Erra and the Seven (A story in Lawyers in Hell)

Lawyers in HellErra and the Seven
(A story in Lawyers in Hell)


Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now.

– William Shakespeare, Othello

When Lysicles awoke, the light hurt his eyes.  So white and bright blazed this light, he could see nothing else.  Tears were streaming down his face; he could feel them on his cheeks.  He rubbed his face and his hand came away sticky.  Around him he heard moaning and groaning.  Then the moaning and groaning stopped; perhaps it was his.

Lawyers in HellHe was lying on his back, this he knew for certain.  He kept blinking, trying to clear his vision, struggling to see something beyond the blazing light.  Then the moaning and groaning began again, guttural and wordless.  His eyes hurt.  His mouth hurt.  His whole face hurt.  His chest hurt.  He touched his hand to his breast and felt a gaping wound.  Then the light streamed even brighter.

Someone said, “Lysicles the Athenian.  Put him with his kind, in Erebos,” just before knowingness left him, scourged away by the bright white light until something huge and dark ate up all the brightness – until all that was left was pain and dark.

Erebos?

Then he wakes once again.  His eyes, his mouth, his chest hurt.  He is wounded.  Now he can see blurred shapes, a crossroads.  So is this Erebos on the shores of the Styx?  He blinks and blinks again.

Is this Erebos, in the realm of Hades, amid the shadows between the world of the living and the world of the dead?  Is this the crossroads where three roads meet:  the road to Tartaros; the road to Asphodel; and the road to Elysion?  If it is, souls are sent here to be judged and set on their deserved paths:  to Tartaros, whence there is no return and no relief; to Asphodel’s meadows, where stricken heroes wander who remember name and fame only by drinking blood; or to the fields of honor on the isle of Elysion, where bliss and loved ones wait.

But he remembers.  Lysicles has already been judged, in New Hell:  the fearsome Erra and his Seven, peerless champions, have eaten his damned eyes, his tongue, and his heart and sent him here to Hades, half blind, half dumb and too weak to stand, with a hole where his heart should be.

He remembers more.  For many days he languished, healing from his wounds.  How long?  He doesn’t know.  His eyes came back (slowly, so slowly) and he could see ever more clearly the shadows of Erebos in which he now dwelt.  His tongue came back, itching and burning, hard to control as it grew anew, until he could drink better and eat; then mumble, then mutter, then speak.  His heart came back, thumping and thrumming in his chest, though his pulse still bumped and blood rushed in his ears whenever he tried to stand.

So he bided there, time uncounted, between the pool of Lethe, where common souls drink to erase all memory, and the pool of Mnemosyne, where initiates of the Mysteries drink their memories back into their heads.  Sad souls came to tend him, blank-faced and shrouded.

Then someone brought him water from the pool of Memory.

“Drink this, brave Athenian,” she said.  Her gaze spun him breathless when she met his eyes.

Should he know her?  Did he know her?  She held out a bowl.

He drank, though it was hard with his tongue yet a stump.  She resembled Hecate, goddess of the crossroads and magic, but why would mystic-eyed Hecate, far-darting genius of the underworld, take notice of Lysicles among all these dead – only one more burnt-out wraith of a mortal?

Still, he thinks it is she.

“Thank you, Blessed One,” he mumbles with his stump of a tongue, carefully humble before this spirit of the dead who stoops to tend him.

And having drunk, Lysicles recollects himself completely, all that he had been, all that he had done while alive:  he had kept to his oaths; he had kept his soul clean and pure, as Homer advised, and never let his heart be defiled by the taint of evil and venality.  Never.  Before his eyes flashes all that had happened to him in life, and why:  how he had been tried in Athens and executed for the treason of rashness while his commanding general, Chares, went free.

When he looked up, the spirit with the bowl was gone.  He was alone, sitting among those souls who staggered where Homer said the dead would go, “down the dank moldering paths and past Ocean’s streams, past the White Rock and the Sun’s Western Gates and past the Land of Dreams….”

Fury flooded him, bringing him strength.  His heart pounded harder and he got to his knees, then to his feet, and stood wavering there.  Nevertheless he stood:  naked and ravaged but upright.  He was a soul in Hades, not a war casualty, not a corpse.  He had a second chance to win salvation and be reunited with his beloveds in Elysion.  Forever.

Erra and the Seven had audited his appeal and sent him here.  Lysicles would never forget Erra, the god of pestilence and mayhem, appraising him.  He would never forget Erra’s personified weapon, pitiless warrior with that molten gaze, who carved out his eyes, his tongue, his heart, killing him yet again.  Nor would he ever forget the guilty looks of his counsels, Hammurabi and Draco, when sentence was passed.  Or Alexander of Macedon, holding Lysicles while he was being mutilated, or old Aristotle, averting his face; or the new-dead soldier, Lawrence, muttering a prayer in Arabic and calling on a god that would not, or could not, help a Greek general having his eyes put out by one of Erra’s seven Sibitti, terrifying sons of heaven and earth.

All that was his past.  From it, he would make his future.  If he passed whatever tests lay before him, he might return to the arms of his beloved wife, his sons, his eromenoi.

