What do you think of? Many people, given half a chance, will quite happily plump for the fire and brimstone as handed out in church sermons, infested with demons eager to practice experimental dentistry with naught but their large, rusty pitchforks. Still others believe it to be a waking death, an eternal darkness through which the damned stumble, unable to find their final rest. Still more consider it to be a place separated from God, and call it a punishment based simply upon that fact.
No one ever said that Hell couldn't be a metaphor. Maybe Hell is a state of mind, or possibly even nothing at all. Maybe Hell, in the manner of which we conceive it, doesn't exist. But then again…maybe it does.
Now take Hell again, and for the sake of argument let's consider it to be the classic flaming, barren wasteland. Fireballs arc across a blood-red sky, barely illuminating the dark, stained rocks that make up the majority of this landscape. It is a place of darkest evil; demons of all ilks infest the land like ants, and the screams of the damned echo out across the hard, uncaring stone.
Even amongst this most desperate of desperate places, someone who is truly in need may find entities willing to help them. Not even Hell itself is completely devoid of light, and redemption is always possible, if you are willing to burn away your sins in the flames of hell.
Daniel Garner is one such person. Almost forty years ago, his life was snuffed out by a high-speed, fiery collision with a truck on a dark, rain-swept highway. Almost ten years ago, he was approached by the Angel of Death himself and offered a way out of the dark, forbidding world in which he was trapped. All he had to do…was to kill four of Lucifer's generals.
Almost five years ago, the blood of the last of Satan's generals, Alastor, soaked the ground of the Tower of Babel. Despite completing his task, Daniel refused the Angel of Death's offer to join his wife, Catherine, in the Kingdom of Heaven, deciding instead to take the battle to Lucifer himself in hell and save the soul of Eve, who had been kidnapped by the foul demon.
Almost two years ago, Lucifer fell upon the field of battle. Daniel's troubles were not over, however. As the smoke cleared, he discovered himself surrounded by score upon score of hell spawn, and at their head was none other then the fully revitalised demon Alastor.
Almost one year ago, Daniel was swarmed under by the grey, soulless minions of Alastor, his guns broken, his life's blood spilling upon the dead land.
Now? He is unconscious.
There was a moment of blank, peaceful silence, and then Daniel awoke.
The first thing that assailed his mind was a dull, thudding pain from his left leg, joined in part by a similar ache from his shoulder. After a few moments of categorisation, Daniel decided that the only place that wasn't experiencing some sort of irritation was his left eyelid. That was a bright spot, anyway.
Secondly, he did not appear to be undergoing some sort of brutal torture, as imagined by the very best amongst Hell's elite caste of torturers. Given that his last waking memory was that of being rather rudely head butted by some snake-headed demon, he had at the very least expected some sort of punishment for the slaying of Lucifer. The fact that he was not, and appeared to be lying on a soft bed made of feather down ran rather crosswise to his train of thinking.
Before he could consider matters further, a calm, clear voice cut across his consciousness.
"Ah," it said, and the word rang like a bell, "You're awake."
That was unexpected, and before Daniel could really stop himself he had jerked into a sitting position. Immediately, he wished that he hadn't, and was forced to hold his head until the pounding of rushing blood faded away.
A light hand laid itself on his shoulder, "Easy now, mate. Those demons weren't there to give you an easy time."
Wincing slightly, Daniel turned and looked into the face of the speaker. A pair of intense, glowing emerald eyes stared back, surrounded by elegant features and a mane of shining, silvery hair. There was a strange calming aura surrounding the man, a sense that somehow, somewhere, everything would eventually be alright.
Still, Daniel decided, this was Hell – a look around at the dark, bloodstained walls confirmed his initial supposition. There appeared to be absolutely no reason to trust this strange, white-garbed figure straight off the bat.
"Who are you?" he demanded, swinging his legs around into a sitting position, "Where am I? Where's Eve?"
A silver eyebrow went up, and the man's face instantly split into a faintly wry smile, "Curious bugger, aren't you."
Daniel's tone brooked no argument, "Answer my question."
The wry smile hardened slightly, "You'll have to forgive me I don't divulge my personal details to you. This is Hell, after all, and even if I did manage to drive away those demons from what appeared to be your corpse, this could still be an elaborate trap set for me by either Lucifer or Alastor," the man straightened from his kneeling position, and paced backwards and forwards for a few moments, "I suppose you can call me the Angel Avis, if you want."
"Is that your real name?" Daniel gave the Angel Avis a calculating look, "Are you really an Angel?"
The angel turned back to regard him once more, and again Daniel was taken aback by the intensity of the green stare, "Not exactly," the Angel Avis said quietly, "On both counts."
