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“Eli, no!” Fiona cries as I rush into the cave. Tentatio’s pushed me beyond my limits, and I’m going to end him for it.
I ignore Fiona’s pleas to stop. Tentatio must be stopped and he must be stopped now. 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 once. 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 would overflow and destroy the city I’ve come to love; and if that happened, the death it would bring will continue to grow the boiling pool until it ultimately consumed the world. I know, 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, and attack I will; his black, obsidian armor reflects the orange flames of the torches lining the walls. I slowly make my way up the steps 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 draw nearer to my enemy, 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 one way or another.
“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 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 warm begin to spread through my body, starting at 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…
“Wake up!” An annoyed voice, echoes off of the pure white marble walls of the courthouse. At least, it looks like a courthouse. The hall looks like an endless tunnel with huge, wooden doors every few yards. The clean air that fills the place is almost too clean for what I’m used to. I take a deep breath, allowing the air to fill my lungs. Of course, it isn’t necessary. I don’t need to breathe here. Why? Because…I’m dead.
Well, I think I am, anyway. I really don’t know how I got here. I woke up on the steps outside; am I outside? All I really see is white everywhere. White and then the twenty foot tall doors I’m lying in front of. The marble steps I’m on are cool and smooth, and when I sit up, the doors open on their own.
“Name?” An old bearded guy asks me when I enter.
“Um, Eli Fletcher.”
“Take a seat, Um Eli,” he says sarcastically, gesturing towards the marble bench next to a set of doors that stand about half as high as the entrance doors.
“Thanks,” I mumble confused. I turn back towards him about halfway to the bench and ask, “Where am I?”
The old man looks at me bewildered, as if he’s never been asked that question before. Then he rolls his eyes at me; apparently he has.
“Right, you’re not quite dead yet. I’ll give you a quick rundown on things. I’m Peter, and this is the entrance to Heaven. However, since you were given a job to complete, and you have done everything you can, you will be asked to give an account on all you’ve done since it was assigned. After that, if He so desires it, you will be given a choice whether or not to return to your human body and finish the job, or to go on into Heaven.”
I stare at him blankly. I’m not dead? I might be able to go back? What did I screw up?
“You didn’t screw anything up,” Peter says, answering my thoughts.
“Then, why am I here?” I’m used to people reading my thoughts. I’ll tell you more about Fiona sometime.
Peter sits down next to me, his white robe flowing gracefully behind him as he comes towards me.
“Here’s the deal,” Peter starts. “You were chosen to close a hell mount, right?”
“You came close to doing it too, didn’t you?”
“As far as I can remember. I was there, about to use my powers-”
“Your powers?” Peter laughs.
I grin sheepishly, “Right. God’s power He gave me.”
“You always did have trouble with that one didn’t you?” he asks, nudging me with his elbow.
I shrug. “It was just easier to say mine. I mean, I was using them, right? I knew where they came from, but they were mine to use.”
“Whatever you say, kid,” Peter chuckles with a roll of his eyes.
“Anyway, all I remember was almost letting that power loose and then, everything went black. When I woke up I was here, lying on the steps.”
“Well, I’ll inform you a little on what you missed. You were at the hell mount, yes. You went to use your given powers, and when you did, Tentatio sucker punched you, well, stabbed would be more accurate.”
“He what?!” I ask angrily.
“Relax, Eli. It’s not over. You’re still alive and as far as you’re concerned, if you’re returned, time won’t have passed at all.”
I let myself relax at his explanation and then sit back down next to Peter. “So, I’m not quite dead yet,” I repeat, remembering what he’d told me.
“Huh,” I take in the full meaning of the conversation. I’m going to be given a choice. At this point I know what my decision is. I need to get back and close the Hell Mount to save my friends, my family and....Fiona. I hope she’s okay. She’d tried to stop me from chasing after Tentatio, but after what he’d done to Marco and David on the battlefield, I’d been on the edge. But it was when Grace was caught in the explosion he’d caused with that bolt of lightning…all I saw was red.
