“Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed.”
– Bhagavad Gita
She had sought out the one she desired, despite the danger. He remained at a distance, allowing the shade to impart secrets.
It was called the Time of Configuration, and they were the chosen of Leviathan, the Vasa Iniquitatis. It was their duty to each guide a human being at the crossroads of Chaos and Order, helping them to choose Order, the shade called Elliott explained.
The way she said it, she meant him specifically. Kirsty paused, staring at the captain with a dawning suspicion. You. You’re here.
We are one, no matter how you persist in believing otherwise.
He manifested through the image of the Englishman, leaving him standing frozen beside her.
I came here to find Elliott.
In him, you have found me.
There are things I have to know, and there is no reason for you to tell me the truth.
I have no stake or reward to gain in lies. I will refrain from indulging in my desires if you will speak with me – but I will only make such an offer once.
He watched her struggle with the choice, knowing she could not resist.
Why did Lenore call you that title if it’s a name for a group of you?
The Daughter of Hell is susceptible to human notions of romantic pageantry. She probably heard the tales from Angelique and bequeathed the title solely to me in her fervor and devotion.
Vasa Iniquitatis – vessel of sin? What does that mean? You don’t believe that you commit sins.
I am not without blemish, having committed the sin of remembrance. This husk, the vessel I am bonded to – is a creature of Chaos, of sin. It was a desire to spare you from the blades of the Surgeon that led to my sin.
Elliott’s body – is the vessel… He defied you to save me. You weren’t thrown out for that? How did you end up in the pillar?
That was my sin and the penance for it. The Black Diamond used the Surgeon for that purpose before he was judged.
Yet here you are.
Mercy is lain upon the loyal servant who again humbles himself to serve.
Lenore’s right. You do sound like a priest.
Xipe Totec smiled. I am Hell’s Pontifex.
And the Favored Son. Favored by?
Leviathan, Lord of the Labyrinth.
Leviathan… Kirsty shivered. That is the thing I saw with Tiffany. It made me aware of a lot in me I didn’t want to know. I only want to live, have human pleasures, and love.
Human pleasure, a paltry transaction of oiled frictions. Chaos seeks to promise much, but its gifts fade to wasted lies all too quickly. Are your hungers so limited? When I can offer so much more?
He changed the drifting formless quality of her dream and gave it dimension and structure, forming it into the confines of a gray stone tunnel – featureless and eternal.
Kirsty shrank away from him, her fear a sweet perfume. You bastard – take me back to Elliott.
You desired answers and they are here. Walk with me.
I don’t trust you – I can’t.
Have you not desired to know what we are, what this place is, and why we trouble your kind?
Tempt Joey with that, not me. All I want is to be left in peace.
Look around you, Kirsty. The perfection of Order. It is untouched here, unsullied.
He walked on, moving them through the Labyrinth to the areas where Chaos had invaded.
Here, the infestation begins. It leaks through from your world, unraveling and destroying. Ages ago, Leviathan beat back this enemy, but it continued to encroach all around, necessitating the war that has been waged ever since. I and my brothers and sisters of the Order of the Gash were bonded to human souls to gain an understanding of how to defeat them. Even so, we walked these halls long before your kind began the conflict, in other forms, filled with the sole desire to serve our god.
You want to destroy me because of something some protozoa did at the dawn of time? I had nothing to do with this war.
Ah, child … it has never been my wish to destroy you but to help you to ascend to a high place of power, serving Leviathan at my side, as you were meant to do.
I wasn’t ‘meant’ to do anything and I don’t want to be what you are. I want –
Love and pleasure … and control. With someone who cannot betray you. No man or woman can give you that. They are fallible, imperfect and weak. Yet you are suited to this work – the art of your earlier gifts to me has proven that. Come and see.
The chamber before them had appeared from the blank wall of the tunnel, its iron doors opening at a gesture of his hand.
What is it?
Your canvas – the artistry of your hate. It is exquisite work.
Guiding her in, he watched her as she faced the thing that her will had made. She looked up at it and stumbled back into him with a strangled cry. He laid his hands on her shoulders, his voice at her ear.
The husband is not the central figure as I might have expected. Yet he links the others, forming an inter-woven pattern of their collective sin – the cold disregard of the artist.
Kirsty’s whisper was a broken thing. Trevor… My God, I – I can’t have…
The eyes opened, blinked, and saw her. Others around him, sensing his awareness, began to move. The five mouths worked, but only the one called Trevor could speak. Its rictus smile stretched in joy to behold her.
Kirsty… You’ve come.
She began to scream and seemed unable to stop.
~ ~ ~
Elliott held her by her shoulders and shook her gently. Kirsty! You’re safe!
She fell silent and looked up at him, her face streaked with tears. Elliott? No. You aren’t you, you can’t be – he called you a … husk.
Don’t be afraid, I would never hurt you. Kirsty, you must wake and leave this place. He didn’t lie – I am bound to him. You cannot seek me out without putting yourself under his power. He brushed her hair from her face gently. Joey wanted me to warn you, but you already know the risks. You must stay away.
He tried to make his kiss on her forehead a chaste thing, but desire licked at his soul, hungry for the matching heat he felt in hers.
Isn’t there a way to free you? We could try –
No. I must stay. My sacrifice keeps him lashed to the commandments of Hell.
Another vessel, a replacement…
Oh, Kirsty, how he has changed you… No. He touched her cheek, regret shining in his eyes. Even if it was possible, and my freedom wasn’t bought at such a price, how could I return? There is no seed left in the world to allow it; it all turned to dust long ago.
Her hands rose to his face. Elliott … I could almost believe. I wanted to ask you – did you come to me before?
I have tried many times. I shouldn’t have, as it put you at risk … and now has let him in.
I used to dream of you, of talking to you, but never remembered anything afterward. I’ve wanted to thank you for my life, for saving Tiffany and I from Channard.
If only that same act hadn’t put you in his debt. He will never release you from it – and there is so little I can do.
I don’t know why I fight so hard anymore. I want to live, but my life is barely worth it. Sometimes I think I only fight because the struggle keeps me going in some twisted way. I can’t love without the fear of betrayal, and I am … changing. It terrifies me.
You should go. This isn’t wise.
Elliott, I do believe it’s you. Can’t we take this moment and be together?
It would only strengthen his influence over you. The fearsome being he waits for, the one he hopes to use you to regain, is a creature of devastating evil. If she were again at his side, his ambition would know no limits.
So we must deny ourselves for some greater good? She leaned close, her lips whispering over his. I want you, I want to be anything you need – and I want to make you need me just as intensely.
I do. From the moment you freed me, helped me remember myself, I have wanted you – but it would destroy you.
She pressed her body against his, her fingers sliding up his back. I’m already damned. What he showed me – I can’t bear it … but even the horror of seeing that, knowing what I’ve done, hasn’t stopped my need for you. If Hell is the only place I can have this, maybe that is what’s meant.
Kirsty, no. It can’t come to that.
Elliott, please … just for a little while…
He didn’t pull away when she kissed him. Hating the being that shared his soul and would use this against her, against them both, didn’t allow him to refuse her.