THE PURGATORY SAGA #1-People of the Fire | Teen Ink

THE PURGATORY SAGA #1-People of the Fire

August 13, 2011
By prima, corona, California
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prima, Corona, California
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Author's note: Spiritual connections and interest in the Bible.

In the beginning, there was darkness. When God created the heavens and the Earth, the Earth was none but an empty wasteland of nothing.
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. From that light came forth the life of the world in which God created landforms, waters, plants, birds, lizards, animals, and man. He also created the surrounding air of sky in which would show day-- the time there would be light, and night-- the time when there would be darkness.
`The first people were Adam and Eve. They were the first man and woman to walk upon the newly perfect world in which God created. They were the first to bring sin upon man, which would last for generations and generations forevermore, until the end of time.
And now, the end of time was drawing near. God had created the world, and He would be the One to end it. He would show his face upon the world in which he created, coming to Earth in the form of a man, and the world would come to the End.
The heavens shone a bright light upon the planet. God came from the shining streak, and the people saw him-- they recognized Him. This was only the second time he had come upon Earth.
The Spirit was drawing forth upon the very top of the altar that had been built in Jerusalem so long ago, and all the people in the city were coming forth to see that the Son of God had finally come.
But the people had been sinful. Jerusalem was already under attack. It was a fierce ongoing battle against the enemies of Saudi Arabia. The town was already under fierce destruction. People were bombing homes; people were even bombing people and themselves.
Not only was Jerusalem under an everyday crisis of death and attack, but the entire world was filling up with intoxicated fumes from careless industries and technology. The people in the other modern countries had relied on science too much. Science alone was killing man.
The Spirit was unhappy to see what was taking place. At His arrival, the altar below started to shake and rumble. The rumbling echoed all through Jerusalem, and a river of fire leaked from the walls and burst from the door of the temple. It washed the people away, and within a few minutes, Jerusalem was a horrid state of fiery boiling water.
The Spirit sent angels to fly over the lands of Earth. The angels shot harpoons of fire over the wastelands of Antarctica and Canada, and threw down snakes towards the people of Afghanistan.
The Spirit sent a swarm of African beetles to rid the country of China-- they suffered from the worst swarm of bugs a country could have ever suffered from. With a bite so painful and slow to death, the African beetles were one of the worst swarms the Earth would have ever faced-- one of the worst the Earth would ever face again.
Then the Spirit turned to where the technology and science was put into the most action. He started an Earthquake over the lands of America. From the ground there came fiendish monsters and bloodthirsty lizards that have roamed the Earth once before-- the dinosaurs. God rose the zombies of the most powerful creatures He had ever created, and in the most ugliest and monstrous forms, they attacked the largest, highest buildings across the lands, and some even flew across the sea to raid on the surrounding countries.
As for the seas, God raised an unbearable storm that rose the waves to their strongest state of thrashing. A fierce storm swept across the Arctic Ocean, spreading to the rest of the waters of the world, crashing and tossing every creature that was upon the stormy waters.
The angels stirred up the waves and drove them to overflow all the islands of Oceania, Hawaii, and every last island on Earth. But God remembered his promise: He would never rid His world in a flood ever again. So the Spirit let the angels destroy the islands and the creatures that lived in the teeming seas, until the oceans swayed and shook even more-- and the largest monsters rose from the crashing waves and let out a loud bellowing roar through the stormy air. Lochness Monsters, giant sharks, gigantic prehistoric water lizards rose from the waves and crashed through every country in the world.
Jerusalem’s flowing flood of fire was soon washed away as a terrible long necked water lizard crashed its powerful head from the grounds of the country, breaking its way through the very Earthen platform of the Middle Eastern country of Israel.
Small piranhas even managed to escape into the countries and pull down any living being that neared the waters.
The angels from above shot the humans with their terrible arrows, some with fiery points, some with ice, some with electrical tips, some just plain sharp and deadly.
The river of fire wasn’t done with, though. As soon as the monsters crashed through the lands and let the deadly waters burst in, the river of fire mixed with the warmer parts of the ocean and pretty soon, the entire ocean part of the world was mixed with a red-orange boiling hotness that spread all around the entire planet.
The volcanoes erupted to make it worse. The poisonous air was enough to kill another portion of the living creatures on Earth, and the fiery boiling water soon overflowed the most sinful countries around the Middle East. More fiendish monsters rose from the erupting volcanoes, and were washed upon the countries of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Those countries were done with, and the fiendish monsters devoured the human flesh while the raging river of fire washed away their blood and burned down the rest of the areas.
All over the entire world, the humans were suffering. The angels or the fiends didn’t attack a single animal, for they let the Spirit wash the animals away by the powers of nature, but the humans suffered much worse for their sins. The Earth swallowed them up, the monsters devoured many, and the everlasting river of fire burned every one of the bodies to bones.
But though it seemed that all humans were dying and brutally being wiped off, there were those who felt no pain through all the suffering. The Spirit would always remember the good spirits of the world, and He would never let those souls suffer. He opened up a bright light above Him through the air and the angels guided each of the faithful souls towards the lighted pathway towards the Spirit. Those who had faith in Him knew this would be coming. Their souls rose from their bodies and they died peacefully. They felt no pain once their bodies gave way, and their spirits rose up to follow the angels towards the path to Jesus.
From all around the countries of the world, the good souls were raised up by the angels of God and they were guided to Him.
And at the sight of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, the souls immediately vanished and were taken to the next eternal life.

A spirit was sneaking through a distant world. The atmosphere was airless, and there was no sign of life—except for that of the afterlife.
Grunting, the spirit roughly brushed out the sharp nettles and twigs that were tangled in his somewhat long hair. With frustration, the spirit stepped back and a sudden ugly cry screeched out. Startled, the spirit looked behind and saw that he had stepped on another one of those SoulBirds-- those filthy creatures that he had always found hatred and annoyance with.
“Oh great,” the spirit rolled his eyes. The SoulBird was crying now, for he had stepped on its tail feather. The spirit looked at his foot with a wince, for the SoulBird too, had hurt him by burning his heel when it had been stepped on. This SoulBird was the fire type. Its tail was a small flickering flame and his heel looked burnt pretty badly. He scoffed at the small creature. “I suppose you want me to say sorry?” He muttered savagely. He could just give the little bird a kick and it would be out of his sight. The SoulBirds were no bigger than regular robins.
But the fire SoulBird narrowed its eyes and its body glowed a bright red around it. It had two tiny horns at the sides of its head, and as soon as they flashed a bright red, the bird lunged at the spirit and squawked noisily, pecking at his head.
The spirit yelled and ran around, waving his arms to swat at the stupid thing. Suddenly, a loud gunshot was heard and the bird gave a startled cry before it fled up in the air.
The spirit glared after the bird. “Down to Gehenna with you.” And he turned to stomp forwards, not thinking where he was going.
The land around him was dark and terribly hot. It was always hot around here where the spirit lived. It had only been a few months since he had come to this place-- since he had come to this world, actually. Apparently, the Apocalypse that had killed him was still going on, and the world of Earth was under a suffering terror of destruction.
The spirit couldn’t recall what his death had been like, for he couldn’t remember a thing before he had entered this world. All he could recall was that there was massive destruction over the world and his spirit had left the planet to come to this particular world…..according to what the Teachers said….
But the spirit was interested in the destruction. He loved seeing action and violence. He was a violent person himself, for he loved to torture those annoying SoulBirds especially. But news of the Apocalypse and how the other spirits had told him how it was like-- he was very much interested.
Nearing a loud crowd of caterwauling, the spirit peeked over a thicket of brambles. The spirit looked over and there, in the clearing below, there was a large crowd of people yelling and pushing at each other. The clearing was lighted as if there was a fire in the middle, but the spirit could see nothing lighting the clearing in which the crowd was in. Above the clearing, a shine of dim orange light shone upon the crowd like fire in the sky.
The people were confused and frightened. The spirit could see the looks on their faces.
“Where are we?!”
“What’s happened?!”
“My kids! Someone’s taken my kids! Are they still alive?!”
“No one’s alive after what has happened, fool!”
These must be the newly arrived spirits from the Apocalypse. Another huge portion of the world had come into the land of judgment. They were looking around and pushing and shoving at each other with frustration, confused about the state they were in.
“I could’ve sworn I was washed away by a river of blood!” Cried a woman.
“I was totally owned by this three headed beast!” Said a teen boy.
“What do we do?! Is this Heaven or Hell?!”
“Hey! Let’s just stick together and explore this land! We’ll destroy anything in our path TOGETHER!”
The crowd suddenly rioted at this with agreement. But some stayed to the side, avoiding the rough group of people. Suddenly, someone shot an arrow through the trees, nearly hitting the spirit before he ducked down with a gasp. The arrow shot behind him into a tree and it burst into flames, falling down with a large crash.
A large buff man stepped forward with a proud look on his face. “AHA! You see?! Whether we’re alive or dead, we can surely conquer whatever world we’re in! I think we can be more powerful in the afterlife now!”
The crowd started gathering around the man and started puling at him, as if fighting over a toy. “Hey! What the hell?!”
“Give us some of those arrows! We need to survive too!”
“Let’s kill him! We never know whether he’ll just run away without us for the sake of his own protection or not! He could kill us all!”
A woman gasped. “Even worse-- some of us could be sentenced to Hell! If we’re dead and this is afterlife, some of us may even be going to Hell in the next few hours!”
And the crowd of people immediately tackled the large man and each other out of fear. There was loud echoing and the spirit wondered if things had ever been any worse back on Earth.
Suddenly, a loud crash of thunder echoed in the sky above where the dim orange light was shining down. The people froze as an echoing feminine voice spoke through the clouds.
“Be still, my children,” the voice was tender and motherly. “Your time of judgment is nearing.”
Someone shot up another arrow up at the sky where the voice was coming from.
The clouds flashed and thunder cracked again, even louder than before. The people screamed and started bickering about how they must be going crazy and hearing things.
But suddenly, another voice spoke from the clouds, much deeper and this time, masculine and commanding. “You are all terrible sinners,” the voice spoke with anger. The people were all instantly silent and awestruck at the godliness sound of the voice. There was no doubt that this truly was-- God.
The people suddenly separated from each other to gather with their loved ones-- or whatever spirit was left of them. The spirit watching from the bushes saw that the people were divided into two groups now-- one group to the left looked fierce and angry as they stared back up at the sky, though their faces did betray the scared look of disbelief at the One speaking to them. They had a greater amount than the group on the right, who were all frail, frightened looking souls staring up at the sky.
“All of you have disobeyed the word of the Lord.” Thunder cracked after the Voice spoke again. “Many of you knew the law, yet you’ve disobeyed.” the orange light burned brighter on the people on the left side.
The tall buff man stepped forward again, aiming his arrow up at the sky. “Tell us who you are! You’re probably no more than just a foolish little soul from Earth, just like the rest of us! I swear, if you’re playin’ tricks with us, we can do much worse to you!”
The sky rumbled. “If you were holy enough, you’d come up here right now and see for yourself,” the Voice spoke with serious calm, though the echo pierced and rumbled through the crowd, making all the people behind the buff man shudder. The buff man huffed and narrowed his eyes, pulling back his arrow, ready to take shot. But the Voice spoke again. “You could see for yourself-- who I truly am. But none like you deserve to descend higher to see Me. All over you-- every man behind you as well as yourself-- you have all angered the face of the Lord, blaspheming and cursing in the face of the Holy One. You’ve disappointed me with your sins, yet you ask for no forgiveness.”
A meek man stepped forward with a scared face. He looked cowardly, coming up from the left side of the fierce men. “Lord….I ask for forgiveness. I may have disgraced your word, but I regret it now. Please….you will have mercy on me, for I repent everything I’ve done.”
The Voice grew angry. “You had all the time in your life to ask for forgiveness. Now it is too late. For you don’t repent-- you only regret. All of you, every single one of you were warned to be judged. Many of you will suffer for your sins. But those who have kept their hearts close to me, they shall be blessed with rewards upon rewards. I tell you all now-- all of you will live on, whether you have sinned or not-- though many of you will suffer eternally, while some may still be blessed eternally.”
The people all braced themselves as the clouds parted and the orange light went from a dim brightness to become more and more shiny until they all couldn’t take it. They all looked away. Even the spirit watching in the bushes had to close his eyes shut and look down.
“In thy name of the Father,” the voice rose louder now, “I sentence you all to lives of eternity.”
And suddenly, a blinding shine shone over all the people, and the brightness was so bright that it even burned the eyes of those who were closed.
The spirit clenched his teeth. He wanted to see this moment badly. He dared to peek and see what was happening to the people, but suddenly, someone grabbed his shoulder from behind.
The spirit flinched and turned to glare at whoever it was, but closed his eyes immediately as the blinding light burned with even more intensity.
“Zach,” the voice behind him spoke with serious calm. “You’re not supposed to be here….”
And the spirit felt his body disappear from the atmosphere in the surrounding world.

Chapter One- The Thief
A shot of flames crashed through the thicketed branches. A fire SoulBird cawed angrily after the spirit that stole its egg.
I hurried through the rough lands of Bhad, climbing over the bare stiff branches in the forested thicket. In his hands was a pink egg with a bright glowing gem at its center. I had this precious thing stolen from the Principal of my stupid low-class school of St. Gretchen’s Academy. Principal Gretchen, or St. Gretchen, had this egg found at the side of the Gehenna River, and our academy’s creepy old janitor had been the one to retrieve it.
Now, I was the one who had this valuable item in my own hands, and I wasn’t goin g to let my crazy lady principal get away with whatever reward this egg would bring her.
So St. Gretchen’s fire SoulBird was chasing me above. The damned devilish creature was shooting flames down through the thicketed branches wherever it could see me. But I was fast. I was used to the crud I went through in the land of Bhad.
Here, we live in the world of Purgatory. The place is like a large pyramid-like mountain that land seven stages of lands that made its way to the top. The bottom was the worst the world of Purgatory can get, and the top was the best. The top was called the land of Guhd, where the most purified souls go to in the afterlife.
Okay, first of all, let me explain to you the afterlife. There was life on Earth, and when you died or passed away, your soul would pass on in the afterlife, and either went to Heaven, Hell-- or Purgatory. Yeah, the simple concept everyone knew about. If you were good, you went to Heaven. If you were bad, you went to Hell. And….let’s put it that if you were a little bit of both you went to the “in-between” world called Purgatory.
Of course, it makes sense because there are many people out there who aren’t good-hearted enough to go to Heaven, though at the same time, not bad and evil enough to go to Hell. This is why many come to the world of Purgatory. Apparently, this stupid world’s supposed to teach you to be good and cleanse you wholly so that you can truly be clean enough to go to Heaven. There are boring academies in this place where the spirits here teach you about the soul and who you can truly be, such and such, about the Lord and everything. But before you think these are just another version of your average schools, let me tell you that it’s way more complex than that. In the academies of Purgatory, the Teachers are known as the High Ones, for they have knowledge over all souls and they know everything about you-- where you came from, what part of Earth you lived in, why you’re here, etc.-- and they are supposed to teach you to become cleansed and purified of the little bit of badness in you that keeps you from entering the kingdom of Heaven.
Besides the boring studies that I don’t even pay attention to, they have the strangest rituals a school could ever perform on you. If you’re in the higher classes in Purgatory in the higher lands, you practice purifying rituals that purify your soul and make you all clean like a flower. I don’t know much about those higher places because I’m not from there.
But I do know the rituals in the lower lands. The lower lands perform rituals that make you angry and evil. The seven stages of Purgatory start from the lands of Bhad, to the lands of Nawht, to the lands of Pryde, and to the lands of Primal. Then from the middle land of Primal, there are the upper lands of Juste, Purah, and Guhd, which is at the very top. You’re supposed to advance through the lands and pass those academy tests in order to proceed to the next land and become more of a purified soul. The most purified soul would reach the lands of Guhd, where the academies are probably the most advanced. And if you pass the academies in that stage, you’ll make it outta this middle-world, into the higher world of Heaven. Whereas for those who fail the academies, they decrease to the lower stages. If you fail an academy in any of the stages, then the next year, they make you fall back the lower stage, and the lowest stage you can go to is in the lands of Bhad. And from that point, if you fail that stage, you’ll leave this world and end up in the underworlds of Hell.
Apparently, I’m in the lands of Bhad. Not because I’ve failed the academies in the higher lands, but because after my death in the Apocalypse, I was sentenced to this particular state in Purgatory. At least, that’s what I was told, for I remember nothing of my life on Earth, nor of my death in the Apocalypse. I couldn’t recall a single moment of the Apocalypse in which had taken place to kill me. I don’t even remember my own name, except for the name that the spirits called me when I first appeared here-- Zachariah Ezekreth.
I was fifteen years old at the time, and I still am. I didn’t care what the spirits called me-- the only memory I could ever trace back was the moment I was enrolled in the St. Gretchen Academy when a tall man dressed in red was introducing me to St Gretchen and my new teacher, the High Donner.
I guess the tall man in red was the Higher One of the land, for every land in Purgatory had a ruler that controlled the academies with knowledge over all the souls and High Ones. The Higher Ones knew even more than the High Ones, obviously. They also had guards and armies that controlled places called the Punishment House, in which the punished souls go to like a jail. The Higher Ones control the High Ones-- what they teach and how the land should be treated and such. Our Higher One in the lands of Bhad was known as Lucien the Higher One, and I’ve seen many pictures of him, for many souls, especially the female ones, admired his handsome looks and powerful glory of riches. But the only time I’ve ever met him in person was probably just that one moment he enrolled me in this academy.
But since then, I still hadn’t been able to trace back any of my memories before that time. I only went by what the High Donner told me, for he was a teacher and he was supposed to know about my past and everything about me. But the jerk wouldn’t tell me about my family on Earth, for he said they had nothing to do with my reason for being here.
Whatever. I didn’t care why I was here, and I wasn’t going to push myself to become determined to find out. Life was stupid-- afterlife was stupid. I’m placed in the lowest class of Purgatory in the terrible lands of Bhad. There must have been some reason why I was placed in such a low class when I was sentenced to the world of Purgatory. If I had been a better person, I would have either made it to Heaven or at least a higher class in Purgatory in the afterlife. But no, unfortunately, I had done something wrong in my mortal life on Earth to have caused me to be placed in the lowest part of Purgatory, the closest to the world of Hell. I was one step away from entering the world of Hell, and heck! I wasn’t doing any good in my classes anyway. It’s been about three months since I first arrive in this damned place, and I was already failing the tests and the rituals our academy was going through to become purified enough to move to the next land. But I didn’t care. This life was already enough like Hell, and I’ve already proven that I could survive the lands of Bhad. If I could survive the lowest parts of Purgatory, I could probably survive Hell also.
And right now, here I was, running from our principal’s SoulBird, stealing the most valuable item she found by the Gehenna River that shared a fiery water from Hell. Oh yes, the SoulBirds are the only living creatures in Purgatory besides “average souls.” They come in four species-- Earth, air, fire, and water. The lower lands contain the Soulbirds in their devil forms, when they have two small red horns on their heads with a reddish glow around their bodies, and the higher lands have the angelic SoulBirds with a bright white glow around their bodies with a halo around their foreheads.
SoulBirds are half-bird and half-angel. According to the High Ones, they are supposed to become our lifelong pets to help guide us towards either Heaven or Hell, and the concept was easy. Befriend an angelic SoulBird and you’d probably get a boost in your academy to improve your way into Heaven. Befriend a devilish SoulBird and you’ll probably be driven to doing devilish things that will help you drop your grades in your academies to make it down to Hell.
But I had no SoulBird of my own, and yet, I was still failing on my own. I’m telling you-- I can take care of myself. If I wanna fail at afterlife, I’ll do it by myself. If I was to go to Hell next year, I’d go there simply by myself. I didn’t need no stupid bird-angel to help me. I hated those things anyway. The way they flap their wings at you and call in each of their annoying caws and cries, I hated it. The only pleasure I got out of those things was when I shot random wild ones in the air with my thorn-and-fire slingshot. Watching them fall in the river Gehenna was the best part. For any SoulBird that wasn’t the fire type would immediately melt away until their body was nothing but a skeleton flowing up the river.
But anyways, I didn’t have my slingshot with me right now. I only had the protection of these damned branches that stuck out here and there, like a crowded forest of skinny branches with no leaves or plants whatsoever. The branches were sharp everywhere they grew, and if I wasn’t careful, I could’ve run into a sharp end and have my eye jabbed out. Yes, even in the afterlife, you’d have to watch where you’re going, because the world for the afterlife interacts just as the world of Earth interacted with those in the mortal life. We could be ghosts in a different world, but in our own world, we were just as prone to physical dangers just as we would have been if we were alive on Earth.
“Arraggggh!” The fiery SoulBird let out a cry of agony as the winds blew towards its body, ruffling its fiery feathers and making it stumble in the air.
I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth as I made my way through the branches. The wind was not at all a breezy draft of air. No, here in the lowest lands of Purgatory when we were so close to Hell, the temperature was a blazing heat that would fry a chicken if you left it out in the open sun for ten seconds. It was nothing like those super hot places on Earth near the equator-- the temperature here was like living with fire surrounding your body everywhere you went. It was so hot that it even hurt if you stayed out too long. You could even feel your own skin sting under the blazing heat of the land in Bhad. Even at night, it was like being in the boiling Jacuzzi during the summertime. The only thing that felt better was that the sun wasn’t so bright in your eyes while you felt yourself melting away.
I hated it, but I was used to it. Because I’m a spirit though, I got no tan lines or sun burns, as much as my skin would burn each day-- it would all heal away during the night. But it was horrible in here. There were no plants except for the bare trees and rocks here and there, with a number of sharp brambles and bare bushes. There were forests, though they were either made of crowded branchy trees, or large giant brambles that stretched out like the one I was in.
The breeze blew again, blowing from the direction of Hell. I was running against it, feeling the heat and the dust in my face. I guess I was headed for Hell’s direction.
“Zaaaach!” The High Donner’s voice was calling after me. I flinched and cursed. My teacher and St Gretchen were probably catching up in the thicketed branches as well. They knew this place more than I did, for they had obviously been around longer and were more experienced with situations like this.
The fire SoulBird suddenly took the risk to crash down above me and knock me down through the branches. The bird cried with pain as the thorny branches crashed at its small body, and I felt the heat of the devilish thing behind me as I lunged forward and tripped, falling through the sharp branches and rolling out into the open where sharp dry grass grew beside the Gehenna River. Taller trees grew around here, though none with any leaves.
The egg remained in my arms, though I got up with my face hot with embarrassment rather than from the climate. I shook by head, getting a few of the branches out of my hair, though a lot of prickly thorns still remained. I looked into the Gehenna River. I couldn’t see my reflection in the orange patterned liquid that flowed from the world of Hell, into a pool called the Hellsfire Pool. In the Hellsfire Pool, though, one was able to look at their reflection-- though it would be their reflection if they had lived in Hell for a year. I ditched the academy to see it before-- I’ve ditched the academy many times-- and I’ve seen myself in Hell before. I looked pretty good, actually. I didn’t look as bad as I thought I would if I lasted in Hell too long. My shoulder-length black and white hair seemed to have flattened out and gotten thinner, becoming a color of black with red streaks instead of white, which I found pretty tight.
But suddenly, a thought entered my mind. I wondered if I could drop this egg into the river. I’ve never dropped a SoulBird egg into the river, and I wonder what it would look like if an egg were dropped. Maybe it would fry like a scrambled egg before melting away. I was just about to drop the egg until the river suddenly made a sizzling noise.
A bubble rose up and popped, splashing a tiny bit of sprinkles in my face. It stung like Hell. I yelled and jumped back, cursing under my breath and dropping the egg.
From the river, a small creature fluttered out from the bubble. I looked up with squinting eyes at the stupid creature. It was smaller than a SoulBird, and it was human-like with red skin. It was some kind of Faerie. And from the looks of it, it looked like it had traveled from Hell through the river Gehenna.
I hadn’t paid much attention in the academy to fully understand what faeries could actually do to you, but I did know that they were dangerous to perform magic spells on even the afterlife spirits.
I glared challengingly at the faerie, showing my evil look of hatred. I didn’t blink or take my eyes off the thing as I reached down to pick up the egg at my side.
The faerie fluttered up the tree, dancing its way up, and disappeared in the branches. I heard a loud cry and immediately, I took the closest rock I could find and threw it in the faerie’s direction. I hit something. There was a scream and a dark red fire SoulBird fell from the tree and splashed into the river Gehenna. I didn’t pay attention to its body this time, for I was focused on what the faerie was doing now. I could now see through the branches that there was a nest with flames dancing around it. The fire SoulBird must have been making its eggs, however those creatures give birth. The faerie was dancing around the nest, putting out the fire. Then the faerie pushed the nest out of the tree, and watched as the three newly made eggs fell with a crack on the ground.
The faerie snickered and swatted its hand towards me, and I felt an invisible smack on the side of my cheek. I winced and growled as I stared up at the faerie. It was now staring at the egg in my arms.
I huffed. “What? You want this?” I spoke in a low, taunting tone. I held up the egg towards the faerie, then snatched it away. “Come and get it.”
The faerie hissed, but it wasn’t taking its eyes off the egg.
I looked down and suddenly gasped. The egg was glowing. The yellow center of the egg was brightly glowing, and I felt the egg warming in my hands already.
“Zach! Donner, you find him right now or you’re fired! The Gehenna River’s right here!”
I flinched at the sound of St. Gretchen’s cracked voice. She sounded just like her terrible fire SoulBird.
I looked up as the faerie gave me a naughty smile and disappeared.
The egg was getting warmer and warmer, and I noticed that the tiny bright dot in the center had gotten bigger to almost the size of a quarter. I had to keep this egg for a little while. I looked over and saw that one egg had managed to live and not crack like the others. I hid the egg in a hole behind me, and moved a rock over it. Then I braced myself as St. Gretchen and the High Donner crashed out of the thicket.
“Zach Ezekreth!” Gretchen was screaming, and she was holding her wounded SoulBird in her arms. Its feathers were tangled with thorns. “You! How DARE you! You have no idea what you’ve just done! That egg was to be delivered to Lucien the Higher! Now imagine what he’ll have to do with YOU.”
Her eyes were beady and she had taken off her glasses to run through the thickets.
I stared back with a bored narrowed look. “What are you gonna do now?” I said plainly. “You gonna make me lap around the Hellsfire Pool again?”
“No, this time, I’ll leave the punishment to Lucien now,” said Gretchen coolly. “We’ll have to see what he would do to you for stealing his egg.”
“Um, on the second thought,” Donner was speaking, “perhaps we shouldn’t tell the Higher One about what has happened. Imagine that he’ll think of us as the most irresponsible academy in the land. We won’t get the anointing! We’ve always been the perfect academy for Lucien, and we can’t let a silly darn student like this one screw things up for us.”
I gave a sideways smile as my teacher glared at me. “What? I’ve tried to leave you guys lots of times before-- why didn’t you let me go?” I chuckled. “Guess you just love having me around.”
“Shut up!” St. Gretchen whacked me on the head with her ruler. She was known for randomly hitting students whenever she pleased. “You go retrieve that egg for me and I’ll make sure you’re sentenced to three weeks in sacrifice!”
My heart leaped at this, but I didn’t show it. I just simply turned around and picked up the fire egg. It did look somewhat like the other egg-- it was very light red rather than pink, with a larger yellow center, but the principal was too enraged to noticed. She snatched it from my hands and peered deviously at me.
“You will be serving three weeks of after class activity. You’ll clean up the campus and serve as a sacrifice for the academic rituals. You’ll be toiling the academy with a chain ball at your heels, and you will wear thorny wristbands and anklets, along with a headband of fire that will burnt the hairs off your head and fry your brain.”

