It was his favorite affair of the day: the hour when all the souls of the night afore were lashed single file to the great city of Paradís, whose gates opened wide to welcome them through. Of course, this place was the last part of their journey, for their final destination was in the far end of the city where no one but these souls could enter. What time the gate opened was never the same, but it was always preceded by the bell of the gate which was located at the gate’s highest tier, laid inside the stone of the towering wall. The bell itself was thirty times the size of a tall daemon, and only the largest of daemons put together had the pleasure of tolling that bell once, twice, thrice. When the final toll peeled and echoed throughout the entire city, activity on the center highway doubled, and sometimes even tripled. The wide throughway had to be cleared at all costs, or else one would become trampled into the dark grey stones that marked the path from gate to destination, a total of seven miles, or about fifteen thousand footsteps.
This day, before the third toll even commenced, Samael had thrown the covers off and pounced onto his feet. He snatched up his tunic made of the finest black silk with silver and turquoise stitching and pulled it quickly over his lean torso. His hat was where he had last left it—under the bed, away from drifting and speedy thieves. Glancing quickly at a mirror, he bobbed the double-pointed brim, lowered it over his eyes, then raised it as an afterthought and pushed the gypsy feather over his face. In an instant, he was at the open window, but paused as the third toll echoed across the inner walls and thousand buildings of the city. His clear blue eyes shifted behind him to the bed where he was lying in a few seconds ago. Beautiful Lyra. She was still asleep, deaf to the daily peals that rung in the temporary passersby. This was one of the many mundane occurrences, nay, annoyances, that burdened Paradís’ residents, and most tended to ignore them altogether. But not I, Samael licked his lips. He gazed a second longer at the slumbering girl, then dropped himself out of the window.
“A little early today, is it not?” Samael said as he picked himself up from the two-story drop. A hideously disfigured rodent-faced gargoyle that walked on all fours had been waiting for him below the window, and now it gazed silently at him. Its bulbous red eyes expressed the words it could not. Samael chuckled to himself and nudged at the leathery beast playfully.
“Let’s go.” And he ran down the alley with the gargoyle close to his heels, its forked lavender tongue already lolling from its mouth as they skidded onto the main road. Almost colliding with a cart full of glass shards, the boy and pet sprinted down the centre of the stone pathway. Above the short building of this rotten neighborhood, he could see his target: the spiraling and dilapidated watchtower that creaked perilously every time a sulfurous blast of hot wind gusted through the city.
He knew this section well as he darted through the street carts and traders, ignoring the innumerable curses thrown at him that quickly fell silent from the distance he put between them. Through crooked alleys, over ditches and fences, the two finally stopped in front of a four-story mortared building. A signpost jutted out of the building atop the main entrance: a sword with a wooden slat strung from it, and on the slat was a horribly hand-painted image of a bone and a spoon. This building he entered and quickly shouldered his way through the throngs of misshapen bodies and stench of stale mead and rotten breath. His pet had been held back amid the indoor crowd, but Samael didn’t wait for him as he arrived at the door at the far end of the room.
“You’re a little late this time,” the door’s regular guard slurred.
“I’ll still never know how you know it’s me,” Samael grinned at the man who had patches over both of his eyes, one red and one orange.
“The bells, the bells,” the man lolled as he unlocked the door and held it open.
“Right,” Samael kept grinning as he went through. He wasn’t worried about his pet—it’d memorized this path a hundred times and would catch up to its master with no effort at all.
Samael climbed the four stories and at the top floor, raced down the long hallway to the window at the end. Gaining speed, he raised his arms over his head and ran full speed at the open window. Before tripping out of it, his hands caught hold of the frame and he threw his body upwards, the momentum hurling his body end over end until his feet were firmly planted on the flat rooftop.
His heart was racing, for once in a rare while, his acrobatic feat would fall flat to the stones below. Now that he was on the roof, his route to that rickety tower was clear and unobstructed. Immediately, he resumed his tireless sprint and sped across the flat earthen roves, jumping and gliding over the open spaces, knowing every which precise perch to leap from, and in less than a minute (he timed himself every time he skipped roofs), he had landed atop the last building—his pet had caught up to him by this time—and bound over the edge to land into a bed of brambles.
