The Legendary Infernal Gates
Harry looked at the picture Hannibal had just given him with a sinking feeling. The picture revealed a colossal post-and-lintel gate fifty feet wide by ninety feet high in the cavern wall with the gate itself and the gateposts carved with ancient archaic runes and hieroglyphs. Either side of the gate stood two enormous stone drakens one hundred feet tall carved with exquisite detail that stood rearing up on their hind legs with their wings spread provocatively. The colossi looked down with a ferocious expression and gaze focused on the ground in front of the gate, teeth bared and claws ready. Each draken also appeared to be wielding a weapon of some sort in one clawed hand: a massive staff with a crystal head, which was raised, prepared to strike. Human and animal bones lay scattered around the gate with piles of human and animal skulls set up between the stone drakens’ feet as if it were an offering. At the feet of these draken colossi and between them in front of the gate, lay what appeared to be the body of an unknown creature. It had great curved horns on its hideous head, huge wings like a bat, and clawed fists the size of watermelons.
Harry looked on and his face fell. “What in heaven’s name is that lying on the ground between the statues?” he asked. “This is not what I think it is, is it?”
Hannibal sat back and sighed deeply, his face becoming very troubled and cold. “If you are thinking that’s a real demon, I must agree with you on that,” Hannibal stated.
“A demon?” Harry repeated, not believing his ears. “You have got to be joking. Demons can’t cross over into our world like this, can they?”
“Unfortunately, they can,” Hannibal admitted coldly, “if the right circumstances exist. Do you know what you’re looking at there in that picture?”
“Not really,” Harry answered. “It appears to be some kind of gate that’s being guarded by these stone dragons, along with as many bones as your picture of the Hall of Drakens showed. It seems to me that this place really is a dead end.” He looked closer at the gateway and noticed the writing on it and the gateposts. “It also has some of that strange writing on it. What is this, Hannibal? And don’t lie to me about it either.”
“I’d never lie to you about something so serious,” Hannibal replied. “If what the legends say is true, then what you see there are the fabled the gates to the underworld, or hell; whatever you want to call it. Remember when I told you about the legends of Sumatra surrounding Tiamat; about the drakens guarding the gates to hell?” Harry nodded as Hannibal continued, “Well, this gate, whatever it is, must be the reason for the myth. I’ve been in some bad places before, but this one takes the cake. It’s truly an infernal gate as far as I’m concerned. The evil there was so thick you could taste it. Whether or not hell truly exists on the other side of that gate is still up for debate. One thing I can tell you is this. The place was infested with creatures like the one you see in that picture; dozens of them of all shapes and sizes. Because of the other denizens we encountered in higher levels of the temple, we started exploring in heavily armed teams of ten. That thing, that demon, attacked us with its cohorts the moment we entered that cursed place.” Hannibal paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.
“You’re sure it was a demon?” Harry asked.
“Absolutely,” Hannibal replied grimly. “It was a powerful demon prince that had somehow manifested on our plane with his cohorts. We were in the fight for our very lives and souls when we dared to step foot into that cave of horrors. Let me tell you how it started when we ventured past the Hall of Drakens.” He then started into a detailed account of the Infernal Gates.
Hannibal, who bore full combat gear that included a .308 caliber H&K 91 with a grenade launcher mounted on it, several thirty round magazines in his Kevlar flak jacket, a bandolier of grenades, and a large machete strapped to his back, led his heavily-armed team of ten down a tunnel from the Hall of Drakens. One hundred feet from the Hall of Drakens, the passage began descending steeply in a spiral manner, the floor becoming an enormous flight of steps. The temperature rose dramatically the farther they went. Dan and Jerry flanked Hannibal as he led the team down the steps.
“It’s getting hotter,” Jerry observed. “Why’s that?”
“We could be near an active lava tube,” Hannibal murmured, sweat beading on his brow as he kept an eagle eye on his surroundings. “This place is inside a dormant volcano, Jerry.”
“That may be the case,” Dan intruded. “But I don’t think the heat is the problem here. As hot as it is in here, my blood is turning to ice. Something is very wrong here, Hannibal. I feel like I’m about to step foot into hell itself.”
“Oh get real,” one of the team members called out. “Hannibal’s right. We must be near the lava tubes. Just because it’s hot in here doesn’t mean we’re walking into hell where demons torment lost souls. Such a place doesn’t exist in this world.”
