Hellhound (6 - The Gatekeepers)
Okay, noooowww, I’ll get into this whole explanation part I really hope I did good on this one, so please tell me if I did:D And I’ll go ahead and remind everyone that I’m not trying to be preachy with this largely Christianity-influenced premise, so please remember that while reading. Enjoy
<- Chapter 5
“Those who preach the teachings of God depict Hell as an endless domain filled with fire and darkness, …where fear is your only emotion…and agony…your only sensation. …These accounts are far from true, Justin, as you might have already concluded. In reality, …Hell is not a single realm composed of flames and brimstone, …but rather fifteen, each more different than the last…and each of which you will have to traverse in order to reach Hell’s entrance.”
“…Fifteen. I have to go through fifteen different realms of Hell…and exactly how large are they?”
“…It’s difficult to say. The skies are always dark in this place, making it nearly impossible to measure time any longer…and…no soul has ever seen the gate before, save for when they first enter the afterlife, …so it’s rather difficult to get an estimation of their sizes.”
“Damn it…and just when I thought I wasn’t dispirited enough.”
“So, …I guess now, I’m supposed to believe that you don’t expect me to pull this off, either.”
“…I have my doubts, …but that’s not to say I don’t place as much faith as I can into those who make the attempt.”
“But then, why would anyone ever bother? …What makes them think that they could possibly be the first to do it? …Louis, why did you continue to try, even after so many failed attempts?”
I looked over at him as he sat in the corner of the room, but he didn’t answer me, …his eyes remaining fixated on the floor. …Adolf noticed this, as well, so he took the time to speak in his stead, …as well as everyone else who had ever tried to escape Hell.
“…God and Shaitan are far from equals, Justin, …especially in terms of power. …If God so wished, He could prevent you from ever knowing happiness or satisfaction, so long as you continued to exist in this universe. …Shaitan must enforce pain and misery upon Hell’s inhabitants, as you’ve no doubt witnessed. …God can foresee coming events, including our own fates, …but the free will He has given mankind in our own decisions prevents Him from directly intervening in our affairs, no matter the outcome we face as a result. …Shaitan does not have the luxury of knowing the consequences of certain actions…and, as you well know, he’s completely capable of intervening in the lives of others. …It’s for this reason that God bound his physical form in chains when he cast him into this pit, leaving him with only his spirit and his influence to affect our moral decisions.”
“…The devil…is in chains?”
“But, of course. As I said, he is not on equal footing with God, …but that doesn’t change the fact that he was second in Heaven before he became first in Hell. …He has more than enough power to escape this place and walk across the Earth on his own, which is why God placed him in his bonds. …This small fact alone gives the majority of us all hope, though. …After all, …if even Shaitan couldn’t leave this place if so able, …why would we ever think that we had the freedom to?”
…At first, this information only served to make me question God’s power, …but after thinking over it, I suddenly became filled with the hope that Adolf had only previously mentioned. …Was this God’s way of saying that He hasn’t given up on us?
“What sort of landscapes lie out past these dungeons? …Just what are the fifteen realms?”
“…I’m afraid that only God and Shaitan know that answer. …No human has ever made it past the Ruins, though rumors collected over the years have given me more knowledge on the subject than most.”
“…Have you been outside the dungeons, Justin?”
“No, not since I arrived.”
“Well, …this complex system of corridors and torture chambers you’ve been exposed to is actually underground. Above it lies…the demon city, …a massive arrangement of ruined buildings that surround a lake of human blood and molten material. …At its center sits Shaitan’s palace, accessible only through the unique abilities of the Seven Princes, each of whom have their own smaller palaces scattered across the landscape. …As a whole, this…central hub is known collectively as the Core, …the first realm of Hell. …If one were in a high enough position within this city, they would find this realm to be surrounded by a colossal red cloud on all sides…and, should one find themselves capable of navigating through this monstrosity, …they will find themselves at the entrance of a vast maze of ruins, …Hell’s third realm, following the Core and the Smoke Cloud.”
“…Well, that leaves twelve. …Why has nobody ever gotten past the Ruins?”
