The Harrowing

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Chapter 7: The Sanctuary

At first, Hal saw nothing as he passed the threshold—nothing but a vast empty room. Stone windows let in shafts of deep red light, and an altar stood in shadows on a dais at the far end of the—sanctuary? Though clearly, it was… Very much so.

Hal felt his thoughts immediately turn to Amelia and Doctor Turner. They were supposed to be here, too. Then he paused, rethinking that. No, they weren’t supposed to be here at all. If I hadn’t poisoned their spirits, if I hadn’t brought them down, right when they needed someone to lift them up… Now they’ll never escape this place. He felt wretched, horrible, the squirming feeling of guilt in his gut unaffected by the peace of the structure surrounding him.

He glanced at Father Donahue as they moved farther into the church. The priest seemed uneasy about something as well, brow drawn tight and jaw bunching with every step they took. Hal watched him cast a furtive glance behind them and then understood. Amun…

Who knew how far the twisted soul had fallen before he managed to catch himself, if at all. Yeah, we should be so lucky… Hal knew it was optimistic at best to simply assume Amun had tumbled all the way down and into the lake. Suddenly, he couldn’t resist casting a nervous glance over his shoulder as well.

Father Donahue’s abrupt grip on his arm brought his attention back around. Blinking over at him, Hal followed his rigid gaze to the altar, now only a few paces away.

A figure was there, hidden in the shadows. It began to move as Hal and Father Donahue stared, rising from a hunched crouch to stand seven—no, eight feet tall, covered by a dark shroud that obscured its face and body.

“What did Amun say this thing was?” Hal asked, rubbing his thumbs in nervous circles over his fingertips as he tried mightily not to back away.

Father Donahue shook his head, following the creature’s motions with wide eyes as it moved around in front of the altar. “He didn’t. He alluded to it being an anomaly created by the paradox of something holy existing in the kingdom of Hell. Or, perhaps a being, already of Hell, that was altered by the coming of Christ—”

Broad wings snapped open beneath the shroud, blackened and molted, a drift of embers swirling out on either side as the air eddied around them.

Hal gaped. “An angel?”

“…One of the fallen,” the priest breathed in a hushed voice.

The angel’s head snapped to face them at the sound of their voices, and Hal could see, though still obscured by the dark shroud, that the being’s eyes were bound with cloth.

“Lost souls.”

Hal and Father Donahue both cowered beneath the quaking volume of the fallen angel’s voice, at once beautiful, even as it was terrifying.

Slowly, Hal lifted his hands from where they had fled to his ears. “Uh… yeah. I guess that’s sort of us…” Jesus H. Christ, how am I supposed to speak to a freaking fallen angel? “Um-uh… who are you?”

The shrouded angel regarded Hal with his blind gaze. “I am Gadreel.”

“Gadreel…” Father Donahue whispered, wincing again at the volume. “One of the watchers…”

Hal cast a skeptical look at the bindings around the angel’s eyes but said nothing.

“I was once one of the Almighty’s most trusted, cast down into darkness for imparting knowledge to His children.” Perhaps Gadreel had sensed the discomfort his volume had caused, because his clarion voice seemed slightly more moderated as he spoke.

Hal turned a confused look on the priest. “That doesn’t seem so bad,” he murmured, voice low. “How’d he end up here?”

Father Donahue shook his head, leaning in close. “The more obscure religious texts describe the fall of Gadreel with conflicting certainty. One thing most agree on, though, is that he was the angel who let the serpent into Eden to tempt Eve with knowledge. And then later, taught mankind the art of war and weapons. He was cast out of heaven for following Lucifer in a rebellion against God. He is not an angel in the traditional sense. Be careful.”

Hal could feel his stomach dropping lower as the priest spoke, and though they had been keeping their voices low, Gadreel’s masked gaze on them was unfaltering.

Dammit, why is he making me do all the talking? “We-uh, we were told you could get us out of here.” His words sounded ridiculous even to himself. “That you could-uh… grant us a wish?” Yeah, because that sounds any better.

The dark, sinuous wings flexed beneath the shroud before folding slightly in on themselves. “For the love I bear humanity, I will grant a gift to any whom find their way to my feet.”

Father Donahue stepped forward at last, a probing sound to his voice. “Your gifts didn’t end so well for humanity in the past—love notwithstanding.”