“Don’t mock Dan’s insight, Gary,” Hannibal snapped. “He’s feeling the same evil I am. This place has an evil aura about it that’s very unsettling. Why, I don’t know. But there’s definitely something wrong about this tunnel. I’m getting the distinct impression we were never supposed to come in here.”
“If that’s the case, then why do we keep going?” another team member named Brandon asked in a concerned tone. “Can’t we just back out of here and seal this tunnel?”
“I would do just that except for the glaring fact that this may not be the only way down here,” Hannibal stated. “If there is a hazard down here, we have an obligation to the others to find out what it is and neutralize it. At the very least, we need to find out if this is the only way down here. I suspect there’s another cave at the end of this tunnel. We need to know if that cave has any other exits we need to know about.”
“I understand,” Brandon replied. “But it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I feel like I’m walking into a trap.”
“Same here,” Hannibal stated as he edged down the stairs. “But if there’s another monster spider or scorpion down here lying in wait for us, then we must destroy it for the safety of our friends above us.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t back you,” Brandon retorted. “I’m with you. What I meant was that I don’t like it when I feel like this.”
Hannibal cast a wry grin at Brandon. “You’re a good man, Brandon,” Hannibal commended. “I knew what you meant. Now, I think it’s best we silence the chatter. If there’s a monster down there, it’s best we not let it know we’re here just yet. Everyone, be on your guard.”
Brandon smiled as he followed Hannibal down the huge staircase with the others. Ten minutes later, the colossal spiral staircase ended in a level tunnel that stretched for another six hundred yards. The heat had become a stifling one hundred twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit with the air shimmering and the passageway seeming lit from the far end by an eerie, reddish light. Hannibal stopped the team by holding up his fist. “Damn it’s hot in here,” he murmured. “We’ll take five here. Hydrate yourselves.”
“What is that light from the end of the tunnel?” Jerry asked as he drank from his canteen.
“I don’t know,” Hannibal replied, mopping the sweat out of his eyes with his sleeve after sipping on his canteen of water. “But I’m really wired right now. Something is out there that’s extraordinarily dangerous. I know it.”
“Then let’s kill it and get out of here before we roast in here,” Gary called out. “I don’t relish spending any more time in this hotbox than I have to.”
“I hear you, Gary,” Hannibal stated. “Let’s go have a look at what’s causing that light. Be on your guard, guys. Let’s go.” Hannibal took up the lead again with Dan and Jerry to his right and left and the others following closely.
In less than three minutes, the team reached the end of the tunnel that emptied into a huge irregularly shaped cavern that glowed softly from small pools of lava scattered across its thousand-yard length. Blue fire blazed in some of the pools, adding to the hellish look of the place. The roof of the cavern rose nearly six hundred feet in height while the cave spanned three hundred yards across. Stalactites, stalagmites, and colossal columns lay scattered across the cavern, giving the cave a labyrinthine appearance. Flowstone cascaded down the walls and some of the columns while large crystals grew everywhere. At the far end of the cave rose an enormous gateway fifty feet wide by ninety feet tall. Arcane writing covered the gate, gatepost, and the arched lentil at the top. To either side of the gate stood two enormous stone drakens with giant ruby eyes...sculptures carved with exquisite detail. The drakens were rearing up on their hind legs with their wings spread provocatively. The colossi looked down with a ferocious expression and gaze focused on the ground in front of the gate, teeth bared and claws ready. The ruby eyes of the statues flickered in the light and heat, making the statues seemingly come alive. Each statue also appeared to be wielding a weapon of some sort in one clawed hand: a massive staff with a crystal head, which was raised, prepared to strike what lay in front of them.
Hannibal stopped and gawked at the cavern. “Oh my lord,” he whispered, wiping the sweat that ran into his eyes. “What in heaven’s name is this? This place shouldn’t even be here. It can’t be here.”
“I knew it,” Jerry breathed. “We’ve found our way into hell itself.”
“This isn’t hell,” Dan corrected. “But this place must be about as close to hell as any mortal would want to come. What is this place, Hannibal?”
“I don’t know,” Hannibal admitted. “I never expected to see anything like this way down here. Come on, we must check this out. I know it’s difficult in this heat, but stay alert. I’m beginning to think we may not be alone in this miniature hell.” He then started towards the draken gate. Ten paces into the cavern, Hannibal stopped. “Hold on a minute,” he stated. “Dan; I want you, Brandon, Chris, and Quang to guard this exit while I take everyone else to check out those statues and the gate. Keep on guard and give us cover if we encounter something we can’t handle.”
