Astaroth like the others in her court, possessed an unrelenting ambition for moving higher in the ranks. She left her quarters and headed for a part of the dark realm that demons rarely visited. It was Naberious’s old grounds where he reigned over the lost and dark human souls. Having left his place to Moloch, it was he that she would first encounter upon entering.
As Astaroth arrived she hesitated at the massive steel double doors. They mounted no doorknobs or pulls - only a gargoyle centered in the doors. They made its eyes of diamonds, and when she knocked, its eyes turned blood-red, and a voice said, “Astaroth, what brings you to my part of the realm?”
She rolled her eyes and sighed, “Moloch, this is Naberious’ place, and you know it. I came to see you.”
The doors opened up to a heat filled space that resembled a smoky, red cave.
Echoes of her steps were audible as she walked down the narrow stone pathway. Distant, intermittent screams filled the air. To her left was a wall not unlike a mountain, and to the right was a straight drop off to a moving stream of lava. The liquid on the surface was hot, bright orange and raged with heat. The thin consistency slithered between the stone mountains and the center revealed a red pin stripe that moved with the liquid.
Astaroth peered over the ledge and studied the strange movement down below, a long fall to a torturous death for whoever was so unfortunate to do so.
She reached the end of the narrow walkway and met Moloch who towered over her, with his hands on his hips, posturing in front of an enormous stone chair decorated with glistening jewels.
“Astaroth, what do I owe the pleasure?”
She gave him a curt nod. “What do you know of Naberious self-exile?”
Moloch’s face changed; with surprise, he said, “Why would you care or ask such a thing?”
“Are you aware of Pandora’s box?”
“How do you know about that?”
“Answer me, Moloch.”
He turned away from Astaroth and seated himself in his chair, resting his chin in his hand. “That box is none of your concern.”
“Yes, it is the dark one used me to be Pandora to trick Naberious into returning here. What is going on?”
Moloch glared at Astaroth. “Well, I had no idea the dark one entrusted you to such a thing. You disguised as Pandora. Did it work?”
“No, he knew it wasn’t her.”
Moloch hissed and smiled. “Well, he hasn’t changed now, has he? Not much ever escaped his attention. Right down to the way something smelled. Odd he is. But a genius in human psychology. Well, maybe any psychology.”
“You don’t seem to miss him, taking his place here.”
“Miss Naberious? Why should any feelings matter? Before he left, he said that he would remain in exile until his pain left. He said that his state of mind compromised him and the realm. He did the right thing, and if he were to remain gone for eternity, I have things under control.”
Astaroth sneered, “Well you don’t want him back. But you have to guard the gates through time. You will grant me a pass. I am going back in time to find Pandora.”
“What for? Why do you care about any of this?” Moloch leaned forward in his chair with flaring nostrils.
“I want Naberious to return. He is the rightful ruler here, and the dark one wants him back. You are a substitute and nothing more. I will see to it, Naberious returns.”
Moloch jumped up from his chair. “No!”
“Do it not, and I will call a meeting with the dark one and tell him. Lahash would agree with me. When I return, I will be with Lahash, and you will grant passage or, well, you wait and see.”
Astaroth turned around with her chin high and stormed out.
She created a portal for Earth, and once she arrived at the other side, she made it just in time to see Raina and Derek leaving Nevoc. Seated in the park bench in front of the bar was Lahash.
He rested his arm on across the bench, crossed his legs and extended his back with a smile.
“Astaroth, I didn’t think I would see you here.”
She glared at his body. “How can you sit here like this? You are revolting.” She plopped herself down next to him as he looked out of the corner of his eye with a side smirk.
“Well, if I am so revolting, why are you here?”
“Lahash, do you want Naberious to return? Do we want to get him back for the dark one? Bring Selena’s book to our realm. Hold eminent power?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I know about the gates and time travel. The gatekeeper Moloch is the only one who stands in our way. If we can get to the gate and travel back in time, we can warn Pandora.”
Lahash laughed, “You want to save Pandora and warn Naberious? Playing with time travel may upset the balance of the Universe and bring the Nymphs out. If Selena knows, she will punish. Why would you want to risk so much?”
“What else would we do? Naberious won’t return. He believes that Pandora is in an alternate Universe.”
Lahash stared at his hands, he rubbed them together. “Why don’t we just confront Selena first? Ask her where Pandora is? Or instead of time travel, how about we just go to the underworld ourselves? I mean, there isn’t any law that demons cannot go there. Time travel is too complicated.”