But I’d gone ahead of Fiona, who was the only one who could instantly calm me and keep me from overusing those powers. Stupid emotions. You see, I have this tendency to let my emotions control me. I rush into things because I’m impatient; and having powers that make you faster in every way make it that much worse.
Peter points at another set of doors, so I get up and walk towards them. Like the entrance doors, these ones open automatically. I actually look for a censor that would make the door open on its own, but as soon as I do, I feel like an idiot. I’m about to enter the presence of God and here I am looking for some kind of electronic sensor that’s inferior to the omnipotence of God Himself?
Moron, I scold myself.
The doors open, I walk inside of what looks like a simple courtroom, smaller than I expect. Looking up, however, I see that there isn’t a ceiling. The walls rise endlessly into more blue sky; bluer than anything I’ve ever seen before. The air smells as clean as it did out in the hall. The wooden floor, rather than the marble, (if marble is in fact the material outside), sounds hollow beneath my feet.
“Take your seat,” instructs a deep voice of what seems like an ancient looking man. Whether he is a man or not I can’t tell; his shape won’t solidify enough to be sure. All I can clearly see is part of a face.
I’m not sure which seat he is indicating, but suddenly the lights go out and a single light shines on one humble chair sitting front and center before the judge’s bench. I hesitate slightly before sitting. It’s hard and warm, like it’d been sitting too close to a campfire.
“Elijah Samuel Fletcher,” the shapeless man’s deep voice booms at me. Every nerve in my body shakes, my stomach clenching in fear. “This is a judgment on the life you have lived thus far. As we speak, certain items will appear at your feet and begin to fill this room. At the end, everything will be tested by flame. Those things that survive will be treasures for you in the future.”
Even as God speaks, (it had to be God, no one else spoke with that kind of authority) certain things began to appear at my feet and the floor surrounding me. They looked like plaques and statues representing different events in my life. Most of which have been based around my time as a demon slayer, or a Sicarius, as I’m called. Six years of blood and violence, and here they are, recorded and materialized in different objects. Some are made of gold, silver and colorful stones like, emerald, pearl, diamonds, etc. Looking closer at them, these are my more self-sacrificing moments. Times I should have died, but somehow was always able to escape or destroy my enemy at the last possible moment.
My attention is drawn to reminders of the past few years recorded on wooden statues and objects woven out of straw and hay. Obviously these are moments I’m not so proud of. Mistakes I’ve made, even some where demons I’d killed out of pride, not out of protecting others.
“Let’s see how these things hold up to my standard,” God’s voice rumbles sadly, like a distant thunder.
As my eyes drift back up to him, flames erupt around me, consuming everything including me. I can feel the heat, but I don’t burn. It’s like sitting in front of a vent blowing out hot air. Not a hair on my body singes from the flames. But as I look at the objects at my feet, the things made of wood, straw and hay burn to ash. I don’t have to look at the rest to know that the stone, gold and silver objects are perfectly fine.
It hits me where I’m sitting. I’m on the Bema Seat; the judgment of my deeds on earth to see what my rewards will be, if I have any. When the flames die out, there isn’t much left. There’d been many more flammable objects than non-flammable. My eyes are blurry as I look back up at the judge. There sits Jesus. I know it’s him even though I’ve only had conversations with Him in my sleep. His white, flowing robe glows with His glory. A fire shines in his eyes that I’ve never seen before.
“Dry your eyes, son. You have done well. You are young and have plenty of time to store up treasures that will last.”
“But, I’m almost dead, aren’t I?” I asked Him.
“That’s up to you. Your job is not yet done.”
“But, I failed. How can I go back?”
Jesus 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 human 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 wasn’t He just saying, “Sorry, you failed, you’re done now.”
“Because you’re not done,” Jesus chuckles. “I want to hear your story, though.”
I smile as I ask, “Don’t you know my story already?”
Jesus beams back at me. “I do, but I’d like to hear it from you.”
How can I refuse Him that? Heck! How can I refuse Him anything?! Well, it all starts with me when I was a twelve-year-old kid named Jefferey Kidd.
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