Daniel didn't back down in the face of the stare, "If you're an angel, then why are you down here in hell?"
The smile became somewhat wry again, "Let's just say that I had a fundamental disagreement with my superior."
The angel shrugged again, "I suppose you could call Him the superior, if you wanted. Regardless-" he held up a hand to forestall Daniel's next question, "-that doesn't matter now. We have other matters to be worried about."
Daniel nodded once, "Where's Eve, then?"
Avis appeared to be considering his answer, and Daniel was just about to talk again when he spoke.
"Eve…will be able to make her own way home," he said simply, "its pointless to worry about her, and as I said, we have much greater problems to be worried about."
"What do you mean, 'she'll be able to make her own way home'?" Daniel's temper flared for a moment, and he struggled to his feet to confront the angel who was, now that he was standing, obviously a few inches shorter then he, "If I hadn't come down here to save her from Lucifer, then…then…" unable to continue, his sentence choked to a halt.
Avis' tone was gentle, "Then you'd be in paradise?"
Daniel nodded, "With…with her. With…Catherine."
"I'm sorry," Avis stated, and sounded like he meant it, "You sacrificed eternity with a loved one for an opportunity to play the hero, right?"
Daniel nodded silently.
The angel's eyes flickered for a moment, "Well, I think you can appreciate exactly how foolish that was, in retrospect, and when I say 'Eve can make her own way home', I trust that you're going to believe me and not charge off on some damn crusade to find her. We have a serious problem, and I'd rather not have to deal with it on my own."
Daniel frowned, "That's the third time you've said something like that. What's happening? Lucifer's dead, and whatever Alastor may be able to scrape together, it can't possibly be a match for whatever Heaven has, right?"
"Hah!" Avis barked a laugh, "Look, I'm going to have to be honest with you. I didn't happen upon your little do by accident. Generally speaking, I don't tend to interfere in whatever the demons are doing – I like to keep a fairly low profile. However, I arrived too late to stop you from doing the single stupidest thing you could have possibly done."
Daniel frowned, "Which was?"
Again, a silvery eyebrow went up, "Surely you already know."
"I only came to Hell to save Eve…" Daniel said slowly, and then realisation dawned "…and kill Lucifer."
"Bingo," Avis said with satisfaction, "When you killed Lucifer, you removed the single last block between a massive war between Heaven and Hell. Lucifer may have had a ton of demons at his command, but there was no way he was going to deploy them against Heaven. Alastor, however, is a completely different entity."
"He said…something…" Daniel rubbed at a throbbing temple, "about being able to overthrow Heaven a long time ago."
Avis nodded, "And now, with Lucifer out of the way, he can. He has the troops that Heaven doesn't. He has a festering rage inside him that, in the end, will practically render him unstoppable by all except God himself. We are, you might say-" with this, the wry smile returned, "-completely buggered."
"What about God, then?" Daniel replied, "Couldn't he just destroy the entire army?"
"I'd…rather not get Him involved," Avis said, with some hesitation, "Sometimes His actions are unfathomable to us, and his response may be something completely unexpected."
"So," Daniel said slowly, "It's just you and I, against the entire combined forces of Hell, not to mention Alastor, correct?"
"No," Avis shook his head, "Technically speaking, it's just you. If you decide to go chasing demons all over the map, then I'm not going to get involved. Compared with someone as weak as Lucifer-"
"-weak?" Daniel snapped, "Do you have any id-"
"Please, please," the angel said placatingly, "It's perfectly simple. The reason why Lucifer was so powerful down here was his charisma, simply enough. It's how he managed to whip up such a storm in Heaven before he was cast down here, and it's how he managed to keep the lower demons in line. Besides-" the angel smiled his first genuine smile, "-maybe you'll have a greater appreciation of what I mean when I consider something to be…tricky."
There was a long pause in the conversation, as man and angel stared at one another in silence, waiting for the other to make the first move.
Eventually, Avis broke the silence, "I…think it's vital for you to understand that Alastor will be almost unstoppable here in Hell. You may have defeated him once in Purgatory, but all that did was send him back here with possibly a mild headache. Did you notice how he didn't even flinch when you stuck that firecracker of yours in his face?"
"He said that demons could be destroyed down here…" Daniel's voice trailed off as he considered what the arch-demon had said.
Avis nodded, "I may only be a simple angel, but it seems to me that I'd only tell you of my greatest weakness only if I was damned sure that you couldn't exploit it. I've been here a long time, Daniel…and believe me, I know how powerful demons can be down here."