It turned out that my punishment wasn’t even half done when St. Gretchen had announced it to me. Not only was I supposed to look like a girl and wear a black headband that contained fire inside to make my head sting from the blazing hotness, along with thorny wristbands that wrapped around tightly over my wrists, as well as thorny anklets that did the same to my ankles. But I also had to wear the rubber gloves and boots that made my hands and feet feel like I placed them on stove and turned on high. Talk about the wrong kind of style, my hands, feet, and my head felt burned to the bone the moment I put on these punishing garments. And yes-- believe it or not, they even made me wear rubber underwear that burned like Hell. And wherever I wasn’t burning, I was sweating.
Oh yes, as if all that weren’t bad enough, I also had a heavy metal ball attached to my ankle so that wherever I walked I had to drag the damn thing around, and how much it weighed, I don’t know.
I had to say though, I felt more like a girl in this somewhat wacky outfit, wearing all these accessories and such, and the other students at my school laughed at me and asked if they were going to make put on some more makeup that would carve through my skin. I laughed along with them and told them I’d like to see if they would really make me do that. Lucien the Higher One probably would have done worse if he had been the one to punish me. You didn’t have to meet him face to face to see what a conceited and selfish soul he was-- anyone who walked into the lands of Bhad where the city part was would have noticed by all the posters and officers of Lucien to know that he was prideful and proud.
Here, at St. Gretchen’s Academy, the Academy was run by about twenty High Ones with up to thirty students in each class. The students here ranged from ages thirteen to fifteen, for every stage in Purgatory had academies for all ages, each academy ranging from two or three years of age. Heck, they even had academies for adults since all spirits needed the same concept here in this world. And the students weren’t called students-- they were referred to as mediums. Here, wherever you were in Purgatory, you were either considered a medium, a High One, or a Higher One. And only in the lower lands below Primal did they use people as slaves to be called the Lesser Ones. The Lesser Ones were just people who were in prison at the Punishment House whenever they did something against the Higher One’s rules. They worked as slaves and slept in cages stacked over each other like they were animals. Here, in the academies, at least the mediums got to sleep in cruddy dormitory buildings that were at the corner of campus. Only the High Ones got to sleep in their own houses, and the Higher One himself would get to live in a palace to rule over the entire land.
As I made my way through the hallways to my class, walking with my back slouching forward as I dragged the metal ball behind me. I was aware of the students around me giving me weird looks as I passed by. But I made no eye contact with them. I kept my gaze narrowed forward with a look of hatred as I walked on, pretending like I didn’t hear all the snide comments most of the students were giving me. Some of them I looked at and winked, for some girls and even guys around here admired the way I outsmarted all the High Ones and St. Gretchin.
A tall slick-haired dude named Brad gave me a soft hearty punch on the shoulder. “Zach! Sup, bro? Heard you stole St. Gretchin’s little bird egg the other day!”
I met his gaze and shrugged. “I didn’t get to break it or anything. Not yet anyway.”
Brad chuckled. “Well, you had to give it back-- the whole academy knew how important it was for Lucien the Higher.”
I raised my eyes and gave a sideways smile. “You think? I still have it. The egg Gretchin snatched back from me is actually just a substitute. It’s just a fire egg I found in the wild.”
The guy looked humored. “Oh-ho! Really, now? Hehe, you’re just telling’ me that?”
I shrugged again. “If you tell on me, I can burn all your records so that you fail this stage for next year.” I gave him a wink as the headband on my head steamed a little.
Brad crossed his arms and eyed me mischievously. “Oh right,” he spoke in a quiet voice. “You know all our combinations for our files, don’t ya?”
“Well, I could find out if I wanted to,” I said with a smirk. “Gretchen’s not really that careful, you know. I could easily sneak into the records room and figure out how to find each of our life records.”
The bell rang its strange ominous tone. Brad huffed a sigh. “Hah! I’d like to see you do that someday. Well, catch ya later, bro. Good luck with that outfit too.”
I gave him a small nod before he passed me. I kept my gaze on him and as his back turned, my face turned to a scowl.
“Dumbass,” I muttered angrily as I strained myself forward, not hurrying up at all as the bell sounded again. I cursed about Brad, particularly for no reason because I was just getting crankier with this headband on my head. Plus, I hated it whenever I saw anyone in a happier state than I was, as if they had it all easy in this world while I was aimlessly suffering.
I passed by a group of nice looking girls, all of them dressed as sluts. They stared at me as I passed by, each with humored gazes, either out of admiration or disbelief. I looked down and my black hair hung over the sides of my face, blocking my gaze from them. I muttered under my breath as I passed them by, calling them a foul language, not caring whether they heard or not.
“Zach!” I turned and saw that one of the girls was waving at me with a devilish smile.
I gave a quick nod and stared at them with my eyes still narrowed, waiting until they turned around and walked away so that I can continue limping forwards without looking like an idiot to them.
Almost to my class. Damn, why does High Donner have to pick the very last class in the building? It was less crowded around here. And the academy was big. This huge building wasn’t the only part that made up the St. Gretchen’s Academy. There was the ritual pool and the gym, though that wasn’t where we had P.E. and such. Over there, we learned to compete and show our advanced skills in physical life that would help us be fit for the outside world as we progress to the upper stages.
I arrived to my class, late again. The High Donner eyed my as he crossed his arms and said, “Late again? No tardy slip?”
I looked up and glared at him, saying nothing.
Donner sniffed. “Guess I’ll have to add a detention along with your after school punishment for today. Go take your seat.”
I scoffed and whipped around to face my desk, whipping my chains against Donner’s legs. He yowled in pain and held his ankles. The class laughed and I managed to get less stares at me now as I made my way to my desk.
And at this point, I was bored outta my mind. The High Donner was probably the nerdiest and most boring teacher in the land. Every student in my class was a troublemaker and none of us really gave a crap about our studies and soul purification. Everyone just stared at him bored and sarcastically. But I was obviously the worst, for I was the only one in the class to stand out, wearing sizzling gloves and boots with a black headband steaming over my head. The metal ball that chained around my left leg was underneath my chair, and instead of paying attention to whatever crud it was that High Donner was teaching, I was trying to burn off that damned chain with some matches I had snuck into class.
“Now, you all know how to distinguish the angel SoulBirds from the devil, right?” Spoke Donner, drawing a picture on the chalkboard. He blew some chalk off his hand and they splashed as fire on the board, making the drawings more lifelike. “It’s not true that an angel and a devil may interbreed with each other and have an egg though. Can anyone tell why-- ZACH!” Donner banged his fist against the chalkboard and the drawings shriveled apart, falling off the board like dust.
A humid heat swelled up across the room, making the hellhole even more hot than it already was. I looked up from where I was bending down with a lit match next to my leg.
“I tell you, Zach! You wanna stir me up and make me even angrier at you? Hm?! Do you ENJOY the extra heat in this room when you freakin’ piss me off?!” High Donner looked funny when he was angry. His bald head sweat more and turned red while his glasses steamed up and blurred his vision a little. The SoulBird that was perched on his shoulder was a pet he called Trex, and this one was an Earth type-- green with a yellow face and silver wings and tail. It had a large straight and pointy beak with long legs and big feet. It tweeted noisily, and started jumping up and down, flapping its wings, which were half the length of its body.
I was focused on looking the stupid teacher in the eye that I didn’t notice the match had burnt the side of my leg.
I gasped and flinched, throwing the match down, putting the fire out. Now I had a gashed burn on the side of my left leg.
Shion, a short mini built Indian boy looked over at me from the seat behind. “Whoa! Doesn’t that hurt you?”
High Donner banged the board again and was glaring at me. “Don’t make me pour hot water over you. Would you like us to extend your three week punishment?”
I laughed. “What? You think I’m suffering? Hah! You’re just preparing me for Hell next year! At least when I go to that place, I would have been used to some of this crud by now.”
Trex let out a high pitched tweet and hopped off Donner’s shoulder, running over towards me. Earth soul birds didn’t fly-- they had long ugly legs with big feet to run on the ground. Trex shot up to me and squawked, pecking at my leg with his big old beak.
As much as it hurt the Hell out of me, I did nothing but narrow my eyes and remain quiet. I gave the bird a sharp kick, knocking it backwards on its back. “Get away from me, you stupid piece of…”
The bird let out a cry and flapped its wings to stand up. The desk behind it was the desk of a guy named Kyle, and he was looking down at the creature with raised eyes.
“Whoa-ho! Zach, you should step on it with that boot of yours!” Snickered the boy.
“Zach!” Donner was pointing at me now. “You dare hurt any part of Trex--”
I kicked forward at the bird, making my chain wrap around the bird’s tiny body and yanked my leg back, pulling the bird back up to me.
The class behind watched humouredly, as if nothing exciting had happened so far.
“Spit at it!”
“Burn it!”
They were all laughing rudely at the bird as it struggled in the chains next to my leg. I did nothing but just watch it with devious eyes, tightening the chain more every time it struggled looser.
“ZAAACH!” Donner seized his ruler at the chains around my legs, and the entire metal chains burned off and melted down from me. My leg felt so free from that tightened grasp. Trex tweeted and hopped up upon Donner’s shoulder, whimpering and shaking next to his neck.
Donner was glaring at me and I gave him a devilish smile back.
“I think I can take another detention,” I said. “Seems fair enough now that I’m free from these chains.”
But things turned out even worse. All through the day until 3:00 that afternoon, I had to do the rituals double the amount that the rest of the class had to do, the heat was terrible. They didn’t even let me wear sunglasses-- and outside, we ALWAYS wear sunglasses. St. Gretchen didn’t want to waste her time finding another metal ball for me, so she just made me work twice as hard.
Did I cooperate? Hell no. During the ritual of suffering, we had to lap around the pool ten times, singing this strange oath about self-sacrifice. All I did was disappear under the water and pretend like I was swimming along with the students when I was really just bobbing up and down every twenty seconds.
During the fire chase, they had us hold hands and ring around the fire while a swarm of locusts overwhelmed us. I snuck away and hid in the fire.
And in the academies, we had no such thing as breaks or lunchtimes, for we were spirits, and we didn’t eat, drink, or poop. Everything was just ongoing and eternal, and there was no way to escape life in the afterlife.
While climbing the trees to escape the wildfires, I just dug my way underground to hide.
Whether the High Ones saw me slacking off or not, they didn’t say anything. But after school, I had to clean up the academy with the supervision of our creepy old janitor, Ebenezer. He was tall-- probably around 6’3-- and he was very lanky like one of those skinny bare trees that looked ready to fall over. He had the wackiest hair I’ve ever seen, for his hair was a dirty blonde that was like a round tangled bushel on top of his head. His eyes were narrowed slits that had the same careless and depressed green color as mine.
“Hmph, they ought to have cameras here, only they would just be too lazy to watch it all,” muttered Ebenezer under his breath, scrubbing the side of the lockers.
I stood there with my arms crossed, yawning. “I wouldn’t. I’d like to sit around all day, doing nothing but watching other people through cameras.”
Ebenezer said nothing but cursed at himself when he spilled a large amount of water from his sponge. Ignoring it, he walked over pass me to smack the lockers with the sponge and sloppily scrub it up.
I eyed the puddle of water. “Someone could slip on that, you know,” I said sarcastically, stepping up to the puddle and letting my boot soak in the wetness. It wasn’t cool at all-- it was like boiling water over a stove. But at least the moisture helped slightly.
Ebenezer just grumbled under his breath and then accidentally ripped apart the sponge across a knife that was sticking out of a locker.
“Urgh! Satan, curse you!” Ebenezer yelled in a gruff tone, throwing his sponge down on the ground and stomping on it.
I stifled a loud snicker and cracked my knuckles under the hotness of the gloves. “Sorry, that’s probably my locker. I meant to do that.”
Ebenezer didn’t even look at me as he pulled off his rubber gloves, simply tearing them off his hands and throwing them on the ground. His creepy gaze focused into mine. “Listen, you. I don’t care what the hell you choose to do around here, but I’m goin’ back to the basement to see if I can find anymore of these damn cheap sponges that the stupid Higher One provides.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Um, there are certain sensors in every building that trace whatever spirits can say about the Higher One.” It was true-- the sensors were set around the building in Bhad, and if anyone said anything insulting about Lucien’s name, he would know of it.
“Bah!” Ebenezer threw back his crazy head and scoffed. “Let him hear it then!” He was raising his voice. “I hate Lucien! Our Higher One in the lands of Bhad-- SUCKS! There! Now I don’t have to speak in whispers anymore!” He started laughing creepily and I gave him a wince.
Ebenezer chuckled and gave me a studying look. “Boy, you still got that stolen egg of Gretchen’s, don’t ya?”
I blinked and shook my head. “Nope. Didn’t you see her? She’s got the egg back. The only thing I’ve done is spit on it.”
Ebenezer gave a poke at my bony cheekbone. “Nah, come on. You listen to a thing I said? I’ve been around here for almost twenty years! I can tell when there’s a regular old SoulBird egg in the hands of a person, or the special one that was supposed to be offered to the Higher One.”
“Oh, it was special was it?” I said in a low tone.
Ebenezer clasped his hands together and gave me another one of his creepy looks. “Boy, don’t you know anything about SoulBird eggs? This one was a mere sight. This one has no relations whatsoever with all the SoulBird eggs there could be in the world.”
I chuckled and shrugged. “I’m sorry, I don’t pay attention to my classes to give a care.”
“Well, pay attention to this,” Ebenezer bent over to peer closer at me. His nose was pointy-- like mine-- and I frowned and rudely backed away.
“You smell like smoke and your nose is bigger than mine,” I muttered impolitely.
Ebenezer scoffed. “Well then!” He shook his head and spoke quietly. “That egg is one of the three missing eggs that have said to have been born upon Purgatory. Three eggs-- the eggs born by no SoulBird, yet they will hatch into SoulBirds-- those eggs are supposed to withhold the future of Purgatory in their power…..somehow.”
“Really?” I gave a tired look at this. “SoulBirds? You’re thinking these eggs will hatch into SoulBrids that can control this world?”
“Perhaps….we don’t know yet. Lucien the Higher One has received this dream, just like the Higher Ones of the other stages. These SoulBirds, though, will turn out to be like no other, for you can see it plainly on their eggs. They aren’t Earth type, nor air, water, or fire types. They will be three of their own kind-- one that can probably even save us all.”
I didn’t bother asking anymore questions, for I was itching to check on my egg right now.
“You still have the one you stole, don’t you?” Said Ebenezer. “Tell me the truth now, boy.”
I frowned. “I don’t have no egg.” I lied. “I told you! Gretchen took it back-- and if the egg she has isn’t the right one, then maybe I must’ve actually trashed it and she’s just found the wrong one.”
Ebenezer narrowed his eyes and let out a disappointed growl. He rose up. “Fine then. If you’ve so much destroyed that egg, you would have destroyed one of the Three. I tell you-- if bad things happen to this world because of that egg’s absence, you’d be the one to suffer the most.”
He eyed me and I narrowed my eyes back as my headband steamed.
He turned with his gaze still fixed on me. “You better make sure you know what you’re doing, boy. You’re lucky that headband of fire isn’t a crown of thorns.” And with that, he picked up his pail and walked around the corner, disappearing around the hallway.
I winced. What the heck was that supposed to mean? Crown of thorns… could that be worse than this thing that was gonna melt my brain in the next minute?
I saw that Ebenezer had left his broken sponge and his torn gloves on the floor. He was quite the responsible janitor. I chuckled and spit on the floor, turning around to head back to my dorm where I had that golden egg.
I felt so much lighter without that stupid ball! My ankles were so numb and ready to fall off, but I ran nevertheless. If a spirit could break a bone, it was as simple as waiting for the next night for it to be fully healed. That was the only thing good about being in this world.
I spent the rest of the day standing by the wall of the school, leaning back with a sullen expression hidden behind my dark shades. I watched as the students hung out around the campus and walked around, chatting noisily as the teenagers they were. I felt so distant from them. Why wasn’t I as talkative and happy like the rest of them? Well-- they weren’t exactly happy, but at least they were able to look satisfied and at home with all their friends. I had no friends, nor did I need any. I may be popular and respected around the academy for my constant pranks and sneaky ways, though I never found interest in hanging out with a group of people I’d like to call “friends.”
The students never got in my way. They looked at me like I was their role model, and admired the way I was always quiet and mysterious on the outside, and clever and naughty on the inside. Of course, you would think a school of almost-Hell students would be full of naughty, arrogant students, full of the worst people and trouble makers you could find. And you were right. Here, everyone was spiteful and rowdy among each other. Nobody even had any real friends among the groups that always stuck with each other. Each group of students would pick on another group of students, or laugh and play foul games with each other that involved violence and unfairness.
Maybe that was why I didn’t want to find any such friendship among the crowd. I was better off as the loner that everyone talked about with passion. Even the girls were scared to approach me, though at times, I would receive smiles and hungry looks from some of them.
The worst of the academy was probably Damien Black. He was another well-respected student, though with much higher authority with his group of unworthy friends. He was tall, fair-haired, and good-looking towards the girls. I’ll even admit that he was better looking than I was. He wasn’t buff-- but he was lean with some nice muscle. I was a little too lean with almost no muscle whatsoever.
But Damien was the crudest of all guys in school. He was coldhearted and a bully. He had his own SoulBird, which I found silly. His SoulBird was the fire type, and looked just as mean and devilish as he did. Though Damien never disobeyed or pissed off the High Ones like I did, he was still cruel and a terrible spirit that would probably never make it to the next level any more than I would.
His friend were all just followers. Vince, Edgar, and Nicholas always stuck with him and did whatever he did.
But still, not even Damien bothered me or picked on me like he did with anyone else. I eyed him over the lens of my sunglasses as he and his friends grouped with one of the sixteen year olds and talked about who they thought was the sexiest girl in the academy. I felt my ears burn along with my head at the way they talked about some of the girls. You’d never hear such foul language and dirty talking in the lands of Hell, and it wasn’t much different in the lands that were close to it.
But I stood there, taking it all in. This dirty talking filled my head with such rot that it actually helped to make the fires of the headband seem cooler.
“Zach? Ooh, I see that you‘re free from the metal ball.”
I turned when I heard the voice of a girl approaching me. It was Hailey Simpson, one of the famous girls that the guys went for around the academy. She was holding an Earth type SoulBird in her hands.
“Get that filthy creature outta my face,” I muttered rudely, eying the girl behind my dark shades. She couldn’t see how spiteful my expression was behind the glasses, which seemed to scare her more.
“Oh…..I was wondering if I could do a little something with it-- just for you,” her voice was calm and careful, which didn’t seem to fit her since she was always loudmouthed and crazy like the rest of her popular friends.
I huffed and my head heated up.
“I know you hate these things,” she said, looking at the tweeting bird that looked around curiously as it settled in her cupped hands. “I was wondering-- do you wanna to the dragon ritual with it?”
I winced. The dragon ritual would involve throwing a sacrifice in the fire and uttering an oath as if it were a dragon. It was as if tainting a spirit with the curse of a dragon upon it so that it would die and become revived as a dragon.
“Hell no, I don’t want the thing becoming a dragon any more than I want to see it becoming a SoulBird. Just throw it in the fire and let it die if you want to please me.” I turned away to face forward. I knew what she was trying to do. If she ever wanted to ask a guy out, she would always get what she wanted. But right now, it was strange to see that she looked nervous to approach.
Hailey’s eyes looked troubled. “Well, I’ll only do it with you. You wanna come to the Ritual Pool with me?”
Hailey looked down and said nothing for a moment, then she turned and walked quickly away with a frustrated huff.
I rolled my eyes muttered something foul under my breath, muttering so fast that I didn’t even know what I even said.
That night, I returned to my dorm. I stood at the left side of my bed, staring out the window. The night was straight dark with a few stars in the sky. The sun and moon was nowhere to be seen, for it was only when there was light that both could be seen at the same time, with the sun up to the north and the moon back to the south of the sky. The light was only controlled by the Higher Ones of Purgatory’s lands. But when they summoned nighttime, the sun and moon wouldn’t be seen in the darkness, and only a few stars were visible in the black night sky.
The heat was terrible still, and the accessories over myself just made it worse.
The egg glowed underneath my bed from where I had it hidden. I turned and stared down, thinking back at all the things Ebenezer had told me. The egg was one of Three. The Three would withhold SoulBirds like no other type, and the Three spirits within the SoulBirds would be hatched to possess a power over all the land of Heaven, Earth, Hell, and Purgatory. I winced. What could a stupid SoulBird do? The creatures were half-bird and half-angel, or half-bird and half-devil. They were supposed to guide those in Purgatory to advance up towards Heaven, or help them fail and trick them into Hell. And apparently, the lower you got in the lands of Purgatory, the more you would bond with the devil SoulBirds. But I never bonded with a SoulBird of any kind, and I never will. I hated those things whether they were angel or devil. If I wanted to go through Hell, I’d do it by myself. I’ll always do everything by myself. No SoulBird could help me, so why would they ever be destined to save the worlds?
Suddenly, there was a strange musical noise that sounded like chanting. The glow from underneath my bed started to get brighter, until I heard a piercing scream underneath.
I immediately got to my knees and peeked underneath my bed to see what was going on. There, the egg glowed, brimming brightly, and around it were about five Earth type SoulBirds dancing around it, each with their small wings stretched out to the sides. They were all hopping at the same time, chanting a strange musical tone that seemed to be making the egg glow with a strange yellowish color.
I felt the fire rise on my headband. “Urgh…..” I looked back and saw that my window was locked shut. I remembered that SoulBirds were able to teleport and find their ways through anything in any world. I eyed the creatures for one more second, and then swatted my hand underneath the bed, swiping through the birds and snatching the egg to interrupt their stupid ritual.
The birds cried and fluttered around underneath the bed in confusion.
“GET OUT!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “OUTTA MY ROOM! GET OUT!” I shouted curses at them and threw the egg angrily at my bed to unlock my window and swat at all the birds as they surrounded my legs, tweeting with anger and pecking their large beaks at me. “Out the window! Shoo! Move it! Go find something else to worship! This is my egg! None of you large beaks even gave birth to it anyway!”
I kicked my boots after the birds, hitting some of the creatures with the sharp ends of my thorns. The birds cried with pain and I hissed savagely as droplets of blood splashed into my eyes.
The birds started flying out of the window and disappeared up into the night, zooming away on their rapid moving legs. I stared after them, panting angrily. I turned to face the golden egg. It was glowing brighter, and the yellow shining spot had swollen to cover almost half the egg now. It was half pink and half golden.
An angry screech came from behind and I whipped around to see that one of the Earth SoulBirds had returned, glaring at me with its tiny button eyes. It hopped around my room, keeping its big feet next to each other.
I glared back and swatted at it, barely missing its body. “OUUUUUT!”
“Twwwouuuuu!” Mocked the Earth bird, angrily dodging to the right and pecked its long beak towards me, jabbing at my leg.
“Yeeowww!” I yelled at the top of my lungs and bent to grab at my wound. The Earth SoulBird managed to give an angry screech and jumped up to poke its beak into my left eye.
Rising up and instantly grabbing my eye, I felt my vision blinded. I felt the fire burst over my headband, and my room lighted up from the light of fire on my head. I snatched my crowbar I stole from the Punishment House and I whacked the bird and struck it with a heaving loud bang on the ground. The bird lay there motionless with the back half of its body smashed flat as a pancake. Blood surrounded the back half, for it must’ve turned to flee, though I managed to crush the back of it with the heavy crowbar.
Looking down at the SoulBird, I noticed that its glow had faded around its body—and then I noticed something bigger. It had a halo—and the halo’s light had gone out. It was an angel SoulBird!
I widened my eyes with confusion, and dropped my crowbar with disbelief. My left eye bled, and I was half blinded in that eye. But I barely noticed it, for other horrid thoughts came to my head. What was an angel SoulBird doing here in the lands of Bhad? And also—what was going to happen now that I’ve….killed it?
I looked around with horror, making sure no one was watching. The SoulBird can’t be dead. Spirits don’t die! It will probably just get better by tomorrow.
My heart raced and I instantly scooped up the motionless bird in my hands, making a face of disgust. I looked over to my left and threw the creature out my window. I peeked over to make sure it landed somewhere to the right of the building so that it didn’t look like I had killed it. I wasn’t even thinking straight. It would’ve been better to bury it somewhere where no one could ever find it.
Panicking and cursing with frustration, I ran out of the room and took the stairs down to the first floor. The wound in my leg and my eye barely bothered me as I pressed on (I was glad I didn’t have the metal ball attached to me at this point).
I found the motionless body and looked for a good place to hide it. The dumpster! I picked up the body and dropped it in the nearby dumpster around the building, and closed it quietly. I glared and clenched my teeth, feeling my eye sting crazily again. Now if the stupid creature did come back to life at any time, it would find itself trapped in a stinky old dumpster where all SoulBirds belonged.
Still panting, I cracked my knuckles with relief, making my hands even more burnt than they already were.
I turned and then nearly yelled with surprise again. The golden egg was right there. What in the world! I swore I left it on the bed.
I ran up to the egg and picked it up. It suddenly started to glow. Something rustled in the bare bushes behind, and I turned to face a glowing spirit of a woman. She was hovering above the dumpster where I had thrown the SoulBird in, and she was staring down at me with a cold stern face. A bright halo hovered above her head, though her face was turning red with anger.
“You…..IDIOT!” Her voice was sharp and edgy, a lot like St. Gretchen’s, except hers seemed stronger and louder.
I flinched back, holding the egg tightly and feeling my head on fire again. the lady started yelling at me with some language I didn’t understand. Her thin face was blazing with red anger and she looked like a crazed old spirit.
“You’ve just disgraced the body of an angel from Heaven,” she spoke tartly now. Her eyes were green and wide with anger, and underneath her white bandana were traces of her gray hair. She wore a long black dress like a nun, and her hand pointed at me with long skinny wrinkled fingers. “Zachariah Ezekreth,” addressed the lady with venom, “what do you have to say for yourself?”
I blinked and said nothing for a moment, and then frowned. “What? SoulBirds are already disgraced! If that SoulBird never awakens, I could care less.”
“Yahhh!” The lady raised her head to the sky and angrily shut her eyes, yelling in her language again—probably cursing at me.
I huffed and gave her a narrowed look. The egg glowed at her in my hands and she looked down at me with a squinting gaze. “I suppose I must go easy on you though—you’re only a medium. You have no experience, especially since you’re here in THIS stage of this forsaken world.”
I blazed fire. And said nothing. I almost thought about zapping this lady with the egg this instant, for it seemed ready to burst into flames like me.
But the lady continued to speak. “I didn’t introduce myself, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you were too busy being a b****,” the thought ran through my head, but I didn’t speak it out loud.
“Hold that thought, you little demon!” Snapped the lady, looking pissed again. “I heard what you’re thinking! I am an ANGEL, for crying out loud!”
“Huh! You? An angel?” I muttered tartly.
“Of course! I may be old, but this is about as angelic as I may get!” She did have a bright glow around her, and she was wearing the halo. “I am Saint Grenada. And I’ve been watching you more than you know. Now…..I think this is the best time to finally reveal myself and give you a warning. You’ve killed the body of a SoulBird, and yet, you feel no pity or regret in that nut-sized little heart of yours.”
I narrowed my eyes. “So what? The SoulBird will be alive by tomorrow. Have you come to warn me that it’s gonna haunt me for the rest of my life now?”
“Oh no! I’ve come to warn you about much more than that! That egg right there in your hands,” she pointed at my egg, “That egg holds the key to all words. With it, you can even discover yourself, and the secret behind your past! And how do I know this? Foolish child! I’ve been watching you since the day you were born on Earth, up to this point in your failing afterlife!”
“Oh?” I looked at her challengingly. “Prove it! You think I’m just gonna believe you just ‘cause you’re an angel? Angels lie—don’t deny it. You should know that especially.”
Saint Grenada’s eyes blazed. “What?! Fool! How would YOU know what we angels do? You’re not from the kingdom of Heaven—nor have you ever had any encounter with an angel in your sinful old life yet!”
I gave a sideways smile. “Yeah? So you’re saying you’re actually from the kingdom of Heaven?”
“Idiot, all saints go to Heaven,” she rasped.
I snickered. “Then you mustn’t be a saint.”
Saint Grenada clenched her fists and her brimming glow started to become darker. “I hate children like you,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry I’m so useless to the afterlife,” I said with a frown. “I’m probably just as useless as I was when I was alive. That’s why even I’d much rather just NOT EXIST.”
“You can’t say that! Oh you foolish spirits in these worlds! I wonder what the Hell creatures are like!”
I rolled my eyes and looked down with shame. “Why don’t you go and visit them yourself? It probably won’t be hard for you to find your way in.” The thought ran through my head but again, Saint Grenada could hear it.
“Bah! How ‘bout I send you there right now so YOU can do it for me?!”
The egg shone brightly and reflected in her face. Saint Grenada winced and snorted. “Hmph! Fine then! As a saint, I must do what I came here to do. Child, I’ve been watching you for over fifteen years now, and now that you’ve committed such an act in the afterlife, you will be punished harshly. It is one thing to sin in the world, for that’s just only going to cause a bad outcome in the afterlife. But when you sin in the afterlife—beware, boy. I fear for you. You better make sure this wounded SoulBird is taken care of and brought back to life the correct way like it was before—or else.” Her eyes pierced sharply into mine. “I doubt that a foolish spirit like you would even get to make such a right choice, though. Since you shall suffer greatly in your punishment, I’ll let you off with a small break first. Your wounds will be healed.” She snapped her fingers and I suddenly felt my left eye regain sight and feel good as new. My leg also felt better. The wound was all gone.
Saint Grenada crossed her arm and gave me a haughty expression. “Now, child, brace yourself for what will come to you. We WILL meet again—we’re going to have to.” And she was gone.
I stared blankly at where she was standing. That was weird. First, she curses at me for destroying a SoulBird, then she heals my wounds. What kind of a saint was she?
Whoever she was, I was starting to feel sick. Her words haunted me, and couldn’t stop thinking about what kind of punishment I could suffer from. Would Lucien the Higher find out?
The egg stopped glowing in my hands. I was starting to feel nauseous and the fire on my head had burned way too much. Dropping the egg to the ground, I hurried forward and threw up at the side of the dumpster. I purged out nothing but fire and glob.
“Hey, did you hear something?”
I gasped at the voice. I hurried over to take the egg in my hands and looked around. Peering over the bushes, I saw that kid, Shion, and his fire SoulBird on his shoulder. He was like a little boy lost in the woods, even though he was sixteen—older than I was. He was looking around, and it wasn’t long until he saw the glow in the bushes and noticed me.
“Hey! Zach! It’s you!”
His SoulBird gave out a caw.
I rolled my eyes and whipped around from him.
“Oh, great,” I hid the egg in front of me, but it was no use. He had already stepped in front of me and noticed the egg.
Shion gasped. “No way! Dude, you have the missing--”
“Shut it,” I hissed savagely, bending down with the egg shining under my chin, making my eyes look scarier than they already were. “If you tell anyone about this egg, I swear, I can--”
“Hey, I never said anything about telling on you,” said Shion, taking a step back as his fire SoulBird ruffled its feathers at me. “I can probably give you more information about SoulBirds so that we could both figure out the significance of this golden egg.”
I raised my eyebrows. Shion was smart. He was actually the smartest guy in our class. I always saw the little guy as a real successful angel in heaven one day. He was my opposite in every way-- he was short, book smart, polite, and why he ever ended up in such a stage like this was a mystery. It was pretty sad to see the other mediums pick on him because they were all the same mean and stuck-up personality while he was the only nice one.
Shion’s SoulBird cawed and its flames flickered. “Pete can get us back to the academy in a flash,” he smiled at his bird and looked at me. “The two of us were just wandering around here to get some fresh air. Those rituals are tough! I felt bad especially for you-- don’t you feel like you’re gonna die again in those outfits?”
“Yeah, yeah, of course, just come with me back to the library so I can learn more about this egg,” I passed Shion and held the egg tightly as it started to glow again. “And we’re not gonna use some stupid SoulBird to teleport us back.”
Shion stared after me and blinked. “You don’t wanna take the short cut? Pete’s fast! He can teleport both of us in a second.”
“Yeah, I’d rather swim the River Gehenna back to the academy than use the help of a bird,” I muttered.
“You don’t like SoulBirds?” Shion hurried up to me.
I rolled my eyes. Too many questions. I just ignored him and walked faster, jumping over the branches while Shion easily ducked underneath.
He continued to talk more about SoulBirds and how he trained Pete, everything about those dumb creatures that didn’t really explain the reason of this golden egg. I pressed forward with a frown, just telling myself that this kid could be a good help until I figured out enough about this egg, and then I could be done with him.
But thoughts about Grenada kept haunting me over and over again.
How could she have watched over me on Earth? If she was telling the truth, she could be very useful to me.
But I kept quiet and thought sulkily about what I had just done. I had destroyed a SoulBird—the most valuable spirit in Purgatory, and the only spirit that we all looked up to. Whatever was going to happen to me, I was probably going to deserve it.

