The Folded Hades, above Pandemonium
Scholars of the inner cosmos have advanced many schemes to allocate abstract qualities to the tiers of reality. Humours, elements, or mythical animals like griffons, unicorns or penguins, have each had their adherents as systems for capturing the essence of each tier and each have required different ways of counting how many tiers there are. A popular scheme among such scholars on my tier is to assign different disciplines to different tiers.
- The Heavens: Theology
- The Folded Earth: Science and Technology
- The Upper side of the Underworld: Magic
- The Lower side of the Underworld: Death and Mortality
- The Unfolded Hades: Alchemy
- The Folded Hades: Demonology
Or as others have drawn:
As such schemes do, it skips over regions that are inconvenient and adds regions to make the scheme work. The boiling magma of the unfolded Earth is ignored because ‘geology’ isn’t grand enough to fit within the scheme and ‘the heavens’ ignores that beyond the surface of the Earth is a vast universe of stars and planets. But without a doubt, Hell is full of demons.
What greeted Sir Pangolin and I beyond those heavy doors was not a vista of hell. The light was pulsing red, so I could not truly say that the brickwork was red. It could have been white or cream I suppose but they were stout Victorian bricks. They were the sort of bricks that held up extravagant viaducts or ambitious underground railway stations. Smooth and sturdy and crafted to form geometrically strong arches and such bricks want to be red.
Inset into the bricks were iron framed windows on either side and in the arched roof. It was only through those windows that we could glimpse the geography of Hell. It stretched out to the right of us and above us encrusted on the inner surface of a sphere like it was a geode of nightmares.
There is gravity of course in the experiential sense. Whether it is the same force you might experience on other tiers I cannot say but your feet stay on the ground by some means and ‘gravity’ is as good a name for that as any other. ‘Down’ is outwards and ‘up’ is any direction pointing to the centre of the hollow sphere. There is no central light in Hell but rather that same glowing fog that pervades everywhere.
As there is no discernible spin or movement of the sphere, there is geometrically no poles or innately privileged points on the surface of Hell. Demographically and politically is another matter. A great city of demons covers two thirds of the surface. The demons have no name for it (indeed for eons they had no names for any things) but by the tradition of Europeans from the Folded Earth, we can call it Pandemonium – the place of all the demons.
At the centre of that city is a tall spire. What is there, I cannot say but just a Greenwich places a political circumference on the Earth, so that spire places a political pole in Hell. The spire’s opposite point on the inside of the sphere is desolate and sparsely habited. To orientate ourselves (as I must or what good am I) let us call the spire the South Pole of Hell and its flat desolate twin the North Pole of Hell.
Sir Pangolin and I were in a circular brick tube, a hollow torus, that circumscribed the north pole in a tight radius. Above us (in the sense of looking out of the windows in the ceiling) or below us (as I imagined it on a chart in my head of the sphere of Hell arranged so north is at the top) Pandemonium lay distant.
The brickwork kept out the worst of the heat and the freezing winds of hell. Sir Pangolin attested that the notorious twisting of the soul was at least lessened within this brick doughnut.
“It’s a viewing gallery!” I said, “A way for mortals to sightsee in Hell!”
Sir Pangolin sniffed the air. “It’s our way out Carto. It’s faint but I can smell the sea. Lead on!”
“I can’t,” I replied, “This tube is circular. The map for this section makes no sense. We can go left or right and it will bring us back to the beginning.”
“Maybe the map is wrong.”
“No, look,” I said pointing out the windows on the left side, ” you can see the tube curving all the way around.”
“So what’s the choice then?”
“Clockwise or widdershins, I guess, or we split up and do both.”
Sir Pangolin sniffed. “The sea smell is stronger to the right.”
“Widdershins it is then,” I replied.
We considered barring the door we had come through but there was no way of securing it on our side. On our side of the door, in the same lettering as the word on the front of it, was the single word “England”. With no other choice available to us we set off to follow Sir Pangolin’s nose.
There were slight ruts in the brick floor, suggesting carts had been pulled along the tunnel in the past but otherwise it was featureless except for the pattern of bricks and the windows. The curvature was such that we could see some distance ahead but there was a constant feeling that we turning a corner.
After what I would guess was about a kilometre of walking we could see a breach in the tunnel wall ahead of us. At some point a window had broken and part of the wall below it had given way. As we got closer we could see that the upper frame and lintel of the window was still intact, ensuring that the integrity of the arched ceiling was retained. Even so we paused some distance away to assess whether it was safe to pass underneath the compromised brick work.
“It has been an age…”
Our eyes had been trained on the right hand wall and the ceiling. The gap had let in brighter light from outside and we had not looked to the shadows to the left of the broken window. Those shadows now curled like ink through water as a figure unfolded out of them.
It was a demon. The shadows dripped away from it revealing a rough formed mass the colour of blood and bone. Scarlet and white claws on knotted hands flexed questing outwards. If it had eyes I could not see them.
Sir Pangolin pushed me backwards with one hand, shifting his stance in readiness for a fight.
“I waited here so very long to feed…”
It’s body could have been the teeth of some monstrous sea creature and as it moved they slid against each other with a disgusting smoothness.