Brushing himself off as he got up, he quickly rounded the base of the tower and stepped over the ruins that was once a gate and clamored up the spiraling staircase as fast as his legs would take him, skipping three, four steps at a time. Already, he could hear the front gates of the city creaking open. Those ten ton doors took more than a minute to fully open and Samael had only a few seconds left. His pet bounded past him, for he was just as excited as its master.
He finally reached his vantage point: a section of the wall had been blown out—how, he could not discover, but it was high enough that the entire stretch of the centre highway lay before him from right to left. With his pet beside him, the two crooned their necks forward and gaped in ecstasy as if it were the first time they saw such a magnificent sight.
The gate, forty-four feet high, etched in horrible runes and cryptograms of every kind that translated into all forms of death and decay were almost fully opened now. Treading slowly across the threshold came the behemoths, dragging carts that were piled as high as themselves with disfigured and dismembered bodies. Beside them in single file on each side were the daemons of a higher order, draped in crimson and gold and carrying high their lances of rusted iron and rags. Behind them limped a meaningful line of daemons, also in color but holding long crops of burning flays, some with fire, some with ice, and in between these lines marched the lamenting souls of the once mortally alive. They arrived here in the same physical state as they had left the living world, and their numbers reached almost a thousand today.
“Something’s happened there,” Samael said, grinning slightly as he drank in the scene. “To come so soon, a powerful mortal must be having his play.”
His pet clicked its teeth in reply, and Samael waited patiently for the behemoths, those unfairly large beasts with rolling yellow eyes and black tongues, talons as large as a human male, sinewy muscles writhing over pocked bones, to come nearer to his point of view.
“They look like the humans who came last night,” Samael craned his neck as the train came closer.
His pet clicked again, beetled eyes glittering in similar curiosity.
“A little different,” Samael narrated, “but the same breed. All burned. And burned again.”
He sighed. From here, they appeared the size of ants, but their scars and material were discernible, their mutilated bodies easy to tell what had tortured them so in the life before. And they were so unlike what lived here. Like the souls gone past yesterday, Samael would again watch these be tossed into the Abyss. A few were sent to wander alone, never to return, but none were let back into the city, his city. None were deemed worth enough. Wastes, all of them. Pointless creations that did nothing but succumb to their animalism to whichever god they worshipped—which to the god of Paradís, was certainly unworthy.
The behemoths with the souls unfit to walk began to pass by the boy and his pet now. Those that made their way had long given up hope; this was all they would know for eternity. How miserable it must be, mused Samael, to live two lives, to believe so strongly in that first life, to dedicate their all to such a cause that seemed so empty now. Even though their hearts broke in sorrow and all thoughts of escape had perished, the crimson daemons beside them would lash them on occasion, as if trying to drive out even those forsaken memories. As with every day for as long as Samael could remember, he would look at those faces, plead that they’d utter some words of their past, cry a name, reveal something. It wasn’t that he was curious of that human plane, for he had not even attempted to imagine what that world was like—he was rather fond of this one—he wished to understand this human. That was why he never crowded into the central highway to hurdle rocks and stones and whatever else capable of inflicting pain upon these souls like other boys his age. They would have enough hurt. No, he didn’t want to see them cry out in despair. He wanted to know why they hurt. Why they gave up. Why they spoke no words. Countless days, years, centuries, he had watched them. And still, he could not understand. And they never ceased to enter this eternal plane. Was not the human place close to its end?
He watched in silence the throngs of mortals that passed by him, the jeers and cheers of his fellow people casting a sickly whine throughout the city. The procession being long and slow, Samael finally sat himself down upon a naked stone, large enough for a seat. His legs dangled over his personal belvedere, and he was quite comfortable. The words of the crimson-clothed daemons were rather decipherable now, their endless streams of curses and insults hardly affecting the doomed souls.
