Part of Apex of Creation
I pushed open the closet door for Emily, and let her through first. She dumped her books on the desk as I stepped through the door. “You hungry?” I asked, as I set my own books on the bed.
I turned back to Emily and realized she hadn’t stopped setting her books on the desk. My stomach dropped. Time was frozen - and I definitely wasn’t the one doing it.
I barely had time to consider the implications, when the floor heaved upwards, erupting in a torrent of hellfire and sulfur. A demon shot out of the newly made portal to Hell, landed on the ceiling, and launched itself at me.
I dodged the demon - almost. It grabbed my left arm, spinning me around to face the window. I made a fist with my free right arm, and punched the demon in the stomach.
It was like hitting a steel plate. I was sure I’d split the skin on my knuckles, even though I knew I wasn’t very strong. But it seemed to hurt the demon, who flew into the wall, his claws leaving metaphysical scratches in my arm.
I turned back to the hole.
Two more demons climbed out of Hell, looking at Emily. I jumped onto my bed to circumvent the pit in the floor, and tackled one of them. He lost his balance, teetering on the edge of the abyss, before falling back in.
But I’d overcommitted and was losing my own balance. Quickly, I grabbed onto the other demon’s arm for support, but we both fell in.
For a short while, we fell down towards Hell, the hot air drying my skin and parching my lips. I disentangled myself from the demon, then remembered the magic words: “I want to leave.”
With a gut-wrenching jerk, I stopped falling, and shot upwards as Hell itself violently regurgitated me back up into my dormitory. Like the first demon to arrive, I landed on my ceiling, narrowly missing the light. I jumped to the floor - or what was left of it. In my absence, that first demon had recovered and was hovering over Emily. He turned to face me.
The demon was holding a scroll.
“Oh. Fucking hell.”
With a wicked grin, it stepped off the ledge.
I jumped after him.
It was hard to see through the hot air and smoky ash. I tried to streamline my fall to catch up to the demon, but it wasn’t enough. We landed in Hell with a bone-breaking crunch.
It would have been bone-breaking, at least, if the fall had been on Earth. My soul was going to have one hell of a bruise tomorrow.
I’d landed right on top of the demon. And he was still clutching the scroll and holding it out of my reach.
I wrapped my arms around him, and for the second time insisted on leaving Hell. But this time, I dragged the demon back to Earth with me. With another crunch, Hell again ejected us onto my dorm ceiling. I rolled and fell, pinning the demon to my bed.
The demon gave a crazed smile. “I win.” he said happily, his voice like nails on a chalkboard.
Then he ghosted through my bed, leaving me holding nothing but an armful of blankets. I jumped off the bed, just in time to see him floating outside my window.
Being human had one major disadvantage: on Earth, I had to respect other solid objects. And right now, the wall was between me and the demon holding the scroll.
With a groaning rumble, the pit began closing up. The hellfire around the room extinguished itself, and the ash and smoke retreated into the throat of Hell. After just a few seconds, the room looked like nothing had ever changed.
Emily looked up, her expression changing to confusion as she realized that I was suddenly a mess.
There was only one way to convey the trouble. “We are so fucked.”
“...What just happened? You were behind me, and then…” Emily gestured from the closet to me.
“To put it simply, we were just time-stopped and attacked. By three demons. They stole the scroll - the one full of power.”
“That’s not good.”
“...which you brought out of heaven. Why?” It was hard not to get angry, considering the potential implications.
“I-” Emily stammered. “What?”
“The scroll. Seven seals, I compared it to a nuclear reactor encased in steel. That one. Why did you bring it to Earth? I specifically put it right back where we found it.”
“I don’t know!” Emily cried. “I didn’t realize that it was in my pile!”
“How did you not realize that? It’s literally the single most powerful object either of us have ever seen!”
“I don’t know!” Emily cried again. “Can’t you call one of your angel friends or something?”
I thought about it for a moment, while silently fuming inside. “Fine. Cael!”
“Good evening, James” Cael greeted me as he stepped out the closet. Then he turned to Emily. “And you must be Emily Butler. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Well, a bunch of demons just stole a scroll that we had borrowed from the library.”
Cael’s face seemed to darken. “Which one?”
“It had seven seals on it…”
“That’s not good.”
“...and was full of power. But locked away.”
Cael grabbed the desk chair and sat down. “You’re positive that it was that particular scroll?”
“Pretty sure. We’ve mostly been borrowing math and science texts, and haven’t been bothered until now. And I had a mind thing. Omnipotence, no, I mean omniscience.”
Cael rested his forehead in one hand. “James, do you know what that scroll is?”
“A powerful artifact, right? Like, I dunno, David’s slingshot? I haven’t been to church in a while...”
Cael started to shake his head, when Emily spoke. “Τhe apocalypse.”
“Yeah.” Cael replied. He produced a Bible from his suit jacket, flipped through it, and handed it to me. “Revelation chapter six, by your indexing.”
I read through the chapter quickly, and passed the book to Emily. “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?” I asked.
“Indeed. The scroll contains the first events of the end times. Without the scroll, there are no Four Horsemen, and no Seven Trumpets, no Seven Bowls, no Battle of Armageddon, no New Heaven or New Earth. So I’m curious: how did the Scroll get out of Heaven?”
“It was in my pile of things from the Library.” Emily squeaked.
Cael turned to face Emily. He looked at her angrily for a moment, then his expression softened. “Whispers.”
“Huh?” Emily and I asked in unison.
