Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 04

“I only killed bad people,” I muttered. He’d said it himself; none of the blood I’d shed was innocent. I guessed I was damned anyway.

“We haven’t even gotten to the awful parts yet,” Derek said helpfully, and waved a dramatic arm. “Behold, Lucifer’s Tower.”

We were still a couple of miles away from the building, but it was easy to see. It stuck up, a straight black obelisk, at least twice as tall as the surrounding buildings. I squinted and frowned, because something just seemed… off, about it. It wasn’t as straight as it appeared at first glance. The angles where the corners met didn’t quite square, the window frames skewed, and the physics of the thing were subtly out of whack. My eyes tried to make sense of the architecture, but without success. The more I looked, the wronger it got.

The peaked roof sucked light into itself–not that Hell had a lot of ambient light to begin with, and most of that was tinted red or a sickly greenish-yellow. A shiver started at the back of my neck and trickled down my back to my toes and out my fingertips.

“Okay, ew,” Freddi said, giving voice to what I was thinking. “Creepy. That thing is just creepy.”

“Oh, good, then its work here is done.” Derek set off down the street again, leading us toward it. “You might want to put your sword away, Zeevi. Lucifer doesn’t allow overt weaponry in his Tower.”

Zeeviel shook his head. “We’re not in the Tower yet, so I think I’ll hang on to it.”

The gun was in my hand without me being conscious of how it got there. Derek snapped his teeth. “Feeling a little threatened, Anthony? You’ll have to leave that outside as well, once we arrive. The no-weapons policy applies to humans too.”

“How often do humans even go there?” Freddi asked.

“The Morningstar doesn’t usually hold personal audiences with new arrivals, nor does he keep old ones around for amusement. But you, and by extension Anthony, are a special case, so he’s making an exception. I would very much appreciate it if you three don’t get my liver eaten.”

“There you go again with the liver bit,” Freddi said. “You’re a demon. Do you even have a liver?”

“I have a figurative liver, which will hurt me just as much, if Lucifer decides to skewer it and cook it in front of me, as it would you.” He started walking again.

I stuffed the gun back in the holster. My feet dragged a little, not particularly wanting to take me to meet the Prince of Darkness face-to-face.

Derek stopped and gave me a look. “You should be honored by the opportunity to meet him, Anthony. Not many humans actually get up close and personal with the Morningstar.”

“What about all that ‘sell your soul to the devil’ stuff? Don’t people meet him then?”

Derek laughed. “That’s ‘sell your soul to a devil,’ and it’s generally someone like me. Lucifer is the Sovereign of Hell. He delegates.” A sigh. “That being said, I don’t particularly like spending time down here myself, and if you’re going to be this slow, maybe I should expedite the process. I can move us there without all this tiresome walking.”

“Well, why didn’t you just do that to begin with?” Zeeviel retorted. “I mislike my Charge staying one moment longer than she must, and I cannot move about Below as I’m used to on Earth.”

“Because I can’t touch her, and I figured an angel of the Lord wouldn’t want to sully himself by touching the likes of me in order to be a conduit between us.” Derek’s lips tightened. “And demonic transport is hard on humans.”

“How hard?” I asked suspiciously.

“There might be some vomiting and vertigo involved, but nothing serious. It’s just unpleasant, not, ha, fatal.” He eyed Freddi sideways. “Chickie-poo here might not even feel it, being all Redeemed and shit.”

“What about me? I mean, I’m in no hurry.” I wasn’t sanguine about what would happen to me after Zeeviel and Freddi left, and I wanted to delay it as long as possible.

Derek had other ideas. “Oh, you’d feel it, no doubt, but I don’t think anyone here is too worried about that. Zeevi and Freddi want out, and I’m a demon.”

A pair of gigantic bat wings sprouted from his back, unfurling over our heads in a hideous display of purplish black leather. The joint was clawed, along with the tip, and the claws dripped venom. I took a startled stumble back and yelped, and Freddi stepped closer to Zeeviel, whose own wings bristled in response.

The angel pointed at Derek. With his sword. “If you even try to injure my Charge–“

“Yes, yes, impalement, smiting, Lake of Fire, blah blah blah.” Derek grabbed me, and I might have yelped again. “Are we doing this or what?”

“Don’t I get a vote?” I protested.

Zeeviel wrapped a wing around Freddi and took Derek’s hand. “I’m afraid not.”

Derek’s wings swept forward. A nauseating sense of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time, along with ghostly, mocking laughter and an increase in Hell’s unique stench assaulted my senses. It lasted an eternity of an instant, and when we came back into the world, I fell to my hands and knees and threw up into the gutter in front of Lucifer’s Tower.

When my outraged stomach finished turning itself inside out, I knelt there for a few moments, catching my breath. Freddi crouched beside me and brushed my hair out of my face, and I shot her a grateful look and leaned into the touch. The move hadn’t affected her at all, or Zeeviel either.

I raised my head to find Derek’s wings vanished. “My Sovereign awaits us,” he said, with a grand gesture at the building, which wasn’t any better up close than it had been from miles away.

Worse, in fact. Designs were etched into the stone facing that no human should ever have looked upon, images devised to drive men mad. Mind-bending abstracts comprised the bulk, but wrong in the same fundamental way the building itself was. I tore my gaze away from them before I started drooling.

The front doors were a glass version of the gate to the city, carved and polished to resemble clear bones. I expected them to creak eerily, but they opened without a sound at Derek’s mere touch, which was somehow more unnerving than if they’d screeched at us.

A demon sat behind a high desk in the lobby, filing his talons with a rasp and sneering. “If it isn’t Derek the Cockroach and his merry band of misfits. You are expected. Leave your weapons and go on up.”

“Charming as always, Valafax. Do you practice that in the mirror every morning?” Derek held his hand out for my gun, and I reluctantly gave it to him. Zeeviel’s sword vanished, and his wings bristled and fluttered with obvious discomfort. He was outsized and outmuscled here, however, and no doubt thought it best to pick his battles. Derek set the gun ostentatiously on the desk, and we walked past dark-paneled walls across an echoing white marble floor. Chandeliers of bone graced the high ceiling, and the artwork on the walls, if you could call it that, depicted acts of graphic and bloody depravity. Freddi kept her eyes firmly downcast.

I wasn’t sure that helped, because the floor was patterned too, the same not-quite-abstracts as the outer wall of the building. The entire place was clearly designed to be as unsettling as possible to humans, none of whom besides us were in evidence. The doors on the elevator bank were disturbingly disproportionate to the dimensions of the rest of the building, too tall, too narrow, and with not-quite-square corners.

An unmelodic chime told us the elevator arrived. The doors opened on an interior that was almost too normal by the standards of the rest of the building, right down to the “music” playing over the hidden speaker. Derek pushed a button not numbered in any language I was familiar with, and the elevator began a smooth ascent.

Zeeviel twitched uncomfortably. “I truly dislike being trapped in an enclosed space, unarmed, in enemy territory,” he said. “It is the perfect place for an ambush.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it on the way up,” Derek answered. “Lucifer wants to see you, so you’re safe until he’s done. No one would dare countermand his orders in his own lair.”

“So you say. You will pardon me if I’m less than sanguine, I hope.”

“What does Lucifer look like?” Freddi asked.

Derek gave her that unpleasant smile. “Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”

“Which is to say he looks however he wishes to look for whatever audience he’s playing to,” Zeeviel said. “None of us are locked into our forms; such would be counterproductive for the work we’re tasked.”