Nine - Forest of Death

1817 Words
I set my eyes on the flaming cyclone in the distance. The roaring sound of the fire tornado could be heard from where we stood. It was like the wailing of a ghost; loud, tortured, and ethereal. Shivers ran up and down my spine as I gazed at the flaming spectacle. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Judging from its size, I thought that it could swallow the city of Jaffa whole. I swallowed the lump forming inside my throat. “Don’t tell me that we are heading in that direction,” I said as I looked at Amias. The robed man shook his head. “No,” he answered. “Well, at least not yet. As I have told you, we need to gather the Archangel’s Heavenly armaments first. Once we have them all, we will face the Demon King there as he will use that tornado as a portal to raise Hell to the mortal realm.” “That is not happening!” I raised both my hands in the air. “No. I am not joining your mad cause. I’d rather stay here and find a place to hide.” “Coward!” exclaimed Magat as he sneaked a sharp glance at me. “I say leave him here for the demons to find. If we insist on letting him come, he will just hold us back. He might even get us killed.” “No one is leaving anyone behind,” said Lyana as she stepped beside me. “If the Archangel Raphael said that Sh’muel is our leader, he must join us,” she said as she stared into my eyes. “It’s fine, Sh’muel. I know you are scared and all, but you have to come with us. You can stay behind our backs. You do not need to fight. We will protect you.” “I’m not risking my life for that pathetic excuse of a man,” Magat grunted. “That’s enough.” Amias turned around and began to walk away. The sound of his cane tapping against the barren soil rang through the air. “Let’s get moving. We only have time to gather the Angel’s gifts until the tornado swallows the second hill,” he said without looking back at us. I looked over my shoulder at the burning cyclone. The tornado pierced the horizon like a skewer through meat. Despite the sky being orange in color, the red flames of the whirling storm still stood out like angry ink on white parchment. From where I was, I could see its edges moving, circling. It was still far from the second hill, but I had no clue how fast it grew. For all I know, the tunnel might double in size any minute. “How long until it reaches the hill?” Amias stopped walking and turned to look at me. “I cannot say for certain. Time works differently in Hell, but one thing is for sure...” he said, his voice trailing. “What is?” I asked. “Time is working against us, so make haste. Every passing breath is important. Move along.” Amias spun on his heels and continued walking. “Where are you going, old man?” Magat asked. “The tornado is that way!” “I told you. We cannot face the Demon King without the Angel’s gifts,” Amias answered without looking back. “The first of the weapons is this way. Raphael’s Sword is guarded by the shadow demons in the Dead Forest.” Shadow demons. Dead forest. The words sounded horrific. My eyes widened as I watched Lyana and Magat follow Amias. They are all out of their minds. They are walking to their deaths. “Sh’muel!” yelled Lyana as she craned her neck to look at me. She was already several steps ahead. “Are you really just going to stand there? The Tyranids will eat you for breakfast!” Not wanting to become a meal for giant worm demons, I forced my legs to move. I knew that I did not want to join their fight, but I had nowhere else to go. Lyana was right. If I stayed here, I’d be an easy target. Placing one foot in front of the other, I followed them. I’ll just pretend to go with them. I’ll a find a cave—a shelter. Somewhere I could hide. Surely there’s something out there. “I see you do not fancy being worm food, eh?” asked the huntress as I caught up to her. “I do not fancy being anyone’s food Lyana.” The woman laughed. “Good, good,” she said. “Don’t worry. I told you that you do not need to fight. Just stay behind me, and I will keep you safe.” Blood rushed to my face. I could feel my cheeks warm up from the thought of a woman protecting my sorry self. “Thank you,” I replied to her. “ I will.” I will run the first chance I get. Everywhere I set my sight to, the view was the same. We were treading through a seemingly endless clearing of infertile red soil cluttered with sharp-looking pebbles. The entire place was desolate. The air smelled putrid. The stench was incomparable. It was as though my nose was dipped into a concoction of rotten eggs, decaying flesh, and animal dung. What made the smell worse was the underlying scent of dead flowers. I