The Countess stood gazing out of her bedroom window at the red sky. The familiar dark grey clouds rolled endlessly, interspersed with the odd crackle of lightning and rumble of thunder. By now, she had been in Hell long enough that she was used to the constancy of the climate, the lack of natural light, and the thin atmosphere.
Down below, she watched lines of minions hauling huge slabs of marble secured by ropes, as demons and wicked spirits whipped them to work faster. She had ordered the marble for her new bathroom. It had proved even more difficult than she’d anticipated to get it over the threshold into Hell, but her protégé had not let her down. As she watched, one of the minions on the work line, a young skinny one, collapsed and was kicked repeatedly by a wicked spirit overseer. The minion remained inert as the wicked spirit rolled him out of the way and into a garbage disposal shoot which led to the fiery pits of the Deeper Depths.
The Countess frowned and made a note to instruct the overseer not to choose the skinny ones for this job—she couldn’t afford any more delays. The Chancellor and his partners would be visiting her home next week, and the renovations needed to be complete before their arrival. It was too hard to find decent help in Hell, and the Countess had never been entirely comfortable with enslaving minions to do her bidding. It wasn’t that she had a problem with slavery, but rather, she wanted devotion from her staff. She wanted commitment, she wanted intelligence, and she wanted them not only to obey her, but to respect her.
She’d had quite a good minion until last week—Namrata had been her name, but the poor fool had gone and killed herself. The Countess had taken it quite personally, even privately vowing to be more lenient with the next one.
Suicide was a big problem in Hell—in all seven circles. They’d done their best to educate minions on the futility of this act but to no avail. Some still preferred to take their chances in another, unknown hell dimension rather than stay here. The Countess couldn’t understand why. She’d done her research—she knew this was the best hell dimension of all seven Circles of Hell that any ****** soul could get. And it was the most liberal as Satan’s seventh son, Prince Sehloho, ruled it.
Satan and his other sons often criticised Sehloho for being too kind to his subjects, but the prince knew that if he turned a blind eye in certain areas, he’d be less likely to have to deal with uprisings. He also worked to keep the suicide numbers down, thus increasing production capacity. And right now, the Seventh Circle of Hell was leading in terms of industry and construction and soon they’d follow suit with technology too.
Sehloho even turned a blind eye to minions meeting, and the Countess was aware of several groups which met regularly to share their burdens. Some of these idiots even believed that they could achieve redemption. She smiled to herself as she shook her head, imagine that—redemption for eternally ****** souls: a ridiculous idea. No, she was a realist. As soon as the Countess had arrived in the Seventh Circle of Hell she’d determined to make the best of her situation and had set about climbing to the highest position a ****** soul could reach. She’d done well, back-stabbing, clawing, and trampling over whoever had stood in her way. And now, she was now the most senior official—a Principal Demon within the Seventh Circle of Hell, with a direct line to Prince Sehloho himself.
But now that position, which she’d worked so hard to attain, was threatened. She frowned, feeling wrinkles disturb the smooth, dark skin of her forehead as she ruminated on the ultimatum Sehloho had given her: she was to orchestrate his successful resurrection on Earth or be demoted back to wicked spirit status—no longer even a full demon. The shame of this, the sting of failure, and the gloating of those who would love to see her fall was something she could not countenance. The Countess had strategised how to achieve Sehloho’s resurrection but she needed more. She needed certainty and she needed a guarantee of success. To this end, she’d decided to ask the Lords of the Akashic—the source of all universal knowledge—how to ensure the outcome she desired.
* * *
A portal opened up behind her: her protégé had arrived.
He strode out of the gateway, brimming with confidence and dipped his head in respect. “Dumela Countess,” he said in greeting, using the local language of their youth .
She indulged him with a smile in return although, she couldn’t help raising one haughty eyebrow. “Dumela my son. Are you sure you will still have enough power to open a portal to the Akashic source? Your powers are diminishing more and more with the decline of your health.”
Her student bristled, his eyes dark with annoyance at the criticism, and at the reminder of his mortality. “Have I ever let you down before, Ma?”
She smiled at his use of the Sotho word for ‘Mother’. “No, you have not.”
He had come to her as a young boy, completely alone in the world, scared, vulnerable and without any family. She had taken him into her home, nurturing him not only to manhood but also into his powers as a sangoma.
She had insisted that he follow both the path of light and the path of darkness. She hadn’t wanted him to be limited in his abilities, and as she’d often told herself, it’s impossible to have sunlight without causing shadows. Both are necessary parts of creation which should be equally honoured.
The Countess pitied the sangomas who only followed the light, ignoring the dark path completely. They were ignorant fools, weaklings who would be crushed in the time to come—the time when demons would rule the world following the resurrection of Sehloho. The same resurrection that she was bringing into being.
Her student rubbed his hands together, his lip curled in satisfaction at her response,
“Then let us go.”
She watched as he summoned his powers to open a portal to the Akashic source, just as she had shown him whilst she was alive.