“Whispers. Ah, you’d call it hypnosis. Heavy, subconscious suggestions, influencing the target’s decisions or actions. Someone - a demon, I’d assume - Whispered to Emily.” Cael waved his hand. “And it’s gone. No more Whispers for you.”
Emily looked like she was on the verge of breaking out in tears. I moved over to her side of the room and tentatively began rubbing her shoulders. I hoped it was the right move - she seemed to appreciate it.
Time for a change of topic to anything but Whispers. “So, uh, the stolen Scroll of the Apocalypse. Is that a problem?”
Cael’s eyes shot daggers at me. “If you don’t mind letting humanity continue in its current state forever. No ultimate, final, irrevocable salvation, no conquering of Death, no purging of sin or defeat of Satan.”
“Alright, so can God just make make another one?”
Cael shook his head. “No. Well, technically, yes, God can do anything. But suppose another Scroll were made and then used when the End Times arrive. That leaves the first Scroll still in circulation, able to unleash Horsemen five through eight into New Earth. Which, you know, isn’t supposed to happen.”
“What about Him pulling the scroll back from Hell then? Or just doing a remote self-destruct on it, like with smartphones?”
“The whole point of Hell, James, is that it’s a place that is forever cut off from God, where evil is free to fester and grow, and evildoers - human and demon - are left to suffer at each other’s hands for all eternity. It is a place without glory or grace, where Sanctification is literally impossible. Hell is the one place that God would never reach into, and angels can’t reach into, because doing that would categorically undermine Hell’s entire purpose.”
There was a moment of quiet.
Then Emily broke the silence. “So that leaves James” she said softly.
I gulped and stopped the shoulder rub.
“Yeah.” said Cael. “It does.”
“I’ve been trying to stay out of this.” I said coldly.
“I know” Cael replied.
I closed my fists in anger and stared intently at the wall. “So I have to break into Hell, get to the center of it, storm a massive fortress built out of human souls and surrounded by a moat of molten sulfur, break into Lucifer’s throne room, steal a powerful artifact, and get out?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” Cael answered nonchalantly.
I stared at Cael, wondering if someday he might somehow pick up on sarcasm. “I just lost the Scroll to three demons, am I really supposed to be able to take on the armies of Hell?”
Well alright then. The weight of the future, and the Apocalypse itself, was on my shoulders.
“I wanted to stay out of all of this.” I groaned.
Emily answered me this time. “It doesn’t sound like that’s an option.”
“Urrghh. I *know.*” I replied. “It’s just… I didn’t actually ask for any of this.”
“No, but you’ve certainly been making good use of the Library.” Cael shot back. “And you’ve been putting your abilities to use here on Earth. You can’t pick and choose which parts of the supernatural realm you like. You’ve become part of the war, James, and that is a burden you must carry.”
He was right. Despite my initial intentions, I had been using my newfound powers liberally. And Emily and I had also been visiting Heaven pretty often. So as much as I didn’t want to admit it, there wasn’t really an out for me - either practically or ethically.
I blame the drunk driver that crashed into me in the first place. It was really all his fault.
“Fine.” I spat. “I’ll do it. But only because we fucked it up in the first place.”
“I’ll come too.” Emily said suddenly.
“Um. Alright.” Then I realized Emily had clapped a hand over her mouth like she hadn’t fully thought about it. “If you’re sure.” Please say yes please say yes please say yes
“Can you get us two sets of climbing gear and two grappling hooks, Cael?”
He pulled a mess of straps and rope from behind his back. “Straight from the fitness center. You know how to use it?”
I shook my head. “No, but I’m assuming I will know how, once the time arrives. I’ve been getting better at that lately.”
Cael stood up and put his hand on my head. “Let’s not take chances.” With that, I knew how to use the climbing gear. “And, same for you Emily.” He started to touch her head, then pulled back. “May I?”
Emily looked at me. “It’s not like the Whisper.” I explained. “It’s just knowledge.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded, and Cael repeated the inception process.
“Now what?” Emily asked.
“We go to the coffee shop.” I answered. “There’s a portal there tha-”
“Technically it’s called a Gate.” Cael interrupted.
“...that we can use to get to Hell.” I finished, as I slung the climbing harnesses over my shoulder and peered out the dorm door. “We’re clear.”
“Is that how you went there before?”
“Yeah.” Should I reveal the rest of my thoughts? “And thanks for coming; it’s not exactly a nice place, and I’ll be glad for company.”
Emily didn’t answer. The elevator ride down was awkward.
As we approached the first floor, I spoke up. “Take my hand. I’m going to freeze time.” Emily got a curious look in her eyes (Damn, they were cute. No. Later) and held on. I felt my heart skip a beat.
Ding. As the door opened, I grabbed on to the flow of time, pulling Emily and myself into the space between moments. “The last thing we’d need is anyone wondering why we have stolen climbing gear.” I explained.
“Or wondering why we’re opening a portal to hell?”
“Yeah, that too.”
We left the elevator, passing students and staff frozen mid-stride. “Wow!” Emily said.
“Surreal, isn’t it?”
“It's wild!.” Then she looked at me. “Is this how you set up…”
“Yeah. It is.”
We made a leisurely stroll to the coffee shop. Emily, of course, was fascinated by everything stuck in place. I thought it was cool too, but the novelty had started to wear off for me.
Cael was waiting for us, drinking coffee at a free table. Show off.
“You ready?” he asked us.
We nodded. “Ready as we’ll ever be.” I said.
I guided Emily to the bathrooms. I placed my free hand on the men’s room doorknob.
“Welcome to Hell” I announced, as I swung the door open to reveal a dingy, dirty, and stinky bathroom.
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko