by Erik Cotton
The fires burned brightly as thick oily smoke raged into the copper-colored sky. A constant din filled the air. The screams of the damned, suffering their fates, added to the turmoil. Adrenesh was hunched down overlooking a conical pit filled with naked souls. A great bronze demon with gold eyes and huge tattered wings that flapped idly as he went about his job. At the bottom of the pit was a monstrous thresher that eviscerated those unfortunate enough to be caught in the steel tines. The bloody ribbons of flesh then sluiced through a rusting pipe and dumped into another pit, bubbling over with sulfurous tar. Once there, the remains slowly congealed back to the damned who then, red raw and tender, crawled out of the pit alive with the agony of molten tar. It was Adrenesh’s job to snatch the souls and toss them back into the grinder pit. Repeatedly. For all eternity.
Adrenesh sighed as he grabbed a female who had just emerged from the tar.
“No, please…” she cried, “wait, I could…”
“Could what? Make it good for me?” Adrenesh asked.
The girl nodded uncertainly and attempted to smooth out her tar-streaked blonde hair. “Yes,” she stuttered, “we could… be good for each other.”
Adrenesh barked out a short bitter laugh and stood up. His great phallus hung limply between his legs. “You are wasting your time trying girl, it’s ornamental, I too am in Hell.”
The girl’s smile faltered and her body tensed, anticipating the pain that would follow. “What if, if you just stopped for a moment, just a moment,” her words came out in a rush, in a desperate attempt to hold off the inevitable, “just let me heal up a bit more, just a little more, what would it hurt? I mean, a little moment, you’ve got forever right? What’s an extra moment?”
Adrenesh digested her words. She was, in a way, right. What did it matter in the long-term view? Truth was, he was getting sick of this. Of course he was a demon, and this was his assigned fate, but there had to be more to existence than this, this, drudgery.
He put her down on the ground. “I probably shouldn’t do this,” he said, “but what the, ah, hell.”
“Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou,” the girl sobbed, collapsing to her knees.
Others in the tar pit had noticed and looked up at Adrenesh. He sighed once again, “Very well, you too.”
They climbed delightedly out of the pit and did their best to shake, scrape and wipe off the burning tar. Five, ten, twenty souls emerged and uttered multiple gratitudes. Adrenesh was taken aback. Never had he heard such emotions issue forth from the damned. It was odd, it was, was… pleasant? Yes, pleasant. Adrenesh enjoyed hearing the sounds, the relief that even for a moment, the damned were not in pain and their punishments were not forthcoming.
More souls emerged from the tarry mass and they too, were thankful.
“What now?” asked Adrenesh.
The souls looked at one another uncertainly.
“We wait for the rest from the other pit?” asked the girl.
“Fine. Then what? What comes after that?” Adrenesh continued.
There were no answers forthcoming. Adrenesh sighed, “You see what you have wrought upon yourselves? A moment’s respite, but with no clear thought of your actions and consequences. Eventually I’ll have to throw you back into the pit and now that there are many of you milling about, some may escape my grasp. Perhaps run deeper into Hell, and that cannot be allowed.”
The girl came forward. “Why do you even have to start throwing us back? Why can’t we just… just…” her words faltered again.
“It’s not up to me girl, everyone has an assigned fate, even I, and we dare not contradict it.”
A man stepped forward to stand beside the girl, “What if we don’t go, huh? You can’t catch all of us.”
Adrenesh’s movement was as swift as lightning. In the blink of an eye the man was snatched up and held dangling over the thresher. Just a hair’s breadth from the tines the man could see the gobbets and sweetbreads churning. “You underestimate my abilities human.” The statement by Adrenesh was flat and final.
“Uh, uh, no I mean I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, please put me down, no, put me back on the ground.”
Adrenesh casually tossed the man beside the girl. “It still leaves the question unanswered, what am I to do with you now?”
Before anyone could answer, there was a tremendous crash, the ground shook and two great demons appeared beside Adrenesh. The female demon, was as tall as Adrenesh, the male demon, taller.
“So,” barked the female, “what have we here, hmmm? Are you derelict in your duties Adrenesh?”
Adrenesh appraised her. He had not encountered her before, but judging from the skeletal wings, massive trident and cloven hoofs, she could only be one entity; Lithranki. If so, then her partner had to be His Infernal Majesty’s Right Hand; Slayart.
“We are resting, Lithranki. There is no harm in a moment’s respite,” replied Adrenesh.
“I see you know my name demon, then you know who he is,” she said, casually pointing at Slayart, “and why we are here.”
The souls off to the side, bunched together and backed up ever so carefully, towards the tarry pit. The response was immediate. “Move not, ye damned, lest a worse fate shall befall you!” roared Slayart.
