well-known truth—for centuries. “Crazy is as crazy does. What does that make you for being part of our little plan?”
“Suicidal.” This was pointless. He wasn’t getting anything beyond what Damon had already told him—less actually. “Good to see you, Evanyil.” Turning to talk away from the crazed cave elf, Kellen was done.
Pouting again at the recognition of his futility, Evanyil sought more play time. She never had visitors anymore—at least none she hadn’t killed.
“We were going to let you keep the key. Is that fair?”
The key to the Gates of Hell… Now that would be a fitting trophy. And, an incalculable increase to his fame. He paused in his tracks, turning to look back at her, obviously considering her proposal.
“Damon doesn’t want it,” Evanyil informed him grudgingly, adding, “…though it suits him more than it does you.”
“I’ll be in touch, Evanyil.” With that he was gone, lightning bolts blistering her stone floor, chasing Kellen’s exit.
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