Her student held out his hand to her. The Countess took it and stepped over the threshold. The other side consisted of a subterranean network of tunnels and caves dimly lit by an orange glow from a source which she could not locate. Demons’ eyes were excellent at seeing in the dark, so, the Countess watched as her student took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust before moving tentatively forward with his arms outstretched. The air smelt surprisingly fresh, reminding her of the mountain air of her human home of Lesotho.
She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. A memory of her childhood— of running around the goats that her father had tended—came flooding back. She pushed it to the side, now was not the time for such sentimental thoughts.
She knew the way. They would have to come upon the Guardian first, but this should not pose any problems, because their intentions here were honest and within Universal Law. She followed after her student as he led the way, walking more sure-footed than her as her petite frame struggled to keep up with his long-legged stride. They soon came upon the sacred entrance and she saw the motionless frame of the Guardian as he kept his eternal vigil, standing sentinel at the threshold.
* * *
The Guardian’s role was simple: to protect the Lords of the Akashic and ensure that none but those who sought the truth entered. Now, he watched as a demon and her human acolyte walked towards him.
The creature stopped when she was close enough from his face that he felt her breath on his skin. The stench of her sin offended him and he curled his lip in disgust.
“State your purpose, demon,” he demanded, holding his torch to her face. The light cast shadows on the cavern walls and he watched a bitter smile creep over her face.
“Do not look at me in that manner, servant. I am here to consult the Akashic records.”
The Guardian narrowed his eyes. “And why should a demon be interested in destiny? Your fate in Hell has already been decreed.”
The demon fixed her deep red eyes on him. “I am not obliged to share my reasons with you. You know the Law. This is a neutral realm, any and all who seek their destiny shall be granted access. Now stand aside.”
The Guardian sighed, regardless of his distaste for the creature, she was right. He turned to her companion and narrowed his eyes as he peered at the human. The man appeared to be here in his physical form—not his astral body as was more commonly the case. This was most unusual but not unheard of. The man was obviously a powerful sorcerer with rare breaching skills.
“And you human, what is your business here?”
“I carry payment to offer the Lords. Look into my heart and you’ll see that I harbour no ill intent.”
The Guardian lowered his lantern in front of the man’s heart. It glowed light pink portraying an inner ambience of honesty. He sniffed the air and could detect no deceit. He then took a step to one side and held the lantern in front of the demon’s heart, it radiated a repulsive ambience of depravity but there was no dishonesty there, no lies mixed into her scent.
Satisfied, the Guardian stepped back, nodding his head once as he positioned his body as far away from the demon as he could possibly get. The human walked past and the demon followed, close enough to the Guardian that he felt the tendrils of her sin reach towards his virgin soul. He breathed a sigh of relief after they passed, relaxing once more into his perpetual stance as he continued to watch them.
With his inner eye—the all-seeing eye which stood watch not only at the gateway, but as guardian and watcher of the entire Akashic realm—he observed the demon and her human companion walking along the rough stone pathways, travelling deeper into the bowels of the realm between realms. They travelled on until at last they stood before the Lords of the Akashic. The demon stepped forward first. The three Lords towered above her, standing immobile, their granite forms casting shadows over her.
The Guardian watched as the first lord opened his mouth, his lips moving interminably slowly as befits one who lives outside the boundaries of time. “Demon, she whom they call the Countess. What knowledge do you seek from the Lords of the Akashic?”
“I seek knowledge of the historic and of my future, my Lord.”
The Lord of the Past addressed her, his voice higher pitched than his brother who had spoken first. “Speak, and I will grant you knowledge of the historic.”
“I request the prophecies of the demon Alzarat which were destroyed in the great battle of Uhuru. I request what he prophesied about the resurrection of Prince Sehloho.”
There was silence for a few moments, then
the Lord of the Past spoke. “The demon, Alzarat, proclaimed the following prophecy:
And lo it shall come to pass that a human breacher initiates the resurrection of Sehloho. And lo, the breacher shall witness the prophecy come to pass, and none in Heaven, Hell or on Earth shall stop it coming to pass.” The demon’s eyes shone with excitement. “Thank you, my Lord. I now request knowledge of my future.”
The Lord of the Future addressed her. “Speak and I will grant you knowledge of the future.”
“What is my destiny in the resurrection of Sehloho?”
“You shall execute a successful resurrection and the denizens of Hell shall flood the Earth. You shall be there to witness it and bask in the glory of success.”
Her red eyes shone as she gasped with delight.
“Heed my warning though,” the Lord of the Future continued. “The breacher must be present to witness the resurrection or it will not come to pass. Do you understand, demon?”
The smile slid from her face as she looked reverently at the lords. “Thank you, my Lord.” She dipped her head in respect and added, “I will heed your warning.”
The Lord of the Future looked towards the demon’s human companion, “And you human, what knowledge do you seek?”
“I do not seek knowledge. I only offer payment for your services.”
The man stepped forward, a closed fist held out towards the Lords. He bent down, opening his fist and dropped the item on the ground. It rolled around slowly before settling against a stone. The Guardian looked closely with his inner eye. It was a human eyeball.