The damned ceased moving.
Adrenesh wasn’t sure what to do but before he could fully rationalize his thoughts, he spoke aloud, “Leave them out of this Lithranki, they are of no importance. You are here because of me, not because of them.”
For a moment Lithranki wore a mask of rage and her grip tightened on her trident. Then her expression softened to a smirk. “Still fighting for the underdogs, Adrenesh? It will be your undoing.”
Adrenesh knew a head-on approach was not going to work with these two, they enjoyed their job far too much. “I’m not ‘fighting’ for anyone Lithranki, you are already attempting to change the subject and twist the situation to your advantage. Your reason for being here has yet to be stated but it is certainly not about my past.”
“You play with words well, Adrenesh. I concede your point. Very well, we are here because He sensed a disruption. He pinpointed it quite easily to this place. We were dispatched to fix the problem and we are quite capable of seeing where the interruption lies—at your feet.”
“An eternity of damnation, a moment’s rest and suddenly you are ready to render Judgement? Even in Hell tolerance can be found.”
Lithranki’s eyes narrowed. “Tolerance? You speak of tolerance? What do you know of such matters?”
“I know enough to know that these souls,”—he refused to use the word “damned”—“have nothing to look forward to for the next thousand millennia except pain, torture, burning tar and my visage. A little tolerance would go far here.”
“Hypocrisy!” cried Lithranki, “You, of all in Hell, should well know this!”
“You bring my past into the present. I will have none of that. The past is dead and buried. Even one such and I, or you, can change. And my change is for them.”
Lithranki appeared uncertain of this new approach. Slayart merely looked bored, his was not the realm of words, but of action. “Change? Tolerance? Pity? I do not know you Adrenesh, you’ve been corrupted, willed into slothfulness by your station. It is time to cleave that sickness from you.”
Lithranki motioned to Slayart. At her command, he raised his hands into the air and howled in an ancient tongue. A storm rose about Slayart suddenly and he was thrown to the ground.
All three demons looked about in confusion. The ground started shaking in synch with the beat of footsteps. At the top of a nearby hill, a man appeared. At first it looked as if he was on fire, but as he neared the demons, it could be clearly seen that he wore a crown of thorns and it was that crown that was ablaze with golden light. As he walked, his sandals scorched the ground and the ash left in his wake retreated, as if in fear.
All three demons were stunned and paralyzed in fear as the man reached them. Some of the damned dropped to their knees and started to pray.
When he spoke, his voice was gentle, but the land shook with his words. “Something is not as it should be here.”
Lithranki and Slayart took several steps back. Lithranki clutched a symbol she wore around her neck. “Master, give me strength in the face of mine enemy.”
The man spoke again, a softness on his features, “I am not your enemy Lithranki, you have but only to open your eyes to see that. Adrenesh, I do not believe you need to be here any longer. Your time in this place is at an end. Come with me, come Home.”
Adrenesh started forward, and then stopped, “I cannot.”
Everyone involved looked surprised.
“Why not my child?” inquired the man.
“What about those I was charged with overseeing? I cannot leave them here.” Adrenesh’s tone was firm.
The man’s features hardened, “They suffer their punishments for an allotted time, no more, no less. They will stay until their time is done.”
“Then I too, shall stay, they have suffered enough. It is not right that I go while they stay.”
The halo around the crown of thorns flared into a blinding light forcing Lithranki and Slayart to shield their eyes, “And what of the other damned here? Shall you suffer for them as well? Enough Adrenesh! This is foolish behavior, you will come with me.”
Adrenesh stood his ground, “No, I will not! I cannot change the course of fate for the others in Hell, it is not within my power, but I have influence over these,” he gestured to the huddled mass, “and as long as they are my charges, they will be afforded my protection.”
All at once the halo around the crown winked out. The man showed a smile the likes Adrenesh had never seen. “Very well done my child, very well done. You have passed the final test, you have shown compassion and principles. Your wish shall be granted, they will come with you.”
The man gestured, and a beam of pure white light appeared out of the sky and struck the ground. A golden door opened and a bright white staircase was revealed. “You have but only to take the first step beyond the door and you will be Home,” said the man.
Lithranki made to move toward the door, but the man’s gaze held her firmly in place. His face was full of sorrow and remorse, “No Lithranki, yours is not yet time, perhaps one day you will see the errors of your ways and then I will be here.”
The damned started a rush towards the door. Despite its apparent size it easily accommodated all of them. When there were no more the man looked at Adrenesh, “Come.”
Adrenesh looked down at his huge form, naked and grotesque, “I cannot meet my Father like this.”
The man smiled, “And you will not. Your Father will see you as he made you.”
And Adrenesh stepped through the doorway.