“Got it,” Dan replied. “Don’t take too long. We can’t take this heat too much longer.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Hannibal stated. “Take cover and watch for us. If you can find some high ground, take it.”
“Yes, sir,” Dan answered.
Speaking to the rest of the team, Hannibal ordered, “Come on guys. Let’s document this find and get out of here before we roast alive in here.”
As Hannibal led the rest of the team out into the cave, Dan, Brandon, Chris, and Quang took up sniper positions around the cave exit.
Hannibal moved forward with great caution, eyeing every shadow and hidden spot with suspicion. “Spread out a little,” he told his troop, “but don’t lose sight of each other. We don’t want to provide a good target for whatever is in here with us.”
“You don’t think we’re alone, do you?” Jerry asked, searching everything around him for trouble.
“I’m afraid not,” Hannibal admitted. “I’m sensing something here I haven’t felt in years; something dreadfully familiar and incredibly evil.”
An alien chattering and clucking started echoing softly from the cavern around them, causing further unease in Hannibal and his team. “What is that?” Gary asked fearfully.
“I don’t know,” one of the team members, Tyler, replied. “I certainly don’t want to meet up with whatever it is.”
“Shhh,” Hannibal hissed. “Quiet. We’re not alone here.”
In three minutes, Hannibal and his team had reached the far end of the cave where the gate and draken statues stood. They looked up at the colossi and the gate with great fear. “Hannibal, my blood has turned to ice,” Jerry whispered. “We should leave this place. Nothing good will come from staying here.”
“I’m with you,” Hannibal stated. “This place is so evil that I doubt my own sanity. This place is alive and wants to destroy us. Gary, take some pictures of the gate and sculptures so we can get out of this deathtrap.”
Gary pulled out a camera and stated snapping pictures. When the flash went off, the light revealed a horde of unearthly creatures lurking in the shadows. A cacophonous chorus of shrieks arose from the creatures as a twenty-foot tall monster from the depths of hell itself attacked Gary.
“Gary, look out!” Hannibal warned, swinging his machine gun around and opening fire on the horned demon that ripped Gary’s head off with a single swipe of its huge clawed hands. The other creatures set upon the rest of the team, taking out two more before the other team members briefly scattered and finding defensive positions from which to fight. Gunfire echoed through the huge cavern as the giant creature that killed Gary took sight on Hannibal.
Its six eyes narrowed as a snarl arose from its elongated, tooth-filled snout. Spreading its giant bat wings in a provocative display, the monster spoke, pointing its clawed finger dripping with blood at Hannibal. “You should not have come here, Beowulf!” it snarled. “This gate belongs to us and we shall open it despite your meddling. Master Dezarcus has ordered it. Now die for your treason to us and for your interference in our plans!”
Hannibal paled when the name Dezarcus came out of the mouth of the demon. When it charged, Hannibal dodged the monster’s claws and enormous horns while unloading his entire clip of phosphorus rounds into the demon’s chest. It staggered back and roared, jumping at Hannibal again, who launched a phosphorus fragmentation grenade directly into the chest of the monster. It knocked the beast back, having burned a hole through the creature. Two more grenades came from behind Hannibal, striking the monster while in midair, tearing off its wing and legs. Sulfurous yellow blood spewed from the creature as it fell between the two draken statues. The moment the creature fell, the other creatures stopped attacking and backed off into the shadows.
Hannibal looked around with great concern, wheezing and becoming light-headed from the heat and the skirmish. “Whose left?” he called out, seeing Jerry and one other teammate, a Native American man named Kuruk backing up to Hannibal’s position.
“Just us, Hannibal,” Kuruk declared, bleeding profusely from his left arm where something had clawed him. “Tyler and the others were taken by these fiends, whatever they are. They’re faster than a striking rattlesnake.”
“But look,” Jerry said. “They’ve backed off. Why would they do that? They had us.”
“Because we apparently took out their leader,” Hannibal answered. “Listen at them chattering. They must be deciding whether to finish the job or not. We have to get out of here.”
“I’m all for that,” Jerry declared.
