Something important itched. That was never a good way to wake up; Human, Divine, or Infernal. For humans, it usually meant something sexually transmitted was wreaking havoc in their body. As bad as that was for mortals, it was even worse for ætherial species. They were built not to be concerned with tiny mortal problems. Their body would automatically heal, reduce, or eliminate the cause for the itch. That was why Gerry’s eyes shot open and his hand reached for the back of his head.
<Is this straw?> He was utterly confused as his hand brushed the layer of the material between his head and ground. That was the cause of the itching, but it didn’t explain why…<I’m NAKED!> The reason for other important aspects of his anatomy to be itching became crystal clear.
That was when he heard the cackle. His instincts took over and he rolled backward into a crouch. He was feeling much better than when he’d crashed landed on the beach, but he was far from healed. His eyes scanned the space looking for a weapon or any other advantage he could acquire against his new foe, but found nothing.
He wasn’t even in a building, not even a mud hut like he’d been forced to live in when he first joined Seere’s legion. He was in a small clearing. The dying trees circled outward from the small dirt area, which had a thin layer of straw on it. If that was supposed to be for comfort it completely failed. The only other thing present was the hooded figure that had dragged him from the beach. It had its back turned to him and was bent over a fire. Gerry would have thought the thing was cooking food except the fire was a dark black and seemed to be sucking the life out of everything around it.
As the hooded figure turned toward Gerry all he could think of was the Carver. The natural-born hell creature that had created the Dux body for Gerry’s soul had been similar to this figure in the mystery it exuded. He still couldn’t see its face, but it had to have lungs and a mouth if it was laughing at him, which eliminated one of Beelzebub’s patchwork abominations.
Gerry didn’t move. He crouched there tense and ready to react, but he’d let the other creature make the first move. If it was hostile, Gerry felt confident he could avoid an attack. If it was friendly, he didn’t want to piss it off and make it hostile.
They engaged in a staring contest for what felt like an hour before the thing finally spoke again. “Interesting.”
The voice was sultry and sweet. He could smell honey and lavender in the air as its words reached him, and it immediately gave him a raging hard on. He would have been more ashamed if he hadn’t been immediately enthralled by it. <Her…definitely a her.>
She noticed his erection and tilted her head to the side. “Interesting,” she repeated.
This time there wasn’t a sweet smell in the air. It smelled like rot and decay. Gerry gagged on the rancid smell and nearly puked. Needless to say, it caused immediate limpness.
“Reactions to stimuli are very mortal, and yet you don’t smell mortal.” She leaned forward and her body kept going and going until she was nearly nose to nose to Gerry.
Gerry would have reacted, but this time the sound of her voice filled him with terror…and not normal terror. Gerry had been in battle, he’d felt the fear of combat and harnessed it to survive. He’d even felt unparalleled fear as he died from impalement by a flaming sword. In returning to Eden, he’d conquered death to a point where he didn’t fear more than was rational for survival. What this woman was doing was exponentially worse. The terror froze him. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe, the only thing he could do was shit himself as she hovered inches from his face. Despite the closeness, there was still nothing but darkness beneath her hood.
“Who are you?” Her words demanded an answer, and he didn’t have the will to resist it.
“My name is Gerald Fuller. I was born in 1752 in the American Colonies of the British Empire. I died in 1776 during the American Revolution. I was sent to Hell and served in Prince Seere’s legions until he promoted me to Dux. I returned to Eden and became the Dux of Charlotte. I fought to implement my Lord’s will until a battle between him, Lucifer, Satan, and the Archangels Michael and Uriel. During the course of the battle my Lord and I were killed. I was resurrected and fought to regain control of Charlotte. The other Infernal Lords are pushing hard into Eden while the Veil between the realms is collapsing. I helped the Veil collapse by capturing a Nephalim and assisting in a ritual sacrifice to break the Seal set by God. I don’t know if that’s important, but I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” The words came rushing out of Gerry. He couldn’t stop himself, but more importantly, he didn’t want to.
“Where is Cronus? You came here with one of his children. I doubt he would appreciate everyone mucking around in his backyard.” Her body retracted until it returned to normal-human proportions.
“Cronus was killed by God in the War for Eden. Then some of God’s angels rebelled when he started treating the humans better than his own children; or at least that’s the impression I got from one of his children.”
The creature was silent for a moment, and Gerry thought he’d somehow offended her. His body instinctually began to curl into the fetal position when her cackling laughter shook the dying forest.
“God killed Cronus. That is something.” A hand emerged from beneath her robe and disappeared into the shadow of its hood.
The hand had flawlessly-pale skin without a single hair out of place. It wasn’t often that you saw perfection, and Gerry didn’t need to study it to realize what he was seeing. The hand reappeared from the hood and disappeared back into her robe.
“I never thought that goody-to-shoes would have it in him to take down his own brother like that. God’s grown a pair of balls over the eons.”
Gerry didn’t know what to say to that, so he wisely remained silent.