But first Lysicles will find Chares, rapacious betrayer, and exact his due.  And then he will find Alexander of Macedon, and cut out the eyes and tongue and heart of his enemy.  And then he will find Hammurabi and Draco and discuss this pound of flesh he’d paid to the auditors from Above.  His counsels had failed in their roles as Lysicles’ advocates:  the Babylonian had done him no good, no matter how much Akkadian and Sumerian claptrap he understood; Draco was little better, full of himself and the iron taste of logic run amok.  If those two lawmakers had succeeded, Lysicles would be with his loved ones now, not staggering around Erebos, trying to see, trying to speak, trying to heal.

Hell is different for each soul, he well knows.  Few escape eternal torment.  But here, in the brightest part of Hades’ dim and shadowy day, he can glimpse redemption:  the isle of Elysion beckons, green and gleaming on the horizon, close enough that it seems to Lysicles he could swim for it, strike out across the mouth of the Styx, across Ocean … when he was a little stronger.  Between him and Elysion and his loved ones remains only the repair of his soul’s flesh, and eluding or convincing those who tend the dead here in Erebos.

But first, he is hungry for revenge.  Wrath consumes him.  Somewhere in Hell, Chares and the others who have wronged him are hiding.  Somewhere here, Chares waits, with his unbridled lusts and his dishonest heart.  Somewhere….

*

Erra and the Seven, peerless champions, have brought pestilence and mayhem to the Ten Courts of Hell in Diyu and laid low all ten Yama Kings who rule Diyu’s endless dark mazes, spreading incessant torture and confusion as the Chinese gods prescribe.  They have brought an unquenchable conflagration to Jahannam, where Allah sends the unfaithful to suffer their due, boiling in water and roasting in flames.  They have visited upon bleak Helheim a deadly cold, spreading faster than Norsemen can run, freezing souls in their tracks as they flee.  In each of these realms, the torture of the damned follows the mandate from Above:  they suffer, they die; they are resurrected, only to suffer more and die again and be resurrected again.  Wails of misery rise up to the heavens.  Erra and his Seven are made glad.

It is good to be Erra, bringing punishment to the deserving.  He and his seven Sibitti, terrifying weapons, sons of heaven and earth, are justly pleased.  Hell’s mandate is made fierce and shining like the sun, wherever they bring the righteous wrath of the heavens to the unrighteous.

All this time, red-winged Kur, lord of Ki-gal, and his Kigali boy have guided them unerringly from one region of the netherworld to the next.  Wherever they have gone, Almighty Kur has kept his promise:  Hell’s every door has opened unto them; no underworld has escaped their withering glances, their fire, their ice, their torrents, their lightning, their yawning chasms, their pestilential breath.  And all this time, Kur’s eromenos, Eshi, watches wide-eyed but never says a word, while his black Kigali skin blooms red with angry blotches and he holds tight to his mentor’s long-nailed hand, his spiky tail lashing, wings unfurled.

Now the fear of heaven pervades the manifold settlements of hell, and loosens the bowels of those rulers of underworlds become too pleasant, and haunts the nights of the too-complacent damned.  All in hell quake in their places and in their beds.

So when they have finished their audit in the city of Pandemonium, when no stone remains unturned, no smile upon any face, Erra and the fearsome Seven are ready to quit the chastised city and return to Ki-gal for the night, satisfied, their bellies full of the flesh of tortured souls.

Then a tremor not of Erra’s making shakes the ground.  Snow begins to fall from the fiery vault overhead.  Clouds of white snow and yellow snow and black snow and brown snow obscure the light from Above.

Erra’s Seven draw their swords and crane their necks, seeking out a target, shaking back their cowls.  These are his personified weapons, unrivaled and eager:  battle alone brings life to them; they are grinning.

Out of the blowing snow comes a cold that rivals any cold that might issue from the swords of his Seven, a cold that could freeze a doomed soul to ice.  And out of that cold comes a howling to curdle blood.

Aloft, a winged shadow soars, then dives from the snowy sky, whirling and churning and beating the air.  Now feathered wings tuck tight.  Down hurtles a huge and monstrous creature, with a tail and fangs and breath of fire.  It is flanked by others of its kind, descending on its right and on its left:  a dozen more winged serpents, falling fast.  All these land on the snow beside the greatest of their number, whose eyes are huge and fierier than the eyes of the second of the Seven.

The Seven surround Erra and Kur and his Kigali boy in a circle, protective and threatening, their teeth bared, their swords sparkling and sparking and slitting the air, promising doom to whoever comes close.

The Kigali boy whispers, “Almighty Kur, what are they?  They are like us but not like us….”  Kur says, “Hush, Eshi.  Be you still.”  And the Kigali boy wraps his tail around Kur’s strong left arm.

Then the greatest of the feather-winged serpents gnashes its fangs and closes eyes that burn like stars in the night.  Its huge wings bate.

Within the circle of the seven terrifying weapons from heaven, Kigali wings bate as well.

Snow swirls round the thirteen winged serpents with their flaming breath.  When the blizzard clears, one feather-winged man and twelve winged serpents confront them.  The man’s arms are crossed, his face like doom.

“It’s a cold day in hell, Erra, and here I am.  What do you think you’re doing here?  We’ve asked no help from such as you.”

Behind this first man, the other serpents now change form, into naked and wide-winged men, godlike but rent, with bloody wounds and blisters on their skin.

“Who are you, to question me, who is come from Above with my Seven on a mission from the elder gods?” Erra asked, though he knew full well who faced him – and hoped to face him down – on this snowy day in hell, on the plain between Pandemonium and Arali, where Irkalla, Babylonian goddess of the dead, rules her underworld.