There was only one such library in the land. In every land of Purgatory, there was only one building that would contain a vast amount of books. You wouldn’t find books anywhere else—not even in the homes of spirits who liked to read.
Bhad Library was located next to the river Gehenna, up to the south of the land. The library was right near the Gehenna Volcano that filled up the river. The volcano was like a raging shower of fire that poured deafeningly loud into the river to flow upstream. And the mysterious part about it was that one could never make it up the volcano and into the fire, for any soul that ever got within fifty feet from the volcano’s top would die from the terrible heat-- not literally die, but at least faint before they could ever go any farther. Because it was that the volcano led to the world of Hell. Those who made it inside the volcano and actually manage to withstand its terrible heat and intoxicating smoke would be able to withstand the world of Hell. That was where the failing spirits went if they failed the lowest academy in Purgatory. It even came to be that the more a spirit failed, the more resistant their bodies would become to the atmosphere of Hell so that when the time actually came for them to fail their last class, they could be able to survive the world they would be sentenced to. That didn’t mean they would feel comfortable there-- no such spirit could ever be comfortable in Hell. They could just withstand it without dying a second death or fainting away. But of course, they would be tortured by the confines of Hell without ever turning back whatsoever.
Shion and I were nearing the library as we followed up the river to the opposite of where it flowed.
Shion heaved a sigh. “So what kind of SoulBirds attacked you?” He looked up at me.
I frowned. “Earth ones.”
“Ah,” Shion gave a nod. “The Earth ones are the most active and friendly ones actually. I was expecting it to be the fire types that struck you like that.” He gave Pete a smirk as the fire SoulBird circled above them in the air.
I rolled by eyes and gave a look of disgust at the bird. Those wretched fouls actually took my slingshot and now I only had my burning gloves to grab at them. The headband on my head was burning with more intensity by the minute, and my hands and feet were sweating and heating like crazy that it hurt. It was like leaving your hand on a frying pan without ever taking it off. I bet if I took them off at this point, they would look like dark crispy fried human hands. My wrists and ankles also hurt and felt like they were going to fall of from the tightness. Several times I’ve reached up at my head to at least give an scratch around the headband where it itched like heck, but every time I managed, I would accidentally cut the side of my face with the thorns that stuck out from the wristbands and bracelets.
Muttering under my breath, I cursed a Satan curse and grabbed a tree branch that stuck in front of us and gripped it tightly, watching it break in two and burn away like ashes.
Shion raised his eyebrows. “Hey….can’t you take it off when no one’s looking?”
“You idiot, there’s a reason why everything’s on so tight to the point when I can’t use anything to burn it off or unattached it,” I replied haughtily.
“Oh,” said Shion meekly. “What about the headband?”
I stopped walking and looked down at the boy. “You wanna try to take it off? Go ahead, be my guest. I’ll be your best friend in the whole world of worlds if you do.”
“Oh, really?” Shion said, confused. He reached forward at my head as I bent down. But before his fingers came an inch from the headband, a loud sizzling spark sounded like a static shock. Shion yelled and jumped back, staring at his fingers with awe. The tips were bleeding from the strong burn.
I bent up and gave him a sideways look. “See? Not even I can do that with these gloves. It’s actually worse for me if I do it since the gloves are like two hundred degrees more hot.”
Shion was quiet for the rest of the time we walked, and neither of us said anything.
Finally, the air was starting to thicken and it was starting to get harder to breathe. It didn’t affect us to stop breathing for a while, or to breathe less more often, for we spirits didn’t get any benefit whether we breathed or not. This world had no such oxygen-- I didn’t know what kind of elements were filled in this air-- but we were free to breathe or not breathe when we wanted.
“There, I see it!” Shoin pointed ahead where there was a large tall and wide dark building in the distance. Not far from behind it was the Gehenna Volcano that was rumbling and bubbling at the top where small streams of boiling fire leaked out to join into the Gehenna River.
I felt like I was going to faint already. The heat was so intense-- I couldn’t take it. I stared forwards, my eyes watering and pouring out their own stream of hot boiling tears down my face. But they were tears of frustration and anger. My eyes were narrowed like slits, and I felt my entire body melt away at this temperature. The heat made the headband on my head burn with an even hotter intensity, and flames even started to form over the band.
Pete cawed at the sight of me and flapped his wings noisily. Shion looked at me and flinched to the side. “Zach! Are you okay?!”
I barely heard him. The fire was burning in my heart as well as everywhere else around me. This heat made me angrier and angrier. I was already stressed enough-- this burning fire from the river to our side and the volcano in the distance made me even more stressed.
I was turning red with envy everywhere. I must’ve looked like an imp from Hell, or some kind of devil spirit, though I took no notice of it, for my brain was totally fried now, and the only thoughts that I could feel in my head were the thoughts of heat and hatred. I hated this. I hated those who made me where this. I hated me.
“Zach…?” Shion spoke in a quiet meek tone again.
I flinched and let go of the golden egg, and before it dropped on the ground, Shion made a quick bend to grab it and step off to the side.
With a low uttering growl, I clenched my teeth and let out a yell of fury. I immediately lifted my hand to my head, not even feeling the rash cut that slashed across my other cheek as I did so. My hand grabbed the headband and burned with Hell’s fire. But I yowled even louder and yanked off the headband, with a strong tug. The headband ripped off my head, and I tell you-- it was as if I tore of my own skin. My head was totally bleeding.
I gripped the headband ever so tightly as it burned painfully in my hand, and melted the glove away, as well as half the thorns on the wristband. Before I could let it burn my hand away as well, and threw it as hard as I can, all the way towards the direction of the volcano, falling into the River Gehenna. As soon as it splashed into the river, the entire flow of the river stopped. A sudden spout of fiery water erupted form where it fell, and a smoke started to sizzle and dance around it.
“Ahh!” Shion jumped back and Pete flew to his shoulder to protect him.
Something form in that smoke-- and I was looking at the face of an ugly monstrous face that laughed mockingly at me in a creepy cackle. Then it disappeared and the river continued to flow.
I stared with wide anger in my eyes. I was panting, inhaling a lot of the toxic fumes in the air. Shion stepped up to me.
I felt his finger touch my arm that had my bare hand nearly burnt off. I flinched and turned to him with a furious scowl.
“Wah!” Shion jumped back. “Sorry, I thought you were possessed.”
I huffed and rubbed my head with my bare hand. I felt blood and dust in my hair, but it felt ever so good to have that terrible headband off. I glared at Shion. “Don’t tell anyone what you just saw here,” I muttered through clenched teeth. I turned to stomp up quickly to the library. It better be less hot in there, even though there was no such thing as an air conditioner in Purgatory’s land of Bhad.
Shion hurried up to me. “Heh! What did I see? I don’t even know what that was! Did you summon the devil or something?”
I didn’t answer as I opened the large door and shut it in his face. Looking around the library, I noticed how old and huge it was on the inside. Everywhere, the walls were lined with ragged books of all sizes. The open room I was in was totally empty and deserted, except for the dust and several torn pages lying around here and there. Up ahead was a large stairway that circled up and disappeared behind a corner. I frowned and scoffed at all the books in this place. It reminded me of those stupid studies we had to go through every single day at the academy.
The doors banged open and I whipped around to face Shion.
“Aha! Scared ya?” I gave me a teasing look and walked in. “If you’ve paid any attention to classes at all, you’d know that each of these books hold not only words-- but worlds within them.”
He winced as I watched him put the golden egg on a nearby table and walk over to the left to pick out a dusty torn thin book. “What are you talking about?”
Shion looked at me as his SoulBird hopped around the books that were stacked on the table nearby. “Books contain information in them, written out in words that can speak to the soul and fill their minds with info, as well as their hearts with inspiration. For example, this here is a book on Earth’s animals.” He held the book at me. “Take a look.”
I frowned at him and took the book from his hand, giving a narrowed glare as I flipped through the pages. There were a bunch of words on each of the pages, though some contained pictures of the strangest creatures I hadn’t seen before. I blinked and my expression lifted. There were many creatures in this book that I hadn’t seen in the textbooks of the academy. “Wha-- what are these? Are these more creatures in the underworld that we haven’t learned about yet?”
Shion snickered.
I frowned at him and then realized that these pictures looked too harmless to have come from Hell. Most of them were four legged with teeth that looked neat and less beastly than those in Hell. One such creature I was interested in was a four legged animal that had golden fur and a gorgeous fluff of a mane around its head. I laughed. “Aha! This one has a head that looks like the janitor, Ebenezer,” I said with a naughty smile.
Shion nodded. “Yup. That’s called a lion.”
I flipped through the pages some more. “Are these creatures from Heaven? They don’t seem very….Hellish. Most of them, anyway.” I frowned at a picture of a wild faced animal that seemed to resemble humans, bearing the same arms, legs, hands, and feet, except it was furry with a long tail. It seemed to be screaming and waving its hands around like something had crawled up its rear.
“Well…you can say they are from Heaven, but really, this book is supposed to give brief descriptions on the inhabitants of Earth. Can’t you read the title?”
“I don’t read,” I said with a fierce glare at Shion.
“Hehe, I thought so,” said Shion with a nervous laugh.
I flipped open to a page of a creepy looking creature that glared at me with eyes that reminded me of Lucien the Higher, or Ebenezer. Its eyes were like evil slits, and it had a long slithery body, slim as a tree vine. It was long and scaly, and it coiled around a branch as it stuck its head out to stare at me deviously. I blinked. “Hey, this one looks familiar. Isn’t this one of the creatures of Satan?”
“Yes, that’s a snake,” said Shion seriously. He took the book from my hands and closed it. “It’s also found on Earth as well. The ones on Earth can be harmless with no such connection to the devil whatsoever. But they are still cunning and the mater of trickery. The ones in Satan’s world are especially full of lies and evil-- you shouldn’t trust a snake no matter where you go.”
I snatched the book back from him with a mischievous smile and opened it up to the page of the snake again. “Oh yeah? You think I’m ever going to meet a snake anyway?”
Shion’s wide brown eyes grew deep and focusing. “Do you pay attention to a single thing the High Donner says? The snake can find its way into any world with its devious and sly tricks. You never know when one can pop out of nowhere and tell you things to mess up your head-- just like it did on Earth. The snake was the one to have brought sin into the world, which is why some humans are able to go to Hell in the afterlife.”
I tried to peer closely at the words in the book, wishing I could even make out what the words were trying to say. The print was so small and the pages were dusty and wrinkled for my still sore eyes were trying to read them.
“Zach? Have you ever wondered why we’re even here in Purgatory? I mean-- do you ever wonder WHY we could have done something to have caused us to enter this place before entering the always perfect kingdom of Heaven?”
I looked up and met his eyes. “Sin,” was all I said.
“Do you know why humans sin, or why they’re even able to?” Shion turned and looked through all the books, and then picked out a thicker book that looked even older and bedraggled than the other one. He opened to a page. “Adam and Eve were the first humans in the world. They brought sin into the world when they disobeyed the Holy One and ate the forbidden apple. The snake tricked Eve into thinking she would have knowledge equal to the Holy One Himself. Though the snake was using his cunning tricks, what he said was somewhat true. When Adam and Eve took a bite, the knowledge of sin and shame came into their heads, and from that point on, people were able to sin and know the feelings between good and evil.”
I blinked. “Well, of course-- you can’t have good without the presence of evil. That wouldn’t make the concept of good any real.”
Shion looked at me carefully. “Yes-- but if there were no such thing as evil in the world, we would all be in the kingdom of Heaven right now, and none of us would ever make it to the terrible fires of Hell, or even in here the in-between world of Purgatory. Imagine that. If it weren’t for that snake, sin would’ve never come into our hearts.”
I frowned. “No, if it weren’t for Adam and Eve there wouldn’t have been sin around. Clearly, they chose to disobey the Holy One and fall into the trap of sin. It just explains that humans chose to sin and choose their paths in the afterlife.”
“You’re saying that?” Shion gave me a raised look. “Did YOU choose to sin? Did you choose your path for this afterlife-- to live among the lands of Purgatory?”
I felt my heart tighten and I narrowed my eyes.
“What exactly did you do?” Shion asked curiously. “There must be a reason why you were placed in this stage in Purgatory-- to the lowest lands of Bhad. What did you do?”
“I don’t know,” I replied tartly. “I don’t remember. I even tried to sneak in St. Gretchin’s files to see my records of my entire existence. I couldn’t find a thing-- I didn’t even find my name in the files. It’s like they’re hiding it from me-- I have no idea, nor do I care.”
“You don’t care?” Shion raised his eyebrows. “Zach, you should care about whatever caused you to enter this in-between place. You didn’t belong in Heaven, nor did you belong in Hell-- yet. You must know about what you did to cause your coming to be punished and purified here so that you can try to change that and truly become purified.”
“Well, what about you?” I quickly changed the subject. It always made me angry whenever I tried to reflect on my past in which I couldn’t remember or understand anything. I was already burning hot and I didn’t want to sweat with more anger thinking about what I couldn’t think about. “Why would a nerdy sissy like you wind up in this stage? You look like a saint compared to the rest of us-- you know that.”
Shion looked down. “I committed a pretty offending sin…I was Hindu before I turned my belief into afterlife. I worshipped different gods with my family, but at the age of fourteen, just a few months before my death, I turned to a different religion-- I discovered afterlife, resurrection, salvation… faith turned to believing into the Holy Spirit and the cross….”
The library started to shake and suddenly the air outside swirled in a dark black dust with sparks of flames.
“I better explain it to you some other time. These grounds don’t like it when I speak of my past especially.”
I looked at Shion with confusion.
He looked back at me. “We really aren’t even supposed to be here. Haven’t you noticed how the High Ones of the academy forbid us to read any other books unless they are of the textbooks provided? They don’t want our minds to focus on such information found in other books.”
I looked at the book of Earth’s animals in my hands. “What’s so bad about learning about Earth? All they want to teach us is about our former lives and mistakes we’ve made on that planet-- they don’t want us to know about the inhabitants or any other animals that live there.”
“Exactly. They find it pointless to study on such things that some of us probably won’t find when we reach Hell. The higher lands in Purgatory may study on other things that the lower lands don’t allow, for there’s much more to learn about in Heaven than in Hell. But as for now, most of Purgatory bans books that teach no significance. Not all books are real. Some are made up stories about things that can’t exactly happen. Those are the books I find most interesting. Other books teach of things that contradict what we learn about in the Holy Spirit. Those I keep away from myself. But despite the fact that this library is banned for all those learning mediums in the academies, I come here almost every other night to read a stack of books or so about interesting things I can learn about Earth-- and even Heaven.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I guess this part of the land is uncontrolled by the Higher One. Not even Lucien can trace our presence here?”
“This place is too close to the Hellsfire so not even the Higher One knows that we’re here. The land is filled with a presence that keeps the Higher One from noticing. Don’t worry-- I won’t tell on you if you don’t tell on me.”
I put the book down and walked over to where there were even dustier books at the corner. “So which part tells about the SoulBirds?”
“Well, here’s a particular book on SoulBirds’ spirits. You can perhaps learn a little about their spirits and maybe figure out why those Earth types were acting that way around the golden egg,” Shion handed me a larger book, and I nearly dropped the thing as I took it from him.
“Careful!” Laughed Shion. “Books are old around here! If you destroy any one of these books, who knows what the land can do?”
I scoffed. “What? Is the land gonna swallow me up to Hell over one book?”
“These books are kept in this library for a reason. I’m still trying to understand about this library myself, but I think that all books, with all their different stories and worlds of different information, they all have a significance to this land in this library. There’s a reason why there’s a sacred library in each stage, and that all the books haven’t been burnt or thrown away from the building.”
I opened the book that titled in big words: “Souls of the SoulBird.” I eyed a picture at all four types-- the Earth, air, fire, and water.
“If you need me, I’ll be reading a book I started just the other night,” said Shion, turning to the table where Pete was peering at the golden egg with astonished eyes. Shion didn’t notice, for he had sat down with a small thick book in his hands.
I watched as Pete peered around the egg with his tiny round button eyes almost a quarter of their size bigger.
I tried to understand the contents. I flipped to the part of the souls of fire SoulBirds. Trying to understand the words, I came to a sentence that read, “All souls of each type perform their same rituals.”
Whatever the rituals they meant, I suddenly thought up a suggestion. I looked up at Pete. Unlike the Earth types, he was staring at the egg with quiet awe. His beak was opening and closing, though no sound came up. The Earth types all danced around the egg, keeping a straight line forming around. But Pete seemed more transfixed and focused, as if he were praying to the thing or something.
I narrowed my eyes at the bird and came over to snatch the egg from his sight.
“Thank you, this idol is not gonna hatch any such mate for YOU,” I said sourly, giving the bird a look of hatred.
To my surprise, Pete didn’t start cawing, nor did he throw a fit of any kind. The bird was still staring at the egg as I held it in my right hand. I glared at him and turned around, looking down at the book and reading further:
“The souls of fire are among the most fierce. When the angels were born of fire, they formed the bodies of the fire SoulBirds, so that the creatures could wander the world of Purgatory in their fire bird forms.”
I raised my eyebrows. I knew SoulBirds were either half-bird, half-angel, or half-bird, half-demon. But did this mean they didn’t give birth? If the spirits of angels or demons were born of fire to create the fire SoulBirds in Purgatory, and the same went for the rest of the types, then why would this golden egg hatch a real SoulBird? Putting the egg down to a table at my side, I flipped to the next page and came to a section that read: “SoulBird Birth and Hatching.”
I read on: “Though no such spirit in the afterlife can ever give birth to another soul, they can help create more through the process of sanctification upon auras.”
A caw sounded from behind and Pete was flapping in front of my face, hovering over the pages of the book.
“Hey! Move your butt you stupid--” I tried to shoo at Pete’s talons that hung over what I was trying to read. But the bird wasn’t facing me-- it faced the egg to my left and suddenly made a dash towards it.
“No!” I dropped the book and reached out to grab at the bird before he could crash the golden egg.
But suddenly, right when he collided against it, the egg’s glowing center burst out a shine of light and struck the fire SoulBird. The creature’s body started to glow with the light and transform into a different shape.
I watched with awe. The bird became an angel, and the spirit was hovering above the egg with its back turned to me.
“Pete….?” I muttered nervously.
The angel turned and faced me. His eyes were a blazing brown-- not the red glint they were when he was a SoulBird.
“Zachariah? You can see me, can’t you?” He spoke in a deep voice that sounded gruff, though he spoke with a calm that made me feel uplifted.
“Um…..the light is shining around you from the egg…” I replied, seeing the glow around Pete that came from the egg. Pete had the same sized wings as his SoulBird form, though they grew from the back of his shoulders now. The rest of his body was nude except for the loincloth around his waist. He had hair that blazed red-orange and dark tan skin. His face revealed a valiant look that made him look tough.
Pete looked at himself and gave a flap with his wings. “Hmph! Just as I predicted-- this egg has the power to reveal our inner spirits. I didn’t even know that this was how I looked before I was sanctified to transform into a SoulBird!” He hovered up to my eyes and looked at his reflection.
“Open your eyes wider!” He commanded. “Lemme take a look at myself….whoa! Hehe, now I’m not half-bad.”
I immediately narrowed my eyes again into smaller slits. “You’re half bird still, aren’t you?”
“Of course! Just like I looked more like a bird before didn’t mean my soul on the inside was both bird and angel-- the only reason why I must be in angel form now might be because of the aura that’s within this egg,” he turned to face the egg with focusing eyes. His bushy red eyebrows raised and he scratched his chin.
“Well, if you know anything about the egg, tell me,” I said. “Is there a SoulBird hatchling inside?”
“Aye….there is a SoulBird aura lurking within….methinks this could be the call for a very important spirit though.” Pete landed on the table, standing in front of the egg. It was almost as tall as he was. He got to his knees and started bowing his head up and down and muttering something.
I winced. “Very funny. Just like how the Earth types were acting. My question now is why didn’t the same happen to them? Why didn’t the egg reveal their angel souls?”
“Argh!” Pete stood up and stopped his bowing. “They probably weren’t angel SoulBirds! My boy, where is Shion? He can help explain this. When Shion found me, I was suffering from what they call purgation. I was but a dying devilish SoulBird, for my inner spirit was at first a devil from Satan’s world, rising out of the confines to reveal myself as a SoulBird in this world. Here, in the world of Purgatory, all angel and devil spirits can only be seen as SoulBirds. Only in Heaven or Hell can you see us in our regular angel spirit forms. But right now, the power within this egg reveals those who are of the kingdom of Heaven. Those from Heaven who are disguised in the forms of SoulBirds can be revealed through this egg-- though not even I know why. I just know….this egg holds an importance for all of us.”
I stared at Pete a little more, watching as he faced the glowing egg and moving his lips, just like he had done as a SoulBird.
I looked to my left. “Shion, get over here! Look at your pet!”
“What is it-- whoa!” Shoin dropped his mouth wide open at the angelic figure standing in front of the egg. “Is the egg doing that? Pete!”
“Why is he an angel, though as a SoulBird, he reveals himself as a devil?” I asked with a wince. “Angels are banned in this part of Purgatory! You know what the Higher One would do if he ever traced this SoulBird!”
“Relax-- I’ve covered Pete’s spirit with a bit of Holy Water,” said Shion with a wink. “When I first found him dying near this very part of the Gehenna River, I restored his spirit through the sanctification process, calling upon an angel to be born within the bird’s body, driving out the bad spirit and bringing the fire SoulBird back to life with a purified spirit. The only reason why the rest of his body didn’t change is because once a SoulBird body has been formed for a spirit’s disguise, that disguise is kept permanent. The only thing missing is that Pete’s got no red glow around him to show that his inner spirit is truly devil.”
Come to think of it, I had noticed that Pete didn’t have the regular red glow around his body as a fire SoulBird. To understand how Shion could have kept him hidden on the inside, though, was even harder.
“But hey!” Shion turned around and grabbed a book. “This is called the Book of Spirits. It’s almost as big as the Bible, actually. It’s got all living spirits that were born during the century of Earth’s beginning. Many of them are famous, and it would probably help distinguish the devil spirits from the good angels.”
I opened the book and started flipping through the pages. I tried to find Saint Grenada’s name in the list of the spirits, but I couldn’t find it. I frowned. She seemed as old as the Earth! I needed to know why she had suddenly appeared and started ordering me around, telling me to “take good care of the golden egg or else,” along with all the stupid orders she told me about keeping my room clean and my life in order and such.
I didn’t tell Shion about Saint Grenada yet, for I thought it was pointless anyway. But now, seeing that the egg could reveal souls like Pete’s, I was wondering more and more about Saint Grenada’s sudden appearance from the egg as well. She must have been one of the Earth types that danced around it…..she must be. Now that I compared her to the Earth types, I could see how much her gray hair still had the slight greenness in them, as well as her tall figure from her long legs.
I flipped through the pages furiously, hoping to find her image in one of the pictures.
Shion gasped. “Zach, look!”
The library started to rumble again. I looked up from the book. “Pete, what are you doing?” I said sourly, eying the angel as he was flying around the egg, closing his eyes with his hands clasping each other as they were raised in the air.
The egg was starting to glow brighter and brighter-- each time Pete made a lap around it would become shinier and shinier.
Suddenly fire erupted from above Pete and the flames expanded around all of us.
“Pete! What’s happening?!” Cried Shion.
The egg suddenly stopped glowing and Pete let out a gasp. He flapped his wings rapidly until his entire body became a SoulBird again. “The fire! It’s the wrong fire!”
“What are you talking about?!” I yelled. But I think I knew what was happening. Pete must have tried to call another angel spirit through the egg somehow, and apparently, the spirit must have not been an angel. Now the fire that surrounded us must’ve been a devil that found our location through the communication within this egg.
The fire was circled around us, and suddenly, it lessened down until long red scaly snake revealed itself, coiled all around me, Shion, Pete, and the egg on the table. It was huge and it stared at us with hungry malicious eyes. The fire still burned around its slithery body, heating up the room and burning the nearby pages that were on the floor.
“Pete, what did you do?!” I yelled, glaring at the bird.
The fire SoulBird squawked and flapped its wings, cawing up at the air.
“Argh! Let’s go!” I turned and leapt over the snake’s body, barely escaping it before it flinched and tried to trip me.
“No! Zach, come back! Pete’s trying to teleport us!” But the snake lunged at Shion and would’ve bitten his head off if Pete hadn’t pushed the boy’s head so that he fell to his chin, just in front of the snake’s tail.
I turned and scoffed. “Hurry up!” Shion caught up to me and the both of us fled the library with the snake chasing after us.
I suddenly skidded to a stop just before the snake crashed out and screamed an eerie cry through the air. “Wait! The egg!” I turned to hurry back in the library. The building was on fire now, and the snake’s head had reached to the top , peering out of a hole in the roof.
“Zach!” Cried Shion.
I ran as fast as I can back inside the cave. The snake watched with menace as I ran through the broken doors and the front and saw the egg still on the table, in the middle of where the snake’s body was coiled around.
The snake lowered its head that stuck out from the roof, bending down to peer at the egg that it surrounded. With a sudden dash, I jumped over the snake’s body, leaping onto the table to grab the egg in my hands. The snake hissed and I was looking up at a devilish face as it stared down at me with malice, looking happy and angry to have me in the middle of its coiled body.
“Zach….” The voice spoke to me with a sickening hiss. “Have you come back? You’ve come back for me, haven’t you?” The voice seemed to ring in my ears, for the snake’s mouth wasn’t moving or speaking. But I knew the voice had somehow come from the snake.
I glared at the snake and held the egg under my chin. I felt a feeling I’ve never felt before, and with this egg, I felt as if I could withstand any heat, and any creature or spirit. The egg suddenly let out a flash of light just as it did back at the dorm, and struck the snake’s eyes blind.
The snake let out a piercing cry and wriggled around. I would have been knocked over dead if I didn’t leap from the table and ran through the fires in the library with the egg held against my chest. As I sped through, the egg seemed to be glowing more and more, and the light shone through all the fires. Around me, the fires seemed to clear and give way as I made my way with the egg in my hands. The snake behind was yowling and groaning in its high pitched cry, for it was able to trace me easier since the fires were lessening in my path, though the snake was blind and followed along clumsily after me.
Suddenly, I stumbled on the boots I was running in, scraping my left leg with the thorns around my right ankle. I yelled in pain and tripped, falling on my chin as the egg rolled from under my hands. It rolled right at the edge of the library’s exit, and suddenly stopped glowing.
Instantly, the fires started coming back. I felt the heat all around my body, and the heat was starting to make the bleeding sting even more on my head again. I must have cut my leg badly too, for it really felt like the snake had caught up to me and was chewing on it.
But the snake stopped slithering and cried with anger in the fires that had come back. With the fires, it regained its sight, and was staring down at me with eyes full of anger and pure hatred. I turned to stand up and face the snake behind me. My legs shook, and I looked up at the snake with despair. If there were any such thing as a second death, or death in the afterlife, I hoped I would just shut out and never come to life in any kind of world again. This was all too much. The world of Purgatory sucked, and I could care less about the next place I would go if I ever failed living here in any way.
I dropped to my knees and glared up at the snake. I was willing to surrender. This was probably no other than a snake from the devil that was gonna drag me all the way to Hell where I belonged.
“Take me,” I muttered, keeping my head facing straight and my eyes glaring up. “Go ahead—I’ll be more use in Hell than I would ever be in Heaven anyways.”
The snake gave a long menacing hiss and its eyes gleamed. It seemed satisfied.
But suddenly the fires erupted between us and blocked the snake’s view, making the creature scream and squirm to peer through the flames.
The headband on my head suddenly struck me and I flinched, squeezing my eyes shut as I felt by entire body sting like crazy from the heat. I clenched my teeth and fell forwards on my elbows, hanging my head with distress.
“Zach…” A faint voice spoke to me. “Get up.”
I ignored whatever I was hearing. I was probably hallucinating again through all this damned fire.
“Zach,” the voice was stern now. “Get up!”
I felt a hand gently grab my shoulder and I flinched, widening my eyes. I slowly rose up, feeling my heart beat with surprise rather than fear.
The fires in front of me cleared away as a shine of light shone through, revealing the snake again.
But suddenly the snake blinked as the shine of light hit the corner of its eye. It jerked its head to the left and let out a hiss.
“Huh?” I looked to my right as soon as I felt the grip on my shoulder released, and saw the hand reach over my shoulder, handing me the egg I dropped.
Awestruck, I widened my eyes and snatched the egg from the hand. I turned around to see who it was that handed me the egg, but as soon as I turned, the flames erupted right behind me in front of my eyes and I didn’t even get to get a glimpse at my rescuer.
Jumping back from the sudden rise of flames, I aimed the egg at the fire, holding it to my chest again. The egg glowed once more, and the fires lessened out, and the snake behind started to die off with the fires. With a deafening cry, the snake shrunk and shrunk, until it disappeared with the flames.
The library was in a terrible burnt state, and it looked ready to collapse on top of me. The Higher One would surely know about this, and when he came to investigate, he would know.
My heart was beating against the egg that I felt like I was going to help it crack open. But the egg’s glow continued to spread around the library, and the light shone all around me, lighting up the building with a bright light different than that orange dim glow from the fires. The library seemed suddenly nicer and rich with this light to shine upon it.
And as soon as I felt relieved and safer, I stepped forward and exited the place, turning back to see that the old library looked not good as new—but at least looked the way it had been before Shion and I had entered in.
Looking down at the egg, I stared closely at the almost golden thing in both my hands. It was the size of two fists, and the pinkness that it had had was already almost washed away by the golden light that had expanded from its center. The pink color was now just a smaller over shape on one side of the egg, and now the whole thing looked more golden than it had been before.
Looking around, making sure no one was watching, I ran back home, thinking fast.
I was thankful for whoever had been the hand to have helped me get the egg and defeat the snake right at my face. It wasn’t Shion-- his arm was too short and wouldn’t have reached over my shoulder like that. It must have been Pete or someone that had been watching us.