Daniel sat down on the bed, feeling crushed, "So…what do we do, then? Is Heaven doomed? What'll happen to Catherine?"
"I'd be lying if I said that Heaven was completely safe," Avis said simply, sitting down beside him, "However, while Heaven may not have the forces to match Hell, they do have plenty of other defences that they can call into play, provided that we can alert them soon enough to an impending invasion."
"And how do we do that, then?" Daniel inquired, more sharply then he intended. Avis didn't appear to notice the tone of voice, but another one of his wry smiles appeared on his face.
"Simple," Avis said, "We tell them in person," with this, he turned to look at Daniel, "We're going to get out of here, and we're going to go to Heaven. You'll be able to see your…whatever she is-"
"-wife-" Daniel said, hope beginning to rise in his face.
"Indeed," Avis said easily, "and I'll be able to tell Ilessir that there's going to be a lot of demons knocking on the Pearly Gates sooner or later. She'll be able to do the rest."
With this, the angel stood up and walked to the far edge of the cave, where there lay a thin wooden case. He nudged it open with a single toe, and removed from it what appeared, at first glance, to be a four foot length of pure, holy light.
Shielding his eyes against the sudden flare, Daniel asked what in the name of God Avis was holding. Avis gave the stick an almost fond look, before snapping it around his body several times in a whirling demonstration of speed and dexterity.
"This," he said, "is the single reason why I've been able to survive so long down here. Most angels prefer to use various holy swords or bows or…" his expression became faintly distasteful, "firecrackers like you were using."
"Guns," Daniel said distantly, watching the angel throw the stave up and down a few times, before rolling it out onto the end of his fingertips.
"Quite," Avis said, "This, however, was given to me by…someone very, very special to me just before I was cast out of Heaven myself. If you look carefully on it, you can see the inscription she made."
Daniel squinted at the blazing stave, and after a few moments he felt he could just make out a line of arcane characters that leapt and danced across the stave with a life of their own.
"It says," Avis said, quietly, "'Wherever you are, my love, there I'll be'…" another moment of silence passed, and then Avis snapped the stave harshly across his back. The blazing light suddenly winked out, leaving spots on Daniel's eyes.
"Who wrote that?" he asked, getting to his feet and blinking the light away.
The angel blinked twice, and wiped his hand across his eyes, "The Archangel Ilessir…" he took a deep breath, and with what was apparently a great effort chased away his emotions, "Right. I'm sick to death of sticking around down here. I've waited long enough for someone to come along and say 'Hey, mate, your sentence is up, why don't you come and rejoin us in the Kingdom of Heaven?'. I think it's time for a bit of do-it-yourself redemption, which means we're leaving Hell."
"How?" Daniel asked, "Sammael told me that there was no-"
"Sammael?" Avis said scornfully, "Sammael couldn't find his abdominal regions without both hands and a colourful, easy to read map. Think about it; if Hell's legions can get into a position where they can threaten Heaven, then logically there has to be a way out of Hell."
"They were digging graves," Daniel said shortly, "Eve thought that they were using them to form bodies in Purgatory-"
"Too slow," Avis replied, "There are…other, more direct routes to Heaven, but I don't want to use them because that'll alert Alastor to their presence. No…" he frowned for a moment, and then pulled his stave off his back. It flared into brilliance again, but then dimmed quickly as Avis calmed it, "Right-" he said, driving it into the floor and dragging it backwards, "-if we're *here*, in my…home," he gave the surroundings an irritated look, "then the closest route that I can think of that won't offer Alastor a quick route into heaven is right down in Cocytus."
"The lowest level of hell?" Daniel snorted, "Surely there's got to be a better way."
Avis smiled again, "Now you know why I didn't think much of your assassination of Lucifer, Daniel. If you want to see Catherine again without placing her in immortal danger, then the only way is to go from here, cross the Styx, and make our way down to Cocytus. Then, we'll have to cross the plains of ice to where Lucifer used to be imprisoned. If my reckoning's correct, then I should be able to make use of his residual power-"
"Wait a moment," Daniel cut in, "Use Lucifer's power? I thought you were an angel."
Avis shrugged, "As I said, I'm not…quite an angel…anyway; I should be able to get us to or close to the Pearly Gates, at which point you'll need to get us into Heaven itself."
"Me?" Daniel frowned, "Why me?"
"Because you're pure, Daniel," Avis replied simply, "I may not hear all that much down here in Hell, but I have heard of your little crusade across Purgatory. If you've done everything that Sammael asked of you, then there is a place in Heaven waiting for you."
"And you?" Daniel asked, "What about you?"
Avis was silent for a long time, then, "I suppose we'll see, won't we."