“I am Satan, and your audits have so terrified the damned that they destroyed New Hell’s Hall of Injustice, where I made my home.  Now what have you to say?  What compensation am I due?”

“Compensation?  None.  This inconvenience is your due.  Be thankful it’s not worse.  My audit finds you full of blame; as a lord of hell, you’re sorely lacking.  If you are Satan, and these your pets among the fallen angels, then get thee back, all of you abominations, before I loose my weapons.  As for your home:  in six days, six hours, and six minutes from the moment of its destruction, you made that building rise anew – or so we heard – entombing all the tortured souls lamenting their lost brethren there.  So I say again:  get thee back, Satan, before we add you and yours to those trapped within the foundations of that diabolic hall, to reign from there forever.  And I can do it:  I am Erra, and you know I will make good my word.”

It worked.  The abominations gave back one step, then two:  all but Satan, who held his ground.  He reached down and made a snowball with his hands, and cupped it, and straightened up again.  Now was Satan beautiful, as beautiful as a man can be, almost angelic with his white-feathered wings.  And the snowball between his palms was white and black and yellow and brown and did not melt.

Erra’s Seven stepped back as well, while the swords in their hands made arabesques in the chilly air.

The Kigali boy sneezed.

Satan turned his blazing gaze on the two Kigali:  “You mix in this, you natives from the tribe of hell, you sons of Ki-gal?  Why?”

“It is my honor to serve the higher heavens,” said Kur.  “We guide the auditors whither they goeth, from one hell to the next.  Not simply your realm, but all realms here are being visited by auditors from Above.  This, Satanic Majesty, you well know.  So take up your displeasure not with me and mine, but with these, and the gods who sent them here – and sent you here.”

Satan cast his icy-crusted snowball then, hard and fast, toward the circle of the Seven, toward the Almighty Kur and his Kigali boy.  But the second of Erra’s Seven sliced upward with his arcing sword and split the snowball in half.  Then blue-white lightning crawled over the halves before they could hit the ground, melting them.

Satan raised a perfect eyebrow and said:  “Keep out of my realm, Erra.  And you Seven:  be warned.  I am supreme here in hell.  I have the most souls of all.  During only a single century on earth, one-hundred sixty million souls who died in new-dead wars have come to me.  I have power rivaling all of heaven:  my souls believe in damnation.  How many souls believe in salvation anymore?”

Erra puffed himself up, discarding his aspect of a man, and nearly scraped the snowy vault with his conical crown.  And he said, “Enough souls to fill heaven with joy and celebration from end to end, despised one, and all of them deplore you.  Get you back to your realm, and stay there, lest we decide that you and your horde of outcasts deserve more personal attention.”  Oh, do defy me, lord of the latter-day hells.  Give me cause to eat your eyes and eat your forked tongue and eat your blackened heart.  Your stench repels me….

“So say you, Erra.  We shall see whose word reigns supreme.”  But Satan did not make himself great to meet Erra on the field of spirit battle.  Rather he shriveled back into his serpentine form and flapped his feathered wings wordlessly, taking flight.  And all his fallen angels rose and followed him into the snowy clouds above.

The snow clouds disappeared.  The cold retreated.  The fiery vault flared bright, then dimmed.  Distant howls split the air, receding.  Erra resumed his manly form and looked around.

The eyes of Erra’s weapons were streaming tears as the Seven scanned overhead for treachery from Satan’s retreating band of devils.  Almighty Kur held his Kigali youth tightly under one wing.

“Sheathe your swords, Sibitti,” said Erra.  His weapons obeyed his command.  “Turn loose your eromenos, Almighty Kur.  The danger now is past.”

Kur did not release the Kigali boy forthwith, but said, “Erra, we are here to serve.  But Eshi has had a long day and seen many wonders, your glory not least of those.  Will you return to Ki-gal with us now, you and your brave Sibitti, and leave the remaining nether regions unchastened till the morrow?”

“We shall, of course, Almighty Kur – but only because your Kigali boy is tired.”

Kur had given Erra a graceful exit, and Erra was pleased to take it.  Otherwise, he and the Seven might have felt the need to labor in the underworlds all night long – to prove to Satan that Erra and his weapons from on high were not afraid of any fallen angels, no matter how high in the heavens they once dwelt.

*

“I need to know something, godly Erra.  Who judges you?”  Eshi’s voice is bold and strong.

Kur almost shudders, wishing Eshi had not spoken, then chides himself:  Eshi is here to learn.  So Kur says nothing to forefend what must come next, but continues walking among the Seven with Eshi close beside him, lashing his spiky tail.

“My judge is God alone.”

“But which god?  God of what?”  Eshi’s black wings rustle; he rubs his arms with his hands as they march along, two by two, toward the crossroads at Erebos.  In front is Erra, god of pestilence and mayhem, with the first of his Seven by his side; then Kur and Eshi; then the second of the Sibitti and the rest of Erra’s champions, on the dusty road to yet another judgment.

“God of what?  God of all gods.  God the highest.”  Erra’s voice rumbles up from deep in his chest.  The first of the Seven, walking beside Erra, looks around at Kur and his Kigali boy, catches Kur’s eyes, and shakes his head.

Kur must intercede.  Eshi has seen so much, so fast, he is taut as a bowstring.  His downy black skin is blotched with red, aprickle with new quills sprouting – more every day.  This youth’s blood is quickening too fast.