Hannibal pulled a camera out of his flak jacket pocket and took pictures of the monster and the gateway with the draken statues. Each time the flash went off it showed more creatures gathering behind their fallen leader. When Hannibal took the last picture, his blood turned to ice as he saw another monstrous creature leaning over the fallen one. This monster seemed to draw all shadows and darkness to his form, in essence becoming a giant shadow twenty-five feet in height. It growled as Hannibal took the last picture; its eyes burning like lamps under a shroud of darkness that cloaked only its upper head. The lower portion of its head seemed to emerge from the shadows of the darkness revealing a very reptilian mouth on an elongated snout. It snarled at Hannibal as it rose, showing a mouthful of needle-like teeth. The thing locked eyes with Hannibal for just a moment and recognized him. Glaring at Hannibal with the fires and hate of hell in its eyes, the thing roared “Get them and bring Beowulf to me or I’ll have all your heads!”
Knowing he was outmatched, Hannibal turned to Jerry and Kuruk and ordered, “This creature is beyond our capabilities. Run!”
Jerry and Kuruk saw the shadow fiend pointing with a hideous reptilian claw at them and backed away in a hurry...Hannibal pushing them as he reloaded his machine gun and grenade launcher. When the smaller creatures started swarming after them, Hannibal opened fire, covering the retreat of his friends. In seconds, Dan, Brandon, Chris, and Quang had emerged from their sniper’s positions, providing cover fire too. Just before moving around a column, Hannibal looked back at the gate, seeing the creatures feasting upon the bodies of his teammates. Hannibal launched one last grenade at them before fleeing the scene with the remnant of his team, heading back up the tunnel towards the Hall of Drakens.
Hannibal paused in the account, his face pale from the horrors he recollected. A troubled sigh escaped his lips. Seeing Hannibal reaction to the account, Harry asked, “Are you okay, Hannibal?”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Hannibal replied softly. “I get a little shaken when I tell that story. The emotional damage from it has been slow to heal. I lost some very good friends to those demons.”
“You’re sure those were demons?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” Hannibal answered coldly. “I know they were without a doubt. How they managed to cross into our world and gain a physical form troubles me greatly. I’ve dealt with demons before, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them on our side of the veil like this without someone controlling them. I’m sure it’s why that place had me so stirred up.”
“Did you retrieve your fallen teammates?” Harry asked softly.
“No,” Hannibal said flatly. “It was a rout. By the time we had retreated to the cavern entrance, the denizens of that infernal place had regrouped and started to move in. We fled for our lives. The last thing I remember seeing in that hell was several of the fiends ripping our fallen friends to pieces and eating them. Now do you have some idea of why I said there are fouler things than giant spiders and scorpions in the deep places of the Earth? We fled to the Hall of Drakens where we blocked the entrance to the lower level by blowing up the passage just beyond the doors at the Hall of Drakens. I have no doubt that we stood at the very gates of hell in that place. Who knows what other monstrosities are bound on the other side of that gate. One interesting note about the gate itself: it seemed to be locked and barred from the outside, our side and the two drakens looked like they were facing the gate, almost like they were guarding it, trying to keep whatever was on the other side in there.”
Harry’s gazed never moved from the picture while Hannibal explained. “Yes, the picture shows it. They do seem to be acting as guards, sentinels there to check anything that would try to come out of there,” Harry answered. “Hey, what’s this?” He looked very closely at the picture, and then got up, going to a desk that sat in the corner and procuring a magnifying glass. He returned to his chair, sat down, and examined the picture through the magnifying glass. “There’s something here,” he declared. “I don’t rightly know what it is, but there is definitely something going on here.” He handed the picture and the magnifier to Hannibal, instructing, “Look there real close in the lower right hand side, near the body of the demon.”
Hannibal focused intently at the area Harry mentioned. His gaze intensified and his expression fell as his blood ran cold with the memory of the terrible event. “What is it?” Harry asked in a concerned tone after seeing Hannibal’s expression.
Hannibal looked up from the picture, his face pale as death with a matching expression. With a deep sigh, he slumped back in his chair and took a long draught from his glass. His complexion did not improve. Harry began to be very concerned. “What is it?” he repeated.
The picture showed under magnification another menacing being kneeling down next to the body, looking directly at the camera. The being seemed to draw the shadows to itself and seemed to be physically cloaked in darkness. Only a vague outline of his body showed up. Shadows partially concealed its face. The only things that showed in the picture was its lower face, which seemed to be very reptilian in manner and its eyes, which seemed to glow scarlet, like two glowing embers in a fire, full of hatred.