That night, I slept the last four hours with terrible nightmares. At first, they seemed fake and just summed up by predictions of my punishment for that SoulBird. I had dreams of Saint Grenada whipping me with electrical whips that would go on eternally in Hell, and I also had visions of devilish SoulBirds chasing after me, pecking at my head and cawing ravenously in my ears. I was driven to a pit where numerous bugs and snakes crept all around me and ate away at whatever left was of my spirit.
I jerked awake, opening my eyes to face the golden egg that lay on the desk to the right side of my bed. The egg was glowing again. Suddenly, with my eyes open, my vision flashed and I was taken to another dreamlike phase as I was looking back to my past on Earth. Images went through my head and I was walking upon Earth again—finding my way to a familiar town over the hill where I could see my house from the city of Jerusalem.
Images of my family flashed through. My mother—a beautiful pale lady with long black hair and blue eyes. My father—just as handsome as my mother was beautiful. He had slick black hair as well, and he looked young without a beard and a mustache. His eyes were brown and proud, and everything about his face would make a girl any age drop dead. Also, my sister…..she was young and had her mother’s blue eyes, with curly brown hair and a face sweet as a kitten.
And then it all washed away. All of a sudden, the image of Saint Grenada blinked in front of the image of my family, and she was staring at me with a narrowed glare as if I was in the wrong place.
“Ahh! No! Move it!” I swatted my hand at the ghost with irritation, and she faded away. But I wasn’t looking at my family anymore. I wasn’t in Jerusalem either. I was in a cold, desolate place, freezing to my bones. “It’s too cold….” I uttered through chattering teeth, hugging myself desperately.
And as if to answer my thoughts, a voice rang through my head. “Oh….would you rather be warmer?”
And I found myself in the fiery pits of Hell where it smelled like waste and bugs were biting at me, crawling under my shirt and everywhere. I yelled and got up, brushing myself and running around like an idiot.
Suddenly, someone stepped in front of me, and I was looking up at the face of my dad. He was gleaming down happily at me. “Zach, my son. What’s the matter? Aren’t you happy here?”
“Dad!” I yelled helplessly, dropping to my knees and rolling around like I was having a seizure. These bugs were killing me.
“Zach….” My dad reached a hand down and I looked up to face him in the eyes. They were a blazing red color now, though his expression looked longing and serious as he stared into me. “Son….get up.”
“Get up…..Get up….. Get up…” the voice ran through my head. I was taken to the memory when I was anonymously rescued by someone back at the library. Were the voices similar? I couldn’t exactly tell….
I took my dad’s hand and I rose up. The fires blazed around the both of us just like it did to me in the library. But my dad was resistant. So was I.
“I’m glad you came here, son,” my dad’s voice was stern and proud now.
I blinked my tired eyes and looked around. “Where’s mother? Isn’t she here? What about….my sister?” I still didn’t remember my sister’s name just yet.
“Oh…’s too bad for them. They somewhere else now. but we’re better off without them, Zach. Trust me.”
As I stared up back in his eyes, I felt my own eyes start to change. I bet they were turning red to. but as I stared, my vision was starting to fade away and dissolve. I blinked my eyes to clear the vision as I stared at the golden egg in front of me once again.
“Urgh…” I sat up and took the egg in my hands. I sat there for five minutes, staring at it my lap. The golden glow was a good reflection, for I could see my face on the side of the egg. My eyes were still their dark green color. The image of my eyes becoming red suddenly flashed thorugh my mind, and I was startled to have almost seen it on the reflection. What was that all about? Why was my dad….in Hell?
The egg flashed brightly and struck my eyes. I let out a yell and nearly dropped the egg. “Ow!” I wiped my eyes and for a panicking moment, I was blinded. But then I was blinking open again with astonishment. I forgot all about my vision.
“Ahh! What just happened….?” I glared down at the egg. I was trying to remember what I had just been thinking about, and what my vision was. I couldn’t remember a thing now. It was as if I was instantly brainwashed again just like that.
“Argh….no!” I threw myself back on my bed and squeezed my eyes shut, clenching my teeth hard. I was so close! I almost remembered my old life back on Earth, almost figuring out why I had come here in Purgatory for the afterlife. But now I couldn’t remember anything about what I had just seen!
Okay, there was my mom, my dad…..I remembered I had that—of course I would have a mother and a father. But I couldn’t remember who they were or what they looked like. Was there anyone else in my family? Yes! I had a sister—a little sister. How old was she? I didn’t know! What was her name? Adriana Lima?! I don’t know! She was perfectly cute and pretty, and that’s all I can remember.
Wait—I remembered what my sister looked like. I sat up and panted. My sister…..I was onto something! I closed my eyes and gripped the golden egg tightly. The egg shone light in my eyes as I closed them. It had wiped out my memory when it struck my eyes, but now that they were closed, perhaps it could restore my memory.
Yes—my sister. She was a brunette. She was about ten years. Her eyes were big and blue—not Adriana Lima’s eyes, but like my mother’s. Her hair was nice and curly, and she was like the perfect little angel one could ever see…, did I really like my sister that much? I felt dazed and nauseous as I recalled her features.
Just as I was getting to my parents, the egg stopped glowing.
“Huh?!” I widened my eyes with anger at the egg. “No! You stupid thing!” I shook the egg and got up from sitting on my bed. “Why won’t you work?! How DO you work this piece of crap?!” I was just about to throw the egg on the ground, for I had had enough.
But then an image ran in my head and I felt something pinch my back. “Zachariah!” Saint Grenada’s sharp voice yelled in my ears. “You be careful with that thing! Or you’ll find yourself in the fiery depths of Hellsfire!”
I whipped around to glare at the spirit, but there was no one to be seen. I was only staring out the half open window that I left open last night. Light was filtering through, and it was already morning.
Saint Grenada’s strange presence still lingered around my room. Was she invisible? I looked around carefully, bracing myself in case she played some kind of trick with me. But then the caw of St. Gretchen’s fire SoulBird sounded and screeched throughout the academy. It was time for the mediums to get up and start their classes.
I rolled my eyes and cursed at the stupid SoulBird. Rusa, Gretchen’s fire SoulBird, was probably older than St. Gretchen herself, but it still had a call that could cry to the spirits all the way up in Guhd—the last stage of Purgatory.
I was suddenly reminded of the Earth type SoulBird that I had killed last night. With a sudden gasp, I took my bag of school papers in my hands, and I crashed out of my room, forgetting to lock my door.
Pushing rudely past all the students and ignoring their stares at me as I ran by, I hurried out the door of the dorm and came to the corner of the building where the dumpsters were. I opened up the one on the left where I had thrown the body in. A swarm of nasty flying beetles flew out of the dumpster, crowding around and against my face, but I shook my head angrily and the fire burned from my headband. The bugs swarmed away and disappeared up in the sky.
Cursing with annoyance, I pee into the reeking dumpster, and widened my eyes with shock. The SoulBird wasn’t there. I reached in and dug through with my bare hand and tried to find the body. It was nowhere to be seen.
Letting go of the dumpster’s lid, crashing it down with a loud bang, I stared ahead with disbelief. My eyes were calm, but I was panicking inside. The bird was gone. Saint Grenada told me to make sure it was alive.
I took a step back from the dumpster and tried to calm down. It probably just came back to life and climbed out on its own, or at least teleported somewhere else. If it had died, it would have stayed here to rot with the rest of the garbage in that dumpster.
I held my breath and turned around to head back to the school as soon as Rusa gave a loud caw again. I turned to hurry back, but I bumped into Ebenezer the janitor, nearly knocking the tall thin man over.
“Agh!” Ebenzer stumbled and stood straight. “And just what do you think you’re up to, kid?”
I looked up at him and gave him a dirty look. I dashed to the left passed him, but he managed to grab my arm before I could get away.
“Nope! Now you get your scrawny ass over here!” Snapped Ebenzer, pulling me easily back up to face him.
I whirled around and glared. The flames on my head flickered and Ebenzer eyed me mystically. “What were you doing out here, huh? What’s that you’ve got in your bag?”
“School crap,” I replied testily. “What else would be in there?”
“I can bet you my soul that you’ve got the golden egg hidden in there,” growled Ebenezer.
“Hah!” I laughed. “You just lost your soul then. See for yourself!” I threw my bag at him, hitting him in the chest and making him fall back and land on his butt with a grunt. “I’ve got no golden egg! And if you don’t want to believe me, then I’ll go to Gretchen and steal it again!” I turned and ran, leaving the stupid man yelling after me. I didn’t take my bag, for now I could use a good excuse that the janitor had stolen all my work.
As I rushed through class, I found Shion in the halls. He was walking by himself again, with Pete on his shoulders. The short little guy looked like a lost kid in the crowd of foul behaved teenagers. But he didn’t seem to be bothered by that. He just walked on with a simple look on his face, ready to start his day.
The moment at the library flashed in my head. I couldn’t forget how someone had helped me face the snake and defeat it before the entire building burned down.
I hurried up to Shion. “Hey! Shion!” As I caught up to his side, I faced forward as I spoke to him. I didn’t want to look like I was actually befriending the nerd of the academy, and make people think I was taking it easy on him.
But Shion looked up at me. “Oh! Hey, Zach! You’re alive! Dang, I seriously thought that last night you were a goner. Did you get the egg back from the library?” He spoke coolly, keeping his voice low. I didn’t meet his gaze and kept facing forwards so that it looked like he was trying to talk to me, and I was trying to ignore him.
“Did you save me last night?” I hissed, ignoring his question.
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Somebody was in the library. They helped me get up and handed me the egg so that I could easily defeat that snake. Was it Pete?”
Pete squawked quietly and tilted his head to the side with confusion.
“Um….no, Pete was with me. When you ran back to the building, we were about to go after you, but then….apparently the snake had babies. There were tiny little snakes slithering from the Gehenna River and we were chased out of the territory until we returned home.”
“Baby snakes?” I winced. Only around that part of the land were there ever such creatures besides SoulBirds since that part was so close to Hell. But usually, the creatures never lasted long if they ever entered even that part of the land.
“So wait—it was Pete’s angel form that rescued me?” I turned to look at both of them now. They shook their heads.
“Maybe you have a guardian angel,” said Shion with a snicker.
I was shaking my head with a narrowed look. I turned to face forward again. It couldn’t have been Saint Grenada either—the voice that spoke to me was masculine, calm, and serious.
“Well, at least you’re safe. I wonder what will happen now. If the library is still destroyed, Lucien the Higher is bound to find out.”
“The library’s still the way it should be,” I said quickly. “The egg restored it.”
“Oh, that’s great! Dang, I wonder when it’s really going to hatch. What’s Saint Gretchen gonna do when she finds out she’s given Lucien the Higher the wrong one today?”
I stopped walking and froze. “Today? She’s visiting Lucien TODAY?”
“Uh, yeah. Didn’t you see the calendar the High Donner showed us? Lucien’s gonna visit our academy himself, and make sure the egg is safely in his hands.”
I stared and clenched my fists disturbingly.
“What? I thought you were somehow prepared for that.”
“I’m not scared about the egg—I’m scared about the incident last night.” I didn’t tell that I had killed the SoulBird, but that was what I was truly scared about. What if Lucien already knew about what I had done, or what if he found out about our visit to the library as well? I could care less if he knew about the wrong egg he was going to get—I could pull off a lie on that part easily since he had no way to trace the golden egg’s aura, according to what Ebenezer had said. But he would know about the SoulBird’s death if it truly died, or got badly hurt. He would also know about the snake in the library, for such a force to have entered the land would have sparked the Higher One’s senses.
As if to answer my thoughts, St. Gretchin’s voice was heard over the speakers for announcements.
“Students of the academy, may I have your attention please,” her voice sounded over through the hallways, but the noisy students continued to walk and mock at the principal. Some of them talked over her and told the speakers to shut up.
“HEY! QUIEEEET!” She screamed back at them as if she heard their mocks. Instantly, the noise died down and everyone stopped walking in the hallways.
“Now! If you would all please listen to this important news for today, Lucien the Higher One is coming! He will be paying us a visit and we will all be addressed to the Higher One of the land before he receives the holy egg. For it was almost a week ago since we retrieved the egg. I expect you all to be on your best behaviors, for the Higher One is fierce and mighty—he’ll have your heads chopped off if you disrespect him. Let’s make his visit a worthy one as he comes here to retrieve the egg!”
The students started murmuring to each other before Gretchen’s voice sounded again. “Just a moment! Let me remind you all that the egg is to hatch in his very hands. For it was prophesized to all the High and Higher Ones in the world of Purgatory—“The Three Holy Eggs shall appear within the worlds and hatch a week later after their appearance. You all remember that these eggs are supposed to be together, but instead, a powerful force from Hell has separated them. It is our jobs to be on the lookout for any of the eggs, and since it was reported last week that the High Donner and I had found one of the eggs lying within the chambers at the eastern Gehenna River, the Higher One is most serious about making sure that he himself looks after the egg as soon as it hatches on the day it was said to come into the world.
“If anyone wants more information on the importance of this egg, make sure you pay attention to the Higher One. There are still two other eggs out there, and this will be their hatching day as well. It is from these eggs that the most important SoulBirds will ever be born into this world, and it will not be like what we’ve seen almost every day. The SoulBirds will be entirely holy—they will share spirits with the most important souls that will benefit the universe. Lucien the Higher has agreed to tell you all the importance, for he is the Higher One and he must have received clearer information in his dream than the rest of us. Thank you for your patience, and bear with each other. The Higher One will arrive at exactly 11:00.” And the announcements were over. The hallways resumed the noisy bustling.
I looked over at a clock on the wall. 6:15. I still had plenty of time to brace myself. I wondered what would happen if the egg didn’t hatch into Lucien’s hands.
To our right, the door to the girls’ bathroom opened and Ebenezer walked out, rubbing his hands on a paper towel. He looked like he was in a hurry, but he stopped to notice me and give me a devious smile, shaking his head. Then he hurried away down the halls, disappearing in the crowd.
Shion stifled a snicker. “Was the janitor just in the girls’ bathroom?”
“Shion!” I hissed, looking at him sternly. “Listen….you’re smart, aren’t you?” I had to tell somebody about what I could do about what I was going to face. I could hear Saint Grenada mocking at me right now, telling me I better beware of my coming punishment.
“I guess so—smarter than everyone in this academy at least.”
“Well…..I found a dead SoulBird the other night.”
“Quiet! Don’t let anyone here you—and don’t mention the Higher One’s name so he can trace us. We don’t want anyone hearing this conversation.” I didn’t want to tell him I killed the bird, but I at least wanted to ask for help. “I found an Earth type SoulBird, and it was dead, lying in the dumpster. I checked on it this morning, hoping to take care of it, but now it’s not there. What do you think the Higher One will do?”
Shion blinked. “Ehh……he’ll probably trace the bird’s aura and find out who did it. Dang! Who would do such a thing? Not even you would kill one literally, won’t you?”
“Of course not,” I said with a frown, feeling the flames on my head burn intensely.
“Well, why didn’t you help it? You said you found it last night—you should’ve helped it while you still could have!”
I thought up an excuse. “You came and saw me! I was distracted, and i had to defend the SoulBird that was in that egg first!”
“Oh….you’re right,” Shion looked saddened. Pete cawed and ruffled his feathers, facing me sharply. But Shion sighed. “Pete, we’re so nosy sometimes. We’ve got to work on that, okay?”
I stared at Pete, hiding my nervousness with a glare. The SoulBird was glaring back at me, and I knew he was reading my thoughts. SoulBirds were obviously able to read feelings and such, for they were supposed to be like our guards and angel guides.
But I ignored him and walked on with Shion to class. I kept my head low, feeling uneasy. Shion went on talking about all the different possibilities the Higher One could do for a punishment to anyone who would do such a thing, and it just made me feel all the worse.
“Ugh, but I just feel terrible,” said Shion. “I’m sorry I distracted you, Zach. I really would’ve left you alone if I knew what was up.”
“Um,” was all I muttered in reply, not meeting his gaze. My dark hair hung over the sides of my face as I hung m head.
A voice yelled in my head. it was Saint Grenada. “You fool! Why must you lie?! Would have it made a difference if you told Shion that you did such a thing? Maybe he might have thought about helping you!”
I frowned. Too late to tell the truth now. I would just sound stupid.
“Oh, you are such an idiot,” Grenada’s voice echoed. “Just tell him! Are you looking for your punishment with Lucien?! Do something!”
“Shut up!” I yelled out loud, pressing my hands on my ears. The hand that still had the glove burned my right ear and my headband burst into flames.
Pete cawed and flapped his wings. Shion looked at me with awe. “Zach?”
“Hey, look! Zach’s on fire!” Laughed some of the guys.
“What’d ya do to you him, Shion?” Taunted one of the sixteen year olds.
I felt Grenada’s voice screaming at me the more I burned my ear. “You foolish imp! You’ll never get rid of me! I’m supposed to be your saint. I will stick with you forevermore, just as I have done in the beginning!”
My mind was spinning with dizziness until I found that I was sitting in my classroom of the High Donner’s. Somehow, I must have made it here without my mind focusing on what was going on. But my head was a little clearer now. The flames on my head were gone, and I felt heated and tense with unease. At least I wasn’t hearing Saint Grenada. Darn—that stupid old hag was going to haunt me for the rest of my afterlife now that I’ve committed this crime. Maybe I should just accept the punishment from Lucien the Higher so that his punishment and misery could drown out the misery Grenada was giving me.
Shion was behind me, tapping my shoulder. “Zach? Are you okay? You had your eyes red the whole time you were listening quietly.”
Huh? I was listening to the High Donner? Apparently, he was in the middle of explaining SoulBirds again.
“Hehe, I guess you’re interested in SoulBirds now, aren’t you?” Said Shion.
“No!” I turned around and faced the boy. “I didn’t see or hear anything he was saying. Have I really been quietly listening this whole time?”
“You were sitting as silent and polite as a flower,” said Shion humouredly. “I thought you were actually listening—but I guess you were just in a trance while another spirit had taken over you. Seriously, man. Your eyes were as red as the devil’s when you stopped yelling in the hallways.”
I blinked. So apparently, I must have been yelling like an idiot at Grenada’s voice in my head, and then suddenly, I stopped and grew calmer, for the devil had entered me and turned my eyes a red color. Next thing I knew, I was sitting here in class, regaining back my consciousness—as well as my normal eyes.
“Are my eyes green now?” I asked, narrowing them like slits to be questioning a guy about my eyes.
Shion laughed. “Yes—yes they are. They’re nicer looking than what they were just a few moments ago.”
I growled and turned around in my chair to face the High Donner at what he was teaching. Whatever had happened to me must have had something to do with stress and the heat that was burning over my head. These accessories were torture, and I wondered how much longer I could last before I totally lost it since I could never die from this pain.
The High Donner was speaking something about SoulBird birth now. He mentioned something about the golden eggs.
“Now, just like you heard St. Gretchen tell you all—there are three eggs out there, all destined to be “the Three”. The SoulBirds have such connection with the Holy One in Heaven.”
At this, I sat up with an intent look.
“The Holy Creator of Heaven comes in three spirits—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
As the High Donner was speaking, I was feeling my body start to cool off. It was as if his words came to life and healed me all around.
“Though there are three different spirits, they all come together as one, to become what is God. You all know that God is the Holy One—Creator of Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth—and not Hell or this world of Purgatory. Earth was where we were all born upon, for we were all born by His creation, and Heaven is where we must all find our way to be born in the afterlife, for that kingdom is also a place of His creation in which only the souls that worship Him and obey Him will ever go to.”
I was feeling uplifted suddenly. The heat lessened on my head, and my gaze was starting to rise. I stopped narrowing my eyes.
“These SoulBirds,” High Donner went on, “the Three of them are supposed to share the souls of the Holy Spirit. Half bird, and half holy spirits—they each are like messengers from the God of Heaven, and they have come upon the world in Heaven to hatch and uphold the future of all worlds since one world has ended. Earth is gone and almost over since the Apocalypse is still going on. Once that world is finished with, the Three are to decide the fate of the other worlds in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Heaven is immortally perfect in every way. But Earth, Hell, and Purgatory are full of sin. Earth was done with, and the spirits of that world will now find their way into Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Those who make it to Heaven will be perfectly happy with no problem, but those who go to Hell will suffer. This world of Purgatory is just the in-between place that can help some of those undecided souls to either become purified and make it into Heaven, or suffer from punishment and make it to Hell. But the worlds of the afterlife will be withheld within the power of the Holy Spirit, and the power lies through these three holy SoulBirds.”
All this information was spinning through my head. Three SoulBirds—all from the hands of the Holy One of Heaven. They were separated now, and that was what was causing this turmoil with the Higher One coming to retrieve one of the eggs found here. But that egg was with me. And it was ready to hatch.
I felt sick again. Acid started to rise in my throat, and immediately, without being excused, I raised up form my chair and ran out the classroom, making my way to the bathrooms down the hall.
I purged in the urinal. I was too dizzy to even notice. It took about five minutes before I came to the point when I couldn’t throw up anymore. And as usual, I felt all nauseous and lightheaded after such a long time vomiting. When you’re a spirit and you consume no food or water, the only thing you can throw up was just acid and some gross sizzling glob.
I backed away from the urinal, and turned to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t know why some girls could ever have such a crush on me, or admire me in any way. I was skin and bones, and my face looked flushed and terrible just like how I felt inside.
Turning to open the door and exit, I collapsed out of the bathroom, landing on my knees and fell forwards on my chin. The fire was sizzling on my head again, and I could no longer feel my wrists or ankles. They were frozen with tightness, while my hands and feet were burning like hell. Maybe I should make sure that egg I stole gets into the hands of the Higher One, who would know how to deal with the egg safely. Dang—I was stupid. I thought stealing the egg would just stir up shock and despair with St. Gretchen, since she had treated the egg like it was her most prized accessory. I didn’t know it was that important. I could hear Grenada’s voice scolding me again, but I was too lightheaded and hot to understand what she was saying.
Suddenly, droplets of water splashed on the back of my head. I slowly raised my head up to look at the floor above me. Someone was walking upstairs with the cleaning gear in front of them. It was the janitor, Ebenezer. And something was glowing from that cleaning gear he was pushing.
Immediately rising to my feet, I crept towards the stairs and hurried towards the janitor, he made his way into an elevator.
Frowning, I turned and ran back down the stairs, meeting him in the lobby room of the downstairs elevator. He made his way to the exit of the building, and I ran up to him, giving him a strong shove to make him fall forwards into the cleaning gear.
Ebenezer yelled in confusion, and I immediately took the egg that was in an empty pail. I headed across the academy, making my way to the far side of the campus where Gretchen’s office was. I knew what I was going to do. Somehow, I was going to sneak this egg back in so that when she handed it to Lucien, it could actually hatch for real.
But then I stopped. A plan hatched into my head. I could hand the egg to Lucien himself! Yeah, it would be perfect. I could pretend that Gretchen was hiding the egg and giving him a fake one so that the real golden egg would hatch in her hands instead. I could make myself look like I was the hero to have found the egg in her hiding to restore it to Lucien. That way, he wouldn’t be mad at me in case he found out about what I had done to that angel Earth SoulBird.
I was about to head back with my plan locked in my head when the fires burst again.
“Ow!” I yelled.
“Hey!” Grenada’s voice echoed through the burning fires in my head. “What are you thinking?! You are NOT gonna take this egg for granted.”
I growled and felt my eyes burn with anger. “You can’t tell me what to do….”
Suddenly, I heard laughing voices. To my left, just by the gates of the campus, I saw Damien and his mob of jerky friends with him, surrounding someone. They were taunting and spitting at someone, and when I got around to the left, I saw that it was Shion.
“Why don’t you go where you belong in Hell?” One of the guys scoffed.
“Yeah, you don’t even belong here in the lowest lands!”
“You guys wouldn’t make it to Hell any long before I do,” said Shion meekly.
“Hey, you!” Pete suddenly landed on my shoulder. “Help him! Those freaks can’t see me like this, so I can’t reveal myself just yet!”
I turned to see that he was in his angel form. “What are you talking about? Why aren’t you a bird?”
“I don’t know! Suddenly, I just transformed right under Shion’s table in class. Shion had to make an excuse to leave so he can deal with me outside. He was going to hide me somewhere out of campus, but then….those thugs came around and asked him why he was trying to ditch school, as if he was trying to be like you.”
I stared at Damien. The spiky haired jock was glaring with hatred at Shion.
“We saw you following Zachariah Ezekreth around. You’re just trying to fit in. but you don’t even belong here in the lowest state.”
I frowned. The egg in my hand was glowing, and the pinkness was merely a tiny dot now.
“Whoa! Look how shiny the thing’s gotten! It’s supposed to hatch today, isn’t it?” Pete stared with awe.
“Hang on,” I aimed the egg at Damien and his friends. “This egg worked before.”
“Oh, you gonna make him blind?” Pete was jumping on my shoulder. “Hey Damien! Look over here, fool!”
The tall darkly dressed boy turned with a glaring look, and winced at the beam of light in his eyes.
“Hey! What the hell?!” Damien arched his head away from the light shining towards him.
“What?!” I hissed, gritting my teeth at the egg. “Why isn’t it working?!”
“Uh oh,” Pete hovered behind my head.
Damien was coming over and he looked at me with a look of hatred. He was only an inch taller than me, but he was much stronger and angrier than I was at the moment.
“What’s that? You’ve got the principal’s egg?” He eyed the shining egg in my hands.
“Yup,” I replied simply. “I’m stealing it so that I can make Gretchen look like a thief,” I said.
“Ah,” Damien raised his eyebrows, looking interested.
“Hey, Damien! Why didn’t you think of that?” Said Nicholas, spitting his gum on the ground beside Shion.
Shion widened his eyes. “Zach! You must return it! It’s sacred!”
“He’s not returning it anywhere,” said Damien, suddenly snatching the egg from my hands. “You’ve got a good plan, Zach,” said Damien with a smile. He looked at the egg with intent. “But I’ve got something better in mind.”
“Ooh, are you gonna take matters into your hands?” Said one of his friends. “Maybe you can control the world with that.”
“Exactly,” said Damien, studying the egg. “It’s close to hatching also.”
I frowned. “No way,” I said. “Give it back.”
Damien looked at me with a raised eyebrow and laughed. “Aha! What? You gonna make me?”
But instantly, I jumped forwards and leapt onto the guy, making him fall backwards with me on top of him. I took the egg from his grasp and leapt off before he managed to sputter and spit at my face.
“You!” Damien shot up to his feet and brushed his long black coat. I turned to glare at him with the egg in my hands. I always found the guy stupid to wear a black coat when it was four hundred degrees out here.
Shion was staring at me with awe, and Pete was left out in the open, with the same shock. But Damien was too angry to notice the little angel.
Behind me, Alder grabbed a hold of my neck and choked me in his grip. The rest of his friends crowded around me and punched me in the face and chest, spitting at me and then pushing me down at the ground. I fell with a grunt and the egg rolled out of my hands. I raised my head to glare up through a black eye. Damien stepped forward to stare down at me in front of the hot bright sky. “Just like every loser in this academy. You don’t belong here anymore than a snake doesn’t belong in Heaven.”
I saw the egg a distance behind Damien and I dashed through his legs, pushing them away and made him fall to the ground on his chin this time. With a loud yell, Damien cursed and got up, punching at his friends with fury.
While they fought, I was just about to grab at the egg, until a beam of light shot out. I froze and took a step back. Shion and Pete came to my side. The egg was fully golen bright now, and there was no trace of the pink. All around it, the light was bright and brimming, looking as if it were circling the egg.
Two hands touched both my shoulders and I turned around with a start. It was Ebenezer. “It’s hatching, boy.”
He was looking at me seriously.
I turned to watch the egg. Slowly, it began to turn, and made one full round. Then it stopped and a crack started to form at the top. Light shone from the crack, and cracked the entire egg in half, revealing a tiny hand-sized bird made of pure gold. The creature had its tiny eyes shut, and it was sitting quietly with its wings folded back. The egg shells around it disappeared, and the light brimmed from around its tiny little body.
We all stared in awe. The bird had a long vertically shaped head with a sharp point at the top, and it had a golden gem at its forehead. A bronze cross shone at the center of the forehead, just below the gem.
“Leave it alone,” Ebenezer arched out his long arm in front of Shion and I. “It’s barely waking up.”
But someone was approaching from behind—Damien. The guy was staring with the most wondrous eyes out of all of us, and he instantly pushed between me and Ebenezer.
“No! It’s mine, move it!” He lunged towards the bird.
Ebenezer flinched. “Hey, hey--”
But it was too late. Damien fell towards the bird, and immediately, the golden hatchling raised its wings and a blinding shine of light overwhelmed Damien before he landed. Then the light went out. He and the bird were gone without a trace.
I blinked with confusion. “What….”
“Nawwww!” Ebenzer grabbed his head and yelled at the sky. “Oh, dammit to Hell! You idiots! All of you!” He stomped and looked ready to throw a fit for a moment, and then whipped around to face the rest of Damien’s friends, who were staring with fear. “Shoo! Off with you all! May the curse of Satan kill you all!”
Damien’s friends all fled with cowardly terror at Ebenezer’s face, twisted with fury.
He turned to Shion and down at him and Pete. “You too! Both of you! Outta my sight! May the curse of the Apocalypse be brought down on you!”
Shion flinched and ran away at his words. Pete dashed away, sticking to his shoulder.
I looked at the creepy janitor with horror. I turned to run from the guy as well before he could yell an even worse curse on me.
But I choked as Ebenezer grabbed the collar of my shirt and yanked me back until I fell against him. He grabbed my shoulder and gripped it ever so hardly. I felt the flames burst on my head.
“Not you, boy,” he now spoke in a low voice. “You’re not going anywhere—just yet.”
I gasped as he tightened his grip on my shoulder. Ebenezer had big hands, and I felt like he was going to crush my shoulder in one grasp.
The man turned to face me as he held me with my back against him at his right. His eyes were deviously serious.
“Now pay close attention. You are Zachariah Ezekreth. But you had a certain family member that loved your mother more than your father ever did. I am that man. I am your uncle Ebenezer.”

I grabbed Ebenezer’s hand and tried to pull him forwards, as if I were some kind of kung-fu fighter. But I failed. He was taller than me, but not that much taller for me to flip him over from behind. I yanked myself out of his grip instead and turned to face him with a look of fury.
“Hey now, what’s gotten into YOU?” The janitor eyed me creepily.
“Shut up!” I yelled, feeling the flames burn on my head. First, the golden egg hatched and the newborn SoulBird just suddenly disappeared with Damien. Then this janitor guy just tells me that he’s my uncle?!
“Ahem!” Ebenezer coughed. “Is that how you address a man right after you found out he’s your long lost relative? Manners, boy! That’s what they need to teach in these academies! Manners! Mediums, these days.”
“You aren’t my uncle,” I said in a simple voice as my gaze hardened. “I don’t know what you’re trying to get at, but calling yourself my uncle isn’t gonna get you anywhere. You’re just some creepy old janitor.”
The tall crazy haired man raised his eyebrows and let out a haughty laugh. “Bah-ha! You’re damn right I’m gonna be gettin’ somewhere now that you know I’m your uncle.”
“Oh yeah? How are you gonna prove it? I remember nothing about my family, so telling me about who they were isn’t gonna convince me. You’re just crazy old Ebenezer.”
“If you would please,” the janitor spoke through gritted teeth, eying me angrily, “It would be nice if you called me Uncle E. For that’s what all my little cousins used to refer to me as.”
I snickered. “I don’t refer you to anyone but a--”
“Enough!” Ebenezer—or Uncle E—raised his arms towards the sky and looked like a maniac ready to grab me. The sky behind him seemed to cloud up as if to go along with his fury. “If you would let me explain—the egg that you totally stole from Gretchen was definitely one of the Three. And now that it’s hatched, it is gone. Gone with the wind, and off to a place where only God truly knows where……”
I huffed and crossed my arms. “Well, thanks to YOU. If you hadn’t snuck into my room and stole the egg, I wouldn’t have had it around where it would hatch near the hands of Damien.”
“Eh! Next time keep your room locked, boy! I thought you were smarter than that!” Uncle E gave me a grimace. “But anyways! Let me introduce you to who I really am.” He was walking around me in circles, and I was starting to hear a rumble in the sky. Whenever the sky was gray and gloomy, it meant that the Higher One was sick, controlling the light indecently. “I am Ebenezer Ezekreth. I’ve hidden my last name so that it appeared on the records that I don’t have one. But my boy, you may not know me well—though I know you perfectly well.”
I gave a sideways look and replied sarcastically, “Perfectly well?”
“Perfectly well,” Uncle E’s eyes gleamed and he was smirking. “You see, back on Earth, when I was living my simple old life in the city of Jerusalem, I was a farmer. Yech, the life was hard and dirty, much like the one I lead now. But I was very religious. I spent lots of time going to the sacred temple of the city, praying and offering sacrifices to the Lord of the Heavens. I tended to farming and devoting my faith into the Almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth. I was a lonely man, just going with the flow and cursing at the difficult situations every now and then, but nevertheless, life was all ordinary.
“But that all changed when I met your mother.”
I listened closely to this.
“Your mother was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Oh, those eyes! those beautiful blue eyes. Like the clear blue sky of the heavens!”
It was all slowly coming back to me now. I was recalling the vision I had had of my family!
“Your mother was a pure Israelite. She had skin pale as the snow, and hair dark as the midnight blackness. She was beautiful—those eyes of hers were what struck me most. You never saw a pair of eyes more piercing and intriguing as hers.”
“What was my mother’s name?” I couldn’t help asking.
“Her name….” Uncle E was gazing up at the sky with awe, seeming to be lost in the daze of describing such a woman. “Her name was Sarah Madonne. Lord, she was as tall as I was—no! Even taller.”
I gave him a look. “Really?”
“Yes….” His face was dazed. “Yes, she was almost seven feet tall, actually. Six foot ten—believe it or not. The lady was a tall, fine, sexy young creature. I praised the Lord for letting me have found such a woman, and I was delighted with such wonderful creation for ever making such a creature. She was a lady tending to the marketplaces, selling goods distributed from the farms all over the city. She looked very unhappy, for she was poor and just didn’t seem to fit in the state she was in right now.
“I didn’t have much to offer, for I was poor myself. But I had faith in myself and the Lord, and I was willing to approach her and catch her interest in me. I came up to her and introduced myself. I was about thirty years old at the time, and I knew that for a woman her age, thirty was probably too old for a man to be worth living with if you hadn’t been with him in the past few years. I told her I was a dedicated farmer, and I could help make her life much more multitasking, for I could distribute the most valuables of my farmlands and she could live with me happily working together. Now Sarah was a stern, hard-talking young lady. She wasn’t just feisty—she was demanding and hotheaded. She told me off and rejected me for a long time. But I never forgot about her. I distributed as many crops and goods as I could towards the lady, and she was selling and earning big bucks, earning even a huge amount of gold shekels. It wasn’t long before she took interest in what a hard worker I was, and pretty soon, she got more acquainted with me and the two of us were even going on dates every so often. I was delighted and overjoyed that I was expecting our wedding to be coming soon.”
“Oh gosh,” I said lowly. “All the worst if you had been my father.”
“Faugh!” Uncle E spit from the corner of his mouth. “Well, of course…..that’s all going to change yet again. Your mother came across the prince of the city, the son of King Extennarib of Jerusalem.” Uncle E’s eyes narrowed and he turned away so I couldn’t see his face. “The fellow was mighty handsome…even the guys would drop dead for him.”
I eyed Ebenezer and wince.
“He was like another Damien. He was tall, tan, and dark haired.”
My father’s image was coming back to my mind again. I was remembering him in my vision.
“He had eyes dark brown and hardened like stones. Ugh! The blasted fool! He was even taller than your mother!”
I tried not to flinch as Uncle E whipped his head around to glare at me.
“Boy, your father looked just like you too. Except richer in the hair, the eyes, the body, everything.”
I winced. “So he didn’t look just like me?”
“Argh! Your father—he had hair down to the tops of his shoulders, just like you. He kept it more neatly, shining and clean. He also had eyes in the shape of your own—stunning and hardening when happy, and sharp and piercing when he was mad. I tell you….you won’t count the number of times I’ve looked at you and saw your father within you.”
I frowned and then gave a grimace. “I guess that’s when I come in, right? A much nicer looking young man comes in and steals my mom away from you, and I was born, looking just like him instead of YOU.” Boy, I felt lucky for once.
“Achh!” Uncle E grabbed his head and yelled at the sky again. “Will you shut up, boy?! Gah! May the kingdom of Hell curse your father for ever passing on his intolerable behavior! Boy, your father was rich, conceited, and proud. That was the only part that never reminded me of him when I looked at you. When your father was strolling around the city—for he had reached the age when the king would let the prince wander on his own—he met your mother when she was off sneaking into a marketplace to steal a piece of jewelry I wasn’t able to buy.”
I raised my eyebrows. “My mother tried to steal?”
“Oh, boy, Sarah was the cleverest thief I’d ever met. Of course…..I knew what a wrongdoing it was to steal. You know all the ten commandments, right?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
“Well, one of them says ‘thou shall not steal,’ and I was a little shaken when I found out that your mother was a thief her whole life and that she stole whenever she wanted to without ever getting caught. When an ever so expensive ring caught her eye at one of the stores, she insisted that I buy it for her on her wedding. But I couldn’t, for I didn’t have the money. So she told me to wait by the fountain we were sitting by, and she went to steal both of us some wedding rings herself. Of course, that’s when the prince of Jerusalem caught her and threatened to put her to death. But striking him with her drop-dead gorgeousness, the prince fell in love with her and couldn’t do it. I don’t know what kind of mushiness passed between the two at their first encounter, for I was still sitting by the fountain. But when I came over to the store to check on them, they already seemed engaged. The fool of a prince had bought her the ring himself! With his own filthy money, he bought that wretched accessory she wanted, and already, she looked like she had fallen in love with the man! I couldn’t believe my eyes. The two of them were discussing who they were, and Sarah became extremely intrigued when the prince mentioned that he was the son of King Extennarib. He was telling her all the riches he could provide her, flattering her for her gorgeous looks and promising her he could even make her more pretty. She was even complimenting him on how exquisite he looked! The man wasn’t even dressed in a royal outfit, for he was trying to look as plain as possible as to not attract the inhabitants to disturb him. But he was promising her that he had robes of riches and the most expensive accessories that she’d be sure to love snapping pictures of.
“At this point, I busted in the middle of their conversation and demanded an explanation for this. I must have looked like a crazed hobo yelling about my engagement to Sarah, for the prince was just looking at me with that laid back what-the-heck look on his perfect face. He told me that if I didn’t beat it, he’ll have his guards persecute me. But Sarah excused me and told him that she knew me and that I was nothing but a harmless old farmer that worked for her.
“Her words struck my heart. So that’s all I was to her—a slave. Slavery had been banned in Jerusalem for long time since the 40000s, but I guess that was Sarah’s way of making people do what she wanted. I couldn’t believe it. I protested against the lady and begged if we could ever become a perfect couple like I was planning to be. But the prince stepped in front of her and spit in my face, telling me pretty women didn’t belong with poor farmers. Sarah even put her arms around his shoulders and looked up at him. My eyes burned. She was actually looking up to a man. She had finally found someone taller than her—someone she could look up to. The prince was probably seven feet tall, and I felt so small and helpless in front of him. Sarah was telling me not to feel so bad, because the prince was providing her a life of luxury, which was what she had always been looking for. She said she would get married with the prince and I could come along with them and be their servant! I was flabbergasted!”
I stifled a snicker and said, “You should’ve gone with them. At least you’d still be with my hot mom.”
“Boy, I agreed with them alright,” said Uncle E with a wicked smile. “At this point, I had forgotten about all that I’ve learned from the Lord, and I had stopped going to the temple and praying ever since I met Sarah Madonne. I was willing to somehow get behind the prince’s back and just attack your mom, whether she liked it or not.”
I swallowed at the thought of that.
“So I played along and agreed to become a slave for the both of them. When the prince introduced Sarah to the King, she was welcome and it was only a week later that the kingdom agreed for us to get married. Many of the inhabitants loved the prince already, and many had always chased after him whether he was with his guards or not. And you would expect the ladies to be most jealous of your mom, for she was the only woman to have won your father over. Your father was the most conceited prince anyone has ever met. One of the other servants in the king’s house told me that it was ever so hard for the prince to fall in love, because he was so in love with himself. But Sarah was the only soul in the world he had truly fallen for, and no—the other women in the city were not jealous, for they feared her and found her just as stunning as a man would. I bet it was her eyes that scared them—her eyes were always the main thing people complimented her on.
“Anyways, it wasn’t long until I overheard a scheme the two of them were discussing in the prince’s room. Sarah was talking about overthrowing the King so that the both of them could be anointed rulers in the land of Jerusalem. Now at the time, the city was engaged with a battle against the Persians. It was at the night of the siege that the prince decided he would kill his father. Ugh….well, good for them—they succeeded. Sarah and her ever so perfect husband killed King Extennarib and took over the throne. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and all of Israel saw to it that he had been killed in battle by one of the Persians, but no one ever found out about the true killers of the king. Only I knew. I decided I would have both of them turned in, for all this turmoil and frustration around me was making me crazy as well! I came up with the most inhumane plan. I would seduce your mother first, and then turn both her and her husband in! I still had such love for your mother—I only hated the prince more than I could have ever hated. My hate drove me crazy. On the third month of their reign, after holding my breath for so long, I crashed into the royal room and jumped on your mother. The prince was out with his officers, assembling a new army of some sort. But your mother reacted fiercely. She kicked me off and I fell against the glass table, knocked dizzy. She shouted such curse words at me and screamed at me with such envy that I couldn’t take it.” Uncle E’s eyes were watering. “The words she spoke…..they struck my heart more than my ears.” His voice was shaking.
I was feeling a little sorry for the man, and the feeling stung me, for it was very rare that I ever felt this way. The fires lightly flickered on my head.
“Sarah swore she was going to tell her husband about this, and that she would see to it for the both of them to slay me, tied up to a chair,” Uncle E’s voice was low that I almost couldn’t understand him. “I couldn’t bear to have that happen. When Sarah madly stomped out of the room to call her husband, I wept and rose up to my feet. I made my way to the slaughterhouse where the king slaughtered the best of his animals. I stood there, thinking about all the misfortunes I had had in my life. I prayed to the Lord one last time, praying for the first time in ages. I was ready to leave this place. As much as Sarah may hate me now, I still loved her, and I couldn’t bear to live on and see her with another man, nor could I let her kill me, if she was going to do it with another man. I took a long thick strand of rope, and I hung myself. My act of suicide is why I’ve been brought here to Purgatory, and I was placed in the lowest stage in the world because of my foolish choices.” His eyes sharpened. “I’ve been here for almost twenty years, and I’ve become well experienced with the world of Purgatory that I was chosen to become janitor in this academy.”
“Didn’t you ever pass the classes?” I asked.
“Well, yes and no. I did pass the stage in Bhad, aced through Nawght, and made it through Pryde all the way to Primal. But that was as far as I ever got. It was five years later after my death and arrival here in this world that I found out your mother had conceived a child with that filthy rich king.” His expression grew fierce and scary. “You were born.”
I blinked. I said nothing, for the thought of being born in a high state on Earth as the son of the most powerful king and queen made me feel strange compared to the lowest state I was here in the afterlife.
“You were the spirit I hated right after your father. It was then that I was visited by a SoulBird who took me through to watch over them on Earth as an invisible spirit. On Earth, the SoulBird called for an angel and I met a spirit from Heaven named Saint Grenada.”
I flinched. I kept my mouth shut and listened with an uplifting feeling.
“The spirit told me all about what I had learned. As I excelled through my classes in Purgatory, I came to discover who Sarah truly was. She was evil, and she was not worth my life or soul. I came to see that clearer the more time I spent in Purgatory, punishing myself and clearing the temptations in my thoughts to be with the one I loved. But now, with Saint Grenada explaining everything to me, I discovered that there was more to your mother than a bad person. She was a messenger of the devil, you could say. Her heart conceived of nothing but a black hole—literally. She was not human. She was a creature from another world, and had come to Earth to prey on its inhabitants and spread the evils of devilry. I was watching her perform a strange ritual in the bathroom with you right when you were born—both her and her husband were doing the strangest thing with you.”
I felt sick. “You’re saying that my mother was from Hell?”
“I didn’t say that—and neither did Grenada. She only said your mother was a devil from another world, and that she has come to possibly enhance the world of Hell, though it might be that she came from somewhere else, other than Hell, for Hell is a place of the afterlife, and only living creatures go there when they die. Nothing can come back from it alive on Earth life your mother was.”
“But what about my dad?”
“Your father was a natural born spirit on Earth, blessed by the God Almighty, for it is He who blesses everything in His creation. But your father was ever so conceited that it made it easy for him to fall into your mother’s trap and become as evil as she was. Now your father is a terror, for his spirit now lies in the depths of Hell when he died. Saint Grenada warned me that their child would turn out to be the same as the both of them, and I worried for you, as much as I hated you.”
I looked down, feeling shameless. So that was why I was stuck here in the stupid world of Purgatory. The flames burned intensely and I felt like crying. I narrowed my expression so I wouldn’t reveal how emotional I was feeling now.
“Now, wait a minute,” Uncle E was just starting to see the tears in my squinting eyes. “Though you were born from such a soul, you still had a chance. When you came into the world, your soul consisted half of Sarah Madonne’s dark spirit.”
I frowned. So I half of my heart was black?!
“The other half,” said Uncle E, “Was a regular human heart like your father’s.”
“Oh, that really helps,” I scoffed quietly. “I had half a devil’s heart, and half of a sinful human heart. How come I’m not in Hell?”
“Grenada and her sisters blessed you with the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Uncle E. “She has been watching you through your whole life, hoping that the blessing would strengthen you through your life and you could somehow make the right choices and discover with what it could be to become a good and devoted person. The sisters were hoping to bring knowledge of the Holy Spirit on you, but apparently, it wasn’t enough. With all that rough life in your father’s kingdom in Jerusalem, you suffered harshly, and became discouraged with each passing day. Saint Grenada and her sisters watched you with disappointment as you grew to become the unwilling and negative person you are right now. You weren’t even close to the evil that your mother was trying to raise you to be, for it was her that mistreated you and purposely made you unhappy so that you would find your way into the darkness of being evil. Your father did the same too, though he had a different method to converge you. He tried to spoil you, just like Sarah had spoiled him and helped him fall into the power of pride that eventually led to evil.
“Luckily, you never did fall. You were depressed and upset with your life, for it was such a devastation, to be spoiled rotten by your father, and then to be mistreated and put down by your mother at the same time. Such things could drive a person crazy and screw them up—just like what it did to you. But you weren’t truly overpowered with the evil your mother wanted. And I guess that was because of the help the saints blessed you with. And that’s why you’re here in Purgatory so that you can hopefully find your way in the afterlife and get a second chance, especially now that you’re not living with your parents.”
“Especially since I don’t remember my parents,” I was frowning. It was all coming back to me now, and I was overpowered with the feeling of déjà vu. My mother was cruel, my father was proud and just as ruthless. I looked up at Uncle E. “Why don’t I remember them?”
Uncle E raised his hands with a shrug. “All I know is that your father went straight to Hell after his death in the Apocalypse. Straight to Hell! Thank you, Lord, for not having me share the afterlife with him!”
“What about my mother?”
Uncle E heaved a sigh. “Your mother—she did not go to Hell.”
“What?” I gave a confused look. “Where did she go?”
“Well, she certainly did not go to Heaven, nor did she come here to Purgatory. I don’t even know where she went. Some say she returned back in the world where she came from, for there are lots of different worlds out there than just Earth alone. Perhaps she could still be alive, not living in the afterlife, and she’s just somewhere in the other worlds neighboring Earth. Who knows?”
“Well, I didn’t know anything,” I replied. “Did the Higher One do anything to erase my memory so that I couldn’t trace a thing about my past?”
“Well, go ask him yourself!” Said Uncle E with a snicker. “See, I only came back here shortly after I watched Grenada and her sisters bless you at your birth, for I was expecting your soul to come to this place in Purgatory soon enough. I wanted to be here when your time came, to watch you and see how you do.”
I frowned. “You said Grenada had sisters that watched over me with her?”
“Oh yes—four of them. Not all were sisters though. She had two brothers that are only referred as sisters. Saint Hoshinda, Bernardo, Tyler, and Grace. They could be watching you right now! Haha! Dang, I’m surprised those guys haven’t visited you yet. What kind of guardian angels are they?”
I shrugged with a glare. “Useless ones. I guess I could care less.” I’ve already met Saint Grenada, and she already proved to be nothing more than a whiny old lady. I wondered how the rest of them were like.
“Well, you should still care,” said Uncle E. “Perhaps that’s why they don’t come to you. You know, the Lord and His angels won’t help you unless you believe in them.”
“You said I had a sister too?” I changed the subject. “Or at least….I knew I had a sister.”
“Ah, yes. Angeline.” Uncle E’s gaze softened. “Now she was a different story.”
But before he could explain any farther, a loud trumpet was heard from across the land. Uncle E and I looked over the gates of the school.
“Crap!” Hissed Uncle E. “The Higher One! Get down!” He pushed my head so that we were both squatting behind the academy’s outside wall.
“What? Oh! The egg….what the heck are we gonna do about the egg?!” I muttered.
“Agh! This is terrible! Urgh…”
“Hey!” I gave him a nudge. “Why did you just explain to me my whole past and not tell me how it connects to that egg? What is it that you want from me?”
“Boy….” Uncle E looked in my eyes seriously.
But a loud deafening trumpet came from behind, and I turned to watch over a bare bush as a man dressed in bright red with a dark red cape step through the gates of the academy with a crowd of people behind him. He was clutching a long red spear in his right hand. A fierce looking devilish Earth SoulBird perched on his right shoulder and eyed its surroundings just like its master did.
I gasped. “The Higher One. Hey, maybe we should just let him take the fake egg Gretchen still has.” There was no reply. I turned around and winced. “Uncle E?” There was no sign of the man. I looked around and then caught him sneaking away, heading towards the building in the distance. He was crawling on his knees ever so quietly.
“Halt!” A loud commanding voice sounded from the gates. Lucien the Higher had his arm stretched forward, and he was pointing at Uncle E. “Ebenezer? I see you right there, fool. Don’t you try playing stupid with me.”
Uncle E paused, and hung his head. He muttered a low despairing, “Ohhh….” And he got up to his feet.
“Get over here,” ordered Lucien. His face was narrowed and devilish.
Uncle E walked up to him, dragging his feet. I almost snickered. He looked like a child who was walking over to its parent, knowing that it was in trouble.
But then my humored expression faded. I realized how much Uncle E did look like a child compared to the Higher One. Lucien was about another foot taller than Uncle E—who was already over six feet tall.
My heart quickened and my flames burned immensely. I stared all over at Lucien. The spirit was extremely tall—probably ranging to seven feet. He was tan. He had dark eyes that I could notice all the way from here.
Not to mention……Lucien had hair almost exactly like mine, except it looked shinier and better taken care of. I held my breath. It was like looking at an adult version of me—a much nicer looking adult version of me as if I had grown up a proud and powerful person.
My head burned with intensity like it hadn’t burned before. It was obvious now. Lucien the Higher One looked exactly like how I pictured my father.