“Quiet, Eshi.  Enough.  We fear neither gods nor men.  We assist godly Erra, but we do not pry into the affairs of the damned and their keepers.”

“But Almighty Kur, I need to understand what we’re doing here and why –”

Kur can still glimpse the shimmer of Eshi’s innocence out of the corner of his eye, but he knows it is fading.  And not just because the second of the Sibitti hunts red-tails with Eshi every evening in the glow of the mountain’s restive peak and gives him warm carcasses to rend and tear with his sharp white teeth.  “No, Eshi,” Kur says very softly, “you don’t need to understand the affairs of men and gods.  Whatever Erra and his Seven decree is what will be.”  He reaches for Eshi and once again takes the boy under his strong left wing.  He can feel Eshi’s body trembling:  the war of child against adult is raging inside him.  At this time, Eshi should be meditating, hunting, gaining surety about who and what he is; finding his place in Ki-gal, taking up the life that Kur has made for him.  Not wandering among dead souls struggling against their fates like lizards in traps.

“But great Kur, you have taught me to question.  You have taught me this is how Kigali learn.  Now I must learn about Hades and about Erebos:  we will soon be there.  Will I see Lysicles the Athenian?  Erra sent him there.  Will we see him again?  Will we?”

Now Kur understands what Eshi wants to know:  the plight of this single soul, Lysicles, the first that Eshi had seen judged, had touched his black Kigali boy.  Eshi had watched the second of the Seven cut out the soldier’s eyes and tongue and heart.

“We will see him, Eshi, if Erra allows.  And we will see that he has new eyes, a new tongue, a new heart.  When a red-tail molts and loses its old tail, a new tail grows to take its place.  Erra, will it be so?” Kur asks.  “Will Eshi see the Athenian soldier, Lysicles, in Erebos – and see how your judgment plays out?”

“If it pleases you, Almighty Kur, we will try to arrange it.  For your boy’s sake.  But these souls in Erebos have free will.  It may not be easy to find one damned soldier among so many.  His sentence stands.  What he does now is up to him.  We will see if he can be found.  You have asked for nothing else, in all this time.”

“We thank you, godly Erra,” Kur replies, wishing that he did not need this favor, but knowing that he does.  Erra was right:  for the boy’s sake; to quiet the uneasy heart that Kur can feel thumping against Eshi’s ribs.

Now the second of the Seven breaks formation and strides up beside Kur.  “Great Kur, if there’s something I can do, just ask me.  A weapon is only useful when it is wielded,” and falls back to his place again.

The second of the Sibitti knows exactly who he is, and what his role is, and what his limits are:  he is a weapon in a war he understands.  Kur wishes that the second of the Seven understood less well:  there was another war here, for Eshi’s heart, and Eshi’s soul, that might go on for years.

Eshi has witnessed things that no child of Ki-gal could understand, and some things that Kur barely understands:  the hatred of these gods and men for one another – and themselves; the battles in their hearts and in their souls over who and what they are, and where their trust belongs.  Reckless, wild and dangerous, consumed only with destroying one another, they trust no one:  they expect the worst and the worst comes unto them, every time.

Kigali have more faith.  When Nature speaks, the children of Ki-gal listen, and learn.  It must be that Nature does not speak to gods and men, or that they have grown deaf to Nature’s voice.

Full of questions, full of doubts, Eshi hadn’t slept all night.  Consequently, Kur had not slept.  And now they trek into the realm of Hades, gods and weapons and Kigali altogether, to render yet another day of judgment on this dusty road to Erebos.

Eshi leans his head against Kur’s chest as they walk along and says, “Almighty Kur, the second of the Sibitti will help us.  He has never lied to me.  Together, we can find the Athenian.  It will be as you said:  we will see how Erra’s judgment plays out.  And then will you tell me, after we see?”

Kur brought the boy closer, and bent his head close:  “Tell you what, Eshi?”

“If this Erra and his Sibitti are good.  Or not.  If the second of the Seven is good, or not.  If they belong in Ki-gal.  If we should be helping them.  Or not.”

Kur shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was:  it had been so long since he was young.  Eshi’s blood was talking, hot whispers in his young head that were the whispers of a leader, coming to himself.  Kur had never been so relieved:  Eshi’s sharp, clear mind had seen through all, to the truth.  And to the hard questions whose answers no one knew.

So he said very quietly, bending even lower so his lips were close to Eshi’s ear, “Eshi, we have given our word.  How gods and men treat one another is not ours to judge.  Nor should it be.  You see the ugliness of vengeance.  You smell the stench of it when they punish one another.  When trust is gone.  When hatred reigns.  This is not our way.  This is their way.  And they are welcome to it.  They do not ask us to change.  We do not ask them to change.  We will do as we have promised, and help those sent here from Above to fulfill their mandate.  Kigali always keep their word.  Always.”

On the road to the realm of Hades, with Eshi safe under his wing, Kur felt proud.  This boy, this precious youth who would steer Ki-gal’s course someday, was learning more than words could say.  Eshi was learning how to be a true Kigali:  how to hold firm; how to find the proper path and keep to it.  As for the questions no one could answer, those would remain unanswered until the great mountain that succored their tribe was no more.

