The Embarrassment of Hell

Damned escaping from hell.

Hell Legend

 

 

It is called by many names: Avernus, Gehenna, Tartarus, Sheol, Hades, Abaddon… most commonly it is called Hell.

It is a place of pain, misery and despair.  Of inferno, smoking plumes, and unyielding basalt cliffs.  Where the flames are never quenched and the worm dieth not.

It is not exactly a pleasant place for if it were, everyone would feel kind of cheated, especially the ones looking down from above.

The damned are assigned to harsh manual labour for reasons unknown and there is probably no other reason than for giving the damned actually something to do.

Some are to haul heavy burdens loaded with rocks on their backs, some are to shovel dirt and rocks to carts, and some are to push the spokes of a wheel to countless revolutions.  Regardless of what they are to do, the damned slave under the whipping lashes of fat demonic overlords who are merciless and cruel in every way possible.

But this day something is about to change.

A man has collapsed due to exhaustion and a hairy overlord is heading straight for him.  It is expected that the demon would hoist the man to his feet, give a few punches to the jaw for good measure until there is some semblance of stability standing upright.

The overlord did not do that.  He merely bent down to retrieve the shovel that is lying by the man, went to the water trough meant only to tease and frustrate the damned souls and scooped up some water.  He returned to the fallen man.

“Here, drink.”

Everything ceased, even the intermittent screeches which constantly fill up the infernal skies.

Damned and demon both stared with bulging eyes, at the two, ironically also damned and demon.

Even the denizens of Heaven, who excused the suffering below as none of their business leered and craned their necks over obscenely to get a look before presuming to be outraged.

This is however just the beginning.

Chapter 1

 

“Heaven is outraged!”  The angel Remuel screamed into the ugly horned face of the supreme warden of Hell Barbartos.

The grotesquely overweight demon sunk his face into both hands for a moment as if in thought before looking up at the dozen of so angels clustered threateningly around him.

“Well!?  What have you got to say?”

You can all go fark off.  The warden almost blurted out in anger.  He was tempted to just stand up and smash through the throng with his bulbous belly, have a last laugh and then dash to freedom with both arms in the air.  Have some other fool assume this position of warden.

Instead the warden forced on an unassuming expression and with greater effort whipped out a smile.

“Kind sirs, we tried to apprehend the offender and the man both, to punish and counsel accordingly but unbeknownst to us, something snapped in the minds of the damned, even some of the overseers.  A wall of both damned and demon staved off the guards while at the back the two were ferried elsewhere.  I suggest coming up with more variety of activities since the tedium…”

“Enough with your excuses, the Pacificator is not pleased with the turn of events.”

The demon forced himself not to burst into abject laughter.

The Pacificator was originally a human who served his Lord well during his mortal life.  Setting an exemplary example to the world and the church, he rose to a high position in the marketplace and is considered a shining beacon externally to everyone.

After coming home, he was conferred the title “Pacificator of the Milky Way” by his Lord and assigned to angelic servants and cosmic responsibilities specializing in Hell.  A firm believer in literal hellfire in life, he is of the view that the punishment of the damned is much too lenient and has been taking steps to introduce more harsh measures so that it would keep in line to “The Word of God”.

After that incident, the Pacificator almost had a fit but cannot since it does not keep in line with “The Word of God” where there is supposed to be no sickness in Heaven.  But certainly a damned soul having a drink of water is a direct violation!  O how he would like to descend into the bowels of the pit itself to rip out the throats of the offending pair.

In the next cosmic meeting when the sons of God presented themselves before the throne of Lord God Almighty to discuss the turn of events, both Barbartos and the “Pacificator of the Milky Way” were present.

While the Devil and his angels are doing the usual mocking, the Lord listened briefly and eventually directed His attention to the overall mass.  Both warden and Pacificator felt especially scrutinized by the King. However only the Pacificator feels especially pressurized, as he is zealous equally for his job, both for his Master and his Master’s glory.

Whereas the warden whose title is mainly for show is mostly unperturbed for whatever the outcome, he has nothing to gain and little to lose.  What is certain is that he will lose something since he was considered to have so-called “erred” in his duties.  From the start of the meeting Barbartos has been digging nose with his forefinger and when the Lord addressed everyone generally, he snorted involuntarily and snot flew from his nose and landed on a double winged demon in front which earned the warden a glare of hatred from the one affected.

“Who will address this problematic situation?”

As if on cue the Pacificator stepped forward and answered,” I will Lord, here I am, send me.  For is it not Thou who has placed me in charge of Hell itself and given me the keys to it thereof?”

“Come forward, O Barbartos.”

The Hell warden jerked hands to his sides and as he stepped out to the center of the court, the wings of a certain demon slapped his face both ways as if by accident.  Too much in awe to register offence, he came to stand side by side with the Pacificator.

“You two are to liaise with each other…”

With that thought Barbartos gave a chuckle.  Remuel’s gaze which promised 10,000 deaths sobered the demon up from his reminiscence.

“Er, so what would you have me do?”

His expression changing not, the angel bade the demon,” Come with me.”

As Barbartos walked between Remuel’s colleagues he felt their stares penetrate his spine.

Both angel and demon walked to the very tip and edge of a cliff.

Stretched before and below them the denizens of Hell scrambled to their various labours and further away are places where actual punishment and torment are inflicted.  In appearance at least, everything seems to be normal.

The screams, wails, gibbering, snarls and jabbering of beings and scrapes, creaks and tinkering of tools all rose upwards to fill the ears of the pair.

“Inadvertently they must pass through the torture chambers to escape your grasp.”  Remuel emphasized the ‘your’ in a derisive tone.

“Though what they hope to accomplish is still beyond me.  More likely they have no goals at all, just a spur of the moment bravado.”

Clenching his fist in front of him, Remuel continued,” We must extinguish that hope for that emotion has no place here.  Get those two and fast ere you are sentenced to die 10,000 lingering deaths.”

After dismissing Barbartos with a wave of a hand, the demon walk away sulkily, leaving Remuel to stand alone at the cliff edge.

Contrary to Remuel’s intention, Barbartos is driven more by bitterness than by fear and in the innermost corners of the warden’s heart, a blasphemy is born.

Chapter 2

 

 

Blending into the crowd at the “Circus”; the place where tortures and fights involving both demon and damned are carried out for the entertainment of demonic high lords and their minions, one fat overlord and a much thinner figure clad in robes and a hood walked casually among the beautiful and ugly.

With a fixed destination in mind, the queer pair strolled onwards without a glance either to the left or right.  They passed by stalls selling fried imp fetuses, trinkets made up of skulls and bones from various species including human and demon, ambiguous foodstuffs which writhe and tremble etc.  Of these the two showed no interest and they keep their heads demurely to the ground whenever they happen to pass by anyone looking especially malevolent.

Passing beneath an archway with a billboard proclaiming “the way of minor attractions”, they should be getting close to their destination.

More crowded than the rest of the Circus, the minor attractions area is for catering to those lower ranking demons, imps, goblins and the other dregs of hellish societies.  The hell lords and barons would want as much space as possible for themselves in the Main Tent area.

Shoving through the crowd and turning a quick corner, the pair got a first good look of their goal.

A crowd of imps was gathered around a rounded compound and cheering with half-hearted enthusiasm.  In the compound, a line of humans were queuing up before the attraction; a gigantic demon consisting only of a torso not exactly round or oval, and long, sticklike limbs sitting on a big round chair without any back support.

The giant demon’s face is imprinted directly onto the torso; a pair of yellow malevolent eyes, no nose and a humongous mouth with double rows of jagged sharp teeth.  The demon grabbed the unfortunate person at the head of the queue and the next with alternate hands, popped them into its mouth and chewed slowly and it would seem, even reflectively.

Strangely the people involved in this “attraction” showed little to no fear.  In fact they seem more bored than afraid.  Overlord and hooded man stepped closer to get a better look.

The reason for the apparent fearlessness is evident.  After some good chewing, the demon would excrete the bloody remains out of its backside.  Standing by is an imp wearing spectacles and the red staff uniform who would pour some fluid from a flask down to the gory pieces.  A mist would rise up from the mixture as the fluid made contact.  A few seconds later, the mist would clear and the persons recently devoured would be miraculously whole again.  Obviously it was far from a benevolent act for the victims would then make a roundabout and take their places at the back of the queue.

Stabbing a fat finger in the general direction of the human queue, the overlord whispered to the hooded man, “That would be him.”  The man looked at where his former taskmaster was pointing and frowned for the victims were numerous and almost crammed together so therefore he had no idea who the overlord was referring to.

“Wait here.”  The overlord bade the hooded man.  The fat demon then swaggered into the crowd of imps and swatted away those standing in his way.  The imps took one look at the overlord and make way immediately for they know better than to offend a taskmaster of the damned.

With some effort the fat demon hoisted himself over the chest high barrier and make his way toward the target.  Grabbing the naked man’s arm, he half supported and half carried him towards the edge of the compound.  Seeing this, the ever-hungry behemoth snarled in protest but its legs were bind by large chains and the most it is allowed in movement is to stand and roar in frustration.

The overlord helped the condemned man over the barrier as the imps gathered around to identify the man being taken away.  After having done so, more than a few of the little creatures sniggered for the man was a famous betrayer and they assumed that the overlord is taking him away for the amusement of some high rank archdemon or whatnot.

After both were with the hooded man, the overlord whispered into his ear, “We got our guy, now let’s get out of here.”

***

Not too long after the trio left, a squadron of angels barged into the minor attractions area.

“Ho!  Out of the way, you scallywags!”

The imp crowd scattered like a flock of birds before the angels.  There was an air of dreadful silence as the angels marched between the imps.  Even the giant demon stopped its consuming and looked more than a little perturbed at this second intrusion of the day.

Getting the full story from the attraction master in the red uniform, the leader of the angels seemed to turn pale after knowing the identity of the person being taken away by the mysterious pair.

“The betrayer, are you sure?”

The imp nodded vigorously and for that he was thrown dead center into the mouth of the giant torso.  The demon devoured its former master with gusto and the people beneath it start to register panic for there is no one left to restore them after being consumed.

The angels regard not the plight of the damned humans but rather the leader called out one of his colleagues and assigns him a task as messenger.

“Go tell that fool to send his idiots to intercept the whole lot at the valley of despair, tell him to go personally as well!”  The messenger acknowledged the order and set off in haste.

Chapter 3

 

Strolling through the fiery wasteland as if without a care in the world, the three make a very interesting sight indeed.

Discarding his disguise at the first opportunity, the half-naked water-drinking man whose name is Koan introduced himself formally to the man whom he and his former taskmaster Jorgenphats rescued from the circus.

“Hello, my name is Koan and this here is Jorgenphats.  Is it true that you possess a secret that can allow us to get out of Hell?”

At this the man being questioned appears to heave a sigh of relief.

“For almost two millennia have I waited, I have suffered much and unimaginably.  But I am convinced that the agony could not compare to the glory that would soon reveal itself to us.  Come, we will talk as we walk, let me tell you about the City of true and perpetual peace; the City where the gates of Paradise and Inferno would never prevail.”

As the trio treads an imaginary path across the blackened plains towards the valley of despair, Koan and Jorgenphats listened attentively to the man’s story.

***

Almost two thousand years ago, Christ came down to Hell after being crucified to redeem the Old Testament saints and their families.  There was also one whom He sought to redeem but the Devil called to stop Him.

“Thou wish to redeem he who betrayed thee?  Thou wish to redeem Judas?”

“Yes.”

“Can Thou again believe he who tricked and delivered thee to thy enemies though both thou and he were as close as friends, Could thou trust him again?”

“I can, verily I tell you; yesterday I believed in him, today I believed in him and forever I will believe in him.”

The Devil was silent for a moment before nodding and conceding the Lord’s point.  However he said,” But what about the rest of thy servants, they are not puppets dangled by strings.  Do thou think that they will stand having the betrayer himself in their midst?  Would they despise him secretly in their hearts and appeal constantly to the Heavenly courts for his condemnation once again?”

The Devil turned to Judas and mocked him,” Is it even possible that the betrayer be happier in Paradise than right here, right now?”

Inconceivably, this time it was Christ Himself who was rendered speechless.  As the Devil started to laugh, there was a great shout.

“I HAVE DECIDED!”

All eyes turned to Christ.

“Thou hast spoken true, Satan.  Therefore I have a change of plans.  I have said that this generation would not pass away before all these things come to pass, but I have decided that this be not so.  Before you laugh Satan, you shall see the great evil unleashed because of this!”

The Lord stretched forth His hand and the Devil seemed to be staring into something engrossingly.  Suddenly Satan recoiled with an abject look of horror on his face, horror not for himself but for … mankind?  (Judas shrugged at this point)  Who can say?

“This is horrific, yea even I say this for not even I would have anything to do with the likes of them.  Is this worth it to delay thy coming for perhaps forever?”

At this moment the Lord was whispering in Judas’s ear about the two who would deliver him from torment after an interminable period of time and what he must do and where he must go later.

Christ stood up straight and looked not just to the Devil but also the whole of both Heaven and Hell.

“It is worth it.  Harken my words, all would begin in Hell at a place called the valley of despair, and when it starts, all of you and I mean all would soon get what is coming to thee.”

Ending the last few words of His ominous declaration in a resigned and sorrowful tone, Christ ascended from Hell to Heaven with the entourage of Old Testament redeemed behind Him.

***

Koan scratched his head after Judas finished his story.

“I am not sure what all of that’s about.  So what exactly is the City of true and perpetual peace?”

“Shanalorn,” Judas answered.

“The City where neither Heaven nor Hell are allowed entry though should both array against it with all their might.  That is all I know but the most important thing which I do know is that we must make our way to the city, aye even the demon with us.  We will drive the entire universe mad when we succeed.  Look, we are approaching the Valley of Despair, that is the first key and where it all begins the start of the retribution on Heaven and Hell.  Onwards!  We march to Shanalorn.”

“Aye!”  Koan reiterated,” To peace we march!”

Chapter 4

 

Fronted by two leafless trees with branches stretched to the skies as if in lamentation, the entrance to the Valley of Despair is relatively narrow, in between two high mountains with a completely charcoal surface.

Surprisingly, compared to the rest of Hell the Valley of Despair is quiet, almost silent in fact.  Devoid of the screams of the damned and the mockeries of the demons, the only sounds were the shuffling of feet and the grunts of effort as the party sought to squeeze through the opening, especially that of Jorgenphats.