Gadreel surveyed him with his sightless gaze, then turned his face unerringly to the nearest window, the red glow casting his shrouded featues in a haunting silhouette. “My gifts were meant to enlighten, to protect, to embolden… but such gifts, it seems, were not within the scope of man to cope with. They turned my knowledge upon each other. It was my bitterness, my hubris, that spurred my fall from grace. But it was here, when I saw the perfection of the Son—the lengths to which the Almighty was willing to sacrifice, all to correct my mistakes—it was here I found glory again. I abide here now, hopeful of the day He might descend once again and lift me up like Abraham. Until that day, I will help his lost children as I can.”

“Then you can get us out of here? Out of Hell, I mean.” Hal asked in a rush.

“I can deliver one of you.”

Hal froze. He cast a worried look over a Father Donahue and then back at the shrouded angel. “One?”

“And then I must rest. My powers are not as they were on Earth or in Heaven. Once expended, I must rest the seven cycles before I am capable once more.”

Hal stared up at Gadreel. That freaking ghoul! That’s why Amun didn’t want anyone following us from the fissures… He shook his head, grinding his teeth until his jaws hurt. Amun had never intended for any of them to see the inside of this place. They had been his protection, his transportation—And I had been the goddamned bus driver! Hal’s mind was racing as he tried to focus on Gadreel’s words. “Seven cycles—cycles of what? H-how long is a cycle?”

Father Donahue’s face was scrunched, as if he were trying to remember something from a long time ago. He brought one hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “It has something to do with Sabbath years… cycles of Sabbath years—each cycle is seven years, I believe… So, seven cycles would mean—”

“Forty-nine years…” Hal breathed, then he rounded on Gadreel. “You want one of us to wait almost fifty years to get out of this place?”

Father Donahue pulled gently at Hal’s arm, but he drew away, running a hand over the crisp remnants of his hair. Dammit… He paced to the opposite window and back. Dammit! He couldn’t ask Father Donahue to stay here in Hell when he was the reason the man was here to begin with. …Fifty years in Hell

“Hal,” the priest called gently. Hal kept pacing. “Hal, I want you to go.”

Hal stopped his frantic march, running a weary hand over the burned, cracked skin of his face.

“I will stay behind and watch for Amun.”

Hal gritted his teeth and spun to the man. “I can’t ask you to stay behind. Not here, not like this.”

“You didn’t. I told you, I will stay and guard the way.” He crossed to Hal and squeezed one of his shoulders. “Amun cannot be loosed upon the earth again. Not in an age that has weapons capable of destroying the entire world. I was never a good shepherd to my flock while I lived. I can protect them better from here.” Releasing his grip, Father Donahue gave Hal a parting nod. “I will wait.” Then he marched to the back of the church and through the threshold.

Hal wanted to scream. He wanted to shout and tear his hair out in great chunks all over the sanctuary floor. Instead, he took deep, ragged breaths, raging silently at the injustice of it being he who made it to the end. And now they’re all trapped in Hell because of me.

He turned to stare at Gadreel, still facing the glowing window. He seemed mournful, somehow. Maybe it was the set of his shoulders, maybe the slight droop to his wings beneath the shroud.

Then, unexpectedly, the angel spoke. “I hear them, always—crying out in agony. All trapped here, in Hell, because of me.”

Hal’s eyes widened at the angel’s words and he blinked hard for a moment. One man’s mistakes… one angel’s… He shook his head. God, this world is twisted! But as he thought about the strange, unexpected similarity between himself and the fallen angel, he had a sudden thought. “So, do you just send me back to Earth, or what? How does this work?”

Gadreel turned to face him. “The request is of your choosing. I will simply make it so.”

Hal took a steadying breath, forcing himself to act before his determination gave out. “Then make it so I never existed. Make it so—I was never born.”

Gadreel’s gaze was piercing, even through the shroud and cloth around his eyes. “I cannot.”

Hal swore and spun away, stalking over to the window again.

“Creation is the sole domain of the Almighty,” Gadreel continued in solemn tones as Hal paced away. “I have no power to strip from you that which He has given.”

Hal leaned heavily against the windowsill. The stone was cool beneath his hands, just as it would have been had he been alive. Lifting his gaze, he saw Father Donahue in the distance kneeling at the foot of the bridge, the first five minutes of his fifty-year sentence in Hell already begun.

But then, staring at him, he remembered the first time he had ever seen the priest, and he turned back to Gadreel.

“Gadreel,” he called, “I know what I want!”
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