*

“Laelaps?  Can it be you, hound of Zeus?”  Lysicles looked at the brown dog in the woods of Erebos and the hound looked at him, and bayed.  “Here, boy.”  The soldier squatted down.  The dog trotted over to Lysicles and sniffed his extended palm.  “So, Zeus didn’t turn you to stone after all.”  This could be no other hound:  there were no unmagical dogs in Hell.  Zeus had given Laelaps, a dog who always caught his quarry, to a woman whose husband used the hound to hunt the Teumessian fox, who could never be caught.  Their fates fought, and neither hound nor fox returned from that hunt.  “Better here than nowhere, pup.  Will you help me?  Track my enemies?  Find my loved ones?”  The lop-eared hound dog reached out and pawed Lysicles’ chest.

After so much ill fortune, perhaps the Fates were being kind.  Lysicles thought he spied a woman’s shape between the light-dappled trees; then it was gone.  He rubbed his tender eyes and looked again:  no woman, just ash trees and the wine-dark sea and, in the distance, Elysion.  His love was there.  His life was there.  Eternity was there.

And he was here, on the far shore at Erebos, where the Styx and Oceanus met, hoping for strength to swim across.  At the water’s edge, there was a boatman, but he couldn’t chance it.  That ferry took too many to dooms he knew too well.  He had a second chance now, at everything he’d thought he’d lost:  he wouldn’t trust his future to any hands but his own.  Win or lose, the result would be of his own making.

Carefully, slowly, Lysicles rubbed Laelaps behind his ears, and scratched those ears until the hound’s tongue lolled.  If it wasn’t Zeus’s Laelaps, it was certainly a dog who hadn’t bitten out his throat yet (though it could) or torn at his hamstrings (though it could) or run off into the woods or the brackish water (though it could).  And he was lonely.

Then he heard wailing, behind him and not so far off, and buried his face in the dog’s loose-skinned neck.  Not again.  Not here, in Erebos.  But his blood chilled and his gut twisted and he knew what lay behind those cries:  the terrible auditor and his weapons of destruction.  Nothing less could raise such lamentation from the throats of the forgetful dead and the wistful dead of Erebos.

Laelaps bayed and bayed and bayed again, singing in chorus with the keening souls.

Then Erra and the Seven came for him.  Lysicles stood up straight, and Laelaps was so tall he could put his hand on the hound’s big head as he faced his tormentors.

Monsters walked with Erra and his Seven:  a great red monster, with its bloody wings high and its quills raised all along its tail; a smaller, black-winged monster with eyes aglow and sharp white teeth.  Lysicles could feel his heart race, frightened of being ripped from his chest again.  But he stood his ground.  He was still that much of a soldier.

On they came, mighty and fearsome, straight for him.  The seven sons of heaven and earth were masterfully deployed around the pitiless Erra; the two monsters strode behind Erra, among his terrifying Seven.  Any general who’d ever seen heroes fight would have killed to command such as these.  The big red monster’s eyes glowed like the moon; the smaller monster lashed its spiky tail and pointed at him, then screeched.

Lysicles recalled the glowing eyes that had watched him from the shadowed gallery in the Hall of Injustice where he’d stood trial.

He was naked and suddenly that mattered.  He was cold and he was weak.  He leaned against Laelaps and the hound bayed as if the world would end.  Or as if the hound knew what happened the last time Lysicles faced this god of pestilence and mayhem and his bloodthirsty Sibitti.

Then a woman emerged from the shadowy grove of ash trees, calling, “Laelaps, good hound.  Laelaps, here.”  She was as strong and tall as an oak, and mystic-eyed.  He remembered her at once.  She had brought him the water of Memory to drink.  She was Hecate, goddess of the crossroads; today she wore her rayed crown.

She stepped between Lysicles and Erra’s party and the hound ran to her, tail wagging, and sat, whimpering softly, brown eyes fixed on Lysicles.  “Erra,” she said.  “My hound has found your quarry.  Be swift, now, with this soul of mine who suffers here.  He could have sought my comfort, but he didn’t.  He broods here.  He recollects all – who you are and what you did and what he did.  I will not hold him, or hold you from him.  Or hold him for you.”  At that, the goddess and the whimpering hound were gone in a clap of thunder.

Please, O Blessed Hecate, don’t let them take me.  But the prayer in his heart came too late:  a memory stirred, of lithe Hecate in a fragrant bed of myrtle, of her magic spells in the dark of night and the smell of a goddess.  But he had been too consumed with rage to accept her offered comfort….  Absurdly, he mourned the loss of the hound, the company of the dog, the soft tongue upon his palm:  Hecate’s hound had tracked him down for these avengers, nothing more.  Were they here to take yet another pound of his flesh?

Terror overwhelmed Lysicles, worse than in any battle gone awry he’d ever fought.  Had Erra and his Seven and his two monsters come to eat his eyes again, his tongue again, his heart again?  To take away his sweet hope of Elysion?  The terrible Erra and his monsters and his seven personified weapons stared at him bleak-eyed, like men choosing a bull for slaughter.

He couldn’t let that happen.  His pride fell from him, and his anger dropped away, leaving only his loneliness and his hope of redemption.

Lysicles turned on his heel and ran.  With strength he didn’t know he had, with a determination he had always had, he sprinted:  away from Erra and his Seven, away from the red monster and the black.  Toward the shore and into the briny water.

His lungs burned.  His eyes stung as he splashed into the tide where the river met the sea.  He no longer cared if he ever found Chares, foul betrayer; he no longer cared to tear Alexander the Macedonian limb from limb; he no longer cared about his bumbling counsels, who had led him to this fate.

