Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Gospel of Judas

For those few faithful who have followed this blog, Thank You. The hardest thing to do is captivate an audience, especially when you are not as skilled as others in keeping them entertained. The first series of Tales From A Motel focused on Father John Writhe, which was the focus of the overall story in my vastly empty head. His story ended with his "awakening" and the destruction of the Motel. But there was another key arc that was pushed aside for length. Here, I have linked the main arc with the events that occurred after "John" which you can refresh memory HERE. Then comes the "mini" series, if you will, that introduces Sister Aeglaeca into the story. Below is the final of both arcs into one complete plot. One day, this may take on the shape of an actual series of books. Until then, I wanted to give those of you who have been with me, most of the main story line, because I think you all deserve it. As always, I appreciate sharing this, if any of you deem it worthy of such. Enjoy. 


“Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.” – The Gospel of Thomas

The Motel appeared abandoned. It always appeared abandoned. It sat in the middle of an open desert, beneath an orange and crème skyline. The sun had peaked at its zenith, creating a watery mirage beside the Motel’s boarded up doors and windows. The compacted dirt in the parking lot whisked up and formed an occasional cloud of sweltering hot dust. The pickup truck pulled off the barren highway and parked in front of the lobby. The No Vacancy sign hung from its cord, swaying gently long lost to the rusted old nails that once held it in place. Given the nature of the place, one could assume the Motel had remained in this state of asunder for some time but, like the mirages around it, this too was a matter of visual perspective. Ironically, perspective had become central for all things in this world, blurring reality with the surreal post-satanic occupation of Lucifer’s earthly reign.

For the Stranger, the Motel was both an assignment and a curse. He had spent a decade of his life buried deep within the Archives of Rome’s Cathedrals, studying the history that dated as far back as the Apostolic Succession. The Church held many secrets, none more damaging to both the clergy and the faith it instituted than that of the Motel. Like all secrets, the truth can only remain buried for so long, until the unsuspecting comes along and trips over pieces of its forgotten skeleton. A key development in the Stranger’s own understanding of the Motel came some years back, during his own personal encounter with the mysteries of the Motel. The aftermath of his stay remained with him, buried deep inside his subconscious mind, laying in wait, like a sleeping giant, which slowly seeped through like a dripping faucet.

* * * 

He stood silent and majestic, his clothes laden with dust and sand, his feet worn and weary and his toes lacerated from several days of hard travel across Judaea. His mind savagely plagued with guilt and shame, tugging at his heart-strings, pestering him night and day, for turning his back on the man called Jesus of Nazareth, for a mere thirty pieces of silver. He could not help but wonder as Jesus listened to the people persecute him, if an innocent man was worth 30 pieces of silver how much could that same innocent man get for an egregiously traitorous friend?

“I bring before you a guilty man, charged with crimes against the empire, yet I see and hear only from a philanthropist whose actions have not brought disdain for our beloved Rome. Still, you have me send him to his death?” the Prefect shouted to the people.

It was then that Judas noticed a black hooded figure lean down close to Pontius Pilate’s ear. The being spoke, his words heard only by those it wished to hear, and then he faded back into the line of men. Pontius Pilate fell silent. It was evident to Judas that whatever the hooded figured had whispered held more influence over the outcome of the trial than anything Tiberius Caesar could command from the throne. Judas then turned his focus to Jesus. His deep blue eyes fell sullenly towards the ground at his feet. His face was no longer bright instead he appeared worried and crestfallen. The fate of the Messiah was no longer in the hands of Rome or its people. Judas had hand-delivered the Son of God to the Dark Prince of hell. He then heard his Savoir speak to him.

“Remember this day.” The voice was a choir of whispers that lifted his soul onto its own cross in which to bear.

Something chimed from inside the glove compartment of the truck. The driver leaned over the seat, opened the glove box and pulled out a cell phone that lay next to a semi-automatic pistol.


“John? Thank God, you are alive”

“It is good to hear your voice again, Sister Aeglaeca.”

“Where are you John?”