I couldn’t help staring like a shocked little boy at the Higher One. I never looked this shocked even though I felt it. But my eyes were wide and unblinking. Lucien’s eyes were a dark color with three red columns lining vertically down about an inch or two underneath his eyelids, looking like he had shed blood tears. But the proud and glorious look on his face didn’t betray any expression of sadness. His robe was long and trailing down from the back of his feet. How could the guy stand it? It was freakin’ hot out here and his red rob was long sleeved and everything! It did look thin and silky, for it shone brightly in the light. His cape behind him hung down behind his heels and was distinctive with his dark red color.
The Higher One was staring straight down at Uncle E, and his devilish SoulBird was doing the same.
“Ebenezer? Do you mind? Since you’re out here, how ‘bout fetching Miss Gretchen for me, huh?” Lucien’s eyes glowered.
His pet bird gave a “Rawokk!”
Uncle E looked up. “Er….sure thing. I was just--”
“What is he doing out here?” One of Lucien’s guards from behind stepped forward. “Where’s all his cleaning gear? Has he come here to spy around on us?!”
An angry murmuring came from the crowd behind Lucien. “Now, let’s not scare the man here, he’s been doing us well by keeping the academy clean,” Lucien spoke, giving Ebenezer a sideways look. “After all, St. Gretchen’s Academy for teenage mediums is one of the best academies in Bhad, ain’t it?”
“Certainly,” muttered Uncle E, narrowing his eyes as he looked down at Lucien’s feet.
“Well! St. Gretchen can’t wait, can’t she?” Said Lucien, stepping forward with a raised smile. “She’s got an egg waiting for me, and we ought to get her over here so she can assemble her students of the academy to watch the hatching. Let’s go, Ebenezer, shall we?” I blinked as the tall man poked his finger under Uncle E’s chin to tilt his head up to face him. “I’d love to see this academy for myself and not just watch it from the cords in my palace. I bet it looks much nicer when I can see it in real life!”
Lucien told his crowd of guards to wait my the gate as he strolled away with the nervous looking Uncle E. There were about twenty or so guards crowding at the gate. They each were dressed in armor, with spears of their own. Some carried SoulBirds on their shoulders as well.
As Lucien led Uncle E away, I heard his smooth voice continue to speak with strange delight. It was strange—the Higher One sounded ever so fierce and deep when he spoke with command, but right now, he seemed to be in a pleasant mood and spoke with smoothness. It reminded me so much of someone.
I couldn’t help thinking of the question over and over again in my head. Was Lucien….my dad?
“Aha! You’re a fool,” a loud edgy voice made me flinch and I turned to glare at whoever it was behind me.
“Oh, what do YOU want?” I muttered darkly. It was Saint Grenada, hovering behind me with her arms crossed. He face was brimming with a proud smile.
“Hmph! I can’t believe you’re more scared about Lucien himself and not the punishment he will be giving you! Have you totally forgotten what you’ve done to that Earth type SoulBird back there?”
“Well, I think Lucien’s gonna have more to focus on besides that,” I said. “What happened to that golden SoulBird? It just hatched and disappeared with….Damien.” I frowned with disgust. “I bet you have no idea where that egg even is.”
“Ugh! Of course not! Those eggs are under the power of the Creator of Heaven! Not even the angels can track it down.”
“Well, why don’t you go ask Him?”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Grenada growled. “I’m not gonna help you with your problems, kid. I’ve tried that before. Uncle E even told you all about my blessing for you. It barely worked- because look what you’ve become!”
I crossed my arms and gave a sideways smile. “Well, apparently, you didn’t try hard enough. Just goes to show what a useless bunch of angels you and your sisters were.”
“Wha?!” Grenada’s eyes widened with anger. She started screaming at me, speaking so fast that I couldn’t understand what she was saying.
“Hey! Where the heck is that terrible noise coming from?” One of Lucien’s guards was aiming a spear around.
Saint Grenada hissed and glared at me, shaking her head. “Brace yourself, kid.” And then she disappeared.
I stifled a snicker, but then my expression instantly faded. Someone grabbed my head from behind and I yowled, kicking in the air as the hand lifted me up with a tight grip on my hair.
“Hey! It’s a medium!” Said a guard, looking humored.
I kicked in the air and my headband immediately burst into flames, burning the guy’s hands.
“Yeow!” He dropped me immediately.
I fell on my butt, cursing with anger. The guards were all crowding around me. Their fierce gazes became grimaces as they spoke with tautness.
“Hey! I know this one. Zachariah Ezekreth, eh?”
I said nothing.
“Well! Look who’s dared to try out the Higher One!”
“Oh-ho! Trying to wear a defense, aren’t ya?” One of the jabbed my shoulder with the other end of his spear.
“Come on, he was spying on us. You know how much the Higher One hates it when spirits spy on him.”
I felt a jab at my shoulder again and glared at the same guy. My headband burst into flames again.
“What? You gonna throw your headband at us? Please don’t. It looks pretty on you!”
I took the guy’s spear that still pointed at me, and pushed it forwards, jabbing him in the chest with the sharp end. He was wearing armor, so he wasn’t wounded, but at least he fell back with a sudden surprise.
“Hey! Who do you think you are?!” And the guards dropped their spears and started punching at me and kicking and spitting. I managed to dodge most of it, but they were rough. Someone actually punched the side of my nose and I groaned with fierce anger, feeling blood start to rapidly trickle out.
“Ahem…..” Lucien’s voice startled all the guards.
They all turned to meet his questioning gaze.
“Picking on the mediums are we?” Lucien had his arms crossed and his eyes were narrowed with concern. To his left side was St. Gretchen, gazing sternly at us with her sharp glasses flashing. Uncle E stood at his right, nervously playing with his fingers.
“Lucien! This idiot was trying to deceive you!” A guard gave me a shove on the back and I stumbled forwards, hissing through clenched teeth as curses ran through my head. The fires flickered upon me as if to voice the angry thoughts.
Gretchen huffed. “Zachariah! Of course! Eh! Lucien, I am so sorry. Whatever he has done, I’ll punish him for it. Apparently wearing a fiery headband and tight wristbands aren’t enough. He’s already taken off one of those gloves!”
I glared up at the headmaster and wiped a stream of blood that continued to run from my nose.
But Lucien was staring at me with a raised expression. “Still misbehaving, isn’t he?”
I dared to look up at the Higher One with a straight gaze. But I couldn’t help it. He reminded too much of my father. I had to know the truth. Uncle E didn’t even bother to mention my father’s name-- could that have been because he really was Lucien? Saint Grenada didn’t get to say anything about that either……
I also noticed the straight cracks that were in Lucien’s eyes. His eyes were a dark red now that I saw him up close, as well as a straight red cracks that stuck out from the center. His eyes were most deceiving. If my mother had such deceiving eyes as well, that could probably explain the thing people had with my eyes, especially since they changed color as well.
“Now, don’t harm the boy,” Lucien was speaking calmly. He chuckled and handed me a tissue. I blinked at it and bit my lip.
I felt a sharp nudge from one of the guards’ spears behind. “Take it, fool!”
My nose was starting to drip blood again, and I took the tissue.
Lucien stared down passionately at me. “It hasn’t been too long since he first arrived to this academy. Already a terror to you, hmm?”
Gretchen huffed and looked at him with disbelief. “Of course! You must have seen him for yourself! He even tried to jack the golden egg just the last week!”
“Oh did he?” Lucien didn’t sound bothered.
“Yes! Luckily, we got it back and punished him to wear what he is wearing right now.” Gretchen was glaring sternly at me with hatred.
Lucien chuckled again. “Well, he’s only a medium. He’s still new to the world of Purgatory. It would be typical for a spirit to get adapted to their surroundings. But don’t you worry, Gretchen. How bout you leave the boy with me? I’ll have a brief talk with him before we get started.”
I looked up with concern and Gretchen winced. “Huh? But sir….don’t you want to hatch this egg as soon as you can?” She held up the egg-- the fake egg-- in her hands.
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Lucien, taking the egg from her hands. I stared at his hands-- they were bigger than my head, and were long and bony. He wore a bright golden ring on his left finger, along with a red gemlike ring on his middle finger. I couldn’t tell which what symbolized his marriage to Prima Dona. “Why don’t you announce the entire academy to wait for me by the gym? High Ones and mediums must await me there, as well as my guards.” He lay his right hand on my head. My flames burst with fear, but surprisingly, Lucien’s hand didn’t seem to be bothered. I stared with unblinking eyes. His hand wasn’t even burning.
Gretchen blinked and nodded obediently to the Higher One. “Yes, your majesty.” She gave Uncle E a soft punch on the shoulder, snapping him out of his distracted state. “Come on!” She took his arm and they both walked away with the guards escorting them. Uncle E didn’t even look back to check on me.
I was left alone with the Higher One. I could hear Saint Grenada’s taunting old voice ring in my head again.
Lucien turned to face me with an uprising smile. “Now, my boy. How are you? How are things going in your new life here? Not the best, I bet.”
I stared up and tried to speak, but I felt my throat close up and stop me from saying anything. “Uh--”
“You’ve been terribly naughty, haven’t you?” Lucien knelt down beside me so I wouldn’t have to hurt my neck from staring up at him so long. He was still a head taller on his knees next to me, but at least it was easier. “Don’t be frightened. Fear me only when you’re in trouble. I promise you-- you are not in trouble.”
I blinked and looked him in the eyes. “Um…things are fine.” I spoke quietly.
“Really? This punishment’s not bothering you?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “I’m used to it.”
Lucien smiled and chuckled. “Lies,” he replied. “If you were used to it, then you’d be no other than a spirit from Hell. And that’s NOT where you came from.”
I stiffened. “I know,” I replied quickly. “Uncle E-- Ebenezer told me all about where I came from.”
“Of course he did,” Lucien’s eyes flashed. “I saw it in his eyes. I can also trace it back. But the man didn’t tell you enough, did he? I bet he left you with some questions unanswered.”
I felt the fires run cold. What was he trying to get at me, or get out of me? “No….I still don’t know who my dad is.” I couldn’t help narrowing my eyes as I looked away from Lucien.
“Well, you mustn’t trust everything that man says,” said Lucien, speaking seriously now. “Your father-- I knew the man. No one could deny he was a spirit from Hell.”
I faced Lucien quickly. “You knew my father?”
Lucien nodded, speaking calmly. “Very well. He came to this world once before, hoping to wreak havoc on this land just because it was the closest to Hell.”
“My father must have died in the Apocalypse before I did then?”
“True,” said Lucien. “He was thrown into the river of fire after the angels shot him. He entered Hell, but he was ever so disappointed when his wife, Sarah Madonne wasn’t there with him. Nor was she found on Earth either.”
I gasped. “My mother….no one knows where she went, right? Not even you?”
“My boy,” for some reason it felt much nicer to be called “my boy” by Lucien instead of by Uncle E. “As the Higher One, I only have knowledge of my own land in which I rule. I do not know of the other possible words your mother could be in—though she is not in Heaven, Hell, Earth, or even in this world of Purgatory.”
“How did you know my father?”
“Well, your father knew what was to be the outcome of your afterlife,” said Lucien carefully. “He knew you would not come to Hell with him, and he knew that you still had a trace of goodness in you that would deserve to go to Heaven. He knew that Purgatory was the world for you, and that this was the specific part in Purgatory you would end up in. He was hoping to bring you back, so that you could live with him forever.”
The vision was all coming back to me now. I remembered my dream when I was standing in front of my dad, and he was gazing at me with pride in his voice.
“I’m glad you’ve came Zach….” But I couldn’t make out the face of my father. His face was covered by a scary shadow of black dark blankness.
“Ugh,” I narrowed my eyes, feeling frustrated. “Why can’t I remember? Why?”
“It must have been the work done by those saints, perhaps,” said Lucien coolly. “You’ve met one of them so far, am I right?”
I huffed. I couldn’t lie to the Higher One. “Yeah. Saint Grenada. She doesn’t seem like any help.”
“Well, let me tell you one thing,” Lucien spoke softer. “Your father was a very good slave of Satan. He followed him in many ways, and pleased the devil as he lived his life in Hell. I’m telling you one thing though. He needs you there, for he has no one to remind him of his beloved wife, except you.”
“Except me? But what about--”
“Your sister?” Lucien grinned. He read my mind. “Your sister, Angeline, she hasn’t made it into the afterlife just yet.”
I gasped and felt my heart race. “My sister’s still alive?!”
“Yes—but just like the rest of the world on Earth, her time will soon be up. She will find her place in the afterlife. Your father will also await her to meet him in Hell.”
I slowly shook my head. “I…..I can’t.”
Lucien raised his eyes. “Hm? You can’t what?”
“I can’t meet him in Hell.”
“Oh? Not go to Hell where your father needs you most?” His voice was calm and understanding.
“Of course not,” I replied, feeling nauseous again. “I had a terrible life with my parents, and I certainly don’t want to make my afterlife just as bad as it was before.”
“Oh, but your father was the one to have spoiled you,” said Lucien. He chuckled. “It was your mother that treated you like a slave.”
“But if my sister and I reunite with him, wouldn’t that drive our mother back so that we would all be together?” I narrowed my eyes as I said this.
Lucien puckered his lips. “Mm, smart thinking. That’s exactly what your father wants. But think about it. Isn’t being a family the most important thing a spirit could ever want, whether in life or afterlife? Isn’t love all that we need to keep us happy together?”
I stared as Lucien said this. “There was no love in my family.”
“Oh, but that’s when you’re wrong. Your father loved you, Zach. So did your mom. Trust me. They only did what they did to you so that in the afterlife, you would be with them in Hell. If you were with them in their world now, trust me. Things would be different. They wouldn’t have to mistreat you anymore, because there would be no other place to go to after this afterlife. You would all live together forever, in eternal life where they all want you to be.” His eyes glimmered. “That’s all your parents want, Zach. They want to be together in the afterlife.”
I thought deeply about this and looked down. “Are you saying that I should just….go to Satan’s underworld?”
“Well, I’m not telling you to do anything,” said Lucien. “I’ve been watching you, for I can watch all my spirits in this land. You don’t seem happy, Zach. I’ve been worrying about you most of all. You really don’t like it here, don’t you?”
“Um, it’s fine,” I tried to say, not wanting to offend the Higher One. “It’s okay, really. I just don’t--”
“Now, enough with the lies,” Lucien chuckled and gave me a nudge. “You hate this place like it’s a pigsty. I don’t even have to be the Higher One to know that! Just think about this. If you really hate it here, it isn’t going to hurt if you just take a step back and join your father. I know it sounds unreliable, but if Hell is the best place for you, then you should go there.”
I felt my heart tighten. The fires were burning intensely. I didn’t know what to say. I truly did hate this place. And if I had like six more years to go forwards, I probably wouldn’t be able to take it. It would take six years or more for me to truly find my way into Heaven, and that was only if I passed each stage and didn’t get held back or fail my way back down. I probably would never find my way. I’d either spend my entire afterlife working my way through Purgatory, or I could just give up and go to Hell where my father was. He did spoil me before….perhaps he could do it again. I’ve never been spoiled in the afterlife just yet.
Lucien rose up. He poked his long finger underneath my chin just as he did with Uncle E. He tilted my head up to face him. “You look ever so much like your father,” he muttered. I felt my flames start to flicker with more nervousness, and I hated those flames more and more. I couldn’t go through a moment without showing my fears or anger.
Lucien narrowed his eyes and seemed to study me. I couldn’t do anything but stare back up at those sharpening eyes. Then Lucien etched a sideways smile form the corner of his lip. “By the way, I really came to talk with you about something else.” He let go of my chin and reached into his robe, taking out the body of a motionless SoulBird.
I flinched. It was the very same Earth type I had killed! I recognized the flattened part on the back and the angelic glow around it, for it had been an angel SoulBird. “Wha--?!” I didn’t know what to say.
Lucien chortled slyly. “I’ve never allowed angels in this part of the land. Even you should know that the lower stages under the land of Primal only have devil SoulBirds dwelling. Any angel I find around here in the form of a SoulBird shall certainly be flushed from its own soul, in other words, die in the afterlife.”
I looked up with awe. “So I was right to have killed it?!”
“You really shouldn’t have done what you did with it, considering it was a SoulBird and all spirits, even the Higher Ones, must respect them for their existence and help for us. But since this was an angel and I totally forbid any angel SoulBirds from inhabiting my land, I would have done the same myself. Apparently, you saved me a lot of time, my boy.” He smiled at me cunningly.
I felt so relieved! So Lucien wasn’t going to punish me. In your face, Grenada! “So that SoulBird, is it totally emptied from its angel spirit?”
“Hehe, not quite yet. I was saving that for after I thanked you for it. But! There’s one more thing.” He turned to his right where he had set the egg down. “Tell me why that isn’t the egg I am looking for.”
I immediately felt my spine drop. Great, he knew more. “Um….I--”
“Tell the truth, boy. I promise you—I won’t be mad. I wasn’t lying to you when I said you weren’t in trouble, so you don’t have to lie to me when you tell me what’s happened to the real holy egg.” Lucien was gazing at me with seriousness now. Of course, like it was said, the golden eggs were so holy and sacred that not even the Higher Ones could trace where they were in their lands.
I took a deep breath. I was never forced to tell the truth like this before. I felt deeply flushed. “The golden egg hatched.” I spoke with sincere. “A golden SoulBird was born, and it disappeared—with one of the mediums, Damien Black.”
“Ah…” Lucien gave a slow nod. “Thank you, Zach. That’s all I wanted to know. I’ll figure out the rest myself. That egg is holy—it can be anywhere in the world of worlds.”
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” I asked. “They are supposed to be together, aren’t they? What if it’s out to look for the other two that have hatched?”
“We need to make sure of that,” said Lucien. “Even Hell must make sure the Three aren’t harmed, for the Three have the control of all worlds in their souls. Whoever’s scattered them must have been a very foolish creature, and must be destroyed.”
I looked down at the fake egg. “I’m sorry….I really wasn’t going to destroy it—at least not after I saw the importance with it. That’s why I kept it for myself.”
“I understand, I understand,” Lucien was saying. “But here’s what I’m going to do. I will inform the school of what has happened. I will say nothing about what came between you and the egg, and as far as they will know, the egg hatched in MY hands while I was here with you, and the bird disappeared with the medium, Damien, who happened to be interfering.”
I blinked. It was half a lie. But at least Lucien was defending me. I couldn’t feel more relieved.
“There has been strange tensions going on, though, for a vast range of the land have been tainted by snakes.”
“Yes. They must have come from the Gehenna River. That river flows straight from the depths of Hell, coming out of the Gehenna Mountain. Any soul that escapes Hell through the flow of that river usually just stays around the mountain before they can’t take the atmosphere of this world any longer. They’ve never ventured very far from the Gehenna Volcano where their own world is. It’s as if a creature from Earth entered Heaven alive, it just doesn’t exactly work that way. But for some reason, these creatures have made it all the way to the Barrens in the west. They are multiplying pretty quickly, and I will discuss with the academy on my future plans with this land.”
I bit my lip. Shion said something about being chased by a bunch of baby snakes that night we were at the library. But I decided to tell Lucien no more. I was already feeling sick as I was.
Lucien raised his eyebrows. “What’s the matter? You okay? You’re not afraid of a few snakes are you? Hehe, this is only good news for YOU, because you’re going to be adapted with creatures like them once you choose to join your father in Hell.”
I couldn’t take it. Turning forwards, I barfed out a puddle of blood and I felt my nose start to bleed again. I dropped on my knees and coughed, choking out more blood and some gross acid that had formed up in me.
Lucien stared with narrowed eyes, watching me. Thank goodness I didn’t accidently throw up on him.
“Hmph,” said the Higher One, eying me carefully. “I’ll have the nurse tend to you.”
I spent the rest of the day in the nurse’s office, where Hannah, the academy’s nurse, took care of me. It was actually Lucien’s order to keep me there even after he left, so that I can get rest from the “shock I experienced from the golden bird that had hatched.” I had to thank the Higher One, for he was pretty much giving me a break from working at the academy. He also saw to it that they take off the gloves, boots, and the wristbands and anklets hat were wrapped around me ever so tightly. He said my punishment was enough, and I can wear the fiery headband for the rest of the three weeks, for it was enough to help me think about what I had done.
I was upset that I had to still wear the headband, but at least it was enough for Lucien to save me like that. I was already liking the guy. I had always expected the Higher One to be stern, coldhearted, and selfish, especially since his features had reminded me so much of my dad. But no—he was nothing like how I him to be. He may be proud and conceited, but he seemed fair. I couldn’t understand why the land of Bhad was in such a mess with terrible spirits putting down each other, if he was our Higher One.
As soon as the day was over and it was evening, Hannah excused me.
I turned to scoff at her. “What happened to the old nurse? The one that was such a b**** to the sick mediums?”
Hannah’s young face looked at me with a raised expression. “Oh, she must have been fired. I’m sorry, I was called to serve as nurse here, though I wasn’t specifically told why.” She had a nice young voice, and I couldn’t help saying that she had been incredibly kind and patient with me.
I softened my expression. I couldn’t frown at someone who had tended to my wounds with such a pleasant attitude. I felt much better without those accessories.
“You come from the land of Guhd?” I asked.
Hannah chuckled. “No, actually from the land of Purah. The Higher One, Lucien, wanted me to come take Agatha’s place as nurse since he punished her and sent her to Hell.”
I raised my eyebrows. “She really went to Hell?”
Hannah nodded, looking worried. “She was caught smuggling medicines that can poison a medium to empty its soul.”
I couldn’t help snickering. “I bet that was for me! She always swore to have me taken care of if I ever had to visit her. I’ve pissed her off so many times.”
Hannah laughed. “Really?”
I nodded. “She hated me. I was her worst nightmare since I was always messing with her medicines because I never got hurt enough to pay her a visit.”
“Oh,” Hannah winked. “Well, you were lucky this time.”
There was a crash outside and I heard Uncle E yell out a curse word.
Hannah winced. “Is that the janitor again? That guy really creeps me out.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, pushing the door open and hurrying out, not saying good-bye. I had a lot to tell Uncle E.
I found him picking up the cleaning materials that had fallen from his gear. It was tipped over.
I hurried over and looked to my right as I saw two of Damien’s friends, Alder and Emmett, walking away with taunting laughter.
I picked up a toilet plunger and threw it towards them, managing to hit both of them in the heads.
“Argh! Hey--” They turned to glare behind them, ready to stomp back and punch whoever it was, but as soon as they locked eyes with me, they gasped and turned to run away, disappearing around the corner.
“Dumbasses,” I muttered. “You could have kicked them in the nuts or something,” I said to Uncle E. “They’re totally helpless without their ‘top dog’ Damien.”
Uncle E yanked his gear upright and stood up to glare down at me. There was a nasty bright red cut vertically down the side of his right cheek. “Yeah? Well I was in a hurry, so I wasn’t wanting to waste my time.”
“It wouldn’t be a waste to torture mediums that look up to Damien!” I couldn’t help facing that scary cut on his face as I spoke.
“Jist pick up that toilet plunger,” said Uncle E, turning away to push his gear.
I frowned and grabbed the toilet plunger. I kept up with Uncle E as he pushed his gear down the hallway. He looked angry and troubled at the same time.
“Where are you going?” I asked as we exited the building and headed over to the far right corner behind.
Uncle E didn’t answer for a moment, and then spoke about something else. “Boy, I sure hope Lucien didn’t fill your head with any confusing explanations, because that guy knows more about you more than you ever will, especially since you remember nothing with your past,” Uncle E was speaking with a snide tone in his voice.
“What are you talking about? Would YOU know why he could just be toying me around and tell me lies just because I don’t remember anything about myself?”
“Exactly,” said Uncle E, stopping to turn and look me creepily in the eye. “He’s pissed now that the golden SoulBird is missing.”
I winced. “Huh? No he isn’t! He told me he’s more focused on the Hellsfire inhabitants that have entered our land.”
“He’s pissed,” Uncle E insisted. “You didn’t see him at the meeting. While he let you relax and laze off in the nursery, he was shouting his rage at us and even gave St. Gretchen a smack in the face for having lost the egg. See this cut,” Uncle E pointed at the mark on his right cheek. “He did this to me in private when the meeting was over. He told me I better find that egg since he’s always taken his anger on the lowliest person in the academy.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I think Uncle E was getting a little too carried away. “He spoke so calmly with me.”
“Well, he’s two-faced, that’s why,” scoffed Uncle E, pushing his gear forwards. “Trust me, because I’ve been here longer than you. If he was nice to you, it was probably because you were the one he was most mad at.”
Suddenly, I felt sickened and started to wonder about Saint Grenada’s warning of a punishment. Perhaps Lucien wasn’t finished with me yet—he could be much angrier than he appeared about what I have done.
Uncle E was looking at me with a grin.
“What?!” I glared at him.
“You’re scared now, eh?”
“No I’m not!” I lied. “Lucien was nice to me and provided me with clearer information about my family, so he’ll be more use to me than you’ll ever be!”
Uncle E flinched and whipped his head to look forwards. “Okay, now that’s a little harsh,” he spoke with a sudden quietness that shook his voice.
The flames on my head flickered and I regretted what I said. “Never mind—I meant that he told me more about my family and what my father wants from me in the afterlife. He really made me understand and think about what I should do here now.”
“But not even he knew why you had your memory wiped out, didn’t he?”
“No….he wasn’t too specific on that part. He said it probably had to do with the blessings the saints performed on me.”
Uncle E snorted, looking uncertain. He faced forward so that I was looking at his wound on his cheek.
“Hey, you said he wanted you to look for the egg? How are YOU going to find it?” I questioned him.
Uncle E stopped in front of a small shack. It was his house. He looked at me carefully. “Boy, I gotta let you off with a secret. Another one of the reasons I’m here in Purgatory is because I’ve studied the arts of wizardry, and I’ve learned what it’s like to be a foreteller.”
I stared with a wince. I let out a laugh. “So! You’re my uncle, AND you’re a magician! What next? Are you gonna tell me you’re half jackal next?”
Uncle E ignored my comment. “I’ve been using the power of psychics to foretell things like our future and unravel what we really couldn’t see in this world. And now that I’m in the afterlife, I’ve been able to practice it more frequently.”
He opened the door and we entered his house.
I laughed. “You’re a janitor, yet your house is the dirtiest and messiest part of the school.”
“Shut up,” snapped Uncle E, shutting the door. “You don’t know how many times I’ve gotten that remark. The basement is where nobody can disturb me with my practice of wizardry.”
And Uncle E took me down to the cellar where he lead me through a long dark passage of stairs until he flicked on the lights at the bottom of his basement. Sure enough-- as I looked around, his basement was filled with trinkets and bottles of dust, with a set of glass balls lined on a cabinet to the right. I looked at him, feeling like I was Harry Potter.
“What are you gonna do? Trace the egg’s location through magic?”
“It’s psychics! Not magic!” Yelled Uncle E with frustration. “Everyone always gets the wrong idea! There’s a difference between psychics and magic! Magic isn’t real! The power that our God has isn’t even considered magic-- it’s considered ‘the power of God!’ We psychics despise magic just as much as the Lord does, my boy. There’s no such thing as magic, but there is a such thing as psychics.”
I crossed my arms and gave him a sideways look. “Really? And you think you can find the egg and track down the world it may be in?”
“Perhaps,” said Uncle E, passing me to sit on a candlelit table. “You see, there are many worlds out there. The only places of afterlife are Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Earth is the world of the living, and the world of the living has many other neighboring dimensions that one couldn’t get to if they were on Earth or the afterlife worlds.”
“You’re pretty much saying there’s a such thing as a Narnia, or the worlds mentioned in Norse mythology,” I remarked.
“Exactly! You can never know what’s out there-- the world is HUGE! There’s a whole universe out there on Earth, and there’s a whole number of universes besides the one around Earth. Nobody knows what such things lie out there, except for the One who knows all.”
I thought back to my studies and said, “Doesn’t the Lord forbid psychics and soothsaying though? That stuff isn’t considered any more real than magics are.”
“That’s why I told you-- that’s one of the reasons why I’m still here in Purgatory. I’ve been trying to quit it for a long time, but now that Lucien’s commanded me to find the egg somehow, and that he’ll probably stop at nothing to retrieve it, then I have no choice but to try this out and see if I can track down the egg through psychics. It could be in the world of oooo, where our thoughts and dreams come to life. Or it can be in the world of ddddd, where coincidence is controlled and put to work!”
I winced and laughed. Uncle E looked like a mad scientist. “A world of coincidence?”
“Of course! I’ve studied neighboring dimensions, boy. There’s an explanation for everything that occurs on Earth. Even coincidence itself isn’t coincidence. Something controls it, and there’s a very reason why such things happen.”
“Hah! Then how do you expect to search through all the worlds for the egg?”
“Well, come here! Put your hand over this candle, and I’ll work up a bit of spells to try and trace where the egg could be.”
“What?” I laughed.
“I’m serious, you were the last person to touch the egg, so by lighting up that DNA with the heat of this candle, I can look into that DNA more clearly to see if I can trace that egg on you and follow it to where it can track down.”
I looked uncertain about this, but I didn’t laugh again.
“Come on, boy! You think I’m crazy? I wouldn’t be doing this if I knew it truly wouldn’t work.”
“You say you haven’t done psychics and wizardry for a while,” I said as I made my way to lift my hand over the candle.
Uncle E grabbed my hand and pulled it down half an inch above the candle. My eyes widened as my hand started to brighten and reveal creepy marks of my cracks and wounds.
“Eesh!” Uncle E winced. “What did those gloves do to you? I hope I don’t get confused between the traces of the gloves and the egg. Now! Let me study carefully….I still have to remember the exact spell for this experiment….”
And a quiet moment passed between us. The basement held its breath and I could smell the candle fire becoming stronger and stronger. It was as if the spell were truly working.
Suddenly, a loud musical cry sounded and a SoulBird crashed through the door up the stairs, swooping in to peck at Uncle E and cause him to let my hand go, nearly falling back from his chair.
“Ech! Outta my face, dammit! I was so close-- wahh!”
I glared at the light that shone around this SoulBird. It was an angel, for it had the halo around its forehead, but it wasn’t Earth type. This one was the air type SoulBird, and these ones were white with long graceful wings and a tiny body. They also had tiny beaks with button eyes, for all SoulBirds were button-eyed. This one had a bright yellow gem on its forehead.
The SoulBird was cooing and crying musically as it angrily pecked at Uncle E.
“Ebenezer!” A familiar soft voice sounded from behind. I turned to see that Hannah was walking down the stairs with a look of shock. “I knew it! You’re practicing wizardry! I suspected that of you-- I know a magician when I see one!”
“Ech! Hannah, get this stupid SoulBird out of my face!”
“First, let me get your little victim out of here!” Said Hannah. She laid a hand on my shoulder. “Zach, please leave. Meet me outside of his house. This is more dangerous than you know.”
Confused, I frowned with frustration and left. I didn’t know who to obey know, whether it was Uncle E, Lucien, or Hannah. I stomped up the stairs with anger.
Hannah met me outside and walked me to the dorm building. “Don’t worry, Chelsey and I would never harm your uncle.” Chelsey was her stupid air SoulBird and apparently, she already knew Uncle E was my uncle since she was the nurse in the afterlife.
I said nothing as we walked along. I was angry with confusion.
“Zach, please don’t be mad at me. Uncle E and I had a long talk afterwards, and he explained to me what you’re going through, and what the Higher One has told you. I don’t know where the egg could be, but I know that psychics isn’t going to retrieve what’s holy to the Lord, for the Lord forbids such things, and to trace down something that’s so connected with Him would be like using money to buy your way into Heaven. It just won’t work.”
“Well, what WILL work?!” I nearly shouted. “Ugh, why should I even care where the egg is? Either way, all worlds are gonna go through something whether I stay here or go to Hell.”
“Zach, please don’t choose to take Hell’s path,” Hannah stopped walking and grabbed my shoulder gently to make me face her. I stared up angrily in her soft blue eyes. She had light brown hair tied behind her in a ponytail as she wore her nurse cap. She would have been pretty to me if I was happy enough to find anything pretty. “As much as your father may want you to be in Hell with him, it won’t be worth it. You won’t be happy, for Hell’s a world where nothing is happy, no matter who you’re with or what you’ve got. I bet your father’s got all the riches he’s ever had in life! But he couldn’t be happy with all he’s got in Hell, for Hell’s the place where all unfortunate souls go to suffer forever.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I yanked from her grip and turned my back. “I’m already in enough Hell in this world and it wouldn’t make a difference if I fell back to the last world.”
“Zach!” Hannah’s eyes were pleading. “That’s because you’re not trying! Trust me! If you put effort into your work and advance through your classes to make it higher and higher to the next stages, you’ll become much happier and truly find your way up to Heaven. Trust me-- it WILL get better if you just try and believe in yourself. Oh, I’m so disappointed in this land. See, in the upper lands, the higher you get, the more the academies will teach you about….the Holy One.” She looked at my with a longing gaze. “Zach, do they ever teach you about the Lord of the Heavens?”
“I don’t know. A little, I guess. All we do is just learn about the sacrifices we go to Hell, and practice rituals to prepare for our coming there.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” sighed Hannah. “See, this is what happened ever since Lucien became the Higher One…..the stages of Purgatory are supposed to help you go up the stages! Not go down. This world means more purifying than punishing, Zach. Trust me. Here, take this.”
I turned and saw she was handing me a necklace.
“Oh great!” I scoffed. “What’s this? Another girl accessory? I’ve been wearing bracelets and headbands for over a week now!”
“This is a rosary,” said Hannah carefully. She showed me the cross that hung from the center of the necklace. The figure of Christ was engraved on it, and I stared down with a studying look. We did learn some about the Lord of the Heavens and Jesus Christ…..but it seemed faint. Our classes didn’t focus so much on studies like that, for we were the lowest and learned the least about Heaven. But Hannah was giving me a hopeful look. “This was my grandmother’s. she had many of these rosaries—I even have one myself.”
I realized she, too, was wearing this beaded necklace with the cross.
“Zach….if you ever feel downhearted or out of faith, pray. Pray to God. Pray to Jesus. He can do all, and He can only make things truly better for you. He wants you to go to Heaven, and this world was created to help souls get to Heaven, not go to Hell.”
I huffed. “Yeah right…..just simply ask and it will be given just like that?”
“Exactly,” said Hannah. “Oh, I wish they made you read the Bible here. Zach, the most important thing about Purgatory is to discover the Word of God. This is Jesus Christ on the cross.” She held the small cross upright. “Long ago back on Earth, God came to the world in the body of Christ, and He was Son of God. He died for our sins, and we were forgiven. He was resurrected, and he ascended into Heaven, until the day of the Apocalypse when he came again to Earth, this time, to judge ALL souls—both the living and the dead. All souls are confined to afterlife now, and many will take different paths. Some will go to Heaven, some to Hell, and others to Purgatory, where they still are given quite like a second chance to make it into the eternal life, either in Heaven, or eternal punishment in Hell.”
She took my hand and placed the rosary on my palm. She made sure I was gripping it. I held it, but I was shaking my head, narrowing my eyes. I stared across at the darkening horizon. “I’m not meant to be in Heaven.”
Chelsey tweeted sadly and tilted her head. Hannah sighed. “Zach, you need to have faith. Faith is the big thing you’ve always lacked in your life and afterlife. And that’s why there are SoulBirds here to help us.”
I rolled my eyes. Here we go with SoulBirds again.
“Now, just between you and me,” said Hannah, speaking low. “Chelsey is only visiting me for today to bring me some extra medicines I left in Purah. I’m so forgetful sometimes. But she isn’t going to be tracked down, for during the meeting, Lucien decided to allow angel SoulBirds to roam here since devils from Hell may have found there way through the Gehenna River. And I think the law of banning angel SoulBirds is what’s made many of you are so negative and uncaring. This whole academy disappoints me, every minute I see medium pick on medium. You’re all surrounded by devil SoulBirds, and they are the souls that help discourage you and help drive you to Hell. Angel SoulBirds do the opposite. And I think if you find an angel SoulBird to guide you through your life here, you can truly become happier.”
“Screw off,” I snapped. “I hate SoulBirds.”
“Oh, but they can really help you, Zach. Especially since you’re confused right now.” Hannah handed me a thick book. “Here, I know it’s also forbidden to be carrying around books. But keep this safely hidden. This is a book that we use in the land of Purah. It teaches you simple ways on how to create your own SoulBird from the soul it shall be born in. if you ever want to change your mind and try it out, feel free to read it.”
I stared at the book with a disgusted look, and then snatched it from her. I walked away, muttering under my breath and not looking back. Hannah and Chelsey watched me go.
“I hope you make the right choices, Zach. I will pray for you….” Hannah’s voice was faint.
I returned to my room with my headband flickering. Dropping on my bed, I opened the stupid book to a random page. “Earth Type Birth.” This section told about how to bring Earth types to life.