To everyone’s relief the path gradually widened until a manageable path allows them to proceed in the standard manner.  Except for the demon who wore troll skin boots, both men are barefoot though it is hardly a matter for their concern as both are used to the condition.

They strode through the zigzagging pathway talking lightheartedly among themselves.  The red earth beneath their feet is rife with blood-red earthworms which burrow into the men’s feet or wriggle as high up the waist before intruding inside.  As before the men were long used to this condition, having already had hundreds of worms in their individual bodies entering and exiting throughout their sojourn in Hell, thus therefore they completely ignore the slimy and disgusting creatures.

The path they took winds and turns, sometimes so extreme they end up walking in the direction from whence they came.  Eventually the path narrowed again but still wide enough for them to walk straight forward.  The way ahead then tapered upward to develop into a slope so that they have to support their hands along the walls as they make their way upwards.

After the slope, the walls along the way just… ended and the three faced a wide open area.  For the first time in what seemed like eons, all three felt a sense of accomplishment.  Even the merciless sky above their heads with crimson clouds and mists drifting continually across seemed to be smiling down at them.

However, Jorgenphats first noticed the fact that they were not alone.  Just ahead they saw a man with long disheveled hair resting a crutch on his lap sitting on an outcrop of rock jutting up from the ground.

Head tilted down, he was mumbling to himself in a language completely foreign to the ears of the men but Jorgenphats recognized the syllables from the tongue of the Yamato.

Koan asked the overlord what the man was mumbling about and Jorgenphats shrugged and replied that he was mumbling something about fishes, rivers, bamboo and other things completely unrelated to each other and that he was probably insane.

Judas bade them to hurry quickly past.  When they came closer to the stranger, they saw that the crutch in the man’s possession was not just a simple wooden stick.  It was painted black and lacquered to a slick and shiny sheen.  However the crutch is the only thing that is impressive about the stranger.  His long, untidy hair looks like a big spider web and his robes are seeped with dried sweat and dirt and stinks horribly.  At least he has functional straw sandals under his feet.

The pitiful looking stranger did not look up as the three tramped past, but he did speak.

“Hold for a moment, hear me speak and do not be too hasty to fall into the net.  Some distance from here dozens of demons are waiting for a particular three fugitives; I guess that would be you.”

The stranger looked up and the three could see that he was blind by the complete whiteness of his orbs.

“Well, how do you know?”  Jorgenphats asked.

The stranger glanced at his questioner’s direction with his unsettling white eyeballs.

“A demon?   I know of people and demons who sought to escape the clutches of their masters but never both at once and working together.”

Judas stepped forward and asked, “We are seeking the way to Shanalorn, the city of true and perpetual peace.  Do you know the way?”

“Is this hope I hear?  This is getting interesting by the minute.  I have no idea the path to the city you speak of, neither have I heard of it.”

Now it was Koan’s turn to ask the stranger.

“You have not answered the first question, how did you know that there is an ambush ahead when you are obviously blind and why should we trust you?”

“There are senses more reliable than sight.  They are here (indicating the ears) and here (the fingertips).  Hmm… you pique my interest, therefore I have decided to help you.”

So saying the stranger makes an effort to stand, using his crutch as an aid to push himself to his feet.  Upright, it was revealed that the robe the stranger wore did not cover all his body.  A vertical line from neck to pelvis was left exposed.  Even though he was technically clothed, his modesty was not preserved.  Therefore he ended up looking more ridiculous than those who wore nothing at all.

“You may address me as Kojiro.  Now if you please.”

The stranger advanced ahead of the three.

Koan, Judas and Jorgenphats were getting rather irritated as Kojiro hobbled forward in a slow-going manner.  He jab the stick on the ground ahead of him as he moved, unmindful of the ones behind.  And neither did he let anyone past, who sought to overtake him.

Suddenly he stood up straight, turned around and bade them stay behind and wait for further instructions.  Then he continued on his own merry way.

Everywhere around the three could only see dead leafless trees and distant mountains forming a jagged wall far, far away.  Just ahead was a stone wall which seemed to be artificial and around which the stranger turned a corner and was out of sight.

How queer that a section of Hell could be so deserted, but just as well.  After waiting for a while, the three began to feel restless, worrying should there be any ambush or trap, the stranger is probably part of it.

***

Of course, Kojiro was innocent of their mental accusations resulting from idleness.  In fact he has sensed the presence of the mini army lying in wait for the three fugitives for some time.  At first, he did not wish to get involved with the hellish authorities, but now he is determined to open a path through the demonic army.

Spears and javelins flew through the air, designed to intimidate the quarry rather than injure or kill by flying directly overhead of their intended victims.

As the projectiles flew past, Kojiro put his right hand to the top of his crutch.  He makes a drawing motion and executed a swishing motion in the air.  So fast his hand action, it was nearly a blur.  Then he went on as normal.  The projectiles which thudded behind Kojiro were all splintered into two.  The crutch is actually sword and sheath!

The intended effect backfired on the hunters when they saw what Kojiro had done.  Still, they emerged from their hiding places with weapons drawn and advanced cautiously towards Kojiro.

Nicknamed “coolies” because of their skinny and muscular exteriors, the demons’ sole garment is a simple loincloth, they are bald with pointed ears and are as tall as an average adult human.  Now they carried simple weapons like wooden clubs, maces, short swords etc.  Their leaders however wield long swords.

In no time they have Kojiro surrounded.  The man however is calm and like a streak of lightning he moves.  He drew his blade and cut one coolie after the other, twisting and turning his body around as he did so.  Agile as a ballet and relentless as a raw elemental force, he gives the demons who had been expecting an easy catch quite a surprise indeed!

After darting around the coolies from one to another like chain lightning, he eventually put his sword to the opening of the sheath he still held in his left hand.  As he slid the blade slowly in, he does so in the midst of fallen bodies and those in the process of falling dead.  What a mesmerizing and deadly dance.

The coolies were struck dumbfounded by Kojiro’s prowess.  As Kojiro resumed his stroll in the park, some of the coolies make way and went around to the man’s back while the rest simply backed off as per Kojiro’s approach.  All the coolies did so with their weapons pointing in Kojiro’s direction.

Kojiro prodded onwards, with his enemies in the front backing off and those at his back following behind.  It would seem that this stalemate would continue indefinitely when one coolie ahead of Kojiro looped a hole in a rope and put it in the man’s path.

To the coolies’ delight, Kojiro’s left foot stepped into the trap and a coolie pulled on the rope.

The rope snagged Kojiro’s foot and he fell hard on his back.  With glee, the coolie and three others pulled on the rope and pick up speed on their feet.  They pulled Kojiro in one direction, then another in an effort to render him unconscious for easy capture.

Unfortunately the rope soon got entangled in the gnarled roots of a dead tree.  As the four coolies got around and try to free the rope, Kojiro sat up and cut the rope trapping his foot.  Without pausing he stood and slashed.

One, two, three, four.  All were down almost in the blink of an eye.  At this moment, more than a dozen demons were charging at Kojiro.  When they saw the man standing upright and battle ready, they were already too committed in their attack to back off.

As before though he seems slow and harmless when walking, his attacks are flawless and his follow-ups are instantaneous and lethal just the same.  Kojiro weave a devastating path through his enemies and then turned in a whirlwind motion to cut down a cluster of coolies down like wheat.  Kojiro slew the last coolie who tried too late to run with an ‘X’ across his back.

Some ten metres ahead of Kojiro, Supreme warden of Hell Barbartos is with his backup escorts of another three dozen coolies.  The overall leader of the coolies who served under Barbartos is by the warden’s side.  The coolie leader is better dressed than the rest in tunic and carries a whetted long sword.

When Barbartos witnessed the mowing down of his troops, his eyes widen in alarm.  He ordered the coolie leader to rally his minions and take Kojiro down by means of tactics.

With the rest of the coolies, the leader headed in Kojiro’s direction.  Relaying orders to those behind him and the more than two dozen surviving coolies who still harassed Kojiro, they formed a wide and tight circle and Kojiro came to stand in the middle of it.

Though he seems not to be bothered by the circle of demons, he turns his head randomly here and there as an autistic person is wont to do.  He dropped his sheath to the ground, rested his sword tip first on the ground and leaned both palms on top of the hilt.  There he stayed and looked down, moving not a muscle.

The coolie leader had the section leaders who wielded weapons in better conditions and those coolies who carried long spears to be the first wave of assault.  As they approached Kojiro, he snapped out of his reverie and carried his sword in a manner as one would a dagger.

The attackers sought to strike at once but Kojiro’s counters are faster.  He sliced his blade across the bellies of those who lifted their weapons high, severed spears into two and basically went into a similar rampage as before.  Many either fell outright or staggered around in their death throes.  At the end of it all, one coolie appeared to be resting against Kojiro’s shoulder until he slowly slides down it to the ground.

Kojiro stepped over the bodies, hugging sword hilt to chest with both hands.  At this time a large net was thrown over at Kojiro and he was caught and collapsed under the weight.

Many of the coolies seized this opportunity to dash forward and pounce on Kojiro to jab the pointed ends of their weapons at him.

But the man’s blade is exceedingly sharp.  He poked the weapon out of the net and makes a 360 degree slash.  The demons all fell away to the ground, clutching their wounded legs or severed stumps.  In the midst of it all, Kojiro stood up trying to shrug away a particular stubborn piece of netting.

Utterly shocked by this turn of events, the remainder of the coolies can only stare in horror and disbelief.

Kojiro is making his way to the part of the circle where the coolie concentration is thinnest.  As Kojiro approaches, the demon directly in the man’s way shouted, jabbed and waved his club in Kojiro’s direction in a vain attempt to intimidate him.

Kojiro merely glanced in the coolie’s direction for an instant before reverting back to the ground.  The demon uttered a battle cry to give himself courage and struck.

In reaction, Kojiro stepped to the side and slashed the attacking demon across the front and back.  Then he twists and turns blade and body in multiple revolutions to kill some of the coolies who were by the side of the attacking coolie.   Kojiro is out of the circle!

The overall leader of the coolies, knowing that the condition of his troops is near breaking point, attacks Kojiro himself.  To the coolie’s credit his blade clashed with Kojiro’s two times before Kojiro’s sword kissed and caressed his flesh.

Though already on his way to death, the coolie leader is still on his feet wavering like a drunkard.  Turning around, Kojiro put his left shoulder across the demon’s chest as if to support him.

Kojiro wrenched the coolie leader’s long sword away from his dying grip and pushed him backward to fall unhindered to the ground.  Kojiro is now carrying two swords in a daggerlike fashion.  What’s more, he is no longer in the passive role; he is on the offensive.

Seeing Kojiro coming at them with arms outstretched and two long swords pointing downwards, many of the surviving coolies wet themselves.  Kojiro showed no mercy.

Barbartos attempted to take Kojiro out by guile by creeping behind him with a crossbow.  Edging forward to take better aim, he cannot help but be mesmerized by Kojiro’s dance of death.

Two coolies at Kojiro’s back sought to hem him in between them and attack from both left and right directions at once.  Kojiro intercepted their blades with his two swords, leapt backwards behind them and turned both his weapons in a complete clockwise circle to slash both attackers from the buttocks and upwards.  Both coolies trembled and shook from the pain before felling dead.

Now that Kojiro is dual wielding, he has literally become a whirlwind of death.  Barbartos shook himself off his stupor when he saw that his troops are dwindling almost to the last.  He took aim.

In the midst of the slaying, Kojiro turned around and with a casual flick of the wrist, the coolie leader’s long sword was sent flying to pierce into the middle of Barbarto’s belly.

Dropping the crossbow, the warden of Hell grasped at the blade of the weapon which has dealt him a mortal blow.  Grimacing in pain, he toppled sideways and did not stand up again.

With their leaders slain and knowing that the odds of eight warriors pitting themselves against one blind man is something ridiculously unfair.  The surviving coolies turned and fled.

Kojiro turned around and wandering across the sea of bodies retrieved his sheath.  He shook off the blood splatters on his sword by making a samurai cleaning motion and then sheathed the blade.  He called out in a voice powerful enough to carry to the three fugitives in their hiding places.

When they heard Kojiro’s summons, they were amazed at Kojiro’s powerful voice and were even more so when they saw the results of the swordman’s handiwork.

As the three navigate the sea of the dead and badly wounded, they began to respect and fear Kojiro in a whole new level.  All this, wrought by one blind man!

They reunite with Kojiro, now with robe blood splattered as well.

“Now can you tell me your secrets?”

They did and before long, all four set off to Shanalorn, the City of true and perpetual peace.

Chapter 5

 

They did not have much time to make acquaintances for soon their pursuers are about to catch up with them.

This time the hunters comprise of only two, but they are not ordinary backdrops.  One is the angel Remuel personally come to settle the problem and the other is a goat-headed, muscular hell champion wielding a massive skull warhammer.

They are within sight of the four companions who huffed to a sprint despite Remuel’s challenge to halt.  The hell champion lifted his warhammer in the air and howled in glee before plunging into the chase.

Three of the prey went without stopping while Kojiro stayed behind to engage angel and demon.

Remuel drew his silver Silvanis sword and attacked Kojiro.  To the angel’s surprise, his complex strikes and maneuvers are countered perfectly by the Yamato swordsman.  Neither fighter is able to get the better of the other.

Remuel is very annoyed to be held at bay by one damned soul with an atrocious dress sense.   The sword the man is using is of suspiciously high quality, the arcs and slashes produced by it are dazzling and a match to his divine weapon.  He would have a good talk with the reconstituted Barbartos regarding the origins of the weapon when all this is over.

The hell champion is eager to join in and for that earned two slashes, crisscross across his chest.  Unfortunately for Kojiro, the wounds are minor and serve only to enrage the demon.  The hell champion barrel charged into Kojiro’s chest and sent him falling and rolling on the ground.

The demon followed up with a great heave and leap, lifting warhammer high.  Kojiro saw the imminent danger and rolled further away and then came to his feet with remarkable agility.  The warhammer crashed to the ground with an audible ‘boom’ and the ground shuddered for a moment.

Steam snorted out of the hell champion’s nostrils as he glared with hatred at Kojiro.  In response Kojiro stood fully upright in a seemingly calm and unperturbed pose, his hair and the corners of his matted and torn robe furling in the light breezes.