He didn’t even care that he fled, as he had never fled in life, desperately, in cowardly rout, as no general ever should flee.  Up to his waist, he plunged deeper into the water and stroked for Elysion with every bit of strength he possessed.

He swam.  And swam on, deeper and deeper, leaving the shore of Erebos behind.  He swam toward the gleaming light in the wine-dark sea, making for Elysion.  He swam for salvation.  He swam with his ravaged heart pounding and his blurry eyes stinging and with brackish water burning his tongue.  It was a long swim.  And if he could not make it, then at least his wife and his sons and his eromenoi would know that when he died again, he died trying to get to them.

*

“So, young Kigali, what do you think of your brave Athenian general now?” Erra asked as they watched the horizon until the soul of Lysicles disappeared from view.

“He is brave, godly Erra,” the son of Ki-gal said.  “He is full of love for his family.  He wants to go home.  Will he make it to the farther shore – see his wife again, his children, his friends?”

Erra saw the second of the Seven smile as all the Sibitti sheathed their swords.  “What do you think, son of Ki-gal?  Has he overcome his fury, his lust for vengeance, his rashness?  He goes to his fate.  As do we all.”

The Kigali boy did not reply, only looked away toward far Elysion.

Making good on his word, Erra and his retinue traveled the length and breadth of Erebos all that day with the witch Hecate by his side and her hound beside her, spreading fear and misery among the innocent and guilty alike.  But seldom in Erebos did they find injustice meted out unfairly; for Erebos does not lie in the depths of Hades’ realm where venal souls abide, but only at the crossroads on its outskirts.

When the day was done, Hecate offered them a night in Erebos, a feast by the pool of Memory, and all pleasures from the realm of Hades.  Erra declined:  “We shall come back another time to visit Asphodel and its blood-drinking heroes, but not tomorrow.  Now Duty calls my name.”

So they took their leave under a roiling sky, but not to return to Ki-gal.  Erra’s heart was restless.  Satan’s threat still rankled:  We shall see whose word reigns supreme.

“We will fly now, Sibitti, over Gehenna and to Lost Angeles.”  Erra would show Satan whose word reigned in the latter-day hells.  “You, Kigali, take hold of the ropes that the second of my Seven will give you.  Once we are in the air, fold your wings, for we’ll spread out a hundred leagues and fly faster than Kigali can.”

“If you do not hold fast to my ropes, you will be left behind,” warned the second of Erra’s Seven, pulling loops of bright blue lightning from the palms of his hands.  “So take care, sons of Ki-gal, how you go.  I will be with thee, watching over thee.”

Almighty Kur and young Eshi grasped the glowing ropes and held on tight, their wings high and beating, and took flight with Erra and his Seven.

They all rose high, in concert, aloft on Erra’s wind of retribution, and spread out through the air.  Wherever their shadows fell, across a hundred leagues of Gehenna’s putrid ground, blight bloomed before them and behind and on either side, striking crops and slaves and fruit and vine and city and town.  Where the shadows of Erra and the Seven and the sons of Ki-gal fell over Christians and Israelites and Canaanites fighting on foot and with chariotry, the soil turned to quicksand and sucked the combatants down – all but their hell-spawned steeds, who ran away, neighing and snorting fire, to find new battles to join.

Over the deepest recesses of Sheol they flew, striking blind the souls below, bringing to the prideful and the learned dead a darkness that would not lift; setting fire to their books as they copied them.

Both the righteous and unrighteous flesh in Sheol, long removed from the light of god, now suffer Erra’s havoc.  Shadows of the passing auditors touch all the pedagogues of Sheol with forgetfulness:  words, once spoken, are immediately forgot.  Those proclaiming innocence and those bemoaning guilt are equally chastened.

From on high comes a just reward to those who’d lorded holiness and rectitude over lesser men, and filled peasants with shame, and castigated the ignorant, and made the common people pay to fund their studies.  Politicians and poets and philosophers and physicians are struck deaf with the passing of Erra and his Seven and the Kigali:  none can hear a word, not a single well-turned phrase nor clever argument; nor can they read or write or count or know any of mankind’s hard-won wisdom ever again.  These will always remember that once they had the keys of knowledge in their hands.  But no more.  The dead in Sheol’s dank depths are brought low, every damned soul in its cities and its towns, in its streets and its assemblies, sunk into stupidity and hopelessness.

Onward flies the wrath from Above, into the latter-day hells of mankind’s dark heart.  On the wings of Erra and his Seven it comes, with the Kigali witnesses towed on ropes of flashing lightning that slit the sky.

Black shadows, beating wings, and torment fit for each benighted soul:  they set afire every plain; they ignite every mountaintop for thousands of leagues, before and behind.  Storm blows behind the wildfires, putting out the flames with raging torrents, flooding Purgatory and washing all artifice away.  The earth cracks open here and there.

There is no forgiveness.  There is no absolution for criminals who sin knowingly and cunningly and think they can merely ask for heavenly forbearance:  this is hell in its horrible glory and all sinners here, no matter how adroit, will pay this day for every crime against the heavens.

Erra’s wings bore him straight and strong, with his vengeful weapons beside him, until they reached Lost Angeles, swathed in its pall of vainglorious excess that turned the air stinking and yellow.