“The Motel.”

“The Motel? Why?”

“To give you back your piece of mind, to restore the damage I’ve done and to hopefully bring closure to an old wound.”

“What are you talking about John? How did you find the Motel again? Tell me how to get to you and-“

“No! You have done enough already. Please, Aeglaeca, trust in me as I trusted in you.”

John looked to the briefcase on the passenger seat. Everything has changed since she and I last spoke.

“What are you not telling me, John?”

“If I find him I am not telling you goodbye, but I promise the ocean and the sun will return to you, this I swear.”

John snapped the cell phone in half and threw the pieces out the window. He sat still, his thoughts focused on the Motel that stood ominous, before him. A lot had happened since his last stay here. Back then, John was just an ordinary man trying to live an ordinary life with his wife Gloria, who was eight months pregnant with their first child. They had decided that his name was going to be Jack, and that his birth was going to change everything for the young newlyweds. Ironically, it would be Jack’s death that brought about the change.

"No, please God, No!"

Shouts escaped from the mangled car, it had spun out of control on the wet pavement, swerved around an oncoming car, rolled onto its side several times before wrapping itself around a tree that cut through it like a hot knife through butter. The back of the car erupted into flames, caused by a ruptured fuel tank, which licked the rainfall and sizzled as the twisted metal cooled. The fuel spread throughout the wreckage, along the roadside and into the front end of the vehicle that once had been the family SUV. Amazingly, the two occupants inside the vehicle were still alive. Each in distress, bleeding heavily from deep cuts caused by the shattered windshield, and bones surely broken during the violent impacts, but, nonetheless, alive. The driver, fading in and out of consciousness, unbuckled his seat belt, but found that his legs were pinned beneath the steering column. His passenger moaned, muttered words lost in the chaos of the accident, and then fell silent again. Fighting the urge to pass out, he reached for the latch of his passenger's seat belt trying to shore up the grip it had around her neck; but his fingers came a half an inch short from freeing her. Her lacerated face did not express anguish, still beautiful as the day he laid eyes upon it, masked by blood it would be the last image he ever had of his beloved pregnant wife.

They took my only son from me. A small part of him, the part driven by vengeance, was thankful for the angel that spared his life that day; but the rest of him had long died, inside that car.

Rife with ferocious anger, the Stranger stepped out from the pickup. The toxicity of the air burned his lungs laced heavily with sulfur. It was a constant reminder of Satan’s earthly reign, a sign of the apocalypse, the smell of victory for the Horde and the fall of God’s people. John approached the lobby door. He placed his hand against the glass, watching it ripple across the chalky surface of the door, distorting the span of the Motel as a whole. He grinned. Vanity- it had always been his favorite Sin. John pushed his hand through the vortex and slowly stepped through to the other side.

Judging by the unexplained weather events playing out on the small television monitor sitting on a counter in the lobby, hell had become significantly cooler. Hellfire and Brimstone had always been descriptors for Hell, but now, on earth, Hell meant record snowfalls in regions across the globe that had never seen a snowflake. It was a nice touch, the demon thought, as it perched behind the counter. The images on the screen were of the Sahara, which had unseasonably cooled during the day rather than at night, bringing its first new snow since 1979. This frosting, however, changed the landscapes of Cairo with endless slopes of fresh powder to traverse, with a backdrop to frozen pyramids skirted with ice. Coastal shorelines flooded inland, up to fifty miles in some lower sea-leveled communities, turning rural towns into wetlands, threatening countless lives, uprooting families who had never even seen the ocean. Believers waited, scouting the heavens for the Horsemen to come. They waited for the sound of trumpets to thunder across the sky. They waited for seals to be broken. They waited for God’s winged warriors to ascend from Heaven and slay the Beast of Hell. The Horde swept across the world like an incurable plague and, still, the people waited.

