“Eli, no!” Fiona cries as I rush into the cave. Tentatio’s pushed me beyond my limits; it ends now.
I ignore Fiona’s pleas to stop. I can’t let him keep taking people away from me. As it is, Fiona and Grace are all I have left.
Without stopping, I run straight through the rock wall of the cave; I don’t even notice the constricting pressure on my chest this time. I step into a version of the room I’ve only seen a couple times before. The Black Pool of Death has grown from the lives that have been lost under my watch. I can’t let it grow any more. One more death and it will overflow and destroy the city I’ve come to love; and if that happens, it will ultimately consume the world. No pressure, right?
“Tentatio!” I bellow into the empty room.
“Eli Fletcher,” his smooth voice fills the cavern. “How good of you to join me.”
I glare at him as he appears on his stone throne above the opposite end of the pool. His perfect smile of bright, white teeth flashes at me mockingly; his eyes burn red as they challenge me to attack; his black, obsidian armor reflects the orange flames of the torches lining the walls. I slowly make my way up the steps circling the pool to meet him face-to-face, but my progress is impeded by an unseen force. Looking up at him again, his palm is outstretched towards me. I grip my sword tighter in my hand and push forward; Tentatio stumbles back, falling onto the seat of his ugly throne.
“How are you doing this?” he asks in fear.
“I’m stronger than you now, Tentatio. You can’t stop me,” I say arrogantly, which is my first mistake. By assuming the power is my own, I weaken myself, but not enough for him to stop me from climbing the steps.
I don’t look down, but I can feel the warmth in my hands that indicate they are glowing with power. As I push nearer the warmth moves up my arms, towards my shoulders. A strange glow appears around Tentatio, but I know it’s from the power growing in me. This has only happened to me one other time, but I was too young to understand what it was, and it ultimately blocked my memories of who I was for months. I’d also had my eyes closed the whole time back then and was unable to see just how much brighter everything looked as this power consumes me. I don’t try to control it like I have the past six years. This time I want it to destroy everything around me. The hell mount must be destroyed; and Tentatio with it.
“Give me the key,” I demand as I stand over Tentatio’s trembling body cowering below me.
“No,” he refuses stubbornly.
I reach down and grab him by the perfect, black armor and lift him up to my eye level. “Give me the key, now,” I demand again.
“Never,” he whimpers, though he tries to look brave.
“You know I will destroy you, right?”
“You know you can’t really do that,” he corrects me.
I shrug. “So, as soon as you try and return through the hell mount, I’ll destroy you again, and again, and again until you give me the key. It won’t be as fun for you as it will be for me.”
He looks at the black pool and I know his thoughts. “It won’t work,” I warn him. “You aren’t strong enough to throw me in.”
“You’re right,” he says and I feel a different kind of warmth spread through my body, beginning in my stomach. I look down and see Tentatio’s curved, black sword impaling my gut. I cough and spit blood in his face. He doesn’t wince, he grins because he knows he’s won. My vision blurs and then goes black…
“Get up,” a soft but powerful voice commands me.
“I can’t, I’m dying,” I groan in response.
“Quit joking around, and stand to your feet; take my hand,” the voice says.
I look up into the last pair of eyes I ever expected to see.
“Dad?” I choke out.
“There’s someone who wants to talk to you, now get up and follow me,” he commands and I reach up for his hand. Something is different; I feel lighter, like I was just suddenly filled with helium to make me float.
“What’s going on?”
“He wants to speak with you.”
“Yes, son, He wants to speak with you.”
I follow my father down the stone steps around the pool. Looking back I see my body still lying there, blood pooling from a gaping hole in my back. Tentatio is standing over my lifeless body, a crazed sort of pleasure in his eyes. At the bottom of the steps Fiona is on her knees, crying with her face in her hands.
“Fi!” I shout, but she doesn’t hear me.
“We’re outside of time right now, Eli,” Dad informs me.
“Wait, what? What do you mean?”
“Ever hear of an out-of-body experience?” he asks.
I nod slowly.
“Well, you’re having one now,” he says. “Come on, this way,” he directs me to the wall I’d entered through.
When we pass through, we don’t exit into the cave, but onto a sandy beach. About a hundred yards in front of me is a crystal blue ocean with perfect waves crashing on the fine sand. About halfway between here and there is a man in a beach chair, wearing a straw hat and sipping on a bright blue drink. To his left is a small round table with a red drink much like his and another chair; a large umbrella casts a large, round shadow over both.
“Why is Yeshua on the beach drinking a Slurpee?”
Dad chuckles. “I’m just glad you assumed that was a Slurpee,” he laughs. “Come on, He wants to talk to you before letting you choose.”
“You’ll see; come on.”
I walk with my dad across the warm sand until I’m standing next to the empty chair.
“Have a seat, Eli,” Yeshua says before taking another sip of his drink.
Who am I to argue? So I do what I’m instructed.
“Have a drink, let me know what you think.”
I take up the red drink and take a sip. It’s an ice-cold, cherry-flavored Slurpee.
“It’s good,” I say timidly.
“Good,” He says happily. “I’m glad you enjoy it. Now, tell me what you did wrong before your dad went to retrieve you.”
“Where do I start?”
Yeshua chuckles. “I appreciate the humility, but right now I mean in your current dying moment.”
“Oh, right,” I say and then recount the event leading up to Tentatio stabbing me in the stomach.
“Did you find what your mistake was?”
I nod. “I once again assumed that the powers I possess are mine.”
Yeshua nods, taking a long pull from his straw.
“That’s always been a tough one for you, hasn’t it?” he asks.
I nod, setting my drink down again.
“If you were to return, do you think you could remember better whose powers they truly are?”
My head snaps up. “Return?”
Yeshua nods again. “Your job isn’t quite through yet,” he reminds me.
“Yeah, I know,” I say darkly.
“Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal. You sit here with me and tell me your story, since I love stories so much, and I’ll let you decide whether to return or go on.”
“Really,” he says, taking up his drink again.
“But, I failed. How can I go back?”
Yeshua smiles and warmth floods my body.
“You are my creation and I can do with you as I please. If I want you to wake back up in your physical body, then that’s what will happen. You won’t be the only one to return from this place. Many others have made the choice to go back and do things right.”
I can’t comprehend why He isn’t just saying, “Sorry, you failed, you’re done now.”
“Because you’re not done,” Yeshua chuckles. “I want to hear your story, though.”
I smile as I ask, “Don’t you know my story already?”
Yeshua beams back at me. “I do, but I’d like to hear it from you...”