“I don’t know, Lahash. I have never been to the underworld. What if we can’t come back?”
“I think we should follow her.” He nodded to Raina and Derek walking down the street. “Let’s go to the Underworld and release the real Pandora, find a way for Raina to call her at just the right time. If it doesn’t work, we time travel. Deal?”
She nodded, and the pair followed Raina and Derek as they walked hand in hand into a coffee shop.
“Oh, Derek, I am so glad we met up. I had such a marvelous time at the bar. And it was so great to sleep on my couch. I mean, it was uncomfortable, but we didn’t need sleep, did we?” Raina laughed and nudged Derek as he blushed.
They took their seats and sipped their coffee. “Raina, so are you going to come with me this weekend? To get away?”
“Is this okay with Amelia and Brian?”
“I am sure it is. So, I will head back to the apartment and tell Brian, and we will be off tomorrow. Sound okay?”
Just as soon as Derek kissed Raina goodbye, the coffee shop door opened and in walked in Derek’s ex.
“Derek!” She walked over and gave Derek a hug.
Derek stood with his arms by his side with his eyes to the ground as she smothered him with her unwelcome hug.
Raina watched with disdain while Derek removed the blonde’s arms from around his neck. As he pried himself away from her grasp, his paranoid eyes looked into Raina’s.
His ex-glared at Raina right before she looked at Derek with a broad smile and said, “What have you been up to? I mean, we have been chatting through a text.” She rolled her eyes back to Raina. “And well, I just stopped hearing from you today.”
“Uh, well, I have been busy.” Derek responded.
“With what? I can’t imagine what would be more important than our chats.” She giggled.
Raina was incredulous. She threw her purse on the floor, lurched toward the ex, and shoved her down on the floor.
The entire café went quiet. The clattering of silverware stopped, and the eyes of the patrons looked at Raina. Just a few whispers were audible from the furthest area of the café.
“Raina! What are you doing?”
Raina shoved Derek away. “What am I doing? What are you doing?”
“I told you she has been texting me!”
The ex pulled herself up from the floor and straitened her hair and her shirt while she glared at Raina.
“Well yeah, but it seems to me there is a little more going on!” Raina picked her things back up dashed out of the café.
Derek turned to Heather. “Look, it is like I told you, we can’t get back together. I am sorry if talking to you gave you the wrong idea.”
Derek dashed outside of the café, and he spotted Raina walking down the sidewalk toward Nevoc. “Raina! Wait!”
She continued not paying mind to him until after he dashed after her and grabbed her arm, to which she jerked from his grasp.
“Leave me alone, Derek. I get it. Okay? I get it. I made a mistake.”
She pressed forward, and Derek jumped in front of her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “No, you are wrong. Yes, I was talking to her. But I didn’t have intentions of getting back with her, okay? I just told her we were not. But you can’t shove people like that.”
Raina said, “Look, I like you, but I am not right for you.”
“No Raina, that isn’t it. You just have a temper. I would have taken care of this.”
Raina glared. “Right, so chatting while we are trying to work things out; whatever this is -- that is your idea of taking care of things? Whatever Derek.”
“Will you stop! Look, I like you, I would like us to get to know one another better. I will handle her. You will just have to trust me.” Derek said.
“Trust you? Just like that?”
“Yes, Raina, that is what people do.”
Raina sighed, “I don’t trust that easily.”
Derek ran his hands down the back of his neck and blew out a large breath of air and widened his eyes, “Yeah, I can see that.”
Raina smirked. “Take care of her. This is the last time I want to hear of that. Understood?”
Derek nodded. “Sure and remind me not to piss you off!”
He kissed her on the cheek and walked away toward the café. Raina didn’t turn around to see where he was headed. Instead, she continued down the sidewalk back to her bar, where Astaroth and Lahash were on her heels.
“Wow, so Raina has a little temper. Isn’t this grand? A perfect time for you to consider getting her to need you or Pandora.” Lahash said to Astaroth.
Astaroth didn’t respond; she just walked alongside Lahash into the bar where they found Raina digging for the box.
“Well, it looks like she isn’t wasting time. So, let’s go now to the underworld and have something done.” Lahash said.
“How do we get there? Can you portal us there?” Astaroth asked.
“Well, I need your help. We both need to create the portal.” Lahash said.
“How do you know all this?”
“I have tried to go to the underworld before.” His voice lowered, and he turned his eyes away. “I couldn’t hold the portal open to get in. It was a long time ago.” It takes an enormous amount of power.”