It did not take long for the churches of the world to fade into obscurity. Religion had already become shrouded in mockery- the scandals had ripped through the heart of the faithful. They submitted to the Horde. Without His presence, humanity would have no other choice if it were to survive.
The demon lifted its deformed little head from the monitor and greeted its guest. One of the Damned stood inside the archway holding another lost soul captive. The poor bastard wiggled like a worm from the end of a hook, pleading for mercy, fighting reality with what he had once only known as scary stories preached to him as a child in church. The Devil was real, and very much in command. When the Damned finally spoke, its voice started as a distant scream that grew louder as it pushed the air from its scorched lungs, wailing to its master.

“Ahhnother one of Hhhisss fffaithhful.”

The man squabbled, pulling at the demon’s arm, trying to keep his feet from being drug along the floor. The demon jumped down from its perch, and scampered over to the human. It could not have been more than four or five feet tall with a long scaly tail snaking along behind it. It was also very skinny almost corpse-like with much of its skeleton protruding from its blood red skin, plagued with blotches of dead black flesh- daily floggings had left the demon permanently spotted. The demon ran up the man’s leg and swung around his torso. The demon looked directly into the man’s eyes and grinned, and exposed a single finger, which it then used to carve “666” into the man’s forehead. The Demon leapt onto the floor and waived the Damned away, “Throw it into room 18.” The forehead carving was not part of any indoctrination; it simply enjoyed religious traditions and the usage of its baseless assumptions.

* * *

The tide gently rolled up onto the shore. Sister Aeglaeca lost herself in the peaceful beauty of the ocean. Surrounded by white sands, open blue skies and blissful puffs of white clouds hanging overhead, this place had always been her safe house in which nothing could touch her. Here, no harm could come to her. On the outside, her body would often feel the unwarranted beatings of an abusive father, but the sting of parental distrust never soured her heart here. This place, gifted to her by her guardian Archangel Grigori, had sheltered her in her most desperate of times, but now her world had suddenly turned topsy-turvy. Appearing to her on the beach, the Archangel looked defeated. His wings were charred and ruffled with deep gashes that oozed black angel blood. Grigori stood several feet away from her, with a desolate look about his perfectly scarred face.

“I’m sorry my dear, I’ve failed you.”

“I do not understand.”

“Beyond the sea, the enemy has closed in on you. Too numerous for me and I have become overwhelmed, thus you will soon wake and find yourself in the aftermath of battle. I will not be there, but promise that I am always by your side.”

The angel faded. The ocean pulled back into the sea, which was now the color of crimson, and the sand had discolored with the blood of the fallen and the sky was now bruised black and blue. Sister Aeglaeca clutched at her stomach. The pain was sharp and sudden. When she opened her eyes, the room was ablaze. There were fallen demons all around her, some without their limbs and others that lay motionless as flames licked at their blackened flesh. It took all that she had inside her to roll off the splintered table, choking on the smoke filling her lungs, crawling beneath the plumes and over the dead on her way towards the exit. Images of battle pieced together before her eyes. Blood stained her habit, her skin, her hair, her fingernails- the ends broken and splintered with the flesh of her enemies. She tasted her victim’s blood on her tongue, spitting out remnants of a demon’s finger onto the floor. With a single excruciating breath, she lunged into the burning hallway. Her body felt like gravity had gripped her, squeezing her lungs with the slightest movement. Sweat stung her open wounds, and her ankle snapped under her weight as she attempted to stand. The heat from the flames no longer affected her, too numb to notice the burn and too embattled with her wounds to care. She fought the darkness, inching her way further along the hall, refusing to give in. As she slowly made her way to the exit, dragging herself along the floor with the assistance of her sword, her focus was solely on the exit door and escaping the burning building.

The door gave way to her body and she spilled into the darkness outside. Sister Aeglaeca fell onto the snow-covered pathway, her shattered ankle screaming up her leg, into her torso, sparking every pain receptacle in her brain to fire at once. The fresh snow melted the moment it touched her pinkish red skin, soothing her burns and easing the swelling of her joints. Once safely out of harms way, she collapsed into a snowman and lost consciousness. Upon regaining consciousness, she felt tiny hands pull at her hair, while some felt at her breast and others tried to find access up through her habit. One child, a boy about the age of twelve, with a tattoo of the number of the beast across his chin felt something sharp and colder than snow press against his throat. Seeing the glimmer of a blade in the pale moonlight, the other children dispersed, leaving the boy at the mercy of the young nun who threatened to remove his head from his shoulders with the slightest twist of her hand.