Before Remuel and the demon could continue their attacks on Kojiro, a strong voice hailed them.

“Ho!  Do you know only how to pester half-starved and blind men?  Why not try an armed warrior for size!?”

Up top oo a cliff at the combatants’ right stood a stout, imposing figure clad in leather jerkin and sealskin boots.  Flowing, silvery hair blowing in the wind, the stranger stared at the confused faces of Remuel and the hell champion with sharp blue-green eyes.

He smiled widely, revealing brilliant white teeth and leapt off the cliff.  The warrior landed some distance behind Kojiro.   The Yamato warrior circumvents around the newcomer and ran to rejoin his companions.

The silver haired man with hard lined face stood facing both angel and demon in a confident manner.

Remuel threatened him with the wave of the sword,” Out of the way, blackguard.  You are interfering with heavenly business!”

In answer, the man brandished a broadsword and handled it in a way which showcases his ease and skill.

Furious, Remuel tilted his head forward towards his adversary to give the cue for his goat-headed ally to attack along with him.

As the two got ready to charge him, the warrior stretched out his left hand fully outward, with palm open as if to restrain them.  And truly for some reason, both Remuel and the hell champion froze in their tracks and gasped aloud at the warrior’s gesture!

Not understanding what compelled them to act so queerly, both angel and demon shook their heads to clear their confusion.

The hell champion let his abnormally long tongue drop from his mouth, twists his eyeballs to the sides and leered at the warrior.  Remuel on the other hand glared at the man with the mandatory stern stare warrior angels are expected to have.

Side by side, both beings of Heaven and Hell advanced steadily on the silver haired man.  The warrior in turn gripped his broadsword to the side with both hands, ready for them.

The hell champion swung his large warhammer but before he could turn the head of the weapon in the direction of his enemy, the silver haired warrior dashed forward and bashed the demon’s shoulder with the flat of his broadsword.

The warrior possesses more strength than could be tell by external appearance and the hell champion was sent staggering more than a few steps back.

Remuel struck with force at his enemy and the warrior in turn intercepted with his blade.  Blades clashed and held.

Both combatants gritted teeth and pushed forward with their respective might. The friction between the blades caused sparks to roll and glint in the darkness of Hell. Who is this man able to pit strength against an angel?

From behind, the hell champion charged forward with a bleating yell with warhammer lifted high.  The silver haired warrior quickly disengaged from Remuel and leapt backwards.  The warhammer struck a shuddering blow on the ground a second time and the combatants are facing each other again.

Remuel and the hell champion sought to hem the warrior to the side of the cliff from whence he leapt off and trap him in a pincer movement.

With the silver haired warrior’s back to the cliff wall, both his enemies are confident that they have him.   The goat demon swung his warhammer sideways at the man but he twisted his body and narrowly avoided it.

The head of the weapon crashed to the cliff wall and the cliff shook till the upper portion of it was damaged enough to dislodge several large pieces of debris.

Coincidentally, the debris dropped smack on Remuel’s back as he tried to press his advantage against the man.  The angel tumbled head over heels to the side and the silver haired warrior took the opportunity offered by this unexpected break to break off the battle and flee.

Too dumb and simple-minded to seize the initiative without being specifically ordered to, the hell champion merely gazed at the fleeing figure, than the damaged portion of the cliff, the unconscious Remuel and finally his warhammer.  And shrugged.

 

Chapter 6

 

“Hey, wait up.”

Three men and a demon slowed sufficiently for the silver haired warrior to catch up.  As the five ran together, the stranger grinned, showing shiny white teeth and said,

“Going someplace?  What? You know not the direction?   Ha!  Now I lead the way.”

All four looked disbelievingly at the presumptuous man as he abruptly switched direction and continued sprinting.

Not looking back, he called out,” Those seeking to proceed to the city of peace, please to follow me!”

Head thrown back in hearty laughter, his voice seems to echo throughout hell and vibrate the air thereof.

This got everyone’s attention and they chased the man without hesitation.

They ran on for quite some time, the everlasting hellish plains ever around them making it seem as if they are running on a treadmill.  The silver man’s thighs pumped continuously, his stamina seemed infinite.

Those trailing the warrior are becoming exhausted though such suffering is nothing to what they have gone through.

“Hold, here should be safe enough.”  The leader gradually slowed to a stop and held up a hand to signal those behind him to halt.

All except the warrior grasped their knees and gasped for breath.  When they have recovered enough, the warrior pointed to the northeast.

“Look over yonder.”

They looked and gasped in awe, the demon’s voice especially bubbly and funny.

The lighting in hell, if it could be called that, is as the darkness before the dawn in the mortal world.  Eventually the irises of the eyes would be used to the “illumination” enough for one to make his/her way around.  Still it is a genuine place of perpetual darkness.

However, in the direction that the warrior is pointing, it is as if the sun is rising! Innumerable tiny rays of light shot out in every direction, morning of the dawn will bring another day!

The excitement evident in their expressions, the warrior turned and proceeded to explain his origins.

“My name is Wylfred, you can call me Wyl.  I serve Lady Hel, ruler of Niflheim.  She knew of the prophecy given to Judas and at the behest of the Lord of the city of peace sent me, her servant to escort you to her domain and henceforth to Shanalorn.”

Jorgenphats scratched his head in confusion,” So there is another Overlord in the icy wastes of Hell, and a female!  I did not know that until now.”

Wyl whipped up another of his disarming grins.

“I can assure you, she is every inch the ruler, more than I can say so for the “overlord” of Inferno!  Ha!”  The big man winked at Kojiro as he finished.

The company arrived at the boundary between fire and ice.  It is as if an invisible line has been drawn so that neither brimstone nor glacier may overstep into each other’s territories.  Not just that, even the temperature and atmosphere of the respective environments is held back from each other.

The company could see and hear the swirling winds of Niflheim yet the heat of Hell does not abate one bit though the cold is but mere footsteps away.

Ruffling through the pockets of his pants, Wyl retrieved five amulets in the shape of a flame with a malevolent face and put one around his powerful neck.

“Put this on, the cold will be your friend and the snow your blanket of warmth.”

Koan, Jorgenphats and Judas put on the accessory without question while Kojiro put himself fully a few steps into the realm of ice.  A few seconds later, he backed up over the boundary line, seemingly about to fall over.  Wyl grabbed him by both shoulders and steadied him.  The slender swordman was trembling and the lips were becoming blue.

“Not to be overconfident, little man, we are going on a journey, not a religious ordeal.  Even the white bears of the north cannot survive more than an hour in there.”

Wyl strode forward towards the edge of the realm of fire and turned one last time.

“I lead, you follow.”  The silver-haired warrior broke off into a slow jog into Niflheim.

Dismayed that they have gotten no rest from their exertions, Koan and Co struggled to a running start to keep up with Wyl.  Still they could not complain; they have endured much worse during the duration of their torment in Hell.  A few more hardships are a small price to pay to get all this behind them forever.

The moment they put their feet over into Niflheim, they are immediately ruffled by rough winds and rain so cold they are almost ice.  The amulets on their chests glowed red and became warm to the touch.

They wiped their eyes and foreheads and oriented themselves with the new environment.  They feel relatively comfortable, cool but not cold.  Kojiro winced inwardly at the memory of the near freeze, like the caress of a frigid damsel sucking all life from the flesh and the bone.

They saw that Wyl did not even pause to look back at those he was supposed to escort to safety.  The chase is once again on!

While the cold may not affect them much, their speed was however affected due to the blizzards blowing against them.   Jorgenphats tongue is now lolling out and about due to near exhaustion, Kojiro while at first using his cane sword as a supplementary third limb now makes do with both feet instead to pick up speed.  Koan and Judas while tired huffed and puffed on.  They were relieved when Wyl slowed to a brisk walk.

 

Everything therein was white, white snow, white sky.  White up and down, all around; everywhere.  Even the air was white, with constant breath clouds.  A veritable vacuum, sight was just as useful in this white emptiness as in complete darkness.

All the companions had was Wyl, up ahead, stalwart against the strong blizzard which billow and rage constantly against them.   The great warrior strode onwards, disregarding the snowstorm almost completely except by putting one hand over his eyes to shield his sight.

Treating Wyl as a buffer against the storm, everyone followed closely behind him, until there is a straight-line procession of seeming misfits marching in the snow with the tallest in front.

Progress was slow yet steady.  Koan and Jorgenphats looked curiously at the snow draughts beside them, trying in vain to pierce the thick blanket of white.  The demon’s heatvision and darkvision availed him not in this instance.  He poked his head out slightly and his face was immediately assailed by frosty diamond dust.

Jorgenphats’ world literally became white and howling filled his ears.  He pulled his head back, shook it and wiped the snowy shards off his face.  He felt or imagined the cold penetrating to his bones, so he gripped his amulet tighter, put his head down and walked forward, and collided with Kojiro.

The Yamato swordsman turned around and glowered.  Though Kojiro was sightless, the demon could feel the full scrutiny of the man.  Jorgenphats forced on a neutral expression and pretended to look at the cloudless and empty sky.

They trudged onwards for sometime.  Soon however, either Wyl or the blizzard itself changed direction for the winds are now buffeting the companions sideways from the right

Those behind Wyl huddled close behind him, not just because of the force of the winds, but for fear that they would lose track of the great warrior and end up lost in the icy desolate wasteland forever.

In this way, they continued traveling in abject misery.  The three gripped the shoulders of Koan who in turn cling to the strap of Wyl’s broadsword at his back.  Wyl himself like an indomitable colossus, lumbered on.

After what seemed like forever, there is change in the scenery.  Up ahead, a row of mountains rose up like jagged teeth.

With delicate and also agonizing slowness, the mountains gradually became clearer and more imposing.  The blizzards too, have lessened significantly, presumably blocked off by the mountains.

Everyone looked like walking snowmen.  When they are almost upon the mountains, the blizzards have degenerated into mild breezes.  They paused for a while and shook off the snow and wipe their faces.  Jorgenphats put hands to his knees and panted non-stop.  Inwardly the demon cursed Wyl with a rapidity comparable to his panting.

The warrior in question ruffled and shook his hair to clear the remaining snow and gestured to a cavern opening at the base of a mountain.  He was answered by harsh and tired looks.

To everyone’s surprise the warrior threw his head back and laughed.

“Not to worry,” he assured them, “now you just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Come and see.”

The opening of the cavern is not level at all but instead sloped downwards at gradually increasing angles.  Wyl’s escorting charges gazed curiously down the tunneled slide as it turned over a corner into the unknown.

“Wait ten seconds after me.”  With a cry of joy Wyl leaped into the cavern and slid swiftly out of sight, his laughter echoing along the dank walls.

In intervals of about ten seconds, first Koan and then Judas joined the ride.  Alone with Kojiro, Jorgenphats was rather uneasy and pretended to inspect his boots.  With relief the Yamato man took his seat with crutch across his knees in a cross-legged position and slowly dropped out of sight.

The former overlord removed his boots to pour out snow which has seeped inside, put them on again and took up position.

Chapter 7

Koan did not remember when he was ever so joyful.  Wheezing by at high speeds, the walls alongside were a blur and the tunneled path was wide enough that he is able to keep from accidentally bumping against the walls.  The roof also was comfortably above head level.  As Wyl said, Koan is able to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The tunnel twists and turns, jostling the man about but in a pleasurable way, then it becomes almost a vertical drop at gradually increasing velocity.  When the speed is about to peak, the angle decreased sharply and Koan is hurled into another direction, eliciting a cry of both surprise and happiness.

After some minutes of sliding at moderate speeds, the roof disappeared completely.  Koan was now sliding in the middle of a stunning backdrop of the interior of a gigantic underground cavern.

Cavernous does not begin to describe it.  The roof is hundreds of feet above his head and the bottom is almost unseen.  All around mazes of yellow tracks are crisscrossed and numerous lamps are lined across metal scaffoldings; all lighted and the cumulative effect is like the stars of the night.

He saw networks of passageways across multiple countless levels and dwarfish creatures wielding pickaxes, shovels, hammers, hauling sacks of boulder-like objects and pushing carts and wheelbarrows on the passageways.  All paused in their work and stared upwards at the man intruding into their inner world.

Koan slid and spiraled down and down and down.  Man and dwarfs stared eye to eye whenever possible.  He eventually dropped into another tunnel and leave behind the enormous caverns.  Light at the end of the tunnel beckons to him.

The ride deposited him onto the frozen surface of a vast lake.  He bounced on his backside twice.  The force must be strong indeed, considering that he had little fat on his buttocks.

Wyl was standing nearby and helped Koan to his feet and pulled him away from the trajectory of the opening several metres above their heads.

The others followed suit; all popping out of the chute, landed on the solid ice, dusting themselves off before being upped to their feet.

Jorgenphats landing was somewhat sooner than anticipated.  The demon looked at Kojiro and seemed rather disappointed in something.

Everyone dusted themselves off and Wyl beckoned for all to continue with a quick jerk of his head.

They were literally walking on a sea of ice stretching as far as the eye can see, with a hint of a whitish shoreline a horizon away.

The stark ice surface beneath their feet is shiny and reflective.  Judas and Koan stared at the sky; empty with no clouds and sun except some mist swirling about here and there.

The source of illumination is a mystery.

With a cry of wonder, Jorgenphats drew everyone’s attention down to their feet.  Schools of orange fish are observed swimming below the ice chased by a lengthy eel like creature with a wide girth and a horn impelling the top of its head.

The creature with slit-like eyes ignored those above and swam on towards its quarries.  It grabs some fishes with its mouth, revealing macabre human-like teeth.  It chews and consumes its prey and continues its hunting.

Judas bended forward to get a closer look at the creature when suddenly it reared up at him and struck the bottom of the ice with its horn.

There was a cracking thud, but the ice held though the suddenness of the creature’s action caused a shaken Judas to fell back on his backside.

Wyl turned to look at the startled man and offered a hand to help him up.  He gave encouragement and bade all to continue.

The journey was just as long as the previous trek across the tundra!  At least the relentless howling wind is gone now and they need not pack so close together like sardines in a can.  The companions are able to walk with relative freedom of movement and admire the pristine whiteness all around.  What’s more, the occasional breeze is refreshing, thanks to the amulets on their chests.

After an eternity, they finally reached the shore.  Jorgenphats staggered up the snow beach, flakes crunching beneath his boots like cereals and collapsed on his back.  Legs and arms spread, he panted as one half dead.  The demon struggled to lift his head and focus on his companions.