Astaroth said, “You never told me. Why did you need to go to the Underworld? The dark one has sent a few demons away there; I know of some fairies aside from Pandora. So why would you want to be there?”
Lahash shook his head. “Nothing, it is nothing you need to know.”
Lahash moved his arm in a circle, and the more he circled his arm, the slower he went in fighting the force. Astaroth jumped in, and she too moved her arm in sync with Lahash to open the gate to the underworld.
Upon entering, the atmosphere differed from the dark demon realm. It was darker with a bluish tint in the atmosphere. The sphinx guarded the gates and kept their eyes closed. There was a constant breeze, and the air was crisp.
Lahash and Astaroth looked to one another as if they were hopeful of an explanation of what to do next. Footsteps were audible on the sandy floor, and a silhouette of a man moved toward them at a regular pace.
As he drew closer, his face became more transparent, and he stopped a few feet from the demons. “Who are you? And why have you come?” He asked.
Astaroth said, “We have come for Pandora.”
The stranger took a few steps forward. “Fairies who come to the underworld do not leave, nor do they get visitors. Especially from demons. What would two demons want with an exiled fairy?”
“What do we call you?” Astaroth asked.
“My name is Nimbus. What do you need her for?” The being was a hologram, with translucent blue skin and orange eyes. He was tall and thin, and he carried a large staff with a large stone in the center cradled by a pair of wings that matched the sphinxes that guarded the entrance.
“Nimbus, one of the dukes of the dark realm, has exiled himself to Necropolis. The dark one ordered me to become an impostor of Pandora. I did so in hopes if he believed I was her and would return to the dark realm and bring the coveted fairy book that was once the Queen’s. He detected it was not the real Pandora and rejected me. Now that I understand what has happened to her, I want to bring her back. If he returns to his station as the keeper of lost and evil souls, this will please our master.”
Nimbus smiled and his sharp teeth emerged through his thin and tight lips. “Yes, and you have a passion for a promotion in his court. We here in the underworld know of your ways. The ways of the demons. We do not care. We only guard the castaways and the unwanted of the fairy lot and some of your master’s unwanted demons. Which are few. However, I cannot grant you passage. The only ones that can are the Sphinx. You have one chance with the answer to their question. If you do not answer it, you will be stuck here forever.”
Nimbus disappeared, only leaving them to face the Sphinx. Astaroth’s eyes were wary, and she turned to Lahash. “I have no experience here, maybe this is not a good idea? I say we go back, find Naberious, and tell him the truth. Can he come here? To get past the Sphinx?”
Lahash’s eyes were stuck, staring at the colossal statues at the gates. “I don’t know, I just do not know. I am uncertain how he would respond, knowing his wicked master attempted to trick him. He may become angry and find Pandora and never return, and where does that leave us?”
“Lahash, why is it you want to climb up in the ranks to the high court? You are a maverick, you never cared for doing things for the group, only yourself. What is it?”
Lahash crossed his arms and cut his eyes toward her. “Why should it matter? We all have a benefit in the court for such a coveted position. If you must know, I draw my power from our lawmakers, the politicians, and drug lords. I wish to broaden my scope.”
“You want more legions?”
“No, I do not want more legions, I want mine to expand. I can infiltrate as I draw power from those I am around. By doing so is elevating catastrophes on Earth in the most underhanded way in terms of propaganda. If I can pull this off, the dark one will consider me and up and coming favorite.”
Astaroth shrugged. “Okay, well, I suppose that is ambitious. My reasons are like yours, and I want to be the first demoness to sit at court. I do not want to serve the demons. The dark one has yet to appoint a demoness at court. I am needed, and I will show him that.”
Lahash snorted. “We need you? You are to assist us in our passions. You are one of the few demons who infiltrate dreams. The rest of us are not as equipped.”
“How can you say that! I am the one who has to help you when it is needed, and you will respect me for it, or maybe I will stop helping!”
Lahash turned to leave and create a portal back to Earth. “Let’s go. You will have your way for the time being. I know that Raina the human can come here, to the underworld. If she is a true necromancer, then she can release Pandora.”
The landscape was the same. As they arrived back in Egypt, they found Naberious right where Lahash left him. From the shadows he emerged with his bright eyes and inky silhouette.
“I told you to have the human summon Pandora from the underworld.”
“Hello Naberious, you are keen indeed. I could not fool you. I hope you will forgive me. Our evil lord requested that I impersonate Pandora. Our dark realm needs you.” Astaroth said.
Naberious hissed, “Come back? This is how our evil lord shows appreciation? On that token, maybe it best I stay here. It only makes sense.”