Step One: Unravel the petili seed of the petulite flower.
Step Two: Bury the seed where light can shine on it during the spring
Step Three: During the spring, let the rain fall on the burial of the seed, and wait twelve hours afterwards
Step Four: Within twelve hours, a soul will be born in Heaven and drawn to the seed where a body of a SoulBird will be created. The soul will enter the body, and an Earth type SoulBird has come to life.
*note: only the rain during the springtime will work on the growth and calling of the seed.

I frowned. It was springtime right now, but there was no way I was going to create a worthless old SoulBird. I saw that at the bottom of the page, the petili seed was in a pocket attached to the page. I rolled my eyes and opened my window. With a look of narrowed hatred, I through the book out and made sure it made it over the fence the forest part outside of the academy.
I shut my window and dropped angrily on my bed. Tears swelled in my eyes, but they were tears of anger. I never knew what it felt like to be sad. I only knew how to feel upset and downhearted against life.
In the academies of Purgatory, we were supposed to learn to make it up to Heaven, Hannah says. But because of Lucien the Higher One, things changed for this part of the world. Our academies taught us to go down—or at least they seemed to be preparing us to. I realized how much the High Ones of my academy punished me and never even cared to give me anything like therapy or any kind of purification to calm me down. Their only solutions were just punish, punish, punish.
But I thought about what Hannah said. “He wants you in Heaven. This world was created to help the souls…”
I huffed and took out the rosary in my pocket. I held the small cross with Christ on it. Hannah told me to pray….pray and He can do all, and things will truly be better. I winced. I thought about the Apocalypse, wishing I could truly remember it with my own experience and not just of what others described it. Then I also thought of the moment long before the Apocalypse. Jesus’s first coming to Earth. Son of God, the Holy One. I felt a bitter feeling stir inside me and my eyes were starting to water again.
“Oh God….” I closed my eyes tightly and held back my tears. The prayer ran through my head. “If there’s a way for me to ever get to Heaven, help me find it. I’m not happy here….”
I didn’t know what else to say. I was too tired. If the Holy One really could hear me while I was all the way down here, ever so close to Hell, well….I hoped what Hannah said really could be true.
I fell back on my back and went to sleep.