There they alighted on black-paved ground, between buildings high and long and gleaming with glass and sinners festooned with every sort of bauble:  painted and perfumed and covered in silk and furs:  men and women, clutching at each other lewdly, entwining and kissing and sucking on each other’s bodies, copulating in the middle of the streets.  Erra waved his own mighty hand and the paint on each face puckered into running sores; silk turned wormy; furs came alive and sank toothy jaws into their wearers, tearing out throats and hearts before scampering up the blazing sky to heaven.  Men ejaculated scorpions and spiders who ate their screaming partners from the inside out.  Women selling sex sold torture now, and ground the members of their partners in gnashing teeth amid in their nether parts.

Down Hellywood Boulevard did Erra and Seven drive their judgment:  pointing here, and there, and everywhere; bringing first fire and ice and lightning, then pestilence and tempest and quake and disease.  Erra raged on, with his terrifying weapons, carving up the very belly of this Satanic beast, Lost Angeles.

Whimpering sinners stumbled and ran.  The Seven cut down soul after soul, broiled them, boiled them, shattered them where they ran, and opened the ground to receive the detritus.  Meanwhile, behind them on either side, buildings tottered and toppled, showering glass and mortar and stone upon the fleeing hordes.

Then Erra heard sounds he’d never heard before:  deep roaring; booming in the sky so that the vault above seemed to shake; deafening thunder from the middle of the air:  the sound of Satan’s forces, come to meet him in battle at last.

The seventh and the second of the Seven looked up and raised their arms.  Huge metal darts swooped at them:  some with souls inside, some not.  Erra’s two Sibitti spat lightning and incandescent plumes, and caught the flying machines and piloted contraptions hurtling down and dragged them from the air.  These crashed amid the tenements and high-rising buildings with an awful banging noise.

Then the third of the seven looks at Erra and smiles his icy smile.  Erra nods, and freezing cold quenches the fires where the metal birds and darts have crashed, and all the mechanisms of modern man’s destruction fall away to glittering powder.

Satan, where art thou?  Come face me.

But Satan does not come.  Instead, a deep growl wells up:  the tramp of marching men; the thrum of great wheels turning.  Now come the tanks and the soldiers of the new dead, a vast army marching down the wide roads of Lost Angeles, crushing trees and people underfoot.

“Enough,” Erra says aloud.

This one word frees the rest of his Seven, weapons beyond mortal comprehension:  the fifth of the Seven spins himself into a whirlwind of bladed retribution, and goes among Satan’s troops and death machines.  Beside Erra, the first of the Seven opens chasms to the deepest underworld in the path of Satan’s warriors and their tanks.  The first ranks tumble into the abyss, victims of the unstoppable momentum of their own forces coming on behind them.

The fourth of the Seven blows his hurricane winds and deflects every projectile, every missile, every weapon aimed their way.

The sixth brings his torrents, to clean the streets; the third freezes armies in their tracks.  Now the fourth calls forth a plague upon all the soldiers and all Hellywood’s onlookers, voyeurs of death who hide among the rubble:  those who could have run, but didn’t, will learn their lessons too this day.

The torrents clean the streets of corpses; the chasms suck down all the wreckage and accoutrements of war, and the city is silent:  ravaged, ruined.  No building stands.  Sobbing and moaning and groaning fill the air with deserved songs.

Still, Satan has not come.  So be it.  With his word made good, Erra gathers his Seven to him, and the lord of Ki-gal and his boy.

“Make your ropes once more,” Erra commands the second of his Seven.  “We go to Ki-gal now, to rest from our labors.  You fought well, all you weapons.  And you Kigali, you have seen what sons of Ki-gal need to see:  how the powers from on high treat those who resist the will of highest heaven.”

Neither Kur nor his boy said a word:  the Kigali youth had his wings wrapped tight round him like a cloak.  His mentor stared around, speechless, at heaven’s wrath.

The second shook out his ropes of blue lightning and the Kigali raised their wings high.

Then up into the air they went, Erra and his Seven and the two Kigali, with the Almighty Kur and Eshi holding tight to the ropes of lightning all the while.

*

Kur had never been happier to be back in Ki-gal, but Eshi was still troubled, lashing his tail, wings half raised.  Kur wanted to take Eshi up the mountainside, let the boy soak his quill-pricked skin in the healing sulphur pools.  Breathe the pungent steam, and let the mountain do its work while the feast-boards for the evening meal were being laid.

But the second of the Seven came for Eshi, as he always did, to take the boy hunting the red-tailed lizards who swooped and played in the green-gold clouds rolling down the mountain at the end of day.

The red-tails squawked overhead, fat and juicy, beating their wings, consumed with their lizardly games.

But tonight Eshi wouldn’t go hunting with the beautiful son of heaven and earth:  “I don’t want to hunt now, Second.  I need you to tell me some things and I want Kur to hear what you say.”  Eshi rubbed the back of one hand with the other, where his new quills itched.

“The three of us will sit together then, Eshi, and you can ask me what you want to know, if the Almighty Kur will indulge us.”  Of the seven Sibitti, this one was the kindest – or the smartest.

“Great Kur, can we?  Do you have time?  Will you sit with us?”

“Not here, Eshi,” Kur said.  “Come with me.”  Kur could see Erra and the other Sibitti, who had not yet repaired to their cavern, lingering close by.

Kur led his eromenos and the second of the Sibitti up and up the mountain’s skirt, Eshi by his side with wings raised high.

The three of them climbed high on the slope to sit by the steamy sulphur pools overlooking Ki-gal, magnificent in the gloaming.  Kur said, “Now, Eshi, ask what you will.  And you, second among the Sibitti, tell my boy what truth you know.”