Wyl with hands on hips, stood looking down at the demon with an amusing expression, two other men are also quite exhausted and breathless; gasping for breath while lifting their heads to the sky.  Kojiro the blind swordsman, however look none the worse for wear.  He turned his head here and there as if looking about in curious wonder, then he walked onward and stood in the middle of his friends.

When all have recovered sufficiently enough, they looked to Wyl for direction.  He laughs.

“Not far, a hundred miles or so.”

Everyone stared incredulously at Wyl.

A deafening bellow jolted them to look ahead with weapons ready.

There were sounds of heavy dragging and two gargantuan walruses lumbered out from around the corner of a snow mound the size of a small hill.  The creatures were dragging a heavy coach behind which is even bigger than them.

Shaped in a rectangle, the coach is supported by high obsidian wheels though the coach body itself is shining alabaster.  It is heavily embellished with floral designs and lavish pink curtains drape over the sides of the carriage.

Navigating the whole mode of transport is a coachman who sat on the box of the coach, cracking the air with a whip and hollering commands.  He was dressed in a purple tunic, with matching pantaloons for pants.  On his head is a gray English hat.

The walruses lurched to a stop with a pull of the reins and a shout by the coachman.  From a bucket beside him he grabbed some fishes that are larger versions of those the companions saw during their trek through the lake of ice and threw them into the gapping maw of the walruses.  He dismounted to the side and tipped his hat to Wyl and Co by way of greeting.

“Ah, Gustav!  I hope you did not wait long.”  Wyl smiled and lowered his guard.  He sheathed his weapon and strode confidently forward.  The others followed, albeit at a distance and cautiously keeping an eye on the gigantic creatures with long and wickedly sharp tusks and snorting steam with almost every breath.  Even so said creatures at this moment seem docile enough; turning their heads to look around with causal interest, neither focusing too closely on persons nor environment.

When they are near enough, both Wyl and the coachman are facing them.  Once again, the coachman tipped his hat over to them.

“Well met, friend coachman.”

Only Koan has the presence of mind to return the coachman’s greeting cordially and vocally while the rest just stood and stared.  To his credit, Jorgenphats is struggling hard to suppress a strong urge to comment on how comical the coachman’s Mexican moustache made him look.

Gustav tweaked the end of his moustache with one hand, smiled at them and turned towards the side of the coach.  He hoisted himself up to middle height, pushed away the thick and luxurious curtains to open the door.  He held the door open with one hand and with the other, ushered Wyl and friends into the carriage.

They did not hesitate; weary to the bone they gratefully entered into the warm interior, which is puffed up with many soft and fluffy cushions.  When Gustav is satisfied that his guests are comfortably settled in, he closed the door and let the curtains drop.

He looked at his palm with a grimace of disgust, reason being for using it to assist a particular demon into the carriage by pushing against his buttocks.  Wiping his hand with a kerchief, he wrinkled his nose.

Oh dear, this lot stinks horribly, and rather rude too.

 

Adjusting his hat, he leapt to his seat and retrieved his driver’s whip.  Swishing it in the air to produce a terrific crack, the walruses reluctantly began their tramping.

The journey continues.

Chapter 8

 

Everyone stretched out and sink into the comfortable cushions, those with weapons placed them in a corner so that they may rest better with hands free.

The gentle rumble of the carriage as it moves is no impediment to the comfort of the passengers; in fact the rocking enables them to rest better.  With a smile on their faces, the formerly damned slept; something which they had never done for millenia and not supposed to ever.

Wyl stretched and put both hands behind his head.  He watched them sleep and wondered if his charges did not suspect the subtle enchantment placed within the carriage which has enabled them to rest so easily, for after so long suffering the body could not be used to simple comforts, much less luxuries.  Given how long the damned suffer, giving such pleasures suddenly usually only serves to frustrate them utterly rather than bestowing anew the joy of life.

Wyl relaxed and felt himself sink into the cushions.  Never mind, the condition of their physique would soon be solved.

***

Before the palace proper a fortification is erected which completely surrounds the castle.  Consisting of thick walls and high battlements, armored warriors patrol to and fro along the ramparts.

Had the carriage not been veiled, it would be possible to behold the “Jewel of the winter”, so magnificent was it.  Pure crystalline in appearance, the palace is huge; many towered with the main tower several times thicker than the rest jutting out at the center of the entire structure.

In anticipation of the coach, the gates were hoisted open by a host of guards a few hundred meters ahead so that the carriage would pass through without pause.  As the coach rumbled through, the walruses snapped at the soldiers who stood left and right to line a path for the coach to roll along precisely.

The coach halted some distance from the main entrance to the palace proper.  Wyl shook his friends awake.  They awoke grudgingly and groggily, rubbing their eyes and wishing that the journey were for much longer and not as in Wyl’s words; “a hundred miles or so”.

But for the blind swordsman it was different.  Kojiro roused to a sitting position, instantly alert.  The switch from the status of sleep to wakefulness is akin to that of a cat. Even Wyl was a bit unnerved.

Coachman Gustav lifted the curtains and opened the door for the passengers to alight.  Into the light and outdoors again, Wyl and friends stretched aching limbs and looked in wonder at the double lines of black clad warriors at their left and right.  Koan thanked the coachman who turned the brim of the hat over his eyes in acknowledgment and then went round once again to leap into the driver’s seat.

As Gustav started the walruses to move again, he slowly maneuvered them into the wall of soldiers who in turn make way in a disciplined break for the coach to pass.  The large animals snapped at the soldiers nearest to them as they dragged heavily along.  After Gustav has passed cleanly through the soldiers reassembled to their original positions.  Cleared of the coach, they stepped two steps closer as if to hem in the companions.  There is only one direction for them to go, forward.

Squeezed between two walls of obsidian armor and bristling spears, the companions make their way cautiously forward; one eye ahead and one eye on the soldiers surrounding them.  The ever-looming crystal palace beckons to them.

They initially traveled in a straight line, then meandered once left, then right, then straight again.  After this the lines of soldiers ended and they stood before the over arching door entrance to Hel’s palace.

Delicate patterns were inscribed on the giant crystal door; surprisingly enough they are not designed to be overwhelming.

Suddenly the doors burst open.  A female in the uniform of a Dutch maid ran delicately down the stairs clasping a plethora to her chest.  Behind her four maids followed, each clutching a cup.

The first maid stopped in front of Wyl and friends and poured clear sparkling water into the cups held by the maids who stood in a straight line behind.

Apparently unbothered by the nakedness of most of the companions, the lead maid stepped forward.

“Drink ye the waters from the spring of time, the best ever substitute for the waters of life itself.”  She said.

Wyl bade his charges to step forward and take the cups.  They examined the tall porcelain cups and the water in it.  They looked to each other as if to seek reassurances from themselves before putting it to their lips and draining it.

The water was much cooler than they anticipated!  As the water gushed down their throats they could feel the cold permeating their bones.  They could not stop drinking even when they tried.  Finally the cups are drained.

The maids stepped forward to retrieve the cups out of their hands and returned to their former positions.

Suddenly, as one the four doubled over and vomited out many creepy crawlies; spiders, scorpions, centipedes and lots and lots of red worms.  At this all the maids dashed forward to trample the lot into disgusting mush.

After the four were sufficiently recovered, the lead maid announced herself.

“Persephone at your service, now your physique has been reverted to when you were still new and fresh regarding the horrors of hell. For the humans, it is as if you were only recently dead and as for you (referring to Jorgenphats), you were still one of the Virtues until mere moments ago.

“I officially welcome you to the “Jewel of the Winter”, we must make haste, our mistress Lady Hel wishes to see you.”

Persephone’s underling maids stepped to the sides while with one hand she beckoned Wyl and friends towards the main entrance whose doors slowly opened as if magically.

Persephone then curtsied slightly and backed away to the side, making more room for the party to pass.

Their shoulders feel much lighter and there is even a glide in their stride as they walk side by side together.  Wyl followed behind as all entered into Hel’s palace proper.  Behind the lesser maids rush to and fro to clean up the mess with short portable brooms and dustpans seized from their pockets.

The place is absolutely gorgeous; oil paintings depicting fantastic landscapes of every climate and portraits of unknown personages dot every corner of the main chamber.  Many doors line both sides of the chamber leading to unknown locations.  The material of the walls though of an ice-blue hue, does not seem to be icy in essence by neither texture nor temperature.

Persephone quickly overtook the lot and lifts an arm to indicate the correct direction to take.

They walked in that direction, along a tight and narrow corridor and came upon a raised platform.  They climbed atop it as per Persephone’s instruction.

A sudden lurch, the platform rose propelled by a rushing geyser of steaming water.  Everyone could see the corridors of the respective levels rushing past as the platform climbed higher.

The elevator eventually slowed to a stop and everyone got off and proceeded in the direction from whence they came until they came to a great door with two huge griffons painted on it.

The door cracked open revealing a red carpet spreading forward and a wave of commotion washed over the senses of the six.  The vaulted ceiling is so high one is able to stretch their neck fully before being able to glimpse the roof.

Inside countless individuals in period and garnish costumes turned around and stared at the newcomers, and their mutterings became even louder.

Beckoning them in, Persephone stood behind by the doorway and did not follow them.

As Wyl and friends walked on the red carpet between the throng of nobles, they could get a closer look at the outrageous apparel of the underworld’s elite.

There were mainly flamingo pink, and rainbow multi-colored suits, tunics and dresses.  Some females are so underdressed they might as well be naked.   Many of the ladies held pale handled masks to veil their faces.  Some of the gentlemen are clad in a full set of plate armor complete with greatswords strapped behind their backs.  At the front, in the middle of it all sat a magnificent female figure on a golden throne, which in turn is on top of a raised dais.  The woman was dressed in an ethereal white robe; full flowing purple hair ran over both delicate shoulders.  Topping her head is a glittering tiara studded with jasper and carnelian.

The muffled conversations became rather loud in their ears as the companions make their way forward.  At this time Kojiro hobbled quickly forward, using his cane as a supplementary third limb.  The hushed whispers quickly gave way to open guffaws and outright laughter!

They paused before the high throne.  The emerald green eyes of Hel went over Wyl and Co once and twice.  All looked downwards at their feet, her eyes convey the coldness of said precious stone, oh so very cold…

The queen lifted her hand in a sudden motion.

“We have waited long enough for the ones who would proceed to overturn the order of things and shame those beings who presume the ownership of all things.  To celebrate as well as to represent a precursor, this day we feast like kings!”

The nobles behind raised their fists and cheered aloud.

Hel lifted a palm for silence and waved her hand to encompass Wyl and friends.

“You will have the honor of sharing the feast with us. (Smiles)  Be of good cheer, anyone of those behind you would rape their mothers to occupy your seats.”

Judas jerked his head up and then immediately put it down again.  Hel did not appear to notice, she snapped her fingers and the nobles behind started to turn and stream out the audience chamber in double files.

Queen Hel stood and disappeared in the curtains behind the throne.  Seemingly out of nowhere Persephone is beside the five companions again.  She bade them follow as part of the streaming mass towards their next destination.

A long queue ensued as the nobles waited for their turn to ride the platform to a lower level.  When our companions have their turn, they are cramped tight against heaving bodies and they could hardly move.  Jorgenphats squeezed between two females and seemed to be strangely satisfied.

There was some discomfort as the platform descended but when it stopped; it is before an area much more open than the narrow corridors.  Everyone is able to step down with more freedom of movement.

They stood before a banquet hall shielded by a wall of folding doors.  Maids stood at attention before the doors.

While waiting, the nobles stood in their own separate clusters of acquaintances to converse among themselves.  Persephone hastily rushed forward before the doors.

At a gesture from the chief maid, the maids propped the doors open and everyone entered slowly in an untidy mass.

A large triple-layer chandelier dominated the ceiling, hanging below a great dome inset with jewellery and mosaic scenes depicting mischievous satyrs, playful pixies and busty females indulging in ample feasts and delights.

Our companions were led by Persephone to a circular table covered with a white cloth and laid with plates, cups and cutlery.  They pulled out the chairs and sat on them.  Persephone as well took a seat between Kojiro and Judas.  She would feast with her current charges (that is a perk), though her primary task is to assist Kojiro in putting food on his plate after he was finished his helpings.

When even the nobles have taken their places, all they could do is sip the wines or beverages and stare at each other while waiting for the food.

Queen Hel appeared, and she advanced gracefully to the front of the banquet hall amidst great cheering, towards a rectangular table exclusively reserved for her with an ornate chair behind.  Thus the courses are allowed to be served, including a miniature version of the items for the palace’s mistress.

The first course is fried imperial bees steeped in their own honey.

The second course is steamed fish, the type our friends saw during their trek across the frozen lake.

The third course is a multitude of springy long things which Koan and Judas are convinced are worms and could swear are moving.  Kojiro though slurped them in with gusto.

The fourth course is drunken prawns served live.  The prawns are boiled alive in hot wine and Jorgenphats finds it fun to poke the critters around with his fork while they are struggling in the liquid.  Persephone for that matter peels the shells off the prawns for Kojiro when they are ready to be eaten.

The fifth course is rabbit in cranberry sauce.  Everyone is enjoying the meal immensely, even Judas, though at least three of the items so far are considered not kosher (unclean) for his culture.

In this special dining experience, Wyl answers any questions Koan, Judas and Jorgenphats have to the best of his ability.

Chapter 9

Wyl was born in a politically insecure and volatile climate, where princes betray their fathers and solicit aid from mercenaries in the form of military support for their rebellions.

These are perilous times indeed for common folk, but a prosperous time for men of fortune for Wyl is one such sellsword.

Joining his comrades, he fought for gold and glory, and saw entire nations razed to the ground.  His service under Hel started when he received a mortal wound during one intense raid.  As he lay dying, his soul floated in darkness but Persephone the chief maid, holding a lamp in the midst of the blackness met him.  She told Wyl of his impending destiny in Hell and offered a relatively better alternative of serving under Niflheim.  As a bonus his mortal life would also be restored.

Wyl agreed and he awoke fully restored to continue his lifestyle of slaying and carousing.  This went on for many years until one day a nobleman came in private during the dark of night to pour heaps of gold at the feet of Wyl’s mercenary company.