Rain poured over the lands of Bhad that night. Because the land was so hot and extremely muggy during the spring and summer, the rain was mostly just sweat formed in the air for moisture and it didn’t really help cool anyone down. Rather, it made one feel like they were taking a hot shower during the hot weather.
And usually it wasn’t even much rain. Just barely a sprinkle was all we would get around here, but overnight, the rain surprisingly pattered down pretty hard that I could actually hear it. I was able to sleep though, for whenever I was depressed I could sleep through anything. And right now, I was feeling more depressed than I was angry. I had vivid dreams again, but I didn’t quite remember what they were about.
But I woke up early in the morning just before dawn, remembering a sudden dream about my family. I saw my sister. She was on Earth—alive. I remembered what Lucien told me about how her time will soon be up though, for the Earth was drawing to a near each day. But I thought hard about what I had seen in my dream. Earth seemed so peaceful, for I was running across a beautiful meadow as a young child again, and in my left hand, I held Angeline, who was probably no more than two or three years old.
The both of us were laughing like the little children we were. But as well as happiness in the dream, I also felt a tinge of sadness. Instead of truly being a child in my dream, I was just looking at myself as a child, rather than being myself. Therefore, I felt the strange vivid feeling, knowing that it was all just a dream and that this was nothing but the past that would probably never happen again.
My dream faded away, and I found myself no longer the happy playful child I was in my dream. I was sitting on my bed, feeling as dead as I truly was already, with a look of disappointment and tire in my eyes.
That couldn’t have been a real moment anyway, I thought. The more I looked back at myself in that dream, looking carefree and enlightened with my sister, the more I felt how untrue the dream really was.
“I was never happy,” I muttered. “Even in my mortal life—my mother and my father were pure evildoers, my mother especially. I was never happy with them, or with myself.”
I was glad at this point that Saint Grenada wasn’t interfering with my thoughts and scolding me over anything. It was nice to think in peace for once, but it didn’t really make me feel any better.
Angrily clenching my fists, I realized I was still gripping the rosary. I must have fallen asleep with it. Setting it aside on my desk to the right, I dropped back down on my pillow and went back to sleep.
I woke up two hours later when morning light shone through, and I heard an irritating tap against the window. Muttering under my breath with annoyance, I turned around and ignored it. But the tapping continued to proceed and suddenly became louder and louder. I suddenly heard a loud “Tweeee!” Scream from the window and I flinched, rising up and whipping around with horror. Just as I expected—it was an Earth type SoulBird. But I calmed down with relief. This bird wasn’t the same one I had killed. This one seemed much smaller like a little hatchling, no bigger than a child’s hand. But what did surprise me, was that it was angelic and glowing with the angel soul.
I winced with disgust. The little creature was pecking rapidly at my window with its long sharp beak. All the earth types had beaks three times the size of their heads, and this tiny thing looked just as strong as a full grown one would be. It darted left and right from the windowsill, pecking here and there, tweeting in its meek, high pitched cry. The little bird flapped its tiny wings rapidly, barely flying any higher since the earth types were built more for running than flying. But the bird squeaked and pecked towards me, seeming to meet my gaze with its excited little button eyes.
I glared at it. Where did this stupid creature come from? I remembered that Lucien was allowing the presence of angel SoulBirds to wander around the lands until the Hell creatures were taken care of—but then I also remembered that Hannah had given me that book on how to sanctify our own SoulBirds.
I gasped. I had thrown the book outside and it had started raining. I remembered the steps on how to make the earth type, involving the seed of a petilite flower and rain from spring weather. Now, it was morning and the light had already shined….perhaps somehow the petilite seed that was in the book had fallen out and implanted itself into the soil….
“No!” I got up and glared at the bird with hatred. The flames on my head flickered and the little hatchling gazed at me curiously and tweeted even louder, pecking more and more to get in.
I clenched my teeth and took my crowbar again. I came up to the window and glared at the SoulBird, showing the intensity of my flames.
The hatchling flinched and hovered back, and then tweeted excitedly and noisily, seeming blissfully happy whether I liked it or not.
“Urgh….you…” I thought about just killing the SoulBird again, but I couldn’t do it. Last time it was merely an accident, but I couldn’t do it fully on purpose. The image of the disfigured SoulBird that I struck before haunted me and I just couldn’t do the same again. If only I still had that book, perhaps it could give me advice on how to get rid of SoulBirds.
I suddenly remembered then. Shion! He knew how to cleanse a SoulBird’s soul. He had done the same to his own SoulBird, Pete.
I turned to glare at the little hatchling, ready to leave my room and find Shion.
But then the little bird made a crack in the strong glass. I gasped and held tightly to my crowbar. The little bird dashed in through the weak cracks and was in my room.
“Ahh! Get away from me! You stupid bird!” I dropped my crowbar and tried to shoo the little creature away as it fluttered around me like a hummingbird. It was tweeting and trying to get in front of my face as I whirled around in confusion, trying to shoo at it and avoid it.
“Move! I hate you—ahh!” My head was flickering with flames as I whacked my hands around, backing away until I bumped into the windowsill.
I turned and opened it up. “Shoo! Get outta here! I don’t need no stupid SoulBird in my life! OUUUT!”
At those words, the little hatchling seemed to stop flapping its wings, and slowly hovered to the ground. It whimpered and gave me a crestfallen look, tilting its head. It gazed up at me with a longing look of sorrow.
I showed no mercy. I glared back at it and felt the flames rise on my head. “GET OUT!” I pointed out the window.
Surprisingly, the little bird obediently hopped on its long but tiny legs, and bounced up to the windowsill. It turned and squeaked with longing, but I gave it a fierce look.
“No! I don’t want you! I’m sorry I accidently brought you into the world! NOW SHOO!”
“Dweee…” The bird squeaked out a pitiful tweet.
I rolled my eyes and turned around. I was looking over at the rosary on my desk. I blazed with anger. Last night, I had prayed for the first time. I had asked for something better to happen, and this was what happened. I didn’t want a SoulBird! This just made it worse!
“Forget it,” I muttered angrily, cursing at Hannah under my breath. I stomped over and grabbed the rosary. The little bird watched me as I came back to the windowsill with the rosary in my hands.
“You want to make things better?” I growled at the SoulBird. “Get out and never bother me again.”
I tossed the rosary out my window and watched it fly into the forest. The little bird tweed with horror and flapped its wings rapidly, bouncing off the window and giving chase. It disappeared down into the forested bare trees as well.
Finally, I thought with anger. Now I can go through the rest of the day in peace….
The loud deafening cry of Rusa sounded from outside, waking up all the students of the academy. I felt my spirits go down as we were about to start today.
“Aw, no….” I felt like throwing a tantrum. I really didn’t want to go to class and go through our rituals again. I just didn’t feel up to it at all. Today, we were going to go over battle fighting since Lucien ordered the High Ones at the academy to prepare in case the Hell creatures actually attacked us.
I really didn’t want to go. I looked out my window, grabbed a rope that I kept in my closet, and snuck out the window of my room, climbing down the dorm building and climbing over the fence.
I ran into the forest but took a different path, for I didn’t want to meet up with that little hatchling again.
I hurried through the land, heading for the library. Perhaps I can find out more about SoulBirds, or the different possible worlds Uncle E taught me about last night. That golden SoulBird had to be retrieved, and that was the only SoulBird I was aiming to catch.
I followed the Gehenna River, running against the dry wind. I came through the bare crowd of trees and then suddenly collided with another spirit.
We both grunted and I fell down on my butt, grunting with anger.
“Hey! Watch it, will you?!” The spirit I collided with was still standing, and was looking down at me with disgust.
I fumed and glared up at whoever it was, and realized it was a girl. She was about my age, and had bright red hair tied back in a ponytail that hung down her back. Her eyes were piercing and fierce as they glared back at me behind a pair of hot pink glasses she wore.
In her arms, she carried a limp body of a wounded earth SoulBird-- the same one with the flattened end and the faded glowing light around it. It was the one I had hit.
My eyes immediately changed from a blazing look of hatred to a surprised wide look.
But before I could say anything, the girl huffed , straightening her glasses that bumped out of place when I collided. She kicked dust in my eyes. “You could’ve hurt my poor SoulBird even more! Ugh, people in these lands, I hate it here….” And she hurried around me and cursed violently before disappearing behind me.
I stared after her with a wince. I got up and cursed back at her under my breath as I angrily stomped on, pacing into a run again. Whatever her problem was, I didn’t care. She was probably the soul mate of that stupid SoulBird. I stifled a snicker. She just met the person who had deliberately nearly killed her own pet and she probably didn’t even know it.
But then I winced. Didn’t Lucien have that SoulBird? Did he return it to her, changing his mind about emptying its angelic soul?
I slowed down as the Gehenna River started to bubble. I winced and heard voices. I heard a whiny moan that I recognized as Uncle E.
I saw that on the other side of the river, just a distance up ahead of me, Uncle E was kneeling next to the river, holding a handful of three SoulBirds- two fire types and an air type. They were all asleep, but were alive with the glow around their bodies-- an angelic glow.
Lucien was standing behind him with a stern look on his face. He looked angered and his own fire SoulBird perched his shoulder with an evil glare.
“Throw ‘em in,” growled Lucien, giving Uncle E’s back a nudge with his foot. “I don’t care what they can do to Hell’s creatures. Just get rid of them.”
Uncle E looked like he was crying. “Oh, it’s a sad sight to see angels lured here just to die off….” And reluctantly, he threw the bodies of the SoulBirds into the Gehenna River.
I gasped and backed away as the river started to bubble and sizzle with intensity. I was expecting it to blow up and splash in my face, but the waters eventually calmed down.
Lucien gave a sideways smile and chuckled slyly.
Uncle E stood up, wiping his forehead. “That’s the last of them, right?”
“The last that I caught,” replied Lucien. His devilish earth SoulBird cawed and gave an angry flap with its wings. “Yes, yes, we’ve skipped one though,” he laid a hand on his bird’s talons to calm it down. “The SoulBird that your nephew killed….where is it? I entrusted it with you, Ebenezer, to make sure that one fell into the Gehenna Volcano to Hell, did I not?”
Uncle E flinched and immediately turned away with a look of horror. “Oh…you mean the earth type, right?”
“Of course,” Lucien crossed his arms and eyed him. “You’ve lost it, didn’t you?”
Uncle E held his breath and didn’t meet his gaze. “It’s rightful owner came and claimed it back….she fought me for it! I mean-- I was right there by the Gehenna River and she came out of nowhere, whacking my head with a clubbed tree branch as huge as that!” He pointed to a large branch that hung from behind Lucien.
I stiffened. The same girl that I bumped into. So she was its real owner. Haha, I wonder what else she would have done to me if she knew I was the one behind her SoulBird’s wounds.
The Higher One looked calm and prim as he stood there, eying Uncle E’s protesting gaze, but I could tell by the look in his red eyes that he was pissed. His eyes were getting brighter and the cracks were deepening.
Uncle E shivered. “I-I’ll find her if you want. I can tell Zach! He won’t be scared to totally kill the SoulBird again.”
“You fool,” Lucien grabbed Uncle E’s skinny neck and gripped him tightly until he choked. “That girl was a medium from the lands of Primal,” he spoke with smoothness, though his expression was still sharp and angry. Uncle E was clutching Lucien’s hand that wrapped around his neck. I squatted behind a bramble thicket to be sure I couldn’t be seen. “In those lands,” spoke Lucien, “they start learning the ways of the angelic SoulBirds, and even practice medicines that heal those creatures and revive their souls. She’s going to return to her land now, and she’ll have her SoulBird healed in no time.”
Uncle E gasped and tried to speak.
“Uck-- she just left a moment ago! I can find her now!” Uncle E stuttered and struggled in Lucien’s grip.
I stared as Lucien chuckled with evil humor. I couldn’t help narrowing my eyes. The Higher One spoke with a low tone. “Let her be. I was planning on assigning you to something else at this moment.” The Higher One let go of Uncle E. Uncle E stumbled back and coughed loudly.
Lucien’s SoulBird cawed angrily and looked ready to peck at Uncle E if Lucien weren’t there.
“Now,” Lucien spoke seriously as Uncle E looked at him with reluctance. “You say that new nurse from Purah interrupted you last night while you were trying to retrieve the egg? Did you manage to get anything out from what your psychics told you?”
Uncle E huffed. “Well, I did manage to interpret some signs on the boy’s hands. But I wasn’t able to read it completely…..”
“Well, the egg is holy, and it can only be in the worlds that the Creator created Himself. We must search it ourselves if there’s no other way to retrieve it. Why don’t you take a peek on Earth, hmm? The Apocalypse isn’t over yet. There’s still enough life there and the world is still in existence-- there could be a chance the golden SoulBird could have appeared there to witness its dying planet of its Holy Spirit.”
I raised my eyebrows. Go to Earth? Right now?
Uncle E didn’t seem surprised. His gaze faltered. “Oh, do I have to?” He sounded upset now.
Lucien’s gaze hardened. “Perhaps you can trace its soul while you’re in a world of life. You know what will happen to the worlds if that golden SoulBird reunites with the others and become the Three. You must find at least one of them, and keep them separate.”
I winced. Was Lucien with those birds, or against them? I was starting to get a bad feeling about this. If he wanted the Three separate, then he wanted a change in the worlds’ fate.
Uncle E sighed. “Well…..I guess I’ll make my way to that blasted planet…..ugh I hate that world though! It’s gonna be even worse to come back again.”
Lucien chuckled. “Ebenezer, no one will see you. As a spirit of the afterlife, you know you’d just be invisible as a ghost of a dead body would be.” His eyes glinted. “Meet me at the Gehenna Volcano at sundown. You must leave in secret. Don’t even tell your perky little nephew where you’re goin’.”
Uncle E sighed. “Won’t be long until the boy finds out. He’s as sneaky as a rat.”
Lucien growled. “There are no rats in Purgatory,” he banged his spear and was ready to leave. “I’ll make sure of that.” And his spirit disappeared with a final squawk of his SoulBird. Uncle E was alone in the woods.
I held my breath, wondering with awe why Lucien hadn’t sensed me right here. The Gehenna River wasn’t that strong, and the Higher One should have sensed my coming from almost half a mile away.
Uncle E muttered creepily to himself, sounding angry now that Lucien was gone. He rose up, peeked behind his shoulder with a sharp look, and then left the area, heading into the woods until he disappeared in the bare trees.
I rose up as soon as he was gone. Uncle E-- going to Earth? I felt somewhat exhilarated, even though I wasn’t supposed to go or even know anything about going. I’ve always wanted to experience something as wicked and exciting as the apocalypse. I’ve always heard the others talk about how much fire there was and how much terrible destruction was tearing up the lands, along with angels that came with harpoons that stabbed the bodies of Earth creatures. I’ve always wanted to see such things. Life was so boring here, and the rituals got old. If Earth was still in the middle of the apocalypse, I still wanted to see it while I could. I could easily sneak after Uncle E tonight, for Lucien didn’t seem to have sensed me.
But I started to feel concerned. What were Lucien and Uncle E planning to do? What did Lucien mean by “keeping the Three separate?” What did he truly want? And why didn’t he want me to know?
“You idiot!” Saint Grenada’s spirit flashed in front of me and she was hovering above the river. But immediately, she coughed and gasped until she seemed to melt away. I winced and then started to chuckle deviously. The river must have been too much for her spirit.
But she reappeared behind me again.
“What are you laughin’ at, you fool?” She hit the back of my head with a ruler.
“Ow!” I turned and gave a fierce look. “Hey! Since when do spirits from Heaven touch us physically?!”
“Ahem! We are ALL spirits in the afterlife so we can all touch one another! Sheesh!” Grenada rolled her eyes. “Listen, you! I know what you’re thinking. You better not follow that fool of an uncle of yours down to where Earth is. You listen to me now! Do NOT think about following him tonight!”
“Oh? Why not? Are you hiding something from me as well?”
“I’m protecting you from the evils that reign over Earth now, for crying out loud!” Grenada clutched her ruler with both hands. She looked ready to break it. “You mustn’t trust Lucien either, but he is right to keep this a secret from you.”
“What is Lucien up to?” I asked with narrowed eyes. “Why doesn’t he want to unite the Three? What is he trying to keep from me?”
Grenada hissed. “You haven’t found out yet, haven’t you?” She scowled.
I scowled back. “Of course I haven’t found out! What? Is it supposed to be that simple?”
But Grenada was shaking her head. “Tsk, tsk, tsk, you are so stupid.”
“Just tell me if I’m not supposed to know, you worthless old hag!” I swatted my hand at her but my hand just ran right through her body. “Oh what the hell! So you can touch us but we can’t touch you? I was able to touch that snake from Hell! Why couldn’t YOU have been from Hell?!”
“Listen, child!” Snapped Grenada. “Just don’t be following Lucien OR your foolish uncle around. Do NOT go to Earth. Hell is rising and over taking that planet. That just means Hell is getting closer and closer to Purgatory as well. Tensions are going to be high especially if you’re in the last stage of this world where you’re so close to Hell. But because the apocalypse has taken over, Hell may just move up even closer, taking over Earth and getting nearer to this world as well. Do not wander in that world.”
“Oh? What if I can stop my uncle from retrieving that SoulBird? What if I find it before he does, and rescue Damien as well, before Lucien or Uncle E gets their hands on it?”
“You can do that when he gets back! I doubt your stupid uncle would even find the dang bird that quickly in one night! Just listen to me, okay?! I’m your saint-- your guardian angel! The other fools didn’t bother coming down here to reveal themselves to you-- I was the only one!” She let out an angry huff. “And it’s ‘cause I care about you that I waste my breath to reason with a helpless spirit like you!” And with that, she disappeared.
I scoffed and clenched my fists, feeling the burn upon my head.
Suddenly, a small tweeting noise squeaked from above, and I looked up to see that the little earth type I had brought to life, was perching on the tree branch above in front of me. It looked strange for its big feet to be perching on those branches, for it was meant to be on ground.
“Oh, great,” I turned away and walked on, trying to ignore it.
But of course, the excited little bird squealed and jumped off the branch, hopping after me, shaking something in its beak.
“What do you want now?!” I turned to glare fiercely at it. But I saw that it was carrying the rosary it its mouth. It had fetched it, and it looked like it was wanting to give it back to me.
I frowned. I didn’t want the bird or the rosary. But this time, I smiled sarcastically and said in a happy tone, “What the heck? Come on! Let’s go home.”
The SoulBird excitedly hopped onto my shoulder and tweeted happily.
I immediately grabbed the SoulBird, pinching my fingers around its tiny long legs. The SouldBird squealed but still kept the rosary around its neck.
“Things like you DESERVE to die off,” I muttered, kneeling down near the Gehenna River to drop the bird in.
But as I let go, the river immediately dried. The little bird fell into the shallow floor of the river and no fiery water ran through to wash it away.
I dropped my mouth open. I could see horrible traces of skeletons around the bird and pieces of gross flesh still remained around the floor of the dried up river.
The bird looked around with nervousness. The rosary was glowing around its neck, and I realized that must have done the trick.
“Wait a minute,” I took the rosary and the SoulBird cried out, hopping right out of the river before the boiling water suddenly came back and resumed its flow. The rosary was glowing in my hands, and the little bird was hovering in front of it, rapidly flapping its tiny wings.
I raised my eyebrows and met the bird’s gaze. It was gazing at me longingly. Perhaps its presence with the rosary was what kept Lucien from sensing me.
I sighed. I would be needing this rosary tonight if I wanted to follow Earth, and the bird was probably never going to leave me alone.
I frowned at the SoulBird and walked away, giving up. I let the darn thing follow me and along the way, I eyed the creature as it kept up with my pace as it hopped along. I broke into a run, and the little hatchling ran, keeping up and even running faster than me. Its legs were a blur as the tiny long-legged bird ran like the wind.
I managed to find the book Hannah had given me, and I spent the rest of the day studying earth types and how I can feed and handle this hatchling. Apparently, the first spirit that a newborn SoulBird meets will be its spirit that it will stick with like a soul mate. This hatchling was now able to read my feelings and feel exactly what I feel, and even interpret my thoughts.
I turned to glare at the hatchling-- or birdling as the SoulBird chicks were called. It was hopping around, pecking at all the twigs that lied around the ground. “Might as well give you a name if you’re gonna have me cursing about you for a while. I would give you a name like Twerpfeather or D*bag, but since you’re that important and you’ll be reading my feelings, I’ll call you….” the bird looked up and pecked into a tree that still bore sap. Its beak got all gooey and the birdling shook its head and made strange squeaks with its beak stuck closed. “….Dewey. That’s what I’ll call you.” I rolled my eyes and continued reading.
The bird hopped over to me and tilted its head right and left, flapping its wings and squeaking in a muffled tone.
I frowned. “I’m not going to help you.” I growled. I ignored the SoulBird for the rest of the day.
I caught Uncle E creeping out of the academy’s back gates that night as I returned to the school. I followed him quietly, making sure Dewey was on my shoulder and not noisily hopping around. The rosary was around my neck and I made my way through the woods, eying Uncle E as he crept by the Gehenna River.
It wasn’t long until we reached the southernmost end of the land. I glanced at the library, making sure it looked the same as before. I looked ahead and saw thick black smoke surrounding the top of the volcano. Dewey tweeted with awe.
“Shh!” I hissed.
Dewey blinked and looked around with curiosity.
“Yeah? It’s a big world, huh?” I muttered to the birdling. “Well, it’ll get old soon enough.”
Uncle E met Lucien all the way at the front of the volcano. His earth SoulBird was on the ground, poking its long beak everywhere, sniffing around the river. Lucien looked devilish as he smiled at Uncle E’s arrival.
“You need to get a SoulBird,” he said to the janitor. “It would make traveling much faster.”
Uncle E huffed. “You know how they always hate me! I can never understand why, but they always either peck at my eyes or poop in my hair. My hair wasn’t this crazy back in my mortal life!”
I had to snicker at Uncle E’s explanation. Dewey seemed to understand and started twittering himself.
Lucien chuckled and his SoulBird gave a savage expression as it looked up to rasp at Uncle E.
Uncle E gave it a savage look back, and the angry bird flinched, jumping back to Lucien’s side, but still kept its angry gaze at him. The red horns on its head shone brightly.
Uncle E snickered. “Hehe, that always scares ‘em, though. Rahh!” He gave the bird another surprising wild look of envy, making the bird jump up with a caterwauling yowl that echoed through the land. Uncle E looked scared himself and took a step back.
Lucien sharpened his eyes on Uncle E and his red eyes glimmered dangerously.
“Excuse me….your majesty,” Uncle E addressed quickly, holding his hands up.
Lucien laid a hand on his SoulBird’s back and the devilish creature calmed down, still panting with a look of fury.
“Next time I won’t be so nice,” muttered Lucien. His left eye sparked brightly and Uncle E gasped, dropping to his knees and coughing violently until he threw up a disgusting glob of blood.
Dewey flinched and huddled closer to my neck. I shivered at the sight and almost felt like throwing up myself.
Lucien looked sharply down at Uncle E and banged his spear. “Now! If you would hurry up? We don’t have all night.”
“Ugh!” Uncle E stood up. “But your majesty! What if I don’t find the egg on that world just yet?”
“Well, then don’t come back until you figure out SOMETHING!” Lucien looked exceedingly pissed now. “Either you go down and search the whole world before you come back empty handed, or find out a little something about where the golden bird could be.” The volcano rumbled behind them and Lucien’s SoulBird snarled angrily.
“The volcano is rumbling with tension now,” muttered Lucien. “You know the route to Earth? Don’t fall directly down. You’ll find yourself in Hell if you keep going until you reach the end. As soon as the green fires start to appear around you, then that’s when you have to stop and take a tunnel way to the west.” He looked at his SoulBird. “You’re gonna need a SoulBird to travel anywhere, though. I don’t trust giving Erecto to you-- but I trust giving you to Erecto.” He gazed at Uncle E with a sly smile.
Uncle E gasped and met his SoulBird’s hateful glare. “No-- no, not Erecto! The thing hates me more than all the varmint SoulBirds I’ve met!”
“You will follow Erecto, and do what he directs you to do,” growled Lucien, suddenly making Uncle E fall down and drag over to his heels. The janitor looked up at Lucien and his devilish SoulBird. “Erecto knows the path, and he’ll get you safely to Earth.”
“Ugh, safely enough as I can be with a SoulBird,” muttered Uncle E.
“It is through Erecto that I can direct where you are, for the both of us are soul mates, and we can feel each other no matter how far we are.” He laid a hand on his SoulBird’s back. “Take good care of him-- because I will know all that you’ve done to him afterwards.”
“W-where will you be in the meantime?”
Lucien etched a smile. “Well, just for tonight, I will search the depths of Hell for any of the missing Three.” And with that, he banged his spear, causing the land to shake. The ground cracked under Lucien’s feet, and the spirit disappeared down in the middle as the ground swallowed him up. Then the cracks enclosed and the ground was back to normal.
I watched in awe. Then I watched as Uncle E took after the angry Erecto as the bird hurried up the volcano, cawing and cackling to the sky.
“Wait!” Uncle E called. He was trailing behind. “I may have legs even longer than yours, but I’m not at all stronger! Wait!”
As soon as they disappeared in the smokes above, I huffed and hurried up after them.
“Come on, we’re going in,” I muttered to Dewey.
As soon as we got to the top, I didn’t even have time to hesitate or look around to see if Uncle E was anywhere. The force was so terrifying and extremely thick and hot, and I felt like I was going to faint. But the volcano was literally pulling me in. It was no wonder that the higher we had gotten, the more strong and capable I felt. This was the way to Hell, and on that way, we would arrive to Earth. I yowled and felt Dewey clutch his sharp long talons on my shoulder as he squealed with terror. The both of us fell down the large hole and I barely managed to get the thought to Dewey’s soul: I hope you know how to direct me to Earth.
And then everything went black.
I was dizzily blinking my eyes open to an unfamiliar place. Dewey was nudging my face with his beak, poking gently at my cheeks.
“Ow…” I slowly got up to my knees. I looked around. I was on the road of a deserted place. It looked just as the pictures I saw of Earth, with buildings on either side of the road ahead, except right now, it totally looked like a bomb had hit this place. I realized there was a crack in the street that led onwards, splitting the earth in two. As I peered down the crack, I could see lava flowing through. I looked around and saw how much this place looked like a wiped out destroyed ghost town. The skies above were a mix of thick darkness and red smoke filtering all around. The air smelled burned and poisonous. This really was Earth after its apocalypse. And in other places, it was still going on.
I looked around with awe, walking forwards. I wondered if this was Jerusalem. There was only one way to find out. I did remember people talking about the temple that had stood long and in place throughout all the years, and that it had been struck down and rebuilt many times. I walked on, wondering how I would ever get to find it.
Dewey hopped along my side, pecking and sniffing at all the piles of charcoal and the dirty trash bags that flew by along the ground.
I stared at all the buildings with wonder. Everything was in ruins. It was even more terrible than what you’d see after an earthquake and a wildfire combined.
I wondered how I was going to find Uncle E. I tried to listen for Saint Grenada to get at least some kind of help, but she was being useless again. I couldn’t hear her scolding voice.
“Dwee!” Dewey was staring to the left at a small house that had a big machine collapsed onto it. The machine had wings, but it was huge as if it could carry a number of people inside. I remembered this picture I had seen at the academy. It was a plane. And it was horribly destroyed with the house it crashed into. Boiling fiery water ran over the house and across our path.
“Dewey, just ignore it, it’s not another live SoulBird,” I muttered, walking along.
“Dweee! Dwee!” Dewey was looking at me, pointing at the sight with its tiny wing. It looked urgent.
I frowned. “What? You wanna go in there? Go ahead! Uncle E’s not gonna be in there. There’s fire in there.”
I stepped over the river of fire that trailed from the ruins and didn’t look back to see if Dewey had ran inside anyway. I didn’t care if I left the SoulBird on this planet to die.
It was just about five minutes later that I came to where the ruins were getting worse, and fire water seemed to appear more often here and there. There didn’t seem to be a soul alive around here. Dust particles flew in the air and the rest of my body was starting to feel as equally hot as the flames that were burning on my head.
I was starting to hear a strange murmur through the air and I narrowed my eyes. Looking around, there seemed to be flames erupting from the fiery waters. A deep rumbling sounded through the city, and in the distance just about twenty feet from the street I walked upon, I thought I could see what looked like a human kneeling down, carving something in the middle of the street. From the wings on its back, I could tell that it was obviously an angel, and the rest of its body was small and tan. It had no halo on its head, but it didn’t have the devil horns either. In its hands, it held a sharp spear that it was tearing the street with. I saw how deep the angel was carving the street as if it were nothing but soil. And with every crack that it made, smoke sizzled from it, and more dust particles were released into the air
The dust particles flew passed me and my face burned. I sputtered and sneezed, grumbling loudly that the angel heard me. The creature whipped its head around and faced me with a fierce scowl. The angel let out a low rasping hiss and aimed its spear at me.
I took a step back and faced it nervously. The flames on my head started to flicker intensely, but I barely felt it since I could feel the same heat all over me.
As soon as the angel saw the fires light on my head, it raised its eyebrows in surprise, and then disappeared with a look of fear. I took a few steps forward to curiously see what the angel had drawn. It was a strange circular symbol with a strange shape curling through it. I didn’t recognize the symbol at all, nor did I have any idea what it could mean. I realized the chanting and murmurings had stopped, though now I felt like I was being watched even more.
I wondered how I was going to get back. I stiffened and stopped walking. Maybe I shouldn’t have left Dewey back there. I remembered Lucien saying SoulBirds were the only way spirits could travel like this. Crap! I failed-- again. I had to find Dewey.
Turning around to head back, I took one step and then suddenly something shot up under me with a loud hiss, making me trip and fall over onto my chin. I grunted and glanced back with a look of horror. I had stepped over a snake. And the creature was hissing at me from behind where I fell, with its mouth wide open and its tongue lashing out.
“Ssssss! Don’t be ssssscared, human!” The snake spoke with a low cunning voice. It lowered its head and slithered the rest of its body around so that it was facing me with a sly evil gaze.
I couldn’t help but be scared. Images of the monstrous snake back at the library made me tremble in fear, even though this snake was much smaller and only about five feet long. This snake was brown, and also had a strange flap on both sides of its neck under its face, connecting to its cheeks. And each time it hissed, the flaps trembled like a blanket did when air blew through it.
The snake wrapped its slithery body around my ankles and I was stuck laying on my side without a way to flee. It stretched its head to meet my scared gaze. “Jussssst who are you?” The snake seemed to be smirking with humor as he spoke.
I didn’t answer, for my throat was clogged with fear.
“Do you sssspeak?” Hissed the snake. “If not, you musssst be an angel and I mussst kill you.” It gave another rasp with its mouth open and showed its long sharp fangs.
“I-I’m Zach,” I stuttered.
“Ah…..are you from Earth?” The snake narrowed its eyes at me with interest.
“Um…” I didn’t know whether to tell the truth or not. But I was too scared to think clearly. “No-- I’m a spirit from the afterlife. I’m from the world of Purgatory.” It was then that I realized how stupid my answer must sound.
But the snake didn’t seem to be bothered. He chuckled and let go of my ankles. “Well, then. That may eck-ssssplain everything. Not a ssssoul from the kingdom of Heaven or the underworld of Hell?”
“Ah,” the snake gave another hiss. “Sssstand up! Ssstand up, I won’t hurt you. Why, if you’re a ssspirit from the afterlife, then I musssst have no power against you! I’m jusssst a ssssnake from this dying planet itsssself.”
I slowly stood up to my feet. I stared down at the snake. “You’re from this planet? How can you see me?”
The snake chuckled. “Child, take a look at yourssssself. What’s that around your neck?”
I realized I was still wearing the rosary. It was shining slightly, and I could see that it was reflecting light upon the snake.
“Oh…..” I grabbed it and took a look at the cross. But the light was still aiming at the snake.
The snake suddenly look bothered by this. “That’sss right, sssspirit. Take it off. You won’t need itsss presensssee when you’re in thisss world.”
I blinked. “But this thing will protect me from all the devils and dangers of this world,” I said. If it dried up the whole Gehenna River for even a second, then it must have a strong shield against devils and anything that consisted with the river that flowed from Hell.
“Yessss, but it will reveal your presence to the rest of the living beings on Earth,” said the snake haughtily. “Get rid of it now. There are terrible creatures that will notice you because of it. You won’t be able to sssave yourself as much as you reveal yourssssself.”
I gazed into the snake’s glimmering eyes. They were bright green as shiny emeralds. At least it wasn’t a snake from Hellsfire that could turn into a forty foot long serpent like the one in the library. But I suddenly feared those sharp teeth and poisonous venom that I immediately took off the rosary from around my neck.
“What do I do with it?” I asked.
The snake hissed. “Come here. Follow meeee.” The snake slithered towards the ruins and turned to see if I was following.
Hesitantly, I hurried after it and followed the snake behind a heap of crashed broken buildings. There was a pit of boiling water swirling like a whirlpool, looking like it would flush anything down to Hell. As I looked around, traces of weak logs and pieces of broken buildings were dragging their way over to the pool to be swirled down and never seen again.
“Throw your necklace in there,” said the snake smoothly. “This is Hellssssfire. As you can sssssee, it can suck any unloving object to be washed away down to Hell.”
“I don’t want to get rid of this,” I said quietly, holding the small cross. “I just want to keep it somewhere while I can travel this world unseen.”
“Oh?” The snake turned to face me. “Isss it that important to you?”
“Well…it was given to me by someone back in Purgatory…”
“Oh, I ssssee,” and the snake chuckled quietly. Its body rose up and it wrapped itself around my legs, slithering up to my waist.
I stiffened with fear, though it did tickle a little bit as the snake slunk around my body and made its way to rest on my shoulder, coiled around my ribs as it looked at me in the eye. “What has it done for you? Hmm? Has it truly helped you in any way? Come on. You won’t need it now, or ever. Just throw it in the pool. Trusssst me.”
I was lost in the scary creepy eyes of the snake, stiffened with fear that I didn’t realize it was slowly moving its head to get a hold of my necklace.
But as the snake opened its mouth and dared to bite a hold of it, a sudden light flashed from the cross and struck the snake through the mouth.
The snake screamed and threw its head back with pain. It tightened its grip on me and I immediately lost my breath.
But a loud tweet sounded from behind and Dewey came out of nowhere, crashing into the snake and making it loosen its grip. The snake fell to the side, just my the edge of the whirling fire pool. The little bird was shining brightly and glaring at the snake with tiny angry eyes.
I panted, catching my breath. “Dewey!”
The snake instantly darted its head forward to bite at Dewey, but the bird dodged and gave the snake rapid pecks until it bled with agony.
The snake let out a rasping hiss and slithered quickly away, disappearing into the shadows ahead.

“Whoa, that was a close one! Zach, are you alright?!” It was the birdling speaking now.
I flinched and turned to face Dewey, who was staring up at me with rounded tiny button eyes.
“Huh?!” I said aloud. “Did you just TALK?”
But Dewey just tweeted back a “Dweee!” And flapped his tiny wings with its beak wide open. Then it shut its mouth and spoke again while its beak remained closed. “Of course I spoke! Haha! I’m your SoulBird, whether you like it or not. You created me, and so it is with my creator that I shall stick with for guidance and support.”
I realized the voice went through my head, and I wondered if I was just hearing things. Dewey wasn’t moving his beak so I was probably just hallucinating from that terror I just had with the snake. I turned away to narrow my eyes through the desolate alley where the snake had disappeared. I saw that particles and broken pieces were still being slowly dragged into the fiery whirlpool like it was a vacuum. I could feel it pulling on me, but I still remained my position.
“Hey! Don’t try to ignore me, Zachy! You won’t be able to ignore me as long as you live your afterlife with me!” Dewey was loudly flapping his stubby wings and giving me a sharp look.
I turned to frown down at the little bird. “Okay, I get it-- you can speak.” The thoughts ran through my head and we were suddenly communicating telepathically.
Dewey giggled. “Yup! You finally had the ears to hear me now, huh?”
“Does this only work because we are on another world?” I said dryly, wincing at how I realized how much clearer my thoughts really sounded in my head.
“No, you can speak with me whenever you want, and I can speak with you whenever I want!” Replied Dewey. His voice sounded like a childish little three year old. “Even though I’m just a few hours old, I still have some sense of my surroundings and who I am and what my purpose is.”
“Oh, that’s great,” I replied. “’Cause I wasn’t gonna be teaching or training you through anything.”
Dewey huffed. “Of course you won’t! I knew that from the start! I could read and trace your soul like a book! But it takes almost twelve hours for a newborn SoulBird to learn to fully understand its soul mate’s soul and learn to communicate with them. Also-- it takes twelve hours or more for its soul mate to even LISTEN to what its soul partner is trying to say to them!” He gave me a playful indignant look.
I glared at him and rolled my eyes. “Well, you’re wasting my time here. This wasn’t the best place for you to come outta the closet and start chatting. I wanna find my uncle and keep out of that snake’s way.”
“Hey! I saved you from that snake!” Said Dewey. “Huh! You would think you could last five minutes here in this world on your own just because you were born here and lived here for almost fifteen years. But I knew how to deal with things here and I was just born this morning!”
I scoffed. “Oh, so you can read the snake’s soul as well?”
“SoulBirds read any souls. But only their one true soul mate is the soul they can communicate with. I tell you-- you cannot communicate with any other SoulBird but your own.”
I breathed a sigh of relief out loud and in my head. “Whew, that’s a relief then. I was scared about having to here how yappy and deafening the other SoulBirds would sound to me now.”
Dewey chuckled slyly. “Well, you may not be able to communicate and understand what the other SoulBirds say, but I can. That SoulBird of Lucien’s, for example, he’s probably got the ugliest voice you could ever hear from a spirit! Ugh!” Dewey ruffled his feathers and his halo glimmered. “You never heard a much more foul-mouthed SoulBird as well. Erecto was cursing at Uncle E more than you would expect!”
“I didn’t expect him to literally be cursing at all,” I remarked tartly. “Where are they? Can’t you read their souls from far away?”
Dewey sighed and hopped around, dodging a rolling pile of broken house pieces that were making their way into the fiery whirlpool. “Well, I can’t read souls if they’re TOO far. But I can read souls like an animal can sense things around itself.” Dewey was perking his head up cutely, and his green gem on his forehead was brimming.
“Oh!” The birdling turned to face me with a start. “And I must remind you! That snake you were playing with--”
“I wasn’t playing with the snake,” I retorted rather snappishly. “The snake was playing with me.”
“Well, that snake told you it was an inhabitant of this planet right? Well it’s not.”
I stiffened. “It wasn’t?”
“Nope. I could read that snake’s soul clear as the sky. That snake was a spirit creature from Hell. Weren’t you even wondering why an inhabitant from this mortal world could actually wrap its body around you and physically come in contact with you like that?”
I huffed. “Well, I’m stupid. You should have already figured that out.” Come to realize it, the snake did look bothered by the rosary. I could picture the way it seemed to be melting under the shine that beamed upon it from the rosary. “Ugh, and I guess that was why it wanted me to get rid of this rosary.”
“Hmph! It probably would’ve wanted that whether it was a snake from Hell or not! All snakes are cunning that way. You shouldn’t trust them. But hey! Since Erecto’s soul is so strong and easy to read, I can get a tinge of where they can be.” Dewey hopped on forward, heading towards a narrow alleyway that looked drenched with some kind of liquid. I winced and peered closely at the sight, following the little bird.
“You better know what you’re doing, ‘cause I don’t,” I grumbled. “Are you sure that’s my uncle’s soul you can sense and not a dried up stinky trash bag in the air?”
Dewey laughed. “Whatever I’m sensing, it’s very much alive and vile, much like Erecto! Shh! Look over there!” Dewey stopped and poked his tiny head into a hole in a pile of debris.
I rolled my eyes and peered over the large pile. Nothing was there except for the tumbleweed that passed by. “What? I don’t see anything!”
But then I heard a strange rattling noise. An ominous faint boom sounded and I heard murmurings and chanting.
I gasped, feeling goosebumps crawl over me. “What the heck is that?”
“The spirits,” muttered Dewey, squinting his tiny eyes. “This is the land of Jerusalem, and the spirits are cleaning up the place, making sure not a trace of it is left on Earth.”
I winced. “This really is Jerusalem?”
“Yah, and that whirlpool of fire you saw back there was supposed to suck every last bit of this city until not a single trace of it is left. The whole world’s supposed to disappear by the end of time! But this city, Jerusalem, shall be among the very first.”
“Particularly,” I said, eying the devastated place all around, “this place is gonna be sucked down into Hell, right? Ugh….that helps me feel better about my birthplace.”
The voices were murmuring a low hum and I wondered if there were any angels we couldn’t see here. I was just going to ask Dewey about it, but then I gasped with wonder. There, ahead, was a part of the city that still looked good as new, as if the apocalypse hadn’t struck it alt all. A sense of déjà vu hit me, and I recognized it. “The temple….” I muttered. I climbed over the pile of debris.
“Huh? Zach! Where you going? Wait!” Cried Dewey, stumbling up the pile after me.
I jumped down and landed on the ground, just barely behind a stream of hot bloody water sizzling past. A skull flowed by and seemed to cackle in my face before it sunk out of sight.
I winced with disgust, glad to not be living here anymore.
I hurried through all the flying particles and dust in the air and held my breath as I ran out in the open, crossing the wide street to the other side until I found the temple. I looked all around with awe. The temple was destroyed, but I could still recognize parts of the features. I recalled visiting this place with my sister once-- it had been one secret visit since our parents had always forbidden us to venture into such a place. But I remembered the first time Angeline and I were here, wandering around curiously for the first time.
A dust particle landed on my head, and immediately, my headband burst into flames. Gasping, I felt a burn of another déjà vu. I was alone with my sister-- all was quiet. It was a cloudy day and the sky was thickening with even darker clouds. Angeline seemed to have wandered from my sight, and before I knew it, I was alone in front of the temple’s opening. I was just wondering about taking a step in, for some crazy feeling was welling inside of me, telling me that the inside was the most sacred part of the entire area. The ark in front of me was huge, and I was curious, ignorant of my strong gut feeling about going inside that altar.
Taking a step forward, I reached forward to push pass the fine linen curtain, but as soon as I opened my way in, I never got to see inside. A strong beam of light shone through and hit me in the face, and the Earth started to shake violently. The moment scared me out of my memory.
And now, here I was, standing in front of the altar again, as a spirit of the afterlife. The entire temple was burnt down, but it still seemed to remain as the strongest scene in the city. The altar was split in two, but the linen curtain was still there, bedraggled now, still blocking me from entering inside.
“Zach! What are you doing?” Dewey caught up behind me, panting by my ankles. “I don’t think you should be here. This part of the city-- I bet this is the only part that will not go down to the Hellsfire whirlpool.”
I said nothing, for I was still gazing around with awe. “I remember this place…”
Dewey gazed up at me and blinked. “Of course you do-- you died here. This was the place you perished right at the start of the apocalypse.”
And then I remembered it. I was standing in front of the altar with the light shining from the curtains, burning be to death. The apocalypse had come, but I hadn’t even noticed it. The light burned all over me and I had died right there-- right here.
The murmuring hymn of voices was most strong over here, and I looked at Dewey with disbelief. “You’re right….I did die here….but Angeline didn’t. Angeline’s still alive. I can feel it. Not just because Lucien told me so, but I can truly feel it. My sister is still here-- she’s probably the last soul in Jerusalem to be alive.”
Dewey clicked his long beak several times. “Hmph. Not even the slightest rodent or bug is found alive in these ruins of Jerusalem. All the living souls here perished and traces of their bodies are all sucked down into the whirlpool. Even the skeletons. After all the bodies and inhabitants of the city are gone, the whirlpool will start sucking in the rest of the ruins that remain around here in this city.”
“But Angleine….” I looked directly towards the altar. “She must still be here somewhere.”
Something rustled to the left. I turned and saw a shine of light from the bushes, and a small voice seemed to be humming. I narrowed my eyes and took a step towards the bush. But as soon as I ventured a few feet from the front of the curtain, I felt someone approaching behind me.
I whipped around and saw no one. Dewey fluttered to my shoulder and looked around with his gem glowing.
The curtains from the altar were starting to move. Suddenly, there from the opening behind the curtains, a lithe figure stepped out, revealing a pale skinned girl with a torn brown dress. Her hair was fair and short-- about an inch shorter than mine, for it hung slightly above the shoulders. But she was dazzlingly pretty-- like I said, I would have noticed how nice she looked if I even knew how to see pretty anymore.
But the girl looked terribly sad. Her eyes were blue and solemn, and she looked like she had been mourning for a long time. She was probably around my age, for she was tall and very thin, but she looked very young despite the redness around her eyes from her crying.
She stepped out with her arms in front of her clasped together in prayer. She dropped to her knees, looking ready to collapse. She closed her eyes and rested her head on the tips of her fingers. Tears were streaming down her pale cheeks, which were smudged with redness.
I felt sorry, and I almost wanted to reveal myself and speak to her. I knew she was no spirit, for her features of torn clothes and dirty skin showed how she had adapted to this harsh planet. But my rosary could probably reveal my presence to her, if the snake had been telling the truth.
But the same feeling that occurred to me about the girl occurred in Dewey as well, and the little bird was shaking his head. “That’s not Angeline.” The little bird spoke my feelings out loud for me.
No, this was not my sister, for I felt no sense of déjà vu at her sight. But what was she doing here? Why was she still alive in this city when it looked obvious that all inhabitants had perished around the entire place?
I narrowed my eyes and watched the girl mouth something in her prayer. Suddenly, I noticed a slithering shadow crawl up right in front of her. It was the snake.
Dewey gasped. “Oh no!”
The snake raised its head, shaking its tongue and vibrating the flaps on its neck.
“Child, what are you crying about?” Spoke the snake with a coaxing tone.
The girl gasped and immediately opened her eyes, looking up at the snake right in front of her. She froze, but the snake just chortled softly.
“Ssssso sassed to ssssee a human your age in tearsssss,” hissed the snake.
The girl’s eyes were wide with fear, and she suddenly rose up, taking a step back.
“Oh pleases, dear. Do not be ssssscared. I’m just as curioussss about your presence here, as you are of mine. Ssssstill alive, hmm?”
“You-- you’re not from this place,” the girl spoke in a nervous shaky tone. “It’s the truth-- all living inhabitants have died off in al of Jerusalem, unless they have taken refuge here in this altar.”
“Mm,” the snake swayed its head right to left, eying the girl slyly. “What makesss you think that I haven’t been in that altar in hiding?”
“You’re a snake-- you’re unclean. Nothing unclean must enter this altar.”
The snake chuckled. “Or it ussssed to be that way. Now this altar isss as weak as the rest of the city itself. Why, if it were sssso ssssacred, it would have desssstroyed me right now.”
The girl gasped and took another step back.
Dewey and I exchanged glances. The snake did have another good point. If he were a devilish creature, this place would have him destroyed in an instant, for he was on such holy grounds. But it was obvious that the ruins of this place were weakening it. I wondered how the girl could have survived inside that altar and lived to this point without dying off with the rest of the apocalypse.
“Tell me, ssssweetie. Are there any otherssss inside there bessssides you?”
The girl suddenly narrowed her eyes. “No. No one but me.”
The snake suddenly went from a smirking gaze to a glare. “You liar. Sssssomeone’s in there, and you’re hiding her from me.”
The girl huffed. “No one but me and a soul that you will never lay your fangs on!” The girl reached for something in her pocket and threw it towards the snake.
The snake screed and flinched back before the item hit it. I saw that it was a pocket-sized cross, just like the one on my necklace, but bigger.
The snake sizzled creepily at the presence of the cross, but it immediately spat out venom, destroying the item to ashes.
The girl gasped and looked utterly helpless now.
The snake glimmered its cunning eyes at her, chuckling. “You sssee? Everything here is dying. Not even the holy vesssstments of the altar is enough to ssstop me anymore. You, and the girl inssside, shall both die….tonight.”
And the snake struck the girl, biting her on the right hand.
The girl let out a short scream and flinched, grabbing her hand that started to ooze blood like crazy.
I flinched and Dewey tweeted loudly. “Attack it! Attack it!”
I narrowed my eyes and aimed the cross towards the snake, and the light immediately shone brightly on the snake’s eyes.
“Haasssssss!” The snake retaliated and whipped over to face me. “Hssss! You again!”
I huffed and looked up at the altar. There were thick red clouds surrounding the top of it and I heard a deep rumbling in the sky.
“Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” Taunted the snake. “Or should I send you there myself?”
“No you don’t!” Dewey crashed over my shoulder, jabbing the snake right at the center of its neck.
I flinched as orangey sizzling blood leaked from around the beak, but the snake didn’t seem to feel hurt as it looked.
I turned over to the girl, who was bending over as she clasped her hand. I aimed my cross towards her and the wound on her hand immediately started to shine. She gasped and followed the stream of light that shone towards her. She met my eyes. I stared at her with a narrowed gaze. The rumbling increased and a strong wind blew all around us. I felt the coolness of the wind and felt like I was going to be swept away as dust particles whirled all around.
The snake was cackling smoothly. “Heheee! Fear the underworld, fools! If I cannot get the girl myself, I’ll let the forces of Gehenna do so.”
The wind was swirling and I could see bones and broken chunks of buildings spin into a twister. In the distance, I could see a V shaped line of reddish devilish angels with ugly scowling faces. If I would remember what a bulldog looked like, I would’ve thought of them as half bulldog and half infants.
They were snarling and gurgling creepily, carrying harpoons of fire and wearing red spiky headbands on top their heads.
“Oh, no…hell-hounds,” gasped the girl. She was facing the opposite direction I was, and I turned to see that behind us, the earth was shaking and the ground up the street cracked in two. Eerie howling pierced through the city and the ugliest doglike creatures rose from the fires that shot out from the cracks. Ugly blood-marked skulls wrapped around their muzzles and their bodies were dark black with cracks etching across.
Some were two headed, some even three headed, but the ones that were single headed were among the largest and ugliest. They ran towards us with gush teeth and the girl screamed.
“Your rosary! Use the rosary!” She was looking at me with horror.
I let out a yell, for the snake had struck the back of my ankle, making me fall down to my knees.
“Zach!” Cried Dewey.
The snake chuckled. “Outta luck, boy. Satan’s hellhounds are faster than you think.”
The snake whipped my back and I yowled with agony. Arrows of fire shot over my head, hitting the ground in front of me, starting another rise of fire to block my path. I tried to get up, but my ankle was rapidly bleeding.
“Dewey?!” I yelled, looking up at the sky. my fiery headband was like nothing now, even though it was burning with such an amount it hadn’t burned before.
I spotted the flying bulldog-humans circling the sky, chasing after a small glow that was Dewey. The little SoulBird was distracting them and they shot their arrows all over and stirring up fiery twisters in the wind.
The hellhounds dashed through the flames and surrounded me with drooling bloodied faces.
I crouched, facing them all, feeling like prey trapped in a ring of wolverines. The hellhounds surrounded me, and a circle of fire surrounded the hellhounds.
But then a shine of light broke through the flames to my left and the girl’s hand reached in to grab my arm. She yanked me from the flames just before a hellhound missed to snap its jaws at my ankles. As I was out of the ring of fire, I fell beside the girl and met her gaze again. She looked scared and urgent, but her blue eyes were blazing.
“You’re Zachariah Ezekreth?” She gasped.
Feeling a quick pang of surprise at how she had already known my name, I nodded.
“I’m Lexie,” she introduced as a loud shot of fire flew through the air above our heads. The snake’s piercing cry was heard and the devilish bulldog angels were swatting at Dewey like he was a fly.
“Let’s get outta here!” I yelled, getting up, running forwards. “Where’s the altar?!” I didn’t know where I was going through all this terrible confusion of fires and fighting hellhounds. A monstrous creature suddenly crashed out of nowhere from the buildings and would have chomped my head off if I didn’t duck.
Lexie caught up to me. “We won’t be safe in the altar! Those are unbaptized babies,” she pointed to the devilish angels.
“You mean the ones that look like bulldogs and monkeys?” I had to raise my voice over all the yowling and screaming from the creatures that were appearing from the cracks and twisters. Hellish fiends were appearing here and there, fighting each other or destroying the buildings nearby.
“Yeah!” Shouted Lexie. “Those are the unbaptized babies from the underworld of Hell. These ones seem new, so they’re gonna be strong enough to have the place destroyed!”
A fiery harpoon shot over our heads and a loud boom exploded from behind. I flinched and narrowed my eyes behind me.
“We’re a little further away from the altar now since your bird seems to have lead them away,” said Lexie, grabbing my arm. “Come on, we can’t do anything but defend ourselves with that single rosary.”
We were just about to run back, but then the snake was suddenly in our path. It had its head raised as it faced us with a glimmering creepy glare. “Goin’ ssssomewhere?” A loud scream pierced the sky as one of the anabaptized babies was struck in the heart by Dewey’s small long beak. “Hm-hmm, it’s too bad that only one of you would be easier to kill than the other,” he glared at Lexie, who shrunk under his gaze. “But nevertheless! I’ll still be able to drag you both to Hell! One of you already deserves it.”
The snake struck forwards at me and bit my side.
“Zach!” Cried the girl. She took my rosary and shone it on the wound. The wound immediately healed. The snake rasped with anger.
“That would be the last thing you’d use if Satan were here!” And the snake whipped Lexie’s hand, making her drop the rosary.
“No!” I grabbed it and whacked it towards the snake, making the creature immediately bleed. The snake screamed and thrashed like a worm. The light shone on it vibrantly, and I was starting to feel exhilarated. I whipped the snake again. Orange blood splashed out and streaked over its back as I whacked at it. The snake was crying helplessly in terror and whipped around like a struggling worm.
“Zach, be careful!” Gasped Lexie.
The snake gave one more agonized scream and burned to ashes. I stared with awe. “Hey, that was easy,” but I spoke too soon.
The skies thundered and the ground shook. The fires rose all around us and I looked over to Lexie’s terrified gaze. “Satan….” her voice shook.
In front of us, the ground split and more of those creepy ugly anabaptized babies flew out, screaming and crying with anguish. Chupacobras and gory looking monsters escaped, and last of all, the largest, ugliest serpent rose from the ground, rising its head to almost forty feet high. I lost my breath with horror. This serpent was ten times scarier than the giant snake back at the library. It had seven heads and ten horns. On its head were seven diadems. Its eyes were bloody and horribly furious, and as the rest of its body continued to rise out from the ground, I saw that it was an entire dragon with a long serpent-like neck. Its tail rose and swept through the swirling thick sky, cutting through the air and drawing what looked like a line of blood. It was as if the air was bleeding from the dragon’s tail tip.
I heard a scream from Lexie beside me as she jumped back, staring at the dragon’s feet in horror. I looked and saw that horrid amounts of creepy crawly bugs were escaping the crack in which the dragon had climbed out of. They buzzed and whirred as they headed towards us, crawling over my feet and making their way all over my body. I yelled and fell to the ground, thrashing and screaming with frustration.
Lexie screamed and ran back, not able to take it.
“Lexie!” But this time, she didn’t help me. She was too caught up in her own disgust to hear me now.
The dragon snorted and I looked through the blinding swarm of bugs that crawled over my eyes, seeing that the bleeding air poured blood to my forehead, washing away a small amount of bugs upon my face. I was able to clearly see the next swarm of bugs that were escaping the bloody crack in the air. At first, they were swarms of more horrible tiny flying creatures, and I heard a shriek from Dewey. He flashed through the sky like a shooting star, his bright glow seizing and burning away all the swarms of terrible bugs. Dewey flapped his wings and landed beside me as I lay there, stiffening as I felt the bugs bite me and suck my blood until I felt nauseous. Dewey hopped around me and pecked at each of the bugs, even eating some of them, until the swarms stopped crawling over me. Then Dewey healed my terrible bites with a shine of light from his gem.
Lexie ran over and looked down at me with sorrow. “Oh! Zach!” She held out a hand and I grabbed it without seeing clearly. One of my eyes was closed with a terrible rash and my other eye was dazed and dizzy.
Behind me, the large dragon growled and blew out a terrible smoke of fire at the bleeding crack. This time, large gigantic bugs of all kinds escaped, giant horse flies the size of buses and giant mosquitoes twenty feet long.
They buzzed and flew threw the treacherous fires, and I could see it was going to take more than just light and fire to defeat these things.
“Ugh! NOOO!” Lexie’s face was twisted with horror and disgust.
The dragon growled and as I turned to meet its devious devilish gaze, I stiffened with horror at the sight of all those seven monstrous bloody eyes staring right at me. They were like bloody holes with a gleaming red pupil in the middle. The dragon drooled and a gross glob of blood dropped just a few feet in front of me, and sizzled, slithering its way up to me like a red squishy snake.
“Zach! Look out!” Lexie cried as I stood there, still staring up. Those eyes-- they were literally holding me in place. I was transfixed, and the more I stared into that red gleam, I started to feel my eyes burn and slowly become red.
“Wahh!” Dewey gave me kick behind my head and I snapped out of it, turning to glare at Lexie with red eyes, making her scream and jump back.
But then I blinked and regained consciousness. “Ugh! What happened?”
“Zach, that’s Satan!” Lexie huffed. “Not even your bird can do anything!”
As the dragon let out a thunderous roar, cracking the sky until blood fell down, I realized all was hopeless. The drops of blood landed here and there, and everywhere they splashed, they sizzled and burned away every last bit of debris here in the city. The fires continued to spread, and the hellish creatures cried and danced with evil glory, running along with the fire in the city’s destruction. Bones and bodies were thrown all around, and the air was filled with a poisonous stench.
But suddenly, Dewey tweeted and called to the sky.
“What are you doing?!” I yelled as the little bird hovered higher from behind me, calling to the sky.
“Zach-- they’re coming!” He looked at me and Lexie with a look of confidence. “They’re coming! I can hear them!”
And then the cracked sky suddenly split right above the birdling as he shone his gem to an open part between the clouds. A shine of light shone down and a trumpeting sound echoed through the city. A band of bright angels appeared from the shine, and at the front, I recognized with disbelief, that it was the nurse, Hannah.
Hannah looked totally different. She didn’t look like the calm nurse back in Bhad. She had her wings spreading from behind her shoulders, and her halo was bright and shining with intensity. Her air type SoulBird, Chelsey, looked valiantly brave as she flew along her side, leading the band of angels behind them.
The band of angels carried harpoons and were shooting at all the terrible creatures that surrounded us, and flying over the fires, creating a shine of light to make the flames dissolve.
Lexie gasped and stared with wonder. “Angels…..they’re just as I pictured them.”
Some of them wore dresses and long white tunics, others were nude and small, just like the anabaptized babies, except with a halo and a shine of light around them, without the bulldog-like face.
The dragon immediately looked angry and terrified at the same time with all seven eyes darting everywhere in all directions. It blew out fire and stomped its five large feet, whipping its tail to scratch the sky and draw more blood, but the angels were too powerful. They renewed the sky and struck the dragon, some working together to shoot their harpoons at it. The dragon cried in horror and rose to full height, standing only on its back two legs.
All around us, the creatures from Hell were yowling and crying as they fell to the ground. The unbaptized babies were crying and wailing noisily and many were being shot out of the sky. There were only about two dozen angels, but Hannah was swooping through all the scattered troops, shouting commands.
She suddenly met my gaze. “Zach! Hang in there! We’re here to rescue you!” She was blocked from my gaze as a shot of fire blasted pass, and a group of hellhounds were being sucked back into the hole in front of us, where most of the creatures had come from.
“No!” I heard Hannah’s cry.
Dewey let out a tweet of triumph. “They answered my call! Thank goodness we were near the altar so they could hear us!”
Lexie gasped. “No! They’re fleeing now!”
Many of the creatures were jumping back into the cracks, and some even managed to turn the angels on each other. One of the anabaptized babies got out of the way as an angel shot a harpoon at it, and the harpoon accidentally hit the other side, stabbing another angel in the heart. A band of anabaptized babies crowded around the wounded angel and started to devour it.
“No! Hannah! Over here! They’re gaining on you!” I called.
But then I felt hands clasp around my mouth and I let out a muffled scream. To my right, Lexie was gone. I saw that were body was lying on the ground, and Dewey was hopping after her, yelling angrily as she was being dragged away by a small little red imp-like creature with ears pointed at the sides of its oval head. There were small black bat-like wings behind it, and it had skinny arms and legs as it crawled forwards with Lexie’s shoulders gripped in its hands at the front. It had a stranded tail with a sharp triangle at the end, and each time Dewey desperately tried to get around the creature, its tail rapidly shot towards it and tried to whip the bird, keeping Dewey from getting around it.
I yelled in a muffled voice and struggled. The same creature was clutching me as well. Its eyes gleamed devilishly, and it gave a low snicker. “Quiet, fool,” it had a doubled, small but evil-sounding voice. “Let’s scram outta here. We hells fiends didn’t come up here for nothing. If the girl in the altar couldn’t be found, then we all came here for YOU.”
Girl in the altar…..I wondered if that was my sister? She was the last living soul I knew of besides Lexie.
But the hotness of the devilish creature was getting to me, and my eyes were streaming with hot tears.
“Oh! I’m sorry! Are you too hot? Lemme cool you down,” and the little imp stabbed my side with its triangle tail.
I stiffened, and then fell limp. Everything was in a blur and I was being dragged after Lexie, through the fires and turmoil, faintly hearing the cries of fighting above. The imp was taking me down the crack, following the other imp as it jumped down the opening with Lexie and Dewey calling after it.
“No worries. Hehe, you WON’T be alone,” and the imp jumped in. But I couldn’t manage to see where we were falling through. Everything had gone black.