The boy looked perplexed. Once he felt the edge of the blade nick his skin, he understood. The boy shut his eyes and began, “Our Father, who art in Heaven”

“There’s a good boy.”

After a few moments, the boy opened his eyes and the nun was gone.

Flames reached up into the night sky, where a flock of winged creatures passed a block away from where she had last seen Father Writhe and Grigori. Sister Aeglaeca turned- Vapula, she thought. Probably just scouts attracted to the firelight, like moths to a flame. She walked among the shadows, sticking to alleys and backstreets, keeping out of sight as much as she could to avoid patrols. There were many patrols, lead by Cerberus hounds that could smell purity from a significant distance. The advantage of being a warrior for the Holy Bridge was that there was no purity in war. Murder was acceptable in the right scenarios, even God resulted to violence in order to bring forth peace. There was no way to avoid it- sometimes a flood was the only way to cleanse a world lost to chaos. For Sister Aeglaeca, her sword was no different, and the Holy Bridge supported her violence no matter how much blood she spilled, for they were the ones who taught her how to wield it. She moved along the side of a wall, paying close attention to the long slash down her forearm. Her wound had all but healed since her escape. She stopped, thrusting her back against the shadows. A Cerberus hound crept across the end of the alley, sniffing the air with all three of its heads. After a moment, and with some objection from one of its heads, the beast moved on with half a dozen Damned trailing behind it. She reached the end of the alleyway and spotted a lone phone-booth sitting across the street. Once inside the phone booth, she dialed and silently prayed for an answer.

“If I find him I am not telling you goodbye, but I promise the ocean and the sun will return to you, this I swear.”

“John? John!” She slammed the receiver onto the hook, pressing her forehead against the chilled glass.

Sister Aeglaeca closed her eyes and for the first time, she could not see her safe house. The warmth of the sun was no longer kissing gently against her cheeks and the ocean now a sea of infinite salt and sand. Only the darkness remained. She remembered the words spoken to her by the Angel. She stood for a moment inside the phone booth and watched the world beyond the icy glass, tears streaming down either side of her bruised cheeks. It was all like an awful dream from which she could not wake. There was no order. No authority, only the rule of the Horde, cold and unforgiving, remained. What more could one man and one woman do that God could not himself? At least they had the might of an archangel at their side, but even the grace of Grigori had not been enough. She lowered her head to pray, then realized there were enough prayers in the world to go around, deciding on something more tangible. Sister Aeglaeca reached inside her habit and removed her blade. Her sword was the only thing that still made clear and concise sense to her, glimmering against the frozen glass of the phone booth, the only tangible answer she had that had not failed her. She prayed for her safety, and for the safety of John, keeping a continuous eye on the outside. When she spotted an unsuspecting patrol, she opened the door to the phone booth and bolted for her enemies. Lucifer had taken everything she loved away, and now it was time for her to take something back knowing she would likely die in the process. For now, however, the avenging nun lived- may God show her enemies’ mercy for her sword shall only serve them justice.

There was a knock at the front lobby door. A small panel opened up to the visitor standing outside. He wore a black brimmed hat and long black trench coat. His head was lowered just enough so that the demon could not make out his face.

“Demon or Damned?”

There was no answer and the demon would not get the chance to ask again, the tiny metallic object penetrated its frontal lobe and exited out from the back of its skull. The demon buckled under the weight of its death, falling to the ground. The lobby door opened and in stepped the Stranger. He walked confidently and purposefully, making a mental note of all available exits and cover in case his cocky swagger were challenged by any one of the demons looking on. The Demon, sitting at the front desk, looked up, once more, from the monitor. Its blood red eyes caught sight of the unexpected guest and turned towards him. The Stranger approached the desk and placed his briefcase upon it, smiling beneath his hat. The demon sniffed the air cautiously.