The nobleman wanted the men to turn their blades against his ally so that he may take the city by this act of treachery.  The mercenaries agreed to the plan and what followed was three days of massacre, torture and rape.  In the end everyone in that city was slaughtered, no one was left. No one.

This is too much and even his hardened conscience pricked him day and night without fail.  Yet he knew that he was not entirely blameless.  So one day he sneaked away from his company and wished for some way to redeem himself.  But it was not to be for while traveling in snowy country, he was buried under an avalanche and from hence he was a guard in the “Jewel of Winter” ever since.  Until now, when he was selected to escort his current charges to the City of Peace and thereafter enter himself as well therein.  And that was Wyl’s story.

***

Kojiro kept mum and concentrated on eating his food, for he did not intend to disclose his origins.  His wishes are respected and he was not pressed.

The sixth course was served and this starts to get disturbing.  A roasted humanoid creature is presented on a large oval plate.  Koan and Judas leaned forward and stared in horror and suspicion.  The cooked creature seems bipedal and is definitely female in anatomy.  They looked at the other tables and saw the nobles tearing enthusiastically with their hands and then biting with pleasured mouthfuls.  The tearing of flesh caused both men to cringe and Judas took his napkin and wiped his forehead.

Hel serves as a worse example; being served a fetal version of the creature, all cut up for easy handling with fork.  Judas and Koan sunk back to their chairs, closing their eyes to the horrible sight.  Wyl, Persephone and obviously Jorgenphats tucked in without hesitation and of course Kojiro ate whatever is put in front of him.

When the latest course is finally cleared, the two men retching in disgust slowly relaxed.  Dessert was served, consisting of some yellow fruit pudding followed by a full bucket of red fruits perhaps to serve as a parody of the fruits of Eden.

“Well,” Persephone chipped in after the last bowls and plates are cleared.  “The tables and chairs will now be cleared and everyone is given the option to dance with their partners to the tune of the musicians under Mistress Hel’s scrutiny and discretion.”  Soon enough, some males in formal apparel not necessarily human came by the front of Hel’s table lugging suitcases from which they took out lutes, violins and clarinets.  The musicians played a boisterous tune which most of the lords and ladies shook their heads or beat their thighs in tune with the beat.

Koan, Judas and Kojiro shook their heads together, indicating that they do not wish to join in the revelry.

“Of course, you are very tired and find it a tad too tedious to engage in a distraction so vain.  Ahem, I am sure my Mistress would excuse us.  Come along then.”

Persephone stood up and directed the companions towards the back of the hall.  Everyone seated raised crystal glasses in salute as they make their way out.

When they are outside and closed off from the music in the banquet hall, the companions are visibly relieved.  They did not grumble when they are requested once again to step onto the moving platform.

“So, how was your trip here?”  Persephone asked casually and good naturedly as the improvised elevator started to descend.

The companions were silent to the question save for Wyl who answered for them.

“Oh, it was pleasant enough, thanks for asking.”

“Indeed, I am glad. (Smiles)”

Koan rolled his eyes upward and shook his head.

***

The platform stopped at the bottommost basement and they faced a large private chamber with a concave ceiling and filled with many amenities.  A wide sofa sat at the centre of the space, flanked by multiple queen size beds, five in total. Closets and cabinets as well dotted the walls.  Stairs led upwards at the back to a bar, kitchen and Jacuzzi.  Like most of the palace, except for the carpeted floor, the entire surface is marble.

“I trust that you find the accommodation of the guest house for distinguished personages to be sufficient, you may want to know that there’s a fridge by the bar.  If you need anything…”

Koan and Judas were already lying on individual beds, staring at the ceiling with ease and contented faces.  Jorgenphats for that matter is rolling around on his selected bed, wallowing in pleasure.  Wyl and Kojiro, evidently more self-disciplined sat on the sofa and listened to Persephone.

As she was talking, the platform behind jerked and rumbled upwards and the companions could see the crystalline water pushing the lift up.

Persephone began to give a verbal dissertation on the two main towers of Hel’s palace and the facilities within.

“There is a library, though obviously you are quite short on time.  Perhaps you would like to see the museum for the oddities of the mortal world, no?  And of course if you are looking for some excitement, there is the entertainment tower to consider.  You can watch satiric plays, listen to musicians perform pieces by classical composers or if you would prefer something more discreet… ”

Even Jorgenphats blushed deeply at Persephone’s description of the decadent delights available.

The platform returned to the basement carrying ten maids who are holding weapons, light armor and neatly folded clothing.  Those lying down on beds got up and took a closer look.

“The remainder of your journey will be very perilous.  Our sources have done adequate research on your bios and I am pleased to present these custom gifts.”

Kojiro came forward traded his cane-sword in for another weapon, and is it so exquisite. The katana named Chirijiaden has a blade that is exceedingly sharp, shiny and flawless, inscribed with the kanji characters “ITTO NI FUSU KISHIN”.  A hilt wrapped in striped succubi skin and a mother-of-pearl pommel supports the blade.  The katana is to be sheathed in a finely lacquered scabbard.

Kojiro’s disgusting excuse for apparel was discarded and exchanged for the highly coveted Robe of Lords.  A full, form fitting green Chinese robe with purple sash at the waist and swirling dragons at the chest.

“Judas Iscariot of the Zealots, for your Lord you were paid 30 pieces of silver, yet in the end you rejected the payment and sought penance by forfeiting your own life and spilling your own lifeblood.  Still Heaven has deemed you unworthy to be washed by the Blood, but whether it is also how the Lord of Heaven views you still remain to be said.  Even so, one thing you do know, from this day forth you will wield the Blood of Christ personally and literally.”

Persephone presented a spear with a blood red tip to Judas.  Unlike the other artifacts, the weapon looks dull and mundane.

“The spear of Longinus, sanctified by the Blood of Christ after being thrust into His side.  May you purify those who sought to stand against ye, whatever their kind.”

The blessed lance was largely unmodified, except that the shaft is wrapped in the silky skins of flayed succubi, which renders the handle of the lance to be highly touchable.

Running his hand back and forth along the spear shaft, Judas could have sighed in pleasure until he caught Jorgenphats staring at him with wide eyes.  The man hurriedly put the spear away, lifted his eyes to the roof and whistled to himself.

Judas looked in another direction… and bounced right into the penetrative white orbs of Kojiro.  He walked away as his face quickly reddened.  Then by the back, he slowly turned around, and discovered that Kojiro’s eyes were still trained on him whereas Jorgenphats has already given up and now focusing his interest on his gifts which are to be given him.  So what is the man’s problem?

As for Jorgenphats, he got dual daggers with blades forged of the rare material orichalcum and a shadow suit made famous by the Koga Ninja clan.  Now designed both wider and shorter to fit the demon.

Koan received a cerulean longbow aptly named “Blue Gale”.  The prized bow of the elegant elves of Arvandor, the string twanged with a sound almost musical when plucked.  Of course a bow requires arrows and so he is provided with a magical quiver in which the arrows never run out.  He could shoot forever if need be.

Wyl has to personally go and procure his personal equipment on another level of the palace since they are too heavy for the maids to carry and besides guards of the palace are expected to report to the quartermaster for everything they should require.

Koan and Judas are given silk tunics interlaced with Mythrill for added protection.  In addition everyone currently present here got soft and durable boots incidentally constructed of the same material comprising the shaft of Longinus and Chirijiaden’s hilt.  Now Judas has something else to fondle when he feels lonely.  Ha ha!

Everyone scrambled to consolidate their personal items and either put them in the cupboards or wardrobes.  The bigger stuff are stacked as neatly as possible along the walls.  When they have finished, the four returned to their beds or sofa and faced Persephone again who continued her briefing.

“Regrettably, the items given you are unable to convey you to your true destination, you must make another journey though I would prefer that all of you are present before speaking more.”

Behind Persephone the elevator came down again and Wyl stepped down.  Now clad in glistening Starguard armor; a full plate forged of adamantine and imbued with the essence of the cosmos.  Strapped to his back is the legendary greatsword Catalborg; tempered by fairies and blessed with awesome enchantments.

“Ah, master Wylfred, as usual your timing is impeccable.  Kindly take a seat please.”

Wyl stepped to the far side of the room and stripped off his armor to only a loincloth. He let his equipment drop to the floor.  The resultant noise though loud, indicates that the warrior’s stuffs are much lighter than expected.

The chief maid beckoned Koan forward and presented to him a rolled up parchment paper and bracelet with both hands.

“Koan, hunter of the hinterlands, in addition to Blue Gale my mistress has bestowed on you a gift more precious than the might of the most powerful of weapons, the gift of knowledge.”

She unrolled the paper and revealed it to be a map depicting a detailed rendering of Hel’s domain.  Koan eye could make out mountain ranges, snowy plains, icy lakes and narrow valleys represented as landmarks.  Hel’s palace is right smack in the middle of the map, placed on wide tundra. Above the land of snow is a vast area colored in drape gray.  A monument of stones is stickered in the middle of the gray area. An ‘X’ marks the spot near the edge of the gray area, incidentally also the edge of the map.   Strangely there’s no compass imprinted on the map.

As Koan was studying the layout Persephone inserted the proffered bracelet onto his wrist.  Immediately a circle began to glow on the small image denoting Hel’s palace.

“Now you are linked to the map as long you have the bracelet on.  See the shining circle?  This indicates your current position.  As you start the next stage of your quest from here. The circle will shift according to every step you take, making it easy to find your way here (Points to the ‘X’). You and your friends will trek there on foot… trust me the distance is much shorter than it looks for your undertaking of this endeavor has been planned in advance for many centuries.  This map and bracelet is developed exclusively for your use so you can be assured that the scale of this map is rather small indeed.  Now, regarding when you reach that point on the map: there you will find the Armaments of Infinity; a suit of terrifying power.  You (placing a hand on Koan’s shoulder) are to wear it for it is the key to freedom for you and yours.  I am sorry but that’s all I can say.”

Stepping back to the middle of her underling maids, Persephone gave a deep bow.

“What you need has been supplied insofar as we are able to provide, I pray thee to be able to savor the fruits of thy labors.  I take my leave of you now.  My maids will stay behind to tidy up your chambers and assist with any inquires.”

Persephone took the elevator platform and the half naked Wyl left with her on some private business.

The maids conducted their duties in silence and efficiency; arranging the companions’ equipment in an orderly manner to the side, tidying the wardrobe (the companions are wearing homely singlets for the duration of their stay).

Approaching one of the maids, Koan, Judas and Jorgenphats displayed interest to visit the museum exhibition whereas Kojiro made it clear that he wishes to be in solitude.

When he was certain that his companions have sufficiently gone away, Kojiro got up and pulled one of the maids over and whispered into her ear.  Later they set off; the intended destination is the Entertainment tower.

***

Koan, Judas, Jorgenphats and the maid entered beneath the archway entrance of the museum.  A soldier in black armor acting as both guard and receptionist stood by the entrance and nodded at the visitors.

He scribbled something on a pad and then beckoned them to enter.  The three curious beings looked around in wonder at the curious statutes of weird and bestial gods and floating ships pined in place by iron ropes.

They stopped before an exhibit; a polished rectangular glass display enormous enough to fill an entire room. Across the surface are what seemed to be numerous alien blobs.

“Now, here you can see all the little invisible organisms so myriad in the mortal world, all are in one way or the other harmful to humans.  Bacteria, viruses, cancers. When I say harmful I mean usually fatal.”  Their guide said in a passive and detached tone.

The specimens are all magnified by screens, some of which nearly half a mile across.

“Some of these are more than a million years old and are ancestors of many of the ailments in the living world.  Hell has missed a lot, you know by not having diseases of its own.”

Everyone stared dumbly at the maid.

Continuing on, they came to the parts of the exhibit which are more organic.  They saw giant Venus Flytraps, pitcher plants and a 40 foot long branch supposedly from the world tree Yggdrasil.  Here was a variety of creatures which could change shape or colour at will.  The creatures were allowed space of its own in which its environment had been recreated in admirable detail.  Most were primitive giant chameleons but there are several true humanoid doppelgangers.  As the lot passed by, these things changed shape, mimicking crudely or perfectly either Koan, Judas, Jorgenphats and the maid.   Some changed shape so swiftly from one person to the next that everyone began to feel quite strange.

“Now I present to you the star of our exhibition and perhaps the most amusing and sad example.  I present Charlemagne, former emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (ahem).  He thinks this is a mistake and he is actually in Heaven, but just as well we have striven to accommodate him as far as we are able.”

The said emperor was in an environment of lush grass and soft light in which stood an enormous chair to be likened to a throne.  On it sat a handsome, redfaced individual dressed in a rather strange yellow garment which is belted tightly at the waist and had a collar turned up to shade the face.  In one hand was a chalice of dark liquid on which floated a frothy, yellow beverage.  The man raised the chalice frequently to his lips and drained it, whereupon it instantly filled again, to the man’s smiling delight.  He sang all the time, too.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:The Lord God made them all.

At other times though, he lowered his head and wept.

“He can be so sad, he laughs, drinks and sings, but the sadness fills him.  He still hopes to see the face of whom he purports to serve.  Considering his reputation I find this so funny.  He is one of my favourites.”

On the way back, they passed by an aquarium and Judas paused to look at it.  The waters of the enormous tank swirl and churn before revealing a merman with a fish tail where its feet should be.  The creature leaned its gray-green face against the glass though it made no attempt at communication.  It darted away as soon as Judas tried to approach.  In a flash the merman was replaced by something with wide eyes and huge teeth.  The man recoiled and hurriedly turned to join his friends.

Chapter 10

They returned to the guest chamber and saw the maids replacing the bed sheets and Wyl preparing the Jacuzzi.  The former museum guide excused herself and took her place with the other maids cleaning the place up.

At Wyl’s invitation, they joined him in the Jacuzzi.  When asked about the whereabouts of Kojiro, he only shook his head and smiled as he tossed bottles of juice to each of his friends.

As they were toweling off the water when they were finished, the platform clicked to a stop at their level and on it was Kojiro, clean, happy and refreshed.

When they found out how he’d spend the time, they began to look at him with new eyes, not all admiring.  The Yamato swordsman was largely unconcerned on how he was perceived by his companions.  Instead his sightless eyes bored straight into Judas’s own every step of the way.

Judas fumed inwardly.  That lout has admitted that he took a handful of the maids all at once and yet he is still so interested of me caressing the spear?…

 

Realizing that he has judged the blind man harshly, Judas began to feel very much guilty and ashamed inside, so much so his face began to visibly redden.  Mercifully Kojiro averted his gaze the moment Judas blushed.

