I do not know how long it has been since I was imprisoned in this infernal device.
There is no way of keeping time inside the Sphere. There are life support systems that, although I do not know what kind of fiendish technology they employ, I have no doubt will keep me alive indefinitely if my captors so wish. There are gyroscopic stabilisers and a display screen that allows me to view my surroundings from an overhead angle – these are a mercy, as the Sphere is constantly in motion and is usually being propelled in directions that defy all conventions of logic towards something immanently lethal. There is a device that amplifies the music playing constantly in the background, for which I am eternally grateful as it is the one thing keeping me from the brink of total madness. You see, the music playing in this realm is designed to keep one in a kind of trance that is as close to a union with the machine, with the world itself, as is possible for a mortal, and when I say this device amplifies the music I mean really AMPLIFIES it - it plugs directly into my cortex and does not permit any experiences that are not entirely immersed in the background music. The music is a realm in itself, a continuous stream of fate and motion in a pure blue sound wave. Nothing else exists inside the sphere except darkness and my own thoughts. They do not deem anything else necessary.
My new life does not seem so much of a prison if I think about it in the right way. For one thing, I now consider the Sphere itself to be an extension of my body, rather than a cage, as though I am a soul resurrected into an old suit of armour in some haunted mansion. If I learn to manipulate it correctly, it becomes an enhancement of my once feeble mortal shell. With the ability to see my territory comes the chance to know my territory. I have a God's-eye view of the battlefield. Therefore, I am a Tactician-God. There is an absolute bliss in victory that my Sphere shares with me – I have seen it shimmer with metallic waves of light that change in colour with the death of each new enemy!
I have charted my territory completely now and I have learned from my many, crushingly painful mistakes. My capsule is always rebuilt when it is destroyed. My progress is gone – everything I broke is rebuilt, and the notes I made are erased – but I still remember. I can now negotiate my way through the chambers of several of the horrors that guard this prison. I am starting to come to some kind of understanding of this realm. It is no oubliette. There is a purpose for me being here apart from to fade away.
I believe it is some kind of game. I imagine there are demons stood around some observation panel of their own, mocking my failure and placing bets on my progress. I can imagine Focalor saying in his debased voice 'Ten souls says he won't make it past the Five-Headed Dragon!' and Glasyalabolas answering, with a derisive snort of his canine nostrils, 'Hah! The Dragon? My granny could beat the Dragon! Its the Zombie Heads that'll get him for sure!' And there's probably one unpopular chap of an infernal persuasion (Probably Agares. I always did sympathise the most with Agares.) who chimes up with 'bet you a year's pay the little sod makes it over the wall!'
Sometimes I wonder if Agares may be right. I observe the six grand wardens of this prison even as they observe me. I have battled with them many times. They are neither inaccessible nor indomitable, though I know they could make it so. I have seen them warp reality itself when the sport no longer amuses them, and then there is the fact, clearly visible to even the most ignorant of laypersons, that physics works differently here. Whether it is by their own hand, another game of theirs or maybe a trial by ordeal, or whether they truly have flaws that stem from some inexplicable restriction in their alien nature, they move in patterns that can be predicted by long hours of observation.
I have seen Hell's armoured Black Guard muster at the gates. I have seen the ritual dance of the cowled monks in the dead of night, faster and faster around the pentagram in perfect synchronisation until they are a whirl of colour and flames as their vile prayers are offered up to the dark masters of this realm. There is a beauty in it and a comforting familiarity, as though it makes up for the lack of stars or, for that matter, a sky. The Five-Headed Dragon, despite its ferocious appearance, poses no challenge any more. Neither do the Giant Zombie Heads, as I have dubbed them, although I shudder to think what they might actually represent and where the inspiration for their macabre lair was drawn from. I have learnt not to mock the realm that contains only caskets of bats – their diminutive size is easily made up for by the deadly efficiency with which they swarm their prey! Battles with the Twin Wizards also hold hidden dangers, as their powers of transformation and their magical barriers cause the Sphere to go awry from its course. Only the Fire Elementals truly confuse me, with their leaping and flickering, the key to their destruction and escape from their realm unclear. When I can defeat them without faltering, I will have truly understood every deep mystery of this hellish realm.
I am able to sleep, although I choose not to. I cannot control the sphere in my sleep. When I fail to control the sphere, it falls to the bottom of the machine, where I know it will be destroyed. The process is not permanent but it is nonetheless excruciatingly agonising to disconnected from the Sphere, to have no body at all, nothing between my soul and the formless abyss. It is as though my essence is flayed and reformed by the hand of some merciless Judge of the Underworld. While this temporary death claims me, I dream. My dreams are always of confusion, of being lost in the sea that is the entire extent of the Music, and I hear Her mocking laughter as I am swept away.
Her eyes are always watching me. Her face is always in the back of my mind. She is all that I desire, all that my weary soul longs to surrender to, and yet I well understand that the only thing she promises is annihilation. She is cruelty and beauty in its absolute synthesis. She is the black widow who will devour my soul if I ever let my guard down. I have watched her long enough. I have seen what her timeless grace degrades into as the walls around me destabilise with every trial I overcome. I have seen the Dragon in all its fury.
I know She will be waiting for me at the gates, the last obstacle for me to overcome.