“You’re no demon. Damned, perhaps, but certainly not demonized.” The small demon said as it sneered.

The Lobby now felt fuller, tinged with the sickly smell of seared flesh. The Damned lurched closer, hissing, screeching with anticipation. It was hard to know who had the upper hand in the Lobby, a room full of hell spawn or a mortal man who spoke calmly and respectfully as he opened his briefcase, showing it to the Demon.

“I’d like a room.”

“Would you now? And whom might I ask are you?”

The Stranger ran his thumbs over the locks of the briefcase, unlatching them. Demons do not frighten easily, spending eternity in hell tends to thicken one’s skin; however, the contents of the briefcase raised the kind of fear within the demon that only the devil himself could raise.

“Doesn’t look quite the same as I remember.”

The Stranger sat the weapon onto the counter and patted it, “times have changed since it was last used. There are more practical uses for metal these days.”

The demon sat back on its perch. Curiously concerned, the Demon sneered.

“You cannot defeat him.”

“I will not ask as nicely the second time.”

The demon held its hand up to its mouth and regurgitated a small triangular-shaped key, and then placed it onto the counter, pushing it through the little opening in the glass.

“Come to exorcise some demons have you father?” Spotting the white collar the Stranger wore around his neck, the demon snickered.

“Just one.”

The Stranger closed the lid of the briefcase and took the key, placing it into his pocket.

“Forgetting something, father?” The Demon asked tapping the glass indicating the pistol on the counter.

“There was only enough metal for the one bullet. Consider it a keepsake.”

* * * 

The hill of Golgotha was filled to capacity, yet eerily quiet. If you closed your eyes, the feel and the sound of the surrounding people suggested something other than a crucifixion was occurring. They prayed but did so to themselves. It felt like everyone was waiting for the clouds to part and the hand of God to reach down and pluck his son from his wooden cross. The smell of blood and urine was thick in the air, putrid and acidic on the tongues of those who lingered at the foot of the cross, whose acronym read INRI. From the high wall of the city, Judas could clearly see the Lord as his life faded from his body. Judas’ eyes welled up. He turned away from the hell mound that would later be central in the eventual construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was then that he heard the second words spoken by Jesus from Calvary. "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." The fading Messiah then turned his head towards the gates and whispered, “Except for you Judas, you shall live forever.”

They were words that haunted Judas Iscariot day in and day out. Words that had brought him here to the gates of a rich man whose name remained a secret from his memory. He handed over his silver and shook the man’s cold and bony hand. The man turned away from him, leaving Judas to the field in which a single colossal tree stood bare of its leaves. He ascended the tree, climbing up to its highest branch, where he removed his rope belt from his waist, tying one end around the branch and the other into a noose that he then slipped over his head. Surely, no man could live forever- death would be his salvation. It would be his way of asking for forgiveness, an eye for an eye. Acting on impulse, he tossed himself off the branch and fell back to the earth. The noose tightened at his neck, his body reacting instinctively, his hands reached up and grasped hold of the rope. Slowly the rope slipped through weakening fingers. Immortality was for the frail weak souls who feared what waited beyond the darkness- yet Judas could not will himself to let go.

John pushed the key into the slot. Instantly, the key sparkled and grew hot, burning his fingers despite his leather glove. He let go of the key and watched as it melted in the slot, oozing from the keyhole onto the ground at his feet. The door opened slowly, and a brisk chill rushed out into the hallway. John stepped inside and kicked the door closed with his heel. The darkness swallowed him whole. The layout of the room had never left him, moving freely without light into the bathroom where he placed the briefcase onto the sink. He opened the briefcase and felt inside, removing the objects from within. He could hear scratching at the door and at the boarded up window outside the bathroom, signs of the damned clawing at the entry, finding that the knob refused to turn in their hands. The nails in the boards would not tear away from the siding and the boards themselves would not splinter at their demands. The Priest had called to the Motel and it had willingly answered him.