had to constantly bite my tongue to push the rising bile back down to my stomach. I raised my hand to cover my nose and looked around as we continued to walk. Aside from the four of us, no single soul could be seen. In our religion, we did not believe in the existence of the Underworld. Our rabbi, a spiritual leader, has told us about other religions’ concept of Hell. He said that it was a place filled with burning lakes of fire and sulfur. It was the place where the damned souls went after death to be punished for eternity. Of course, I did not buy into that concept. All souls go back to the Creator after some time of waiting and cleansing in Gehinnom. Walking through the very pits of Hell with no sightings of tortured souls burning in sulfur lakes, I was not sure what to believe. Now, I knew that Hell was real. I just wasn’t certain of its purpose. Stay here longer, and you will find out, Chazaklev. I repressed a shiver at the thought. No. I am not going to stay here for much longer. I will find another way out, I told myself as I shook my head to clear my thoughts. “Lyana,” I called out in an attempt to distract myself. “What is it, Sh’muel?” “I remember you saying something about not getting hungry nor thirsty and sleepy. What was that about?” “Oh, that,” the huntress remarked. “When I first came here, the first thing that I thought about was how to survive. I was not sure about what had happened to me, but I knew I wanted to live. With that said, I tried looking for supplies. Food. Water. A place to sleep in. After a fruitless search, I realized I wasn’t feeling hunger or thirst. There was no sun or moon in the sky, so I did not feel sleepy even after miles of wandering. At that point, I gave up on looking for supplies since there was no need for them. Soon enough, Amias found me. He told me that as a Chosen warrior, my human needs were doused.” “You’re saying you are awake all this time?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Aren’t you tired? We have been walking for miles now.” “Yes, I have had no sleep the entire time I’m here,” Lyana replied in her melodic voice. “And no, I am not tired. You will experience it yourself. You can walk without stopping, and you will not get tired. However, you can still feel pain. We are not immune to that.” “What happens if we… die here?” “Our souls will get trapped here until Judgment day.” Goosebumps ran across the length of my arms, and I shivered. At that, I decided to stop asking questions as I did not want to hear the answers. I shifted my gaze to the front and saw that Amias and Magat had stopped walking. “There,” said the robed man, his right index pointing ahead. “That is the Dead Forest. That is where we would find the Angel’s Sword.” Lyana and I ran to where Amias and the war chief stood. My eyes followed where the old man was pointing. Amias wasn’t lying when he said we were headed to the Dead Forest. The name of the forest fit it perfectly. The woodland that the old man was pointing at in the distance showed no signs of life. Staring at the forest felt like looking at old, moldy bread. The landscape of Hell was the bread, and the Dead Forest was the splotch of mold. The forest looked strange. It was dark. Foreign. Like it didn’t belong to the land. From where I stood, the woods looked like a disease spreading on rotting flesh. The Second Ring of Hell already looked horribly wrong and unnatural with its red soil and barren clearing. The Dead Forest was on another level. I felt my throat move as I swallowed the drool pooling at the back of my mouth. My mind was flooded with nightmarish images as I tried to make out the details of the woodland ahead. The trees in Hell looked pretty much like those on earth, aside from the fact that the leafless branches were as thin and sharp as bones. The twigs were like claws, extended in the air as though they were reaching for the flame-colored sky. I did not need to see the trees close to notice that their barks were not the usual green and brown. They were completely black. In between the trunks of the black trees, I could make out dark, smoke-like shapes floating and slithering in the air. I squinted my eyes and saw that there were hundreds of them, probably more, gliding through the Dead Forest. “What are those floating things, Amias?” “Dwellers of the Dead Forest. Shadow demons,” the old man replied. They are the entities guarding the Angelic blade,” he said. “We have to defeat them if we want to retrieve the Angel’s sword.” My jaw twitched. “All of them?” “Yes, Samuel. All of them.”
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