Chapter 2: The Gates of Hell
Claws ripped into the flesh of the Earth. The pads of my feet pounding against the ground as I ran the perimeter of the Gates.The wrought-iron spikes ascended ten meters into the sky, the iron roses winding an intricate path to the base of the fence. Beyond the gates, a desolate wasteland that went to the edges of the world. Dead, burned trees littered the path beyond the gates, there was no sense of life beyond. The keening of wolves howling resonated in the distance, the screams of tortured souls permeated the twilight.
Shifting, I examined the nicks and deteriorating metal of the grand gates. The cracks between the bars had been widening, as souls slipped between the veil. The condemned spirits were becoming restless, and the once lush grass on our side of the barrier had begun to whither and yellow. Leaning toward the decaying iron, I took in a deep breath, and then released. The fire that escaped my breath heated the metal to a malleable point, so I could reshape the bars. A new iron rose sprouted, and thorns wrapped itself to the base. This was only a temporary fix. They were slowly crumbling, it was a matter of time.
“Lord Erlik, what is the status?” A gravelly voice scratched from behind me. I turned to face Eamon, my lieutenant.
“High security breach, two condemned missing, likely blood wraiths from the residue left behind.” I lifted my fingers to swipe a bit of sticky black blood from the gate. “We are going to have to increase patrol along the entirety. Inform the wolves.”
“Sir. How long do we have?” Eamon’s boyish blue gaze narrowed in concern, his cropped brown spikes hung in his face. His youthful appearance belied his battle skill and experience. Yet, it made him more approachable as liaison to the inhabitants of our realm.
I released an exasperated sigh and roughly dragged my hands through my unruly black hair. In the last few centuries, the gates had been deteriorating at a rapid pace. The souls of those condemned to the seven circles, and Tartarus were beginning to slip through the cracks. As guardian, I could mold the gates, but molding metal that is not replenished with new material continuously weakens it.
“Not long enough, Eamon.” I finally stated. It was the truth, to hide it from him would only lead to false confidence and lack of security. “Those I have judged are not eager to stay.”
“Sir, the inhabitants of Elysium are getting anxious.” Eamon began. “They are concerned for their safety.”
I stared out at the vast lush fields that composed the Elysian fields. The bounty of willow and oak trees mingled together, flowers sprung plentifully across the distance. The small clusters of abandoned homes close to the gates spoke volumes. The inhabitants were afraid. They refused to live in proximity to the gates anymore.
“The pantheons are falling. Houses of worship are crumbling, the humans do not sacrifice or pay tribute to the gods as they once did.” I stated. A god’s power was directly connected to the faith of their worshipers. No one had sacrificed to Erlik in centuries, besides small clusters of villages in Siberia, and rural areas of Turkey. The Greeks and the Mesopotamians were not fairing much better. The gates required blood and souls to feed it. Hell was very close to crumbling. And these gates were the first line of defence between the damned and the humans.
“Where do we go from here?” Eamon asked quietly, his face grave. We do not have the right to interfere in the lives of mortals. We cannot influence or demand worship. I closed my eyes and clenched my fist. Whistling a breath through my teeth.
“We need to implement the fail-safe.” I gritted out. There was no other option, if the gates were not fed, the fabrics between worlds would tear apart. Chaos would ensue, sins and demons would run rampant among the human world. Eamon stepped back, eyes wide.
“She won’t remember you.” He gasped out. Grasping my bicep. I moved away, dragging my palm down my face.
“Maybe that’s for the best.” I uttered. Turning my gaze to the ground as the onslaught of images assaulted me. Cascading ruby curls, skin pale as snow and soft as fresh powder. Silver eyes that pierced the Netherworlds. I shuddered at the thought of her thick maroon blood dripping to the Earth.
“We knew it may come to this... What will you do?” Eamon tried to ease me. His gaze softened with concern. I straightened my shoulders and shook my head free of the images.
“I will release the Iye of the Underworld, and may the gods have mercy on us all.” I whispered. As a trembling overtook me, razor claws protruded from my fingertips. Fangs cut into my lower lip. I turned on my heel and stalked towards the castle.
“May the gods have mercy on us all...” I heard Eamon’s utterance on the wind, before I shifted.