“So that brings us back to you. You’re a surprising enigma: a dash of human, a pinch of Infernal, and a dose of Divine. Something tells me that you’re unique, and I like things that are one of a kind.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Gerry felt he should acknowledge the compliment for the sake of his physical well-being.
The creature stood there watching Gerry for what felt like another lifetime before lifting both hands and removing her hood. “I like you Gerry. I think I’ll keep you around.”
Gerry gasped as the woman’s face appeared. Just like her hand, it was perfection. It was flawlessly proportioned with luscious lips, eyes so blue they bordered on white, and defined cheekbones meant for kings and queens. As she pulled her hood all the way back, hair whiter than the purest snow flowed out down to her waist. This woman was meant to be sitting on a throne somewhere, commanding legions of devoted followers to do her bidding. She was not meant to be sitting in a clearing that was slowly filling with the scent of Gerry’s fresh shit.
As if she knew what he was thinking, she waved her hand and the steaming, brown heap vanished like it had never existed. Then she smiled. The smile melted any remaining trepidation or resistance Gerry might be harboring. It created laugh and smiled lines on her exquisite face that looked like they belonged. This woman wasn’t some immortal, porcelain doll like Vicky; or an exotic temptress like Jezebel, this woman was the real deal and all that it entailed.
“Who are you?” Gerry instinctively moved his wrist up to wipe the drool that was accumulating at the corner of his mouth.
The woman laughed and it felt like the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. Everything she did elicited an extreme emotional reaction from him, and Gerry guessed anyone else who came in contact with her.
“That is the million dollar question,” she smiled and waved for him to join her over by the strange fire. “Mortals don’t really have a name for me. I’m more of a concept. Even my closest relatives never named me. I’ve just always been there, present and behind the scenes. God alludes to me in some of his writings, but he’s always painted me as the bogey man. My little brother is a bit of a drama queen like that.
<Little brother…> Gerry was already breathless in this woman’s presence, but he felt everything slow down around him with that revelation.
“Personally, I like Johnny Cash’s description of me,” she smiled again, and when she spoke, her voice had dropped several octaves and taken on the recognizable rasp of the famous singer. “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, and I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.” She sighed when Gerry didn’t say anything for several minutes. “The song is close, I don’t really have a gender like mortals, but I prefer this body, I’ve had it for eons, and I’m unwilling to change, so I guess if Johnny said her name was death then he’d hit the nail on the head.”
“Death?” Gerry didn’t know what else to say.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “It’s really God’s influence on everyone else that assigned me the moniker, but I guess it’s accurate. I took the first life while my siblings and I were gestating in the universal womb after creation.” She frowned at the look Gerry was giving her. “Hey! If you’d been surrounded by the thoughts of my other little brother you would have killed him too. If you think God’s a pompous prick then my other brother was an uber douche.”
“I know…” the smile was back on her face. “I love the way people talk now, it’s so creative.” She stuck her hand into the black flames and stroked it.
The stroke looked intimate, like she was tending to a lover, and it instantly made Gerry jealous. “Mmmmm,” she licked her lips and smiled at Gerry again. He quickly schooled his expression and banished the jealously to the back of his mind. “No, don’t do that,” she reached out and grabbed his hand. To Gerry, it felt like he’d been struck by lightning. “Don’t be ashamed. Feel jealous. Let the emotion flow through you. It’s natural and pure. You have a right to feel any way you like. Don’t let my pretentious brother’s influence get to you.”
Gerry was more confused than jealous now, which elicited another sigh from Death. She released his hands and looked at him with disappointment. Gerry would do anything to put a smile on her face.
“See…this is the problem with everything now.” She gestured out toward the nearby sea and beyond. “My brother has his grips into everyone’s minds. He tells them what is right, what is wrong, and what they need to do to be eternally happy. The problem is, God’s got a stick so far up his ass I doubt he’s been happy a century of his entire existence. People don’t need to live by a code, or police themselves. People are happy when they do whatever they want. If you want to fight….fight. If you want to screw…screw. I don’t care, in fact, I encourage it. It’s your lives. You’re only around for a snap of the finger, so do what you want and be happy,” she sighed again. That’s why I built Hell. It was supposed to be a place where people could come and do what they wanted. I was the first to form a realm, and I’m the oldest, so the duty fell to me. Sure, I made some mistakes, but it wasn’t half bad.”
Gerry thought back to what he knew of Hell and tried to match it with what he’d experienced. He didn’t quite see the connection, and she saw the doubt on his face.
“The three realms didn’t used to be so segregated like this. God built his Heaven and populated it with angels to achieve Divine purpose. Cronus created Eden more to be a follower than anything. He experimented more than God or I. He made different races that he believed embodied a different part of himself, but he was open to new things. He even let me come up every once and a while to do some tinkering.” She saw the look on Gerry’s face and grinned. “Sure, my brother was scared shitless of me, but I didn’t bear him any ill will. I actually liked what he was doing. He made his people and let them do what they wanted.” She smiled at the memory. “It was like that for a long time. I made a few of my own creations over time, some better than others.” Gerry got the feeling she was talking about Beelzebub, but that could be his own preconceptions talking.