“Nobody is entirely certain, …but within the cloud is said to roam a monster of vast proportions, which devours any soul brave enough to attempt to pass through it. …Those capable of avoiding it ultimately find themselves slaughtered instead by the demon that lurks within the Ruins.”
I turned to look at Louis, who appeared to be in deep thought, …most likely remembering those of his four separate attempts in which he made it through the Smoke Cloud. I myself was thinking about the monsters that Adolf had just previously mentioned.
“…Looks an awful lot like a pattern to me.”
“You just named three of the realms and you’ve already pointed out two demons. …I suppose I’ll need to watch out for more.”
“…And you would be correct. …The thirteen realms between the Core and Hell’s gate are inhabited by a single demon, …far different than those you see here…and created by Shaitan himself specifically to prevent those who attempt escape from going too far. …Amongst the majority of us, …they are known as the Gatekeepers.”
“…And this must be where difficulty comes into the equation.”
“Some, you will find ways of getting past without need for conflict. …Others, …you will have no choice but to destroy. But, needless to say, …your freedom from this prison will be hard-earned.”
“Hmhm…well, I was counting on that. …So what are the rumors you’ve heard…about both the realms and the other Gatekeepers?”
“Hmmm, …as I said, the landscapes take many different forms, …from a burning landscape or a sea of blood…to a frozen wasteland or a mountain of untold height. There is said to be a vast desert that contains an oasis of fresh water, the only source of it in all of Hell…and there are some places that cannot possibly be described with words alone. …The same fact holds true with the Gatekeepers. It is said that Shaitan created some with forms that have recognizable titles, such as the giant…or the kraken…or even the dragon.”
“Then, there are those the likes of which Shaitan formed from his own imagination. …The creature you’ll find within the Smoke Cloud is said to be a fine example of this.”
“Man, …this quest seems that much more difficult with every new thing I hear from him. …It was enough when he said I had to walk across fifteen realms, but now I have to face thirteen different…wait…thirteen? ...But, why would he leave Hell's gate unguarded...or is...?”
“…You said there is a demon for every realm between here and the gate. …But, …what happens when you reach the gate?”
He took a moment to exchange looks with both Leonard and Louis. …This was going to be just delightful, I knew it.
“Well, …for one thing, you will have to deal with the Hellhound.”
“The Hellhound…you’re joking.”
“Huhhhh, …unfortunately no, my boy, …and I’m afraid you will find it to be a much greater obstacle than anything else you will come across on the path to its den.”
“…And why’s that? …What is it exactly?”
“…It goes back to the very beginning of the universe itself, …when God first separated light and darkness, …earth and sea, …Heaven and Hell, …and good and evil.”
“…I don’t understand.”
“Come now, lad, there can never be one without the other. This is one of the few definite laws that God set for the world we now live in. When He created one thing, its opposite took shape in that same moment. …Light and darkness became known as day and night, …the earth and sea became land and the ocean, …and good and evil manifested themselves as angels and demons, …one demon, to be precise.”
“The Hellhound was…the first demon?”
“And the very first inhabitant of Hell itself, long before Shaitan fell from Heaven on high. …It took every last bit of strength his army of angels-turned-demons could muster to subdue it and only then could he claim Hell as his own dominion. …The Gatekeepers pale in comparison to the Hellhound, both in size and power, …as do the Seven Princes themselves. …It is just as you might expect it to be, …a colossal dog blazing with hellfire, through the mouth of which all condemned souls enter this wretched place.”
I remembered back to that feeling…right after my death, …Heaven’s gate falling from my sight, as my eyes became engulfed in fire…in hellfire.
“Could that have been it? …Falling into the jaws of the Hellhound?”
“…Well, …as it stands now, your chances are slim at best, made slimmer by this being your first attempt…and made virtually nonexistent if you choose to partake in this journey alone.”
Around this time, both Louis and Leonard had stood up and walked over to my side, the former speaking first.
“Hmhmhm, Justin, did you honestly think we would allow you to attempt this on your own after hearing what you were up against?”
…I wanted to let them know that I was grateful, but…in the end, I couldn’t find the correct words to express this. I looked up at Leonard, who had just placed his hand on my shoulder, and suddenly realized that Adolf was still in his seat. …Gazing over in confusion, he merely shook his head before answering the unspoken question.