Sensing the discomfort and tension in the air, Wyl clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention and stated that it is time for a “special” event.

Wyl handed each of his friends a thick blanket according to his size, Kojiro was also given a headphone contraption and was helped to put it on.  Wyl pushed a switch and plunged the room into complete darkness.

They sat down on their beds which are spread evenly apart.

Just as some began to question the blackness, an amazing sight materialized on the ceiling and stopped them cold.  They saw the ocean of stars clamped together in deep space, as plentiful as the sands of the seashore twinkling and never ending.  The scene rotated slowly to reveal more stars, filling the range of sight from end to end.  Kojiro as well is beholding the same vision; the contraption he wore transferring the image to his mind.

The stars gradually faded and galaxies appeared; less packed together than the stars but more myriad, imposing and vibrant.  The scene centred on one spiraling galaxy and approached it slowly.  As it zoomed in, they saw that the galaxy is made up with countless stars and the scene as well focused on one particular star and went slowly up to it.

That star became a big globe of yellow fire surrounded by rotating balls of various sizes.  Now the scene is switching its attention to one of the balls moving around the star; a globe of deep blue, brown and white.  They saw the globe coming up to them slowly till all they could see are wisps of white quite alike to pillow feathers.

The whiteness is penetrated and they saw the top of the Amazon rainforests; a lush ocean of green stretching everywhere.  And it is this green that seems to be rushing swiftly to their faces.  They entered the greenery and saw the giant barks, clinging vines and deep roots, all shrouded in deep shadows.  The scene halted and turned fully around and they could see the underside of the trees.

They saw the dance of the leaf blades, and the flickers and pinpricks of sunlight between the leaf spaces according to the play of the wind.  This gives them a peace they are not able to comprehend and to attempt to do so would spoil the mood entirely.

Then the scene shifted to the majestic panorama of metallic silver skyscrapers of myriad shapes conventional and unconventional covering the cityscape from end to end.  Hovering vehicles large and small zoomed along at all levels of the buildings.

The view zoomed in slowly to one of the taller buildings, revealing it to be a gigantic clock tower.  All stared in open-mouthed awe at the enormous clock hands as they tick-tock one circuit after another.

The scene zoomed out in a sudden rapid pace and stops abruptly.  All could see the open sea before the great city lapping its waves along the edge of the metallic island.  On the sea itself is a pedestal and on it stood the gray-green statue of a woman wearing a spiked crown clutching a book across her chest and holding a torch on high.

“Lady Liberty looks good, yes?”  The strong voice of Wyl snapped his friends out of their viewing trance.

“Ah,” Wyl appears to stare at something imaginary as he reminisces, “That is part of one vast empire supposedly doomed to destruction hundreds of years before what you see now.  By the lords and ladies of Heaven and sanctioned with a decree of the Divine Father, no less!  But, as you can see, more than 200 years has passed and it is still very much intact!”

“Do you know why?”  Wyl looked here and there, encompassing his companions’ faces as if he expected the answer from one of them.

“The Lord of Shanalorn, that’s what, I tell ye.  Stood in their way and repel the armies of both Heaven and Hell in a series of epic battles and smaller skirmishes.  Thwarting the will of Heaven, you say?  Hmm on one perspective it might seem so but on another, methinks that the Almighty is so pestered by the calls for judgments by his childish subjects that He gives them what they want.  But (holding up a finger) what He actually wants may be something else.”

Wyl looked around with conspiratorial eyes as he mouthed the word “Shanalorn” silently and then winked at Judas.

Noting the former disciple’s (Judas) uneasiness, Wyl laughed heartily and continued.

“Pah!  Extending the lifespan of a temporal empire by a few centuries is nothing compared to what we are attempting now, souls condemned to eternal suffering to escape to another realm so that they may live in eternal bliss and pleasure.”

Once again he regarded his companions’ faces one after the other but with a much lighthearted expression.

The scene above them has dissolved into the view of the night sky above the desert at midnight.

Below the stars; each delighting and precious as a diamond, they slept huddled under blankets and dreamt sweet dreams.

When they are fully rested and able to wake, the companions took their time preparing themselves for the next stage of their quest.

They shaved (Judas did not shave, not exactly but he did trim his beard neatly.)  They washed their faces and used mouthwash.  They did not cut their hair but still the amount of facial hair they leave behind on the floor after their grooming is quite substantial, but not to worry the maids are here to do their job.

While the maids are cleaning up, the companions relaxed themselves in the Jacuzzi.  After a long time, they finally came out of the tub and breakfasted on the large circular kitchen table.  They had milk, curry bread and half-boiled eggs sunny side up.

After that, they leave the dinner table and do some stretching, on lead by Wyl.  During the session, Jorgenphats demonstrated that he is much more flexible and dexterous than could be told by his bulk, much to the surprise of his companions.  They looked on in obvious admiration as the demon placed both hands effortlessly on the floor while maintaining a standing position.

They finally change into the new gear generously provided by their hostess and my, what a sight.

Wyl looking absolutely formidable in his sparkling full plate with greatsword strapped to his back, Both Koan and Judas looked like brotherly aristocrats in their fitting tunics, Jorgenphats seemed to have put on a second skin in his shadow garb, perfect for concealing his twin daggers.  Last but not least, Kojiro now looks the epitome of the noble swordsman in his gaudy dragon robe.

Persephone came down on the platform, and Wyl nodded at her to let her know that they are ready to leave.

When Persephone got a good look at the companions, she put a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp.

“Oh masters, how dashing you look!”  She took a closer inspection of their apparel and their weapons.  “Indeed I pity your enemies.”

On their way out, the companions were issued by the scowling quartermaster simple leather backpacks, containing supplies that include tent flaps, folded sleeping bags, nail pegs, water canteens and rations.

The companions left amidst great clamor and fanfare.  They may be mocked and despised due to their looks when first they arrived.  But now, as they are leaving they are openly admired after their makeover.

In stark contrast to the sad conditions when they first set foot in Hel’s palace, now the companions are fully decked out with formidable enchanted and blessed equipment, ready to take on an entire army.

As the gates thumped close behind them, drowning out the loud cheers of the aristocrats and soldiers, more than one breathed a sigh of relief as the cacophony of the voices and other noises were abruptly cut off.

Koan unfurled his map and traced an imaginary line from here to their intended destination. The glowing circle that initially straddles Hel’s palace has protruded slightly northeast.  After walking around in multi directions for a bit, he ventured in the direction he deems best and his friends followed him. Now it is Koan instead of Wyl who is in the lead.

They make steady and constant progress.  Now with Koan as their guide and his enchanted map that updated his progress step by step, they need not fear getting sidetracked or wandering around in circles.  Still they need to be mindful of obstacles in their immediate path.  Especially the map reader, not to be so engrossed at how fast the circle is moving towards the ‘X’ spot that he forgot to take note of the actual environment.

Stray rocks and outcroppings mostly, the things in their way.  Except the chasms that rip into the ground occasionally ahead of them against which they need to be extra careful lest they fall inside and drop forever.  Still the obstacles are not very intrusive and they are able to make good time.

The glowing circle has just entered the gray part of the map and indeed the surroundings changes to reflect that.  The pure white of the tundra and the skies gradually gave way to the dusty hue of the ash.

Stepping forward, they found that the texture of the ground beneath their feet has changed to a more solid and unforgiving surface and kicking up wafts of dust with every step.  At the sky above the dust clouds are swirling about randomly and it is all empty and lifeless everywhere in the companions’ line of sight.

Their spirits are good for they are satisfied with the journey thus far and so they marched on with gigantic mirth.

***

Back in Jewel of the Winter

Persephone found Mistress Hel sitting alone in the audience chamber on her throne in silent reflection.

“Mmm…”

“Is everything all right, Majesty?”

“No,” Hel looked up into Persephone’s eyes and smiled, “everything is perfect; I have already sent a scrying message to the angels on the movement of our guests.  Now I merely need sit back and prepare to be delighted.”

The queen laughs; a throaty, musical sound that echoes throughout the chamber.

Chapter 11

 

 

They decided to make camp on a mound, which is in the middle of a circle of Stonehenge-sized rocks.  Too intricately arranged to be a work of nature, who erected them and why remains a mystery to this day.

After they set up camp, Wyl took out a piece of stick and lit one end of it alight.  He jabbed the stick into the ground.  The duration of the first watch would be till the stick’s complete burnout.

Everyone deems it a more prudent option to rest without changing attire, even Wyl is willing to sleep in full armor since he is quite used to such minor discomforts already.

Indeed to everyone’s amazement after taking off his helmet, the warrior snored healthily a few moments after hitting the ground.

Judas and Kojiro took the first watch.

About two hours later when the stick has completely burned to the ground, another stick was planted and Wyl and Koan took second watch.  They would continue the journey after this watch.

Scarcely fifteen minutes into his watch when Koan’s sharp eye glimpsed a cluster of dust kicked up in the distance and the dust trails grew steadily onward.   He squints and focused,  until at last he could make out warrior angels on white steeds galloping in on their current position.  Koan informed his partner of it.

Alarmed, Wyl dashed into the tent and called everyone awake.  They groaned initially but shook off their stupor and clutched their weapons instinctively when they knew of what Wyl saw.  However there is something else…

To everyone’s surprise Kojiro is still in deep sleep!  Everyone took turns shaking him up but they could only interrupt his snores for a little moment and the sleeping man merely turned in the other direction and slept on.

In frustration Wyl ripped the tent free from the pegs and flung the covers up and over.  This action confirmed the companions’ location to the angels who pointed at the flung canopy of the tent.

Despite the commotion, sudden shift in illumination and the distant galloping of the approaching enemies, Kojiro remained oblivious to or chose to plainly ignore it all.

Shaking his head in rage and resignation, he turned quickly away to resist the impulse to kick the man hard in the back.  He gestured his other companions to hide themselves among the rocks and await the inevitable coming of the angels.

Judas stood behind a column of rock and hefted Longinus on his hands, licking his lips.  Jorgenphats stood behind him gripping his twin daggers tight, expression both grim and serious.  Koan stood further aback, behind another man-height rock, notching an arrow to his longbow.

However the three seemed to have lost track and sight of Wyl, who has positioned himself somewhere out of sight in the maze of rocks.

They have no time to ponder it now for the angels are at the front of the circle of rocks.  The lead angel rears his horse and raises his sword in triumph while those behind buzzed past him on either side and charged in one after the other.

Now Wyl could be seen by his companions, running between rocks in a blur before disappearing out of sight again.

The angels are riding in deep now when suddenly Wyl emerged from cover behind a large boulder and cut an angel from his horse with a savage slash.

The angel directly behind Wyl’s first victim saw his comrade cut down but was too late to stop his horse.  Wyl sought to deal with him as he did the first but the angel fell voluntarily from his horse and Wyl’s blow went wide.

However before the angel is able to recover from the drop, Wyl charged in and impaled him.

Holding up Catalborg, Wyl continued slashing and chopping as the angels rode by, though he did not succeed in bringing down any for the time being.

One rider charged directly at Wyl. Too fast to use his blade against the armored warrior, so instead he caused the body of his horse to crash against Wyl who as a result lost his balance and fell, his sword flying out of his hands.

The angel paused to swing his horse around to finish off Wyl but at this time Judas bravely came forward from behind and thrust Longinus into his back.

The angel fell with a shocked cry and Judas faced the riders and challenged them with fierce eyes.

His challenge was met by one angel.  Judas was agile and twisted out of the rider’s path and then skillfully poked spear at his side.  The angel fell from his horse but was not fully out of commission.  Judas then came on and thrust Longinus downwards into his enemy’s sternum with the strength and confidence of a seasoned veteran.

Wyl is now up and running for his sword and an angel sought to ride him down.  Wyl reached his sword, grabbed it and chopped behind, gutting the angel just as he raised his own sword to cut down.

Back to Judas, he crouched slightly, timing the approach of one rider.  Then he sprang with spear out, taking the angel in the stomach and off his horse.

As another rider charged Wyl, he did not seek to strike at the angel.  Instead he bent and cut the hooves out from under the horse.  The animal collapsed, throwing the angel forward roughly to the ground with a crack.  He did not move again.

Enraged by the deaths of their comrades, the other angels wheel their horses about to pursue Wyl.

Wyl ran in between the rocks to try to shake off his pursuers.  Still one angel got a bead on him and rode in with sword held high.  Wyl stood his ground and prepare to engage.  Unexpectedly Judas came out at this time from around a rock and took the angel down from behind.

Laughing to each other, Wyl and Judas soon lost themselves in the maze of rocks, to the frustration of the angels.

At this time, some angels spotted the sleeping form of Kojiro on top of the mound.  They rode up, expecting a free kill.

Aye, free kill it is, but not what the angels expected. For the mound is an open area and therefore easier for an archer to acquire his target.

Koan let fly an arrow which entered the chest of an angel with a ‘thonk’.  The angel fell and rolled down the mound.  Before the angel’s comrade knew what happened, Koan shot him down as well so that he followed his fallen comrade rolling down the small hill.

The other riders pointed at Koan and they rode down towards him.  Now Jorgenphats make his appearance by leaping out from behind a rock and landing right on the saddle behind an angel on his horse.  The demon held both daggers wide and jabbed them repeatedly into the angel’s side who grimaced due to the horrible pain.  Jorgenphats threw the angel sideways off his horse but his hands were caught by the harness of the horse, causing him to lose balance and fall along with the angel he had just slain.

The other two angels distracted by Jorgenphats’s attack become easy pickings for Koan and Judas who came together in a pincer attack.

Judas came forward, over Jorgenphats who was still lying on the ground after his fall.  The demon struggled in vain to get up since for some unknown reason he was racked with a sudden burst of mirth and giggling nonstop.  His attempts to come to his feet only caused him to roll back and forth on his head and feet.

Judas helped Jorgenphats to his feet.  Smiling the man asked of Jorgenphats.

“So how’re we doing?”

“(Still giggling) I… killed him with my daggers.”

Judas slapped the demon’s back, causing him to stagger.

The angels, knowing that they are bested, are in full retreat.  Jorgenphats pointed at their fleeing backs and jeered openly while at his back Koan and Judas raised their weapons and issued their own laughing taunts.