John felt around in the darkness and sat on the edge of a tub, legs in front and his hands resting in his lap. He felt the energy growing within the Motel Room, sweeping inside the bathroom with him. It felt to John as though a hundred unseen serpents coiled up from his feet, toiling at his legs, and slithering around his torso to his chest. The dark energy swelled around him, spitting its sulfuric breath into his face. When it finally spoke, it did so through John’s own lips.

“Why have you returned here, Priest?”

John tried to speak, but found that his voice was no longer in his control. Instead, he thought about his answer and pushed it out from his mind.

“We both know why I am here.”

In front of him, two candlewicks caught flame. The light illuminated the bathroom in an orange glow. A large rectangular mirror projected a man sitting on the edge of a tub, whose silhouette moved with John, but John knew it was not his reflection in the mirror. Between the burning candles there lay a leather pouch and an old rust encrusted spearhead that seemed to draw the attention of the man in the mirror.

“I’ve spent most of my waking life asleep, dreaming of a life that was not my own. Believing I was someone else, walking among this estranged world and pretending that I belong. Then the accident happened and slowly everything started to become clear to me.”

John rose. He took the spearhead into his hand and placed it against the mirror. He knew the Motel was more than just a gateway to hell, or a conduit between heaven and hell. If he were to reach that place in which Judas Iscariot resided, he would need a tool that could match the awesome power the Motel pooled inside its satanic walls. There was only one thing in this world he could think of that would hold such divine gifts, the Holy Lance of Gaius Cassius Longinus- the weapon that pierced into the side of Jesus Christ. The spearhead cut into the glass like a diamond, carving out a small hole in the mirror. John sat the glass to the side and stood silent. He noticed that there was now a hole in the stomach of the man beyond the mirror, unaffected by the anomaly, he continued to watch John, quizzically.

“When I realized what had happened, there was nothing I could do. The deed had already been signed in the blood of my Gloria and...Something far worse than my own death introduced itself to me…you. ”

In the darkness, the air was now heavy with the fumes of gasoline. Echoes of Gloria resonated, as well as a kindred spirit of an unborn child.

“I offered you a second chance. A purpose in which to fulfill, and you graciously accepted.”

“You offered me eternal damnation!” The thought raced out from John’s mind with such fury, the cries and weeps of both Gloria and his unborn son, Jack, dispersed into oblivion. “That is what I learned here. Drawn to this purgatory for lost souls, this gateway between heaven and hell, forced to live a lie so that you could find Him- failing in your poor attempt at penance.”

“And so you defy the laws of your God in order to do what? Come here and smite me? Hell has overcome the Earth and you focus your attention towards a petty vengeance you cannot possibly serve. What will you do, here, John? What can you do?”

“Free us.”

John took the pouch in hand and unstrung the thin piece of twine from around it. The contents of the leather pouch clinked together and chimed like chain mail against the ceramic sink. John could now feel the anguish inside that was Judas. Freeing him, along with Judas, was not just a euphemism, but an act of God Judas never considered himself.

“He will never allow you to do that. This world is his now, the battle has already been won outside this forsaken Motel. God has moved on, John.”

“You sound pleased.”

“Lucifer and I are one, you might say, indebted to the other. My sin opened up the doorway he needed. I suspect you shall not make it much further in your plans. Both worlds are now his. You have no tactical advantage in this.”

“And that, Judas, is where you both are wrong.”

The scratching and screeching of the Damned outside the Motel room grew louder and more enraged, desperate now to gain access inside. Word of the Priest’s presence quickly spread up through the Horde, reaching the throne of hell itself. Lucifer listened intently to his Marquis tell him of the man some had called the Judas Priest. Without reply, the Dark Prince of hell rose from his throne, his massive red and black wings unfurled at his back, lifting him among the ranks of hell, spiraling like a mythical dragon upwards inside the Ninth Gate that would transport him to the Motel.