“What happens to you Seven when you are not terrifying mankind?  Where do you go when you are not with Erra?  Or are you always bringing pestilence and mayhem somewhere?”

The Sibitti cocked his head at Kur, then turned his beautiful face to Eshi.  “They put us in a cupboard, prince of Ki-gal.  Weapons must have targets – a purpose.  When there are no targets, we have no life.  There we wait, enclosed, away from the world, the sea, the sky.  I hate being shut up.  A Sibitti wants first to fight a worthy enemy and then to sleep in the open among honest creatures in a beautiful place such as Ki-gal.”  He waved his hand at the agora below, at the feast-boards, at the vault above.  The tribe was gathering, soaring overhead, circling, riding the updrafts and the downdrafts, winging down to join the feast.  “Ki-gal, of everywhere I have ever been, is the most magnificent.  Free of all the foolishness of men.  In harmony with nature.  You are very blessed, you Kigali.”

Kur was unmoved.  This Sibitti still romanced his boy.

“What happens to Erra then?” Eshi pressed.

“He goes back to his godly seat in Emeslam and rules there until he is needed to bring his pestilence and mayhem once more.  You have seen what we do, Eshi.  We hide nothing.  If Ki-gal ever were threatened, we Sibitti would gladly fight by your sides, if Erra would allow.”

“Would you fight against us, if Erra said?  If he commanded you?”

Kur’s wings went up in surprise and he forced them down.  Eshi’s wings went higher and stayed high.

“Yes,” said the second, son of heaven and earth.  “If Erra so commanded.  We would.  We would have no choice.”

“Then you are no friends to the Kigali.  You are no friend to me.”

“Eshi…”  Kur touched Eshi’s pinion.  “He is honest with you, as friends are honest with one another.”  Tread lightly, Eshi, with this peerless warrior.

“I am only a weapon, Eshi.  Not a man.  Not a dead soul.  Not a Kigali.  I can be no more than what I am.  But I am your friend.  You can call me and I will aid you if the gods allow.  Someday you will understand.  You Kigali, you can be whatever you wish.  I admire you.”

Eshi said nothing.  Wary, defiant, suspicious and hurt, he stared at the second of the Sibitti.

The second of the Seven rose to his feet.  “I must go down.  Erra and my brothers are looking this way.  They will ask me what was said.  I must tell them, Almighty Kur, what they want to know.”  This weapon was discomfited.  His molten eyes held clouds like the sulphur billowing down from the mountain peak.  Shrouded.

“I know,” Kur told him.

“You have raised a great one, Almighty Kur.  You can be proud.”

“I am still raising him.”  Kur took Eshi under his left wing.

They watched in silence as the second of the Sibitti made his way down the slope to his fellows.  All eight put their heads together and then looked upslope, where Kur sat with Eshi in the embers of the day.

“Almighty Kur?”

“Yes, Eshi.”

“They are not good, these Sibitti.”

“No, they are not.  But they are not evil either.  They are firm in their purpose.  As are we.”

“Do you trust him, this weapon?”

“I trust him to be a weapon.  As I trust you to be full of questions.  Now come with me into the sulphur pool:  the waters will soothe your skin.  And you can soothe my skin.  It has been a long day for the ‘prince’ of Ki-gal.”

“Prince?  If I am a prince, then you are my king, great Kur, forever and ever.”

Eshi threw himself upon Kur then, in a rush of legs and wings and arms, and grabbed Kur about the neck, and buried his head in Kur’s breast.

They sat that way until Eshi’s stiff body relaxed.  Kur stroked Eshi’s downy spine and his shivers eased.  Eshi started to hum.

Then Kur got to his feet with Eshi in his arms and waded into the warmth of the sulphur pool.  And it seemed to him then, holding young Eshi in his arms, that nothing could ever be more perfect than this night in Ki-gal under the smoldering vault above, with the tribe fluttering down to join the feast below.
Erra and the Seven, © Chris Morris; Perseid Publishing, 2011
2011© Lawyers in Hell (Janet Morris), 2011, all rights reserved

Kommentar schreiben

Probehalber öffnen wir wieder den Gästezugang für Kommentare. Wir werden sehen, wie lang es dauert. Da diese nicht automatisch publiziert werden, kann es eine Weile dauern, bis diese freigeschaltet werden

Please notice: If you are not a registered user, your comments have to de moderated. It may be last some time till it appears ...

- Bitte nehmt Rücksicht auf andere und kommentiert zum Thema und bleibt sachlich...
- Rassistische und diskriminierende Kommentare werden nicht zugelassen
- Kommentare werden begutachtet und dann - unverändert - frei geschaltet.


- Nur noch Administratoren [SuperUsern] ist es gestattet Kommentare zu editieren - bitte den Zusatz mit einem geeigneten Wort wie "Edit" kennzeichnen - oder zu löschen

- Wer Kommentare entfernt haben möchte, wende sich bitte via Kontaktformular oder Mail an den Administrator. Dann wird darüber entschieden.

Sicherheitscode
Aktualisieren

Wir verwenden Cookies, um Inhalte zu personalisieren und die Zugriffe auf unsere Webseite zu analysieren. Indem Sie "Akzeptieren" anklicken ohne Ihre Einstellungen zu verändern, geben Sie uns Ihre Einwilligung, Cookies zu verwenden.