Wyl finally joined them, wearily dragging Catalborg along the ground as he walked towards them.  His friends could sense his smile at their efforts behind the full helm.

A ear-splitting bellow snapped them out of their celebrations of victory.  They looked out and about in apprehension to try to discover the source of the roar.  Unnoticed behind them on the mound, Kojiro sat up and rubbed his eyes.

Two hell champions stand side by side in the midst of the stones.  One a great horned monster with skin the texture and hue of gnarled ironbark and the other a delicate, fully nude female devil with normal looks except a complexion vexed with boils and a perpetually malicious facial expression.

Both hell champions knew the severity of their mission; the previous goat-headed and obviously vacant headed hell champion has been sentenced to boil in a cauldron of fire for five hundred years due to his non-performance.

From the she-devil’s wide hips, numerous reptilian balls continuously spurted out of her loins.  These balls unwrap to become aggressive lizard-like creatures with heads comprising only of wide mouths with circular rows of pointy teeth.

A horde of these creatures beared down swiftly on our companions and their numbers are increasing by the second.

With great swings of his greatsword, Wyl reduced many of the critters to goo and scythed down many more.  Koan contributed as much as he could by firing rapidly into the teeming and heaving mass of lizard creatures.  Judas tried jabbing into the horde but was forced to pull back and shake off those creatures climbing along the shaft with their sharp claws.

Suddenly Kojiro dashed past in a blur of speed, and a few moments later was beside his companions again.  Before them the horde of creatures was eerily stilled, before collapsing into bloody pieces and putrid gore altogether.

Kojiro pointed a thumb at the she-devil.

“Leave this one to me, all of you take the big one behind.”

“So you decide to be awake now, eh?”  Wyl turned to Kojiro and intended to make further ironic remarks regarding his choice of opponent but decide against it when he saw the grim expression on the blind swordsman’s face.

Wyl commanded the rest of his companions with hand gestures and they moved according to his dictates around to the giant pit fiend in an attempt to flank it.

Far from idle, the giant demon is already moving, and at a speed which its size belies at a shocking margin.  Before the companions knew it, the demon is already towering over Koan who is at the back.

With one hand the fiend snagged Koan effortlessly from the ground.  Only the man’s mytrill tunic prevented him from being crushed outright.  With glee the demon slowly reached towards Koan’s head with the other hand in order to pulp it.

Seeing the danger Wyl quickly dashed back and clambered up the demon’s back to create the momentum of a great downward slash.

There was a horrendous roar followed by a geyser of foul ichor.  Following this Judas came forward and punched in Longinus full force into the monster’s gaping maw.  The demon screamed even louder and dropped Koan to the ground.

The howling giant demon turned and tore great grooves into Wyl’s armor who is still hanging on its back and thrusting in fully and out with Catalborg.

Jorgenphats now joined in just below Wyl, stabbing continuously and causing nicks that slowly accumulates and builds up.  At this time, Koan who is relatively uninjured drew his longbow and pin cushioned the demon’s head.

With the continuous onslaught of powerful enchanted weapons and the unyielding will of their wielders, even the monstrous vitality of the fiend can take so much.

With a final whimper, the monster fell to its knees, tottering for a while and then crashed down fully forward while everyone in its path hurriedly backed away.

Wyl and co looked at the felled carcass, panting for breath.  When it is finally still Jorgenphats planted one foot on the head on the monster and attempted to strike a victory pose, which only succeeded in making him look real silly indeed.

The companions turned their eyes eastward and found Kojiro and the she-devil in an apparent standoff.

Both fighters stood coolly facing each other.  Then the devil opened her mouth to speak.

*”What is your name, warrior?”

“My name is Kojiro.”*

*The above is conducted in Japanese.

She smiled enigmatically at Kojiro’s answer, and then her expression abruptly froze.  A tiny tear began to appear at her abdomen, which very so slowly began to enlarge bit by bit.  Blood first began to seep out, then gush and finally accompanied by embryonic fluid, gore and other viscera.

Eventually the tear became so huge that the upper torso of the she-devil began to bend over fully backwards.  At this moment the halves separate from each other.

The battle is over.

Kojiro looked over at his friends and smiled.  They smiled back though much intimidated by his skill.  When breaking camp, they were quiet did not display any displeasure at the Yamato swordsman regarding his absence from battle.

Putting the past behind them, they set off in good friendship and camaraderie.

Chapter 12

Our companions are not out of the woods yet.

A boulder out of nowhere crashed just in front of their path, causing them to jump in alarm.   As the companions looked around trying to find the origin of the thrown rock, monstrous shapes then began to emerge out of hiding places; from behind rocks, drop-offs and under large gray blankets camouflaged to be part of the ground.

Turning their heads here and there, the companions found themselves surrounded by an audience of stone giants tagging large shadow panther beasts.

Each giant is just as tall and massive as the Hell Champion they just faced prior.  They mostly carried great clubs and sticks.  The shadow beasts they restrain are just as dangerous and intimidating; their flanks ripple with speed and power.

The leader of the stone giants; a mountain of a humanoid with rocky muscles all over and carrying a huge whip strode forward and grinned evilly down on the companions.

The companions are close to despair but they aren’t giving up without a fight.  Even so the stone giant leader laughed off their show of resistance and shouted commands to his underlings.

“Don’t try to resist, you are outnumbered.  Hmm, you would make good slaves and the finery you wear should make good trophies.  Now come along, you four!”

Four?  Wyl and co looked around to see who the missing companion is.  The leader of the giants looked at their fluster and narrowed his eyes suspiciously.  At this moment, he beheld a queer lump of shadow just before his feet, getting bigger by the second.  Some instinct prompted him to look up.

And there was Kojiro in the air, sword unsheathed and held high overhead, death in his sightless eyes…

Ichii Senshin…

Itto Ryodan!

The sword cut through the stone giant’s skull like hot knife through butter.  Kojiro landed smoothly in front of his victim and his sword was also clear of the giant’s flesh.

The two vertical halves of the giant fell apart, and his followers and even some of the beasts were evidently badly shocked at their leader’s fate and terrified by the horrifying apparition of his slayer now covered in gore.  They kept their weapons, reared their beasts in and left without further argument, not even to see to what remained of their leader.

Seizing a cloth from his backpack, Kojiro wiped himself clean and rejoined his companions.

Chapter 13

The rest of the journey is uneventful.

Koan beaming face indicates that the glowing circle is now converging on the ‘X’.  Sure enough in front of them is a mountainous wall with a yawning cave mouth at its base.

Together they entered the cave and before them is a set of steps leading down.  They descended cautiously, weapons always before them.  As the steps ended, they found themselves before a small walkway illuminated by flaming torches inserted in sockets.

At the end of the walkway is an altar.

On the altar is the object of their quest: The Armaments of Infinity.  From afar it seems that an armored figure is lying on the altar, but on closer inspection reveals that the armored pieces are lay out accordingly to basic anatomy.

Koan took the conical helm and inspected it.  It is of a glossy jet in colour and smooth and unresisting to the touch.  He pushed down on it; seems hard too.  White plates with a lightning eagle or phoenix insignia cover the obsidian arm and leg pieces.

He would have attempted to the put on the Armaments by now but could not since there are no openings to put either head or limb inside!  Even had there been, the armor seems to be designed for a giant instead of an average human.  From his deduction, even Wyl would find it too bulky for practical uses, not to mention Koan who supposedly is destined to don the Armaments of Infinity itself.  Still he put the pieces in his pack and found that they are much lighter than anticipated.  He went back to his companions.

Koan let Wyl study the armored pieces for a bit.  The silver haired warrior took one arm piece and turned it round and round under the light of one of the torches.  There are no buckles to un-strap and no buttons to push to release any mechanism to open it.

The pieces are replaced in the pack and they make their way out of the cave in order to examine them in better light, or would have if not for unexpected company.

And there was Remuel by the cave entrance, clad in glittering silver plate.  Behind him were dozens of warrior angels in scale armor no less shiny, forming a wall of almost blinding light and bristling weapons.

Remuel stretched both hands outwards in the shape of the cross.

“We have come in peace.”

Wyl held sword to the side stretched out an arm of restraint.

“If you come in peace, why ring us about in a wall of swords?  Put away your arms and let us go in peace, I will not be intimidated by armed bullies!”

“Fool!  You have thwarted Heaven’s work and yet you dare to issue demands to the Lord’s divine soldiers… DARE TO ISSUE DEMANDS WOULD YOU!? SWINE!”

“Never call Wylfred with a blade a fool…”  The warrior quietly answered and said no more.  Instead he made a chopping motion in the air.

Out of the darkness streaked a blue projectile.  The arrow shot by the bow “Blue Gale” flew straight and true and entered the eye of a warrior angel just beside Remuel.

The time for words has ended!

At any other time, the companions would have retreated down the stairs to a position more tactically favorable but with enemies constantly rushing at them they would not afford to turn their backs for even a fleeting moment. Still the cave is narrow enough so that the angels cannot come at them all at once and the companions are able to stand together with their backs facing a wall instead of the precarious dropout by the stairs.

Wyl stood at the front line, holding sword with the flat of the blade parallel to his face, steadfast and indomitable.  Beside him stood Kojiro, calm and unfettered yet deadly and relentless.  Judas stood slightly back between the two front warriors, utilizing the range of his spear for advantage.  It is good to hear the song of Longinus.  Koan stood behind the party and pelted the throng of angels continuously with his arrows.   From the start of their mission, the angels saw no need to come armed with shields, now they bear the consequences at their cost.

Wyl made powerful swings and arcs as Catalborg sang through the air to sunder arms and armor and finally cleave angelic flesh.  The powerful warrior’s maneuvers are non-stop and while slow to the eyes, it is just a cover for the devastatingly shattering blows.

Kojiro was more mobile, he stretched both feet on the floor across from each other and performed cartwheels to cut his foes and then somersault back.

Though mundane looking, Judas’s spear is particular effective against the angels; breaking their guard and penetrating their armor as if they were dried cloth.  No wonder, for it was the Blood of Christ which was literally killing the angels now.

Jorgenphats’ strategy was to sneak behind the backs of angels distracted in battle and plunged both daggers on their backs.  This method succeeded twice but the third could prove to be a fatal mistake for him as the would-be victim was merely feigning distraction and is actually in readiness to make a back slash that would have decapitated Jorgenphats.

However Kojiro was faster, in a flash the angel’s sword flew up nearly to the cave’s ceiling with a hand still gripping it.  Another flash and his skull was cut in twain.

Jorgenphats, deeply shocked by the closeness of it, hid behind the backs of his companions and did not intend to venture out again.  But then something strange happened.

In the midst of watching Kojiro fight off his opposition, something clicked in Jorgenphat’s mind.  It is as if he is in a daze, yet fully self-aware.  In this alien state of trance, he got a glimpse of the enlightenment between life and death.  His past vanished into thin air and the future rendered unimportant.  Who he is was insignificant, even his mission to the City of Peace is considered trivial.  Now all he wanted only to do is to revel in the glorious, ever-present now!

The demon leapt into the fray with renewed vigor and began to fight with brilliant skill quite unexpected of him.  Stunned by Jorgenphats’ sudden prowess, the angels struggled to evade or divert the dagger strikes.

Laughing at the angels’ feeble attempts to engage him, Jorgenphats batted away their swords and stretched both hands outwards, pushing the enchanted daggers into the centre of the chests of his two opponents.  The scale armor parted like old cloth and the angels died staring at their enemy’s grinning visage.

For Jorgenphats though, the moment of unsurpassed clarity is as brief as the morning mist.  Shaking his head in confusion, he half wondered what he was doing in the middle of the battlefield.  Seeing the hesitation and doubt of the other angels due to his recent actions, he quickly retrieved the daggers from the corpses and shrank back into the darkness.

Gravely demoralized by the outcome of the fight, many of the angels began to turn and fled by way of egress through the cave’s entrance despite the commands and threats of their commander.

Wyl met Remuel near the cave entrance.  Behind the human warrior, his friends are mopping up the remnants of their enemies.  Despite this Remuel is still adamant regarding the accomplishment of his mission.

“I cannot allow you to pass for the Pacificator has given me an order!”

Wyl stepped forward with shiny Caladborg.

“I know not of this Pacificator whom you speak of, but perhaps it is better for you to let him know that Wylfred too, possesses a will of iron!”

The warrior struck, strong stout blows upon Remuel’s sword.  Deafening clangs resounded as both combatants attack and defend.  The angel has honed his skill in combat through millennia of warfare with demons, but when he saw the fire in the eyes of his enemy, somehow he knew that the outcome of the battle has already been decided, and he would lose.

Shaking his head and growling in defiance and denial, he sought to step up his attacks.  But Wyl was relentless and furious as the blizzards of Niflheim and with a great crash Caladborg broke through the sword of Silvanis.

While Remuel stared at the stump of his blade in disbelief, Wyl stepped in and wounded his enemy with a terrible gash through his plate armor and onto his torso. Spreading his hands and letting the amputated weapon fall from his hands, Remuel backed away out of the cave and lifted his head to the Heavens as if to implore for aid.  At that moment the angel would know how the damned felt when their pleas for mercy are ignored.

Wyl came again and again; heaving great hews on Remuel’s chest until finally the angel toppled fully backward like a great oak.  Wyl stepped outside of the cave and stood over his vanquished foe.  Spreading his hands wide and mimicking Remuel’s actions, he likewise raised his eyes to the ashy skies, but with a wide grin.  Whether this is done in mockery or salutation we will never know.

Chapter 14

 

Judging by appearance, the party is quite convinced that they are already one foot inside the City of Peace.  They can’t help but smile to themselves. It is too soon to be relieved though, for suddenly there is a horrible cacophony, the culmination of many voices combined coming from a distance away.  The five dashed out to look.

As they got closer, there was a horrific din that threatens to sear their very sanity.  The sound of tramping, padding, stomping, clopping and ticking all marching in a sinister synchronization.

They summoned their courage and looked over and down the cliff.

Demons stretching from a few hundred meters away to, as far as they can see, to the very horizons itself!  Demons in thousands of different shapes and forms.  Even those in similar shapes and forms were contrasted by diverse coloring.  Many of the demons were in humanoid forms and many were in forms similar to the animals in the mortal world.  Others were in shapes and forms too hideous to imagine.  Some of the forms were so morbid and revolting that the humans were almost to the point of nausea.