It was during his yearlong stay in Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano that John found an old Index entitled “Ταξίδι του νεκρομάντη” or “The Journey of the Necromancer” The Index referenced Dante and his supposed encounter with Charon, which seemed astray among Christian Codex. Nevertheless, John found the answer he needed to return to Judas, where the Devil’s influence was more restrained- on neutral ground. He poured the contents onto the sink in front of the opening. “Think about what you’re doing, John.” Hearing these words felt odd to him, having repeated them many times over before. On the sink lay several silver coins, twenty pieces to be exact, that looked, even in the dull candlelight, to be very old. John then recited Charon’s incantation over and over, “Tibi, quaere, qui locus mortuorum.” He reached into his pocket and produced a gold obolus. On one side was the face of a bearded man and the other of a boat crossing a river, he placed it in his mouth. From the opening in the mirror, a thin bony hand reached out, palming the coins into its fleshless hand, and then retreated inside the mirror. Moments later, the hand reached hauntingly from within the mirror a second time, this time asking for a different kind of payment.

“John, it doesn’t have to end this way.”

“Yes, Judas, it does.”

John touched the skeletal fingers that spread out and wrapped around his hand like a spider trapping its prey, pulling his hand, and eventually his entire self, in through the glass, but not before John could snatch up the Holy Lance from the sink.

There was nothing but the infinite darkness around him.

Slowly, the world filled with light. John found that he was now standing in a large field, stained crimson in color. He felt things crawling on his tongue, spitting he found that the obolus had turned to maggots. Twenty yards from John was a lifeless tree and the hung corpse of Judas Iscariot.

“I look like hell.” Judas began, still speaking through John, “His ears must have been ringing this whole time. Eye to the western skyline, behold, the Devil has come to collect.”

Had it been a painting, the picture would have suddenly and without warning started to bleed from top to bottom, the portrait would blur into one singular phantasm of color racing across the canvas. John could just make out what appeared to be a black dragon in the middle of the prism of chaos. It was only a matter of time, before Satan made his presence felt. John hurried towards the tree, reaching for a branch that snapped under his weight. He tried again on the opposite side of the tree, this time finding a branch that supported him. Carefully, but hastily, John climbed higher, trying not to pay attention to the beast growing nearer with each powerful thrust of its wings, ignoring the terrible howl it produced. Below, the ground swirled and hissed as Vipers and Cobras slithered anxiously, waiting for one careless step. Judas also screamed at him, his brain felt caught between visceral vice grips, squeezing, crushing his will one word at a time. Lucifer then raised his massive reptilian chest, sucking in the sulfuric air, blowing out a great swirling storm of fire and ice, raining hale over Aceldama, pelting John all over his body and head. The sulfur burned his lungs, breaking him down, piece by piece, as he reached for the final branch and pulled himself out onto its limb.

Judas’ corpse swung violently in the winds, his perfectly preserved body had long lost its soul, but still carried the burden of its sin. Meant to hang for eternity, just outside the golden gates of heaven, the hand of the Judas Priest was inches now from cutting through the rope that fashioned the noose of torment at the neck. Lucifer now close enough to smell the fear on John, swooped in as the Holy Lance bit into the ancient ropes. John only saw the darkness inside Lucifer’s mouth, as the corpse of Judas fell to earth, swallowing him whole. All was calm. The outcome unknown, however, everything felt right in the world, the voices silent. The pain and suffering now soothed, healed over without scabbing. Finally, both John and Judas were free.

The ocean crawled up onto the beach and tickled the ends of Sister Aeglaeca’s feet. Beyond the tide, life, outside her safe house, waited for her return. She no longer sensed Grigori; however, there was the presence of another. It was familiar yet distant, like a memory, which she could not quite place. She laid her sword at her side and squeezed the warm sand between her fingers. She was comfortable again- complete. She could not distinguish death among the living and did not care to pursue either one. She felt in her heart of hearts that there was enough time to know for sure, but, for now, she would sit here and enjoy the sunrise and a promise kept by a friend.

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