It would be a considerable amount of time before they reached that fortress within the city, still another six and a half miles walk from where these damned souls were now. The central highway in the distance was still crowded, its pedestrians knowing that it would take a while for the visitors to reach them. And beyond those teaming crowds lay the much smaller gates to the fortress within a fortress, that impenetrable fortress that housed those lords of this plane--well, as far as Samael knew. Those Echelons of Evil, those eternal Beings that didn't ask much of anyone here, but were rather more preoccupied with the going-ons of others in other planes and time. They didn't care what these daemons did here. The daemons were powerless. Insignificant to the grand scheme, harmful to no one but themselves. And Samael knew that he and his peers were helpless. So they created their own struggles to distract themselves from the struggles that they themselves lived with.
But what lay behind those walls? They were almost as tall as the walls of Paradís itself, and only those regal daemons went in and out of that place. And coincidentally, there were no high precipices nearby those walls of which to spy from, so no word of mouth was trusted. Some helot daemons, the title of the standard daemon that lived in this plane of death, in this city of Paradís, they went into that fortress and never returned, and no one ever heard of them again. It was certainly mysterious, and something Samael thought of once in a rare while, but nothing he pondered over or bothered himself about. It was the way it was. Those were all old wives' tales, anyway. He didn't believe a word of it. Before eternity, no one knew what was behind those walls save the gods, and for the next eternity, no one would know what was behind those walls save only the gods.
His pet sat straight up, and Samael turned to him.
"See someone you know down there?"
Footsteps below him jolted him upright, and Samael jumped to his feet, standing on that ledge from a forty foot drop. Falling gave him no fear, for the helot nurses would scrape him back together eventually, but an intruder, a stranger, that gave him a tingling of small fear.
"Who goes there?" Samael called out as the footsteps became louder and advanced closer.
"No one for you to worry yourself over," a scratchy high-tenor voice echoed up.
"Your name?" Might as well make introductions before greeting a strange face.
"Contrare. And may you be Samael of the Pale?"
Samael looked at his pet. Only those who thought better of themselves called him by that name. And only someone who he knew would know who he belonged to. His pet's eyes rolled about in his head, as confused as his master.
"Yes, I am that Samael," he said, keeping his eyes on the steps spiraling below him.
"Ah!" The voice was ever closer, but the source of it not yet in sight. "I was told that I could find you here. Just a moment, I will arrive shortly."
Samael frowned. He glanced back at the procession behind him. Nothing new, nothing special, other than the fact that the majority of the dead were charred to pitch. His pet gurgled and scratched its paw on the stone, and Samael turned back quickly to the spiraling staircase. Now he could see a balding head bobbing slowly up the stairs. Scraggly long blonde hairs sprouted from the most random spots, ears long and twisted top and bottom, his labored breathing exposing sharp fangs and a lone and long silver tooth in the lower left jaw. His nose was small, flat, his brow smooth and eyes a flickering chestnut red.
"Contrare," Samael called. "And who has told you that you would find me here?"
A smile, more terrible than the emotionless open maw, appeared instantly on the stranger's face. "Why, your beautiful Lyra, of course!"
"Lyra!" Samael shot a look at his pet. How dare this monster show his face to such a handsome young lady! "What have you done to her?"
"Why, nothing." The daemon finally landed upon a step where he was within an arm's length to Samael. "What do I need of a girl like her?"
"Do not go near her again," Samael clenched his fists and gazed eye to eye with this haggard.
He chuckled. "Now, now, this is quite a ramshackle you've found for yourself. I hear you come here every day? Pray, what else do you do with your time?"
"It would not concern you," Samael folded his arms. "Now why have you come here?"
"Oh," Contrare waved his hand. "I have been sent to find you. You must come with me. Or do you watch them until they have reached the crimson gates?"
He watched them until the end of their journey, until the last one tiredly crossed that crimson threshold and the doors closed. But he said nothing, narrowing his eyes to the intruder. "And who is searching for me?"
"A guilty conscience, perhaps?" Contrare giggled. "Pish and posh, young one, do not fret and come with me, spare yourself the chase for the sake of adventure. Gods know that you have no other obligations."
"I favor no god but the One. Don't speak to me of gods."
"Ah-ah," Contrare wagged his finger. "Pray no one else has heard your blasphemy! Now follow me." With that, he turned and began descending.
Samael stood unmoving, arms still crossed and staring at the stone pillar in front of him. He looked down at his pet, who looked up in question. Finally, he sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and followed the stranger.