The road to Hell is paved with…
The Demon Realm, Present Day
Adramelech, King of Fire, stood before all the souls he had gathered, admiring the fruits of his labor. Collecting and shepherding them to his realm had taken work, but it was nothing compared to all the time and effort he had expended to reach this moment: his moment of triumph. The pale energy orbs of the damned, thousands of them, floated above the parched brown floor, drifting aimlessly, bumping into each other or into the black-hot walls of stone around them. The stage was now set for him to finally seize control from his impotent ‘Master.’
“Come to me, Fire,” he called.
A moment passed before his offspring shimmered into being several paces away. The Prince cast a vacant stare upon Adramelech, awaiting orders. The young demon’s strong torso was bare, his dark hair hanging over the translucent skin of his face. Dragonfire swirled beneath the skin’s surface, lending the impression of movement to his form. His eyes were black with hunger while his handsome, human-like figure swelled with power.
The offspring was a paradox of mental weakness and physical fortitude that had taken two hundred years to create and shape. But now it had, at last, come to fruition and Adramelech knew that his efforts had been well spent. The being before him contained so much power that it only held its pretty visage through sheer force of will. And still it wanted more. Always hungry, always obedient, always his.
“It is time, my Fire,” crooned Adramelech. “Do you understand what you must do?”
The boy-shaped demon nodded.
“First, I will give unto you what remains of my power. When I leave, you must follow the instructions exactly as I have lain them out. Remember, above all else, that it is still my power. I will not become another Lucifer, who cast his strength into a sword and imprisoned himself in ice for all eternity. My sword will behave. If you fail, I shall be forced to resort to my back-up plan. And believe me that the alternate arrangement is something you would not want to experience.”
The Prince nodded, eyes still dull and hungry. Adramelech knew his Fire would not speak unless he himself requested it.
“Do you have any questions?”
The demon shook his head.
“Then let us begin.” Adramelech willed the power within every molecule of his own form to flow to the surface, watching his creation’s eyes glow in anticipation. Indeed, the only time his heir came to life was when a large feeding was expected. The boy-shaped demon opened its mouth as Adramelech began to speak. “I, Adramelech, Son of Lucifer, offer a portion of my power unto you.”
“I, Fire, Son of Adramelech…” the Prince began.
“You must include the ridiculous human title Paimon bestowed unto you,” Adramelech corrected. “It is your written name and therefore necessary for the ritual.”
“I, Aidan Fire, Son of Adramelech, accept the power and take it unto my form to hold, so that Adramelech, King of Fire, may wield both it and I as he sees fit.”
Adramelech focused his power into a beam of energy and shot it toward his creation. Even as the Prince’s power swelled and his eyes turned the golden hue of Dragonfire, he accepted the gift hungrily. Adramelech considered all that he had wrought and was pleased.
“Just hold to it for a moment longer,” advised Paimon.
Keegan turned his dark eyes toward her, guilt written upon his face. He shook his head and released the soul he had been holding. Paimon nodded, respecting his wishes, and opened a pit in the floor where the drained soul could float down to the abyss below.
“I could not bear to drain it for a moment longer,” he confessed. “Sorry, Paimon.”
“Never apologize for your empathy, Keegan. It is among your finest qualities. “It is why you are able to relate to the souls so well.”
“Do … do I have part of a soul, Paimon?”
Paimon never knew how to respond to this repeated inquiry from Keegan. The truth was, she had no idea what had happened to his being as a result of the unusual circumstances surrounding his creation.
“I do not know, Keegan,” she answered honestly. “Now, tell me what you saw.”
Paimon adored the way Keegan ran a hand through his fine blonde hair and crinkled his eyes in thought as he spoke. At times, he seemed so very human, and her loneliness eased just a bit in his company. It was so long ago that she surrendered her position as a prince of Hell. Her relationship with Keegan reinforced the decision she had made; to remain female, empathetic, and full of emotion, at the cost of her own power. She thought that if she had had a son, this was what it might have felt like.
“I saw rain,” he said. “And a dark, overcast sky. I could smell wetness in the air. A lady waved to me from the porch of a small house as a child clung to her skirt. They wanted me to stay, but I knew that I could not.” He looked away. “This human abandoned them, Paimon. I felt it in his memories. Do you suppose that is why he ended up here?”
“I am not sure.”
“They were his family and he loved them. I wonder why he left. Are humans not driven to remain together, like pack animals?”
“Let us puzzle over it later, Keegan.” She smiled at his sigh. “Did you get a sense of location?”
“I am reasonably certain that it was America.”
“Alright,” she said, considering. “Let’s have some American English for our language practice today,” she said, now in English. “Enochian’s so terribly dry, don’t you think?”
“I’m always happy to practice with you,” said Keegan. Paimon relished the moment when his formal Enochian speech slipped into the more casual language, littered with the expressions and contractions of the humans they studied.
“So, what’s up?” she asked. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m great, thanks. A bit bored, but that’s to be expected with nobody to talk to.” His brow furrowed, sudden anxiety that he’d hurt her feelings shadowing his face. “I mean, except for you, Paimon. I can always talk to you.”
He leaned forward and embraced her quickly, and she could not help but notice how meek and thin his energy felt. Indeed, even the boy-form he projected was small and frail. Once again, she found herself bitter at the thought of the father who denied this sweet boy a place in his realm, and the gluttonous automaton that passed for a brother—both conspiring against her darling Keegan.
Paimon’s gaze was drawn to the roof of the Fiery Realm through the gorge entrance before them, off in the distance. A yellowish cloud had begun to fill the space, and as it drifted lazily toward them, she could not help but think that it looked like the exhaust put forth from a demon’s feeding. But it could not be that; there was too much of it. Not even that cursed Prince Aidan Fire could possibly take enough to cause that kind of output.
Keegan’s eyes followed hers, and horror dawned on his face. He made to leave, but she held fast to his arm.
“Let me go, Paimon!” he pleaded, speaking Enochian once more. “I was supposed to watch him while father was away, to see that he did not consume the souls.”
“It is not worth it, Keegan. Your father is up to no good, and you know it. All he has ever wanted is for Aidan Fire to consume everything in his path. Your father would never ask that his heir show restraint. Adramelech is using you for some wicked end. For all you know, it is a trap set to allow the Prince to finally take your power.”
“I have to go!” Keegan pulled away with a grimace.
“Keegan, please. He is not worth it. Let him feed until he explodes, and stay with me, far away, safe from the blast of his demise. There is nothing you can do, and your life would be better if you were free from him.”
“I am sorry, Paimon,” he shouted over his shoulder as he ran toward the heart of the Fiery Realm. “He is my brother. We were created together. We are bonded, twins, for better or worse. I must at least try.”
As she watched him run toward his approaching doom, Paimon sighed. Keegan’s loyalty toward those who cared nothing for him broke her heart. She knew that it would eventually be his undoing, if not now, then soon. The Fire King and his Prince would consume her sweet Keegan for what little power he possessed. She only hoped that Adramelech and his miserable heir would choke on him in the process.