“It’s him,” Hannibal finally answered in a deeply stressed tone, “the one that ordered the others to attack. It’s something I hoped I would never see again. That, my friend, is an honest to God demon; one I’ve encountered elsewhere.”
“You mean to say that you’ve seen that monstrosity before?” Harry asked, totally astounded at the revelation. “Where; How?”
“That’s a story I’ll get to in a minute,” Hannibal returned with a little more composure. “Just be aware that I’m well acquainted with that infernal beast. It’s a creature of pure evil that uses the shadows to hide its movements and identity. As you will remember what I said earlier, it wasn’t until this monster showed up that the rest of that horde decided to attack again. I remember when I took the picture. The flash lit up the place and when the light got to the being, it seemed to be unable to penetrate the darkness around that monster. We were slowly backing away all the while. When the camera came down, I saw it standing over what I assumed he considered a fallen comrade. The beast stood a good twenty-five feet tall and emanated raw power and evil. It glared at me and I briefly hesitated, locking eyes with it. There was immediate recognition on both of our parts. We both knew who we were seeing, at which time it smiled the wickedest smile I’ve ever seen, and then roared, telling its friends to attack us. That’s when we fled. I laid down cover fire while Jerry and Kuruk retreated. Dan, Brandon, Chris, and Quang covered our escape with suppressing fire as the creatures swarmed after us. The last thing I saw before breaking into a full retreat was the monsters feasting on our fallen friends while the big one, the one in this picture, stood there pointing at us like a general sending out his troops. I also saw the walls and floors crawling with what I thought were hundreds of the smaller creatures coming after us from the shadows. We barely escaped that infernal place.” Hannibal paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.
Harry, Mary, and Dennis sat there in awed quiet as Hannibal continued after the pause. “We outraced them back to the Hall of Drakens,” Hannibal declared. “The entrance to the lower level had a great door that we opened in order to gain access. Once through the doors, we retrieve two of our three-pound plastic explosive mines and I went back in seventy-five yards, attached them to the walls, and armed the bombs with a proximity fuse. By time I did that, I could hear the creatures coming up the passage. I ran and we sealed the doors, setting off the bomb by remote control. The whole place shook and rocks fell from the ceiling. The doors buckled from the force of the explosion. Why the blast didn’t blow the doors off its hinges, I’ll never know. However, the doors did remain shut. After the rumble had subsided, I tried to open one of the doors but was only able to open it enough to seen the aftermath of the explosion. The passage to the lower level was completely sealed by a cave-in. It was at that point that we relaxed. Everything we encountered in the upper levels we were able to handle.” Hannibal sighed, gazing at them in a relieved way. “Now I’ll tell you how I know what that beast was,” he stated.
Hannibal looked at Dennis, who was sitting quietly and beginning to look a bit weary. “How are you holding up, Dennis?” Hannibal asked. “I’m not scaring you, am I?”
Dennis shook his head no. “No, no. I’m not scared,” he replied; fatigue showing in his tone and face.
“But it’s getting a bit late,” Harry said. “And you’ve got school tomorrow.”
“But I’m not tired!” Dennis tried to protest as he yawned.
“Seems to me you are, yawning like that,” Hannibal retorted with a cackle.
“Go to bed, son,” Harry ordered. “We’ll let you know what you miss tomorrow.”
Dennis looked around and yawned again. “All right, Dad,” he conceded in a defeated tone, walking to Hannibal and giving him a hug.
“See you later, Dennis,” Hannibal murmured. “And remember, there isn’t anything out there that God doesn’t control. Even demon monsters must obey the Lord. Good night.” Dennis plodded away into the house, going to his bedroom.
“I’d better go and check on him,” Mary said. Harry nodded in agreement as Mary rose, following Dennis.
“You have a good boy there, Harry,” Hannibal complimented. “Not many boys like that out there.”
“Yes, he’s a good boy though sometimes he can be a handful,” Harry answered.
“I’m sure of that,” Hannibal returned. Just then, Mary came back in the living room and sat down.
“He’s in bed now. It’s been a long day for him,” Mary said.
“That’s good. Now that he’s gone to bed, I’ll tell you about the thing you pointed out in the picture. I thought maybe what I’m about to say may have been a little much for Dennis,” Hannibal declared. “For starters, the thing in the picture has a name.”
“A name?” Harry asked in shocked manner.
“Yes, a name,” Hannibal replied coldly, pausing before explaining.