Lahash held his hands behind his back and took small steps toward Naberious. “You can’t stay here forever. You must have more than this to draw your power. How is it you maintain your strength?”
“There is enough to satisfy me here. I also am close to my memories and my past here. This is where I wish to stay. Even if I were to return to the dark realm to offer my help, this would be my residence. Here in Egypt. I will not yield.” Naberious said.
“Where is the book? What is in it that is so important? Demons cannot use the book.” Astaroth’s eyes surveyed the old apartment-style building as though Naberious would have left the book out to be found.
“I will never tell you where that book is. If I bring it back, then it will be myself that delivers it. The book has much of the fairy history inside of it, and also the spell. The spell that cast Pandora away. I am not sure where Pandora went, but according to Selena, she lives in an alternate Universe of some sort, not anywhere to be found. I know that the human necromancer who believes she is summoning her will be cursed if Pandora rises again.” Naberious emerged further from the shadows. “Pandora is dead, and she is not of this world or any realm we exist. Her soul is trapped and, in the place, that I was created. A compilation of thousands of souls of the dark created me.”
Lahash said, “Naberious, we need you to accompany us back to the underworld, to awaken Pandora.”
Naberious sneered, “No! You cannot free her. You are not a necromancer. Summoning her for anything will have dire consequences, but if a supernatural being brings her back, it will be worse! She will not be the Pandora I knew. If she is to arise, she will draw her power from young, in love women. Once she takes their youth and love, she will grow in her powers, and her anger and wrath will be directed on anyone. Her power is limited to only the human who awakens her. Don’t you think I have considered doing it myself? Demons cannot do this. We are too evil. How do you think Lilith came to creation? Our dark lord set her free, from the Underworld, and she nearly destroyed Earth. Lahash knows of this.”
“Naberious, what if we get a spirit guide?”
Naberious mumbled, “It would destroy a spirit guide. They are fragile and to the underworld they can never go. It has to be a human.”
Lahash said, “Well, we are in luck. The human necromancer will summon her soon, and when she does, we need that book. We can see to it Raina summons her and it is not any of us. Give me the book Naberious.”
Naberious appeared nose to nose with Lahash. “I don’t trust you.”
“No one trusts Lahash. One thing you can trust is his selfish agenda. You can trust Lahash and me to get the fairy book and for the human to summon her. But time is brief.” Astaroth said.
Naberious said, “If I allow this and you ruin this, I will destroy you both, and I will see to it you go to the underworld as outcasts.”
The book appeared in front of the demons and floated while the pages turned by themselves. “There take the book and look at what I have shown you. That is the original spell that sent Pandora away if she is where you believe her to be.”
Lahash retrieved the book and whispered the words to himself while Astaroth read over his shoulder.
Naberious said, “It is remarkably similar to what was in the box the human found. However, there is one last phrase left out, and it is in the book. When the human summons her again, and she reads the last paragraph, there will not be any being to impersonate her. Once the last paragraph is read, the human necromancer will be transported to the gates of the underworld to face the sphinx. It is there that she can release Pandora. She will arrive at Earth if that is where Pandora really is. I can’t stay what she will be like when she is released on Earth with full power.”
Astaroth walked around the room. “Naberious, why did her mother cast her away? Why not destroy her?”
Naberious scoffed, “Selena knew if she destroyed her, that she may return to live another life, and that I could find her again. She has cursed her somewhere where she believes I would never see her again.”
Astaroth brushed her long fingers across her pale pink lips as she thought. “Why does Selena hate demons so much? Why such extreme punishment?”
Lahash snorted, “Didn’t anyone tell you? Selena used to lay with Demons.”
“Selena used to be with a few of the old dukes before you made your ranks from the court. When she was finished with them, she destroyed them for whatever her reasons were, that I don’t even know. Suddenly, she just stopped consorting with demons at all. But until Pandora was caught, she always remained neutral between us and the spirit guides. After what you did, she doesn’t help with any lost human souls, good or evil. It is like a bitter war, so to speak.”
Astaroth said, “Is it possible that Pandora has a demon for a father?”
Lahash and Naberious went quiet and stared at one another. Lahash cut his cynical eyes to Astaroth. “Who would be a father to Pandora? I have heard no one talk about that. I am sure it is possible, but for now, we must go to Earth and make use of the book.”
Naberious said, “When the human has summoned her, give me your word, you will return the book to me. I want to be the one to return it to the dark realm to our master. If I get Pandora back, I will return the book.”