“Eventually I got bored. If I have a flaw it’s that I get restless, so I stepped away from Hell, made my little island, and set about on a project of my own.”
“So this is a whole other realm?” Gerry couldn’t resist asking the question. “I felt like I flew forever to get here.”
“No, we’re still in Hell,” Death corrected. “In fact, we’re only about a mile offshore from Seere’s former Kingdom.”
“No! That’s impossible.” Gerry stood up as anger flooded through him. “I nearly died flying here. A mile wouldn’t have almost killed me.”
“Yeah, get worked up.” Excitement flashed through her pale-blue eyes. “Let the anger take hold of you. Go punch a tree if you need to, but embrace it and feel alive.”
Gerry didn’t go punch a tree because confusion replaced his anger. Death felt it and sighed again. “But we are only a mile out. I just had you fly in a loop until you got tired. I kind of like my privacy out here and you aren’t the first to come searching for me…but you are the most interesting.” She smiled, and excitement seized Gerry, but it quickly ebbed.
“You’re friends are going to be fine.” She read his mind and waved a hand dismissively. “It’s no fun to snuff out people like that. They’ll take a while to recover though, so until then, you’re my guest. I expect you have some sort of sales pitch for me.”
“Why will it take them so long to recover?” Gerry asked, wondering for the hundredth time how he could be so weak. The æther should have replenished his strength by now.
“Ahhh,” she waved a finger and grinned. “That’s another million dollar question, and the answer if my friend here.” She pointed at the black flames.
Gerry just raised an eyebrow.
“Try to draw power. Try to use æther. Try to do anything,” she challenged.
Gerry was determined to meet the challenge, but no matter how hard he tried he got nothing. “I can’t.”
“Of course not.” Death smiled and caressed the flames again. “It won’t let you.”
Gerry was glad it wasn’t a he, but he still didn’t understand.
“Think of it as an anti-æther. I don’t have a PR firm to run promo testing on a more interesting name, but it cuts to the chase. This whole island is under its influence. This is an æther-free zone. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars.” She smiled again.
“Then how are you…?”
“I’m a primordial being who’s been around since the beginning of the universe. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Plus, it’s my creation. It takes my advice seriously. What child doesn’t love their momma.”
Gerry guessed Beelzebub didn’t love anything but himself, but he decided not to bring it up.
“So, that sales pitch,” she waved her hand for him to proceed. “You want me to regain control of Hell. To take the fight to God, blah…blah…blah.” She waved her hands around.
“Hells a mess,” Gerry shrugged. “Satan is on a rampage to get to Heaven. I’m sure Lucifer is up to something. He always is. Cronus’ remaining children are rallying. The Amazons took New York, and a leviathan has made a nest of Central Park. God’s going to step in and put his foot down according to Prometheus, and all of Hell’s legions are going to get slaughtered and gain nothing.”
“So?” Death shrugged, but she was watching him closely.
“So…SO! So you said it yourself, God’s a pompous ass. Do you really want him exerting more influence? If we lose, and he pushes us back even farther, what’s to stop the Divine Host from coming down here to Hell?”
“I don’t care. There are very few things I still care for in this realm, and they are protected.”
“What about this island?” Gerry countered. “What about your anti-æther? If God comes here I’m sure he’ll find it.”
“He comes at his own peril.” It was the first time Death said something vaguely threatening, and Gerry would have soiled himself if he had anything left in his intestines.
“Ok,” Gerry recovered and looked at it from a different angle. “For the first time a force other than God’s is making headway. You might not see eye to eye with Satan’s grand plan, but something tells me you could deal with him no problem.” The statement brought a smile to her face and she motioned for him to continue. “So don’t come and fight for Hell. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want. Take a vacation to Eden. It sounds like you’ve been cramped up on this island for too long. I think it’s time to have a little fun.”
“And that’s the magic word.” She clapped and sprung to her feet.
“No you idiot. Fun…fun is the magic word. I’m not going to do whatever God, Satan, or you want me to do. I have always, and will always, do what makes me happy. Right now, a vacation to see the chaos sounds fun.” With a wave of her hand the dark flames rushed out of the little fire pit and straight toward her eyes.”
Gerry yelled out, but Death didn’t even flinch as her anti-æther fire was absorbed into her. Gerry didn’t even know that was possible, but he wasn’t going to ask and push his luck. He’d found the primordial that created Hell. She was probably more powerful than he thought. She also had a MILF thing going on that he just couldn’t get over, and best of all, she had an open mind as long as things fell into her definition of “fun”.
“Well, I don’t have all day.” Death raised her hand, snapped her fingers and they vanished. Even on the beach, the bodies of Pete, Gaius, and Jezebel were there one moment and gone the next. All that was left was the sound of the ocean breeze cutting through the dying forest which slowly began to disintegrate into dust.