Above it all and shining in the air was one of the Seraphim.  A glorious divine creature with a head consisting of four faces; of an ox, eagle, lion and man.  Two wings it used to fly, while the lower four wings wrapped themselves over the main torso of the angel.  It appeared unarmed with conventional weapons, though its fist are clenched tightly and wrapped in flames of divine wrath.  Optimally it would have preferred to fly into battle with its brethren instead of the repulsive scum directly below it.

Of course this is impossible since officially God Himself has washed His hands free of what happens and would happen in Hell, and the only extent of the intercourse between the divine and damned is only by way of the Pancificator.  And he is only assigned one Seraph.

Not that it is needed though, for striding in a carefree manner among the ranks of the demonic horde is a towering and hellish counterpart to the divine Seraphim; the Ravanna.

Instead of interracial facial features, each of the four faces of the creature express a different emotion; neutrality, rage, joy and sorrow.  Bereft of wings, it makes up for it by having three pairs of arms and being armed to the teeth.  Its upper arms hoisted two swords in an ‘X’ over its shoulders, the middle arms carried menacing battleaxes and from its lower arms poked out two spears with tips large and wicked. The Ravanna is fully nude and apparently sexless.  Currently the face of neutrality is facing forward though from time to time it would raise its head to sneer at its divine cousin.

Regardless of their interrelation, this army stands between our companions and their final destination.  Not that it is needed though, for one slice of one of the Ravanna’s terrible sword could cleave through entire units of armored warriors.  The demons kept a wide berth as was safely permissible from the Ravanna lest they inadvertently irritate it.  They have good cause to ever fear their general for its moods are fickle and it derives joy from personal wholesale slaughter; of friend and foe alike.

The noise generated by the demonic horde is beyond terrible.  The five are frozen in horror as the demons marched onward with unnatural synchronicity.  In times of emergency such as this, Wyl rummaged through his pack with shaky fingers and struggled to take out a small rectangular box.  He pushed a button on top and the box opened with a click.

Instantly, an exquisite melody permeated the air.  Both sweet and melancholy, the piece is intensely moving and the demonic army was given pause by it, albeit briefly.  Our companions were also awoken from their state of paralyzed horror.  The effect is slightly different for Koan, the current possessor of the Armaments of Infinity.  Inside him, his heart blazed with fury and hot blood.

Suddenly, Koan shone with a blinding light, eliciting gasps from his companions and even some of the demons below.  The light slowly coalesced into a shape vaguely humanoid, but bigger and much taller than the Koan his companions used to know.  Then the light whisked from its position to land directly before the demonic horde.

The white light was swept away to reveal a magnificent, towering figure clad in the Armaments of Infinity, which now shines with the finest sheen.  In addition, a proud, red cape billows wildly at his back.  What transpired in Koan’s mind is similar to what Jorgenphats experienced in his moment of lucid clarity during the battle in the cave, only now ever constant and infinite.

Chapter 15

 

Armaments of Infinity

Advent!

The confident and fearsome avatar before them caused many of the demons to register doubt in their expressions.  Even the Ravanna seem to be off-balanced by the sudden appearance of this enigmatic figure.  It pointed a sword forward to signal a charge.

Koan was already moving right at his enemies.  He plowed through the demons as if they were merely marshmallows, leaving a trail of deep red viscera and body parts.  The Ravanna then twirled its sword over its head in circles so that its troops might surround Koan.

Beset by all sides, yet Koan by all appearances is calm and unperturbed.  The snarling demons all fell in at once, seeking to overwhelm their adversary with sheer weight of numbers.

When it seems that the mass of demons were almost upon him, Koan crouched and a star glinted in the right eyepiece of his helm.  Then he rocketed straight up into the air, bringing many dozens of the demons along.

Now that is a sight to stun both Heaven and Hell.  Koan in the air surrounded by flailing demonic bodies.  Time itself seemed to freeze.  In that frozen moment of time, Koan and the Ravanna locked eyes.

Time resumed its normal flow, and there is a veritable Niagara of falling demons.  Koan returned to the ground in the same manner he took to the air.  Upon landing, the high kinetic energy expressed itself in a tremendous shockwave, which pulverized the flesh of countless demons around him.

The sight of Koan standing up in the midst of the fiery carnage is about too much for the Ravanna to take.  Its head rotated to “Rage” in a mechanical fashion.  Eyes wide and mouth snarled in a furious grin. The bright red hue of the face is in deep contrast with the light blue hue of the rest of its physique.

The Ravanna jabbed both spears into the ground and steam wheezed behind its head.  Then, akin to an engine starting, it slides along the ground with spears blazing a trail of fire, gradually accelerating.

The flurry of its swords and axes is continuous as it sped towards Koan.  The demons in the way between the Ravanna and its quarry can only raise their eyes to the heavens and scream before being splattered by whirling death.

There was a clash so deafening it is almost blinding as the two beings collide.  The Ravanna was effectively halted though Koan was pushed back, dragging his greaves along the ground for a good many metres.

The Ravanna is not overly concerned that another being is able to stop it in its tracks, for it is now staring in abject disbelief at its swords being stayed by Koan’s gauntlets and unable to penetrate at all.

The Ravanna swung swords and axes in frenzied movements but Koan is able to intercept and deflect each slash and thrust with equal finesse for his weapons are his fists and kicks.

Koan retaliated with lightning fast punches, which the Ravanna could do little about at such close range.  The punches centred on the creature’s face and torso, each hit accompanied by an explosive noise.

When the Ravanna is pummeled senseless enough, Koan grabbed one of its upper arms and flung it to the sky like a bride would a bouquet of flowers.   Koan jumped up high to join the Ravanna as one in an incredible burst of an explosion that became a temporary sun in the sky.  The explosion was seemingly contained in perfect sphere of running orange-yellow.  Then it bloomed outwards in a miniature supernova.

Koan emerged barely singed, and descended slowly to the ground.  The demons all backed away in fear as he planted his feet onto solid earth.  He raised his head upward.  There is now only one true enemy left between our companions and their destination.

The Seraph with the face of man ever facing forward, floated along the wind towards Koan at an uncanny speed.  The demons make way in a panicky fashion for the two dreadful combatants.

Koan met his opponent in the air and without hesitation sent out a endless flurry of punches so swift it’s as if Koan has sprouted a hundred hands.  The Seraph blazed in its glory and either dodged or deflected the oncoming fists with its own.

Thus begins the most spectacular and primal of combat; hand-to-hand, fist-to-fist.  The Seraph’s flaming fists is at least a match for Koan’s steel counterparts.

This continued until finally the Seraph pushed itself back and away from the fighting and stretched both its arms out.  The flames along the arms undulate back and forth till a substantial ball of flame with fiery trails burst forward towards Koan who was caught fully in the blast.

When the firestorm finally dissipated, Koan was revealed to be protecting himself by putting his arms together in an “X” to cover his face and upper torso.  While he appears to be mostly intact, a good amount of smoke emanated from his form and his cape behind has been burnt to a crisp.  Now his friends are worried for him.

But for Koan, there’s still a lot of fight in him yet.  Eyes blazing, he leapt onto the Seraph like a spark of flame and unleashed an all-new blitz of attacks, now with kicks included in the package.

The fight became more mobile and now the fighters are openly trading hits.  There was a great cracking sound able to be heard by all the spectators below when Koan and the Seraph exchanged a simultaneous hook against each other’s cheeks.

The duel now more a brawl eventually carried both to the horizon and then the two vanished out of sight.

A long time seemed to passed and there is no way to know the outcome of the fight between Koan and the Seraph.  The demons now below slowly turned eyes upon the four up on the cliff.

Wyl and Co gripped their weapons in challenge; convinced that they are able to take on this rabble after all they had just witnessed.

At this moment a large roar filled their ears from behind them.  They looked behind and saw Koan up in the sky, pinning the Seraph in the embrace of a bear hug.  They must have completed a full revolution.  Like the mortal world, Hell is also a globe!

Koan arched upwards to give two straight punches and then one roundhouse kick.  The terrific blows forced the Seraph away from him.  Koan soared even higher in the air; sideways to overtake the flung angel.

There Koan paused, hanging in the air; gathering loads of potential energy.  He plunged straight down at frightening speeds; both feet connecting with the Seraph and both of them went down hard and fast.

So fast that the friction in the air caused lightning to spark and sizzle from the base of the two and bolt upwards into the air.

The Koan-Seraph meteorite landed smack in the middle of the demonic horde with tremendous force.  The resultant massive explosion enveloped the entirety of the gathered demons.

A gigantic plume of fire with a radius spanning the demon horde erupted out of the ground and rushed to the very height of the skies.

Somewhere relatively high up the fiery plume, a little dark figure could be seen leaping out with a soundless splash.  The figure dropped speedily to the ground, gradually becoming full size and then thumped to the ground much lightly than anticipated.

Koan! Basking in the glory of final victory, with him standing tall with his back to the humongous pillar of fire.  What comments would the Patriarch make regarding such a display?

His companions too were simply amazed by the spectacle they have recently witnessed.  Even Kojiro, though he was sightless, tilted his head here and there as if trying to get a glimpse of something for he knew something extraordinary has occurred.

Koan flew towards his friends whom also came forward to meet him.  Their former companion stood over them, dwarfing them by height and bulk, yet perfectly proportional and complete in figure.  Even Wyl himself is greatly overshadowed.

But their friendship is not based on appearance or race.  All that matters is that they are reunited and for a moment they stood together in companiable silence.  Then Koan gripped the shoulders of his friends warmly in turn.  Though it was those same hands that have annihilated uncountable entities, the true warrior knows that far from a means of destruction, the primary purpose of hands is to soothe, comfort and caress.

Koan’s voice echoed out of his helm in a rich deeper baritone.  He told his companions of the flashy anomaly in the sky during the battle with the Seraph through the circumference of the underworld.  It will do no harm to investigate that.

The companions huddled together and Koan hugs them into the embrace of his bosom effortlessly.

Slowly, Koan floats off the ground.  When he is sure that everyone is safely within his grasp, he shifts direction and flew to the gray skies with a tone of finality.

 

***

 

One of the few of survivors of the fearsome battle squeezed out between the carnage.  In the form of a mass of putrid ooze and the features of a teddy bear plastered over the surface, it paused at its slithering as it watches Koan take his friends in tow and flew away into the sky, became gradually smaller and finally a speck which disappears.

The entity oozed away, leaving a trail of slimy fluid.

 

 

***

 

 

As they flew together towards the anomaly that Koan described, they soon saw a nimbus of light just directly above.  They soared up and entered into that light.  As soon as they have passed, the light behind them sparked once and fizzled out of existence.

They faced a high gate comprised of golden and silver bars.  After discovering that the ground below is solid enough to stand, Koan let his friends drop and they approached the gate together.

Slowly, the gate began to swing silently open.  The companions looked at one another in hesitation and doubt before determining to step through the gate together.  But first, something had to transpire.

 The artifacts on the party’s possession began to glow.  Their weapons, armor, accessories; basically everything they have on their persons begun to flash intermittently and dislodge from their current owners magically.

Koan reverts back to his original size and form while the Armaments of Infinity floats above his head along with his Mithral shirt, Longbow and quiver, amulet, bracelet and even his map.  It is the same with everyone’s equipment and adornment.  All floating above and then bursting outwards in every direction like shooting stars.

The artifacts are scattered either to remote corners of the underworld or even to other dimensions including the mortal world.  There to await the next worthy ones to utilize them once again.

 But as for our companions, their ordeal is over and they shall have rest from their labors.  The gates clanged shut behind them.  And there’s nothing Paradise and Inferno could do about it.

 

Epilogue

 

Before the companions, two rows of women neatly dressed in white uniforms stood on either side of them forming a path presumably for them to walk through.  The women with white baseball-like caps hoisted trumpets sideways, creating an improvised archway above.

As the companions walked through, the trumpets above blared melodiously and a male choir out of sight and probably from some faraway mountain peak sang:

Come brothers come,

Through Shanalorn’s gate

And into legend!

Here thy friends await,

Be refreshed from thy ardors,

All thy wounds be healed

Take thy place among thy kin,

Thy souls shall thrive forevermore!

Smiling and looking about at the gorgeous women, the companions at last came to a console like contraption sticking up of the ground.  A holographic touch screen emerged out of it, though it took some hesitant moments before discovering that they could interact with it.

They saw lush meadows and pastoral lands, majestic urban cityscapes shrouded by the drape of purple night, medieval towns and bridges beneath which the waters of a river flowed lazily and gushed playfully intermittently, futuristic skyscraping cities so vast and awesome they could only be fully appreciated through a bird’s eye view.

These scenes and many more are encapsulated in medium sized screens on the holographic projection itself.  They line in a queue before shooting to prominence in the middle one by one for the viewers to better see and examine.

The companions poked and fiddled with the touch screen before it adapted to multiple users and separated into five distinct sections for the individuals to interact with it better. Eventually they found out that they are to select the best environment to be their future home from here.

Wyl choose a depiction of a banquet hall filled with scaled armored warriors clanging tankards together, for to him Hell is not a place where there is not a drop of water, it is a place where there is not a drop of mead.  Here’s to Valhalla!

Koan selects the inviting meadows, Judas a Mediterranean coastline with geometrically similar square houses, Jorgenphats eagerly touched on an European side street choked full of the beautiful women in white they just passed by and Kojiro decides a home in a high technology urban city complemented with streaming cherry blossoms trees.

 

Kojiro… what?  Everyone turned to look at the blind swordsman.  His eyeballs are now seen to be fully intact and functioning, a fact that occurred during their first step into Shanalorn.

Their decisions finalized, a bus without wheels hovers and straddles to a stop soundlessly beside them.  The double doors slid creamily open.  As Wyl took the lead up, his companions noticed a hard bulge in his backpack, something for some reason did not go along as their magical equipment were spirited away.

The silver haired warrior smiled and with great mirth presented to his friends the box from whence came the beautiful music that rescued them from the transfixion of fear during the final battle.

Wyl explained as he went up the vehicle that the music box was a momento from his mortal life, and not a magical artifact bestowed by his icy mistress.

As Wyl talked to his friends, the doors of the bus came to a close behind our companions.  As the bus moves off, it is here that we take our leave of Wyl, Koan, Judas, Jorgenphats and Kojiro.

A hundred years will pass as if in a blink of an eye, and by that time what they have previously experienced will seem like something which happened to somebody else a long, long time ago.