“…I have made my own attempts, my boy, …all in vain…and all for my own undeserving cause. …There are very few people in this place that are as wicked as I was in life…and I am entitled to spend eternity in here with them.”
I wished to say something reassuring to him, …much to my own amazement, …but in the end, no words moved past my lips, …at least, none that held that purpose.
“…Regardless of that, …I still need your help, Adolf.”
“…I’ll need your wisdom when preparing for this endeavor, …more so than you might realize.”
“Justin, you surely-”
No response followed this. …His self-opinion was obviously less pleasant than I had originally thought, …but I reassured him that everything I was saying was the truth.
“The man you were in life could hardly be called human, something that even you agree with. …Your time in this place has changed you, though, Adolf, …and the fact that you refuse to acknowledge it only proves it further. …You’re a…”
I knew this was going to happen long before I even began to speak. …Regardless of what I had witnessed earlier, …I still couldn’t bring myself to say that Adolf Hitler had become a good man. …I can only thank God that I didn’t have to. Having lowered my head as I spoke, I lifted it again to find him now on his feet before me.
“I suppose you could use some assistance in assembling your group.”
It was only when I noticed the small smile on his face that I repaid it with one of my own, quickly rising to my feet to stand with the first two members of my team.
“And exactly how large should this group be?”
“Of decent size, no doubt. …I would recommend traveling with at least thirty others behind you, but no more than one hundred. If the size of the masses is too great, it will only make it that much easier for the Gatekeepers to bring down your numbers.”
“And, as for choosing your companions-”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. …I already know what I’m looking for in my men.”
“…If you insist.”
“What I need to know now, though, is…how will we get out of the Core…once I’ve found my team?”
He hesitated a moment. …I knew this would turn out more complicated than he originally made it out to be.
“…Therein lies a problem, my friend.”
“Huhhh, …of course there is.”
“Does it require breaking out of the dungeons?”
“Oh no. That, I fear, is impossible. The measures they take to ensure our incarceration are far too great to pass through, even in numbers. …No, in order to leave the Core, …you will need to acquire permission.”
“From who else? …One of the Seven Princes themselves. …Based on your expression, I assume that you are…perplexed?”
“…Yeah, actually. Wouldn’t Satan, …I mean, Shaitan be in charge of such…precarious decisions?”
“One would normally assume this, yes, but…while in the confines of his bonds, he leaves his dominion completely to the watchful eyes of his seven most powerful demons, called on only in the most dire occurrences. …And when considering that no one has ever been able to complete the journey, there is really nothing precarious about it. For this reason, they are rather lenient in the allowance of these rare attempts.”
“…Reasonable enough. So, it takes the permission of just one of the Princes?”
“Hmhm, well, I suppose that leaves out Asmodeus.”
“…Who would you recommend?”
“…Lucifer, …for the sole reason that his toll is much more reasonable than the others.”
“Well, you would expect that one does not simply ask to leave the Core, no? …Beelzebub would likely eat you before granting this request, …Satan might rip your limbs from your body in one of his frequent fits of rage, …Asmodeus might-”
“Okay, okay, I…I get the idea. …So, what makes Lucifer so passive?”
“Merely because he finds the utmost hilarity in these…feeble-minded attempts, as he calls them. …In his mind, the laughs that he gets from them are more than enough to satisfy him.”
“Hmmm, …hmhmhmhm, then that will be his undoing. …I’ll be leaving the Core soon, Adolf, …and I will not be coming back.”
I turned back to see Louis and Leonard, both of whom were smiling, …perhaps enlivened by my own assuredness. The former spoke first.
“Let’s certainly hope not.”
“Well then, lad. ...Shall we begin searching for this fiend?”
“...Yeah. …Louis, if you can, go find Ivan. …He’s going with us...and so is everybody else.”
“Hmhmhm, I wondered when you might ask.”
Brand new information seered into my mind and newfound confidence seered into my heart, I headed out the room and began scavenging through the dungeons for anyone that could point me in Lucifer’s direction. If God was still on my side, talking him into allowing this escapade would be no problem whatsoever. …The only question on my mind now was…how I would deal with the Gatekeepers…and the Hellhound.
- The End -