I took two steps further back and Sir Pangolin shifted his stance, his feet gripping to the floor. I had seen him fight in close quarters before and he’d aim low and disable the demon’s legs first. Perhaps this creature was weakened by its long vigil in this abandoned tunnel but I suspected that hunger only infuriates demons rather than debilitating them. Here in Hell they are soul-stuff made concrete by the demands of the folds in space not living flesh like Sir Pangolin.
A sudden and deafening report echoed through the tunnel.
Like porcelain, a crack appeared around a tiny hole in the body of the demon. It shuddered and then cracks proliferated through its body. For a moment, the creature appeared to hold together just through its own will but it was a shattered thing now and could no longer remain whole. It shuddered again and then collapsed into shards and dust.
From behind where the demon had stood, strode Esquin.
He was not in a good state. His clothes were in ribbons. Bloody holes covered his body and part of his head had been blow away. The space were part of his skull and left eye had been was a bubbling green soup of substance. Somehow he was using his demonic aspect to keep his human body alive despite the violence inflicted on it and by keeping that body alive he was retaining his demonic aspect inside of it.
“I see your encounter with the authorities did not go well,” said Sir Pangolin dryly.
“I am hurt but I have the means to heal myself,” said Esquin. In his hands was a rifle. He had told me that given time he would learn and adapt to the world above us. He had certainly learnt quickly how to use the death machines that they build above us.
I wanted to run but we could not out run Esquin’s bullets.
“You don’t need to heal,” I said, “You are home, in Hell. You don’t need a human body to have substance here.”
“I need a body to be ME!” he shouted back bitterly. “I do not want to be a thing like this.” He gestured scornfully at the pieces of the demon he had shot that now lay scattered across the floor. “I want to be whole. I want to be a single thing. Esquin and the demon Esquin.”
“The sphere…” I said quietly.
“The sphere.” he answered.
I pulled it out of my bag. “Here,” I said, “take it. Just let us go. All we want is to go home.”
“Ah no,” replied Esquin, “I’ve read the stories. That sphere is one of the great curses. It always works against the one who uses it. No, you’ll heal me with it.” Esquin smiled a half smile with what remained of his human mouth. “And I’ll give you an incentive.”
Sir Pangolin looked puzzled but I screamed as Esquin raised his gun and with a gesture shot Sir Pangolin.
He took the bullet in his shoulder like he was indomitable oak facing a storm but a gasp of pain escaped his lips and blood poured out of the ruin of an exit wound.
“STOP!” I cried. Perhaps to Esquin, perhaps to prevent Sir Pangolin rushing forward to kill the demon one-handed. “This is unnecessary. I’ll heal you both with the stone, just don’t kill each other.”
Esquin lifted the gun and smiled. “Do it.” he commanded.
It took the sphere from the bag. It was green and warm. It should have looked black in this consuming red light but the green, without emitting light was still somehow vibrant.
There were no instructions. From the stories, people had simply wished healing on those they could both see and name. I was worried it might raise the demon Esquin had just killed from the dead but resurrection was not one of its powers.
It seemed right to close my eyes, so I did. And then I wished.
There was a sigh from Sir Pangolin and a gasp from Esquin. Sir Pangolin slumped to the floor, his eyes shut but I could see the flesh in his shoulder knitting itself back together.
Esquin was fairing less well. The green substance was boiling out of the gap in his skull and dripping from his mouth. He’d dropped the gun and his hands were scrabbling at his head as if he could return the flowing goo back into the cavities of his body. His legs buckled and his back arched. Whatever was happening to him did not look like healing or indeed anything good.
I could feel the power pushing out from the sphere towards Esquin. Whatever work it had done on Sir Pangolin was finished and he lay unconscious on the floor. The attention of the sphere was now wholly on Esquin.
Demonic soup and human body curled in on themselves as if Esquin’s bones were as flexible as flesh. As the two worked together the combined mass began to shrink and shifted colour. Just as the vibrant green of the sphere was clear despite the dark redness of the light, so the substance previously known as Esquin was now a clear cyan.
Then, like a shift in tide, the colours departed and sphere was black.
Sir Pangolin was breathing steadily: unconscious but alive and without even a scar.
I stepped gingerly past the bony shards of the other demon to see what had become of Esquin. There in the dust and broken bricks was an egg. Grey in the red light but I had sense that it would be blue in the daylight. Uneasily I picked up the egg and added it and the now quiescent sphere to my bag.
Sir Pangolin was stirring.
“What happened?” he asked blearily.
“Esquin shot you and the sphere healed you and now Esquin is an egg,” I explained, “and we should go before another demon comes to see what all the fuss was.”
Sir Pangolin stood up uneasily then said “Wait.”
He found Esquin’s police issue rifle and with his sharp claws shredded it to ribbons. “Best not leave this intact here,” he explained.
We half walked, half ran around the tunnel. As we had feared, it brought us full circle after another kilometre and a half, to the door.
“Damn,” I said.
“Look,” said Sir Pangolin.
Where the door had once said “England” it now read “Mine” and even I could smell the blocked drain scent of the Alkaline Sea. Hell has its own geometry and I knew that it was best to accept that.
The door was not barred and we stepped through it.