“Rise and darken, fools!” The imp’s scraggly voice screamed in my ears and echoed around a darkened cavern as I flinched awake.
Looking around, I couldn’t see a thing. The last thing I remembered was falling into the crack down into the Earth with the red-skinned cat-like creature with the devil tail and eyes.
A burst of flames suddenly lit up and I saw that another imp in front of me was lighting the place with his sharp tail tip on fire. On his left side, he had Lexie’s hand grasped tightly in his own burning hand.
“Come now!” Behind me, the imp that was escorting me was gripping the tiny legs of Dewey between his two fingers. A strand wrapped around his beak to keep it shut, and Dewey was fluttering and murmuring screams as he glowed brightly like a firefly on my side.
“Hey, hey! You ain’t goin’ anywhere, ya little twerp,” the imp that held me gave a yank on Dewey and make the bird scream.
“Hey!” I growled down at the little imp and gave the darn thing a kick. It was no bigger than a house cat. It fell over with an anguished cry, fluttering its black bat-like wings and reddening with fire.
“How DARE you!” The imp blew a stinky breath of smoke at my face but I just glared, narrowing my eyes, and ducking, to grab the imp’s arm and squeeze it tight to make him release Dewey.
“Wmmm! Mmmm!” Dewey squeaked, trying to break the strand around its beak. It scraped its talons underneath and managed to cut it loose. “Wahhh! I couldn’t breathe! You! Who are you and your stupid girlfriend to come and take us to your hellish place?!” He was yelling at the imp that was escorting him and me.
“Girlfriend?” I winced and looked at the imp that held Lexie’s hand.
The imp gave me a haughty look. “Oh! Now that’s just insulting!” She did have a girly female voice—a lot like those conceited cheerleaders back at St. Gretchen’s Academy. “Huh! Perhaps you truly do belong to Hell! I wish you weren’t already dead so that I can kill you myself!”
Lexie shuddered and said nothing, looking pale and flushed.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Yeah? Well you probably wouldn’t have the power to do so even if I were alive anyways.”
“Oh you--” the female imp’s eyes glowered and she crouched down, looking ready to charge at me.
But the male imp stepped in front of me and held out his little arms. “Now shut it! If we’re ever gonna get to the world’s center, then we’d better just hurry up and get a move on! We’ve only stopped to wake YOU humans up because we’re gettin’ tired of pullin’ ya.”
Dewey scoffed. “Cannot even pull a dead spirit like Zach?”
The male imp whipped to face the little bird. “Spirit or no spirit, all you humans are the same to me! We’re able to drag you with us whether you’re alive or dead!”
“I bet that’s ‘cause you yourselves are neither alive or dead. You’re just hell fiends, and that makes you nothin’ but low-class losers—literally! Being from Hell really does put you in the lowest class even lower than Bhad!”
“Why you little--” the male imp swatted a hand to slash at the birdling, but Dewey dodged and ran around the imp like a rodent ran from a human. The imp whirled around in confusion as Dewey ran towards the female and made it under her legs.
“Wha?!” The female looked down, dumbfounded, and didn’t notice the male running after the bird, heading rapidly straight towards her, crashing into her and making both of them clumsily tumble over.
Both imps thrashed around and fought each other, yelling at each other in their strange imp-language, clawing and striking at each other like a viciously mad couple. Some couple they were! The fighting was already getting pretty gory—the female struck the male’s face with her claws, tearing an ugly slash and making him bleed. The male screamed and stabbed the female with his tail, and lighting it on fire.
I snickered and crept to the side, giving Lexie a raised look to come over. She and I met up at the corner of the cavern in the shadows, and we sneaked away from the imps.
As soon as we crept behind a boulder wall, Dewey ran around and caught up with us.
“Oh thanks a lot! Just leave me behind after I helped you like that, huh?” He narrowed his little button eyes at me.
“Oh, we didn’t mean to,” said Lexie. “Thanks a lot! We really couldn’t have done much without you. Zach, what’s your bird’s name? He was brilliant when he fought those unbaptized babies.”
I narrowed my eyes. “His name’s Dewey. And he’s a SoulBird.”
“Oh I knew he was a SoulBird.”
“How would YOU know? You’re no soul from Purgatory.”
“Well, I’ve heard about them and I’ve studied them in the altar in Jerusalem while I’ve taken refuge.”
I gave a studying expression. “I don’t get it. I thought all souls died in Jerusalem already.”
“Except for your sister!” Remarked Dewey. “Zach had a sister that was actually the last living soul in the city! But apparently, you are among the last ones as well.”
“Oh, he’s so cute!” Lexie knelt down and cooed at Dewey, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying being flattered.
I rolled my eyes and leaned back against the wall, wanting this world to swallow me up even more. “You can have him if you want. I have no care for SoulBirds.”
“Hey!” Dewey gave me a half-mad, half-hurt look.
Lexie looked at me. “Really? You don’t like SoulBirds? And you’re from Purgatory?”
“Yep,” I crossed my arms. “Never liked ‘em, never will.” I met Dewey’s gaze with a narrowed look.
A sudden bomb exploded behind the walls and I gasped, falling forwards to my knees, cursing with annoyance.
“Come on,” I growled, getting up and heading into the shadows. “We’re still too close to those imps. They’re gonna start looking for us soon.”
We headed deeper into the caverns with Dewey as our walking lantern to light our way from his angelic glow.
I explained to Lexie more about SoulBirds, reminding her that once she was dead, she wouldn’t be able to hear Dewey speak anymore since he was only my SoulBird. I also explained the world of Purgatory and its stupid significance, how it had seven stages to help purify you to the point when you can finally go to Heaven, or punish you to the point when you can make it to Hell.
Lexie was listening with interest and her blue eyes focused on me with a soft gaze.
“So what stage are you in?” She asked.
I frowned, not looking at her. “I’m from Primal,” I lied. I didn’t want to make her think lowly of me for being in Bhad, the lowest stage of all, though it would have already been too obvious for her to not believe I came from a stage as high as Guhd.
“Oh really? That’s…..the middle stage, right?”
I nodded. Dewey was giving me a strange upraised expression, but thankfully, he kept his beak shut. “Primal is the fourth of the seven stages. Below it are the lower lands and above it are the higher lands. It is in the land of Primal that angelic SoulBirds like Dewey start to become more popular.”
“Ah,” Lexie nodded. “I wonder where I will go. Heaven, Hell, or even Purgatory.”
I gave her a wince. “Really? You think you’d have the chance to go to Hell?”
Lexie sighed. “No… whole life I’ve dedicated my soul to the Holy Spirit.” She looked up as we walked along, staring up at the dark ceilings that were nothing but rocks. “My father was one of the priests of the altar, and he served sacrifices and holocausts for the Lord of Heaven. I came to the altar with him every day, though I was never allowed inside since I was no priest.” She looked at me. “No one’s allowed inside the altar but priests.”
“So apparently, the altar HAS gotten weaker?” I remarked. “Is that why you were able to find refuge in there?”
“The whole city of Jerusalem has gotten so weak to the point where there is no living soul and the angels can sweep up the city to clear the earth of its presence.”
Dewey piped up. “Ooh! Of course! That’s why the fiery whirlpool was there to suck everything down to Hell!”
Lexie nodded, smiling at the little bird. “But the altar is the only part of the city to stand through all that. Though it has been destroyed partially by the effects of the apocalypse, it is destined to stand there as the holiest Place of God, so that when all of Jerusalem is cleared, the entire temple and the altar will arise and go to Heaven, where the new Jerusalem will be.”
I listened carefully. “New Jerusalem?”
“Jerusalem was the chosen place of God,” said Lexie. “But because it has fallen in the past, it will be swept into Hell, and all the bad souls and idols that have been an insult to the Lord shall be the first to be swept into Hell. But a new Jerusalem awaits the good souls of the city, and that new place is in Heaven, with the Holy One. The altar, too, will rise and appear in Heaven, for it is the holiest place for the Lord. I have taken refuge in it, and all through the apocalypse, I’ve managed to survive and pray for the sake of this world, besides my own life.” She turned away, looking saddened. “I’ve lost everything I have, but before I let the Lord take me, I just wanted to survive a few more moments to pray and truly hear the Holy Spirit speak to me of why such a thing has happened to this world….why everything is just finally being wiped out right now.”
I looked at her and then said, “Well, was there anyone else in the altar? Who is that girl that the snake was talking about?” I looked at her carefully, remembering my sister Angeline. “He said he came for her. But since he wasn’t able to enter the altar where she took refuge, he chose to go after me. Who was that girl really?”
Lexie was silent, and she wasn’t meeting my gaze.
I looked down. “What did you learn at the altar?”
Lexie was still silent for a moment, and then sighed. “The world has to end sometime. And it was at the point when things were at their worst that the Lord decided to send the apocalypse. The eternal life would be so much better, so all living inhabitants would find their way from this terrible world, to another place according to their deeds.” She looked at me. “It’s what I’ve always been waiting for from Jesus Christ. He said, ‘I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense to give to every man according to his deeds.’”
At that moment, I felt a strange feeling inside me, and I stopped walking, facing the tunnel ahead.
Lexie and Dewey stopped walking. “Zach? Are you okay?” Asked Lexie.
I said nothing. Of course I was judged for my deeds. There was no other reason why I was in Purgatory. I was born of evil and evil—yet thanks to the small amount of goodness that Grenada and the saints “blessed” me with, I was able to have a slight second chance.
Lexie looked at me with concern. “Zach?”
Dewey tweeted softly, for he was feeling my feelings.
I felt a rumble around me and shook my head. “Uh….”
“Are you feeling alright?” Lexie asked. “We really should find the right way out of here. It’s getting terribly hot—I don’t think we’re anywhere near the top where we came from.”
“We’re going down to the center of the earth!” Shouted Dewey in distress. “Or at least that was where the imps were taking us! You know why it was at the center of the Earth? Because that was where STRONGER creatures could deal with us and drag us back to Hell since those imps were too weak to do so themselves.”
“Well, we can’t go to the center of the Earth,” I growled. “We’re not going anywhere near Hell. I’ve got to get back to Purgatory, and you….” I looked at Lexie with a narrowed gaze. She was staring at me patiently. “You just need to find somewhere safe again, ‘cause it was my fault that this had to happen to you.”
Lexie chuckled. “What are you talking about? You don’t have to blame it on yourself--”
“I’m not,” I snapped, interrupting her with a frown. “It’s true—the only reason why all those hellhounds and fiends rose from the underworld was because of me. They’re….trying to take me to Hell because I was easy target for them since I was a spirit on Earth.” I realized how much trouble I really caused. It was already close enough to fall to Hell when you were in the lowest class in Purgatory, but now that I had gotten even closer to the passing world of Earth, Hell could totally grab me by the neck and pull me down just like they just tried to do with me moments ago. And of course Hell would notice me—my father was down there and wanting to lure me as close as I can get to him. I couldn’t help wondering if he had been the one to summon those fiends to take me like that.
I sighed and looked down at Dewey, who was gazing at me with his round tiny eyes. “Come on, at least keep from Hell as far as we can.”
But then as soon as I turned around, I flinched as I was an inch in front of the upsidedown face of the male imp. Lexie gasped as the female imp crawled from behind. Both of them were on the low ceiling above us, and the male imp clung with his claws as he hung upsidedown to smirk at me.
“Not so fast, spirit,” snickered the imp. “You aren’t goin’ anywhere.”
I punched the imp in the face and he fell off the ceiling with a yowl. Dewey let out a loud caterwauling cry and ran after me as I jumped over the imp’s body.
“Lexie! Let’s go!” I yelled.
The female imp barely managed to miss the swipe at me as I passed her underneath. But she leapt back and collided with Lexie, knocking the girl back on the hard rocky ground.
Dewey tweeted and jumped up and down.
I turned to see the female imp tackling Lexie as she desperately tried to throw the foul creature off.
I made a dash back towards her, but the male imp blocked my way. “It’s no use, boy! We only want YOU. The girl still has time before she dies and has her spirit dragged to Hell, but YOU are who Satan wants to see.” And with that, he gave a monstrous scowl, he leapt towards me and wrapped his body over my face, tipping me over.
I fell back and tumbled down a hole in the ground again. We both rolled head over heels until we bumped into a tall rock that jutted from the ground.
The imp and I cursed and shook ourselves and looked around.
“Oh great! That’s gonna take a long time to climb back up! And I’m terribly lazy!” He grimaced at me. “Lucky for you, we have to get down as far as possible.”
I glared at the imp, but then I heard strange singing. The singing echoed through the whole cavern and the voice seemed to be filled with joy and longing.
I winced. “Who would be singing like this in such a place….”
“Huh! No hellsfiend I recognize!” Scoffed the male imp, balling his hands. “Just another soul I can drag to become one, though.”
The female imp tumbled down the steep rocks as Lexie and Dewey hurried forwards in front of her.
“Argh! Demetrius!” Yowled the imp. “Help me this instant—WAH!” She landed on her face right by the male imp’s side.
Demetrius, the male imp, snickered. “Dang, Jezelle, cut some slack. You’re dealing with a real human, not a spirit.”
“Shut up!” She leapt up and flung herself at him. They fought and yowled again with possessed envy. Dewey hopped by my ankle, watching them with humor.
Lexie rose to my side and looked around. “Oh no…it’s so hot. Look how burned this place looks…”
The imps were both on fire as they tumbled and fought each other like cats, rolling this way and that, tumbling backwards and forwards, snarling and snapping while their red bodies sizzled over the charred rocks below them.
Then suddenly, a shot of fire burst from the grounds ahead, bursting to hit the top of the ceiling. The whole place was rumbling and sizzling with heat.
Demetrius and Jezelle stopped fighting and stared with awe. Four-legged creatures were appearing from the bursting fire, and as they came into view, I saw that they were four hellhounds, one of them being two-headed.
They growled as they padded their way up. Lexie and I froze, for the hellhounds looked even more monstrous when they were in an enclosed area underground.
Demetrius and Jezelle immediately let each other go, clumsily standing aside, acting as if nothing had come between them.
“Scollgrem!” Demetrius addressed the first hellhound that stepped up to glare at them with monstrous envy. “At your service! We’ve delivered the Satan spirit from Purgatory!”
“And with an extra human to sacrifice as well!” Added Jezelle with a high sarcastic tone.
I winced. Satan spirit? Did they have to call me that?
The hellhound growled and snapped its teeth at Demetrius and Jezelle, making both of them yowl with surprise and grab each other in fear.
“You fools have no right to lay hands on the Satan spirit!” Snarled Scollgrem. His voice was a deep rumbling of monstrous growls. It made me shudder at the sound of it. The other hellhounds surrounded their leader and snorted at the two imps as if they were ready to devour them like prey.
Scollgrem raised his skulled ugly head to face Dewey, Lexie and I. “The Satan spirit,” he remarked eying me through the bloodied holes of where his eye sockets should have been. I stiffened as the canine stepped up and faced me with a snarling snout. His nose seemed to be noisily sniffing and snorting. The creature’s head was almost high enough to reach mine. “You come from the lands of Purgatory, eh?”
I slowly nodded. Lexie was watching the dog with a wide-eyed look of fear.
The dog growled and snorted a smoke of fire towards me. “Come with me! The souls of Hell have been craving you for a long time.”
I had no choice but to obey. Dewey whimpered and hopped by my feet as I followed the hellhound to the left tunnel of the charred cavern. The rest of his hounds roughly nudged Demetrius and Jezelle to follow along. Lexie followed me from behind, not wanting to stay back by herself.
These hounds were probably no other than Satan’s own hellhounds. I could feel the fiery tension from them as I watched Dewey shy helplessly away as their fiery hellish glow made him cough and keep from getting too close. They smelled of strong smoke and the worst stench of wet dog erupted from them at the same time that I couldn’t breathe.
As we ventured through the caverns, traveling farther underground, the rocks were starting to sizzle, and I was seeing more streams of lava flow along with us.
Finally, it became so hot that I felt like I was back in Bhad, wearing all my punishment accessories.
“Hold your soul,” growled one of the hellhounds as it gave Jezelle a rough nudge. “We’re almost there.”
And there, ahead of us, a large ball of fire beamed with an extremely hot red orange glow in the space around it.
I blinked and stared straight at it. It reminded me of another certain ball of fire I had once seen in my life-- the sun. In Purgatory, the sun provided no brightness whatsoever, but now that I was looking at this other great ball of fire, I was reminded of how strong and lighted the sun truly used to be.
But this was not the sun. This was inside the earth and shone brightly from within, not above the planet to shine on it.
“Welcome to the center of the earth, spirit,” growled Scollgrem, giving me a nudge as I stopped to stare at the surroundings in awe. All around the caverns were lighted up from the red orange glow of the ball. But though it shone brilliantly, I could see that it seemed to be falling frail. This fiery ball looked like it could have shone brighter and become bigger. The ball was huge but it looked like it was slowly shrinking and weakening rather than shining stronger and stronger.
“The Earth is dying, as you can see,” Scollgrem remarked with a snort. “The very heart of this planet will soon melt away and its warmth will go out and once it is dead, the rest of the planet shall be completely over.”
“It is from Satan’s anabaptized babies that are draining its power,” growled one of the hellhounds. “Pretty soon, the underworld of Hell will rise and take every last soul on Earth to join the realms of Hell before it’s too late.”
“You were born of a demon child, spirit,” growled Scollgrem, deepening his gaze into my eyes. I felt my heart rise as I stared into those bloody sockets. “You belong with us… are more to Satan’s world than all the spirits of the world combined. This is why Satan wants to see you.”
A burst of fire erupted from underneath the fiery ball, and a hot pool started to sizzle.
“Uh-oh,” whimpered Demetrius.
I watched as fiends and gory bodies started to form from the flow of the boiling water and create the bodies of chupacobras, monsters, and all kinds of ugly creatures anyone could imagine.
The hellhounds stiffened and growled as they awaited all the creatures as they took their places around us. I looked over to where Dewey stood as small and meek as a helpless bug, for he was no match the creatures of Satan.
I stiffened and watched all the horrible creatures come to life around us. The ball of fire was starting to shoot out small shots of fire and flames in the air, and from those flames came anabaptized babies that wailed and cried with agony as they formed their red devilish bodies.
In the midst of all of this, I started to hear the strange singing ring in my ears once again. It was the same singing voice I heard just moments ago. It sounded like a lady, and she seemed to be calling my name through the singing.
I winced and looked around. Scollgrem, who was at my right side, had his head lowered as he focused on every one of the creatures that came in the picture, making sure they all took their positions to await the real master, Satan.
I turned behind me and then kept myself from gasping. There, an angelic spirit was kneeling down with a ghostly glow around her, and a halo around her blonde head. The angel was smiling, and she wore a long silky yellow-white gown and had white swan-like wings behind her shoulders. Her eyes were softly closed, but she blinked them open as she heard my mutter of disbelief.
“Hello, child!” Her voice was rich and full of glee and fluttered above the ground, hovering just a few feet in front of me.
“Shh!” I hissed, looking over at Scollgrem, though the hellhound didn’t seem to have taken notice. Everyone, even Lexie and Dewey, seemed to be enhanced with the forming creatures that surrounded the place.
“Ooh! Hehe, do not worry, child! No one will notice me right now. Why, I’m merely the penny in a pot of gold!” Her voice was soft and excited.
“Are you one of Hannah’s angels that followed me here?” I muttered, taking a quiet step away from Scollgrem.
The angel chuckled in a calm tone. “One of Michael’s angels, actually. Those angels that tried to save you when they fought Satan’s dragon were actually of Michael’s angels. Hannah was just taking charge since she knew just where to find you.
“And lucky me! I was the one sent to follow you down here and find you for them—for I am Saint Annabelle! One of your guardian angels who blessed you when you were just a tiny little Earth baby!”
I flinched and stared at her with raw disbelief. I laughed out loud, for the place was already noisy enough with caterwauling creatures behind us. “Aha! Some guardian angel YOU turned out to be then. Shouldn’t you have already known where I was so that you didn’t have to ‘follow’ me down here? You’re a little too late to save me now.”
The saint sighed and hovered to stand on the ground, looking ashamed of herself. She clasped her hands together. “Yes, I am truly sorry. It’s just that it’s so hard for a guardian to keep up with their child if the child doesn’t believe in them or have such faith, you know what I mean?”
I gave her an indignant look and she laughed. “Well, that’s okay! You believe me now, apparently. Well, here I am! I tell you—you are in deep trouble young man.”
I rolled my eyes. “Great. If you were gonna scold me this B.S., you might as well have sent Saint Grenada.”
Saint Annabelle raised her eyebrows. “Oh? Child, Saint Grenada isn’t as bad as she seems….and no! I haven’t come here to scold you at all! I meant you were in trouble of getting in the way of Satan. Just look at those horrid creatures all around you!”
Flying pigs with devil horns came from the fiery ball with angry snorts.
I snickered. “Care to join?”
“Oh dear…it looks as if Satan has already gotten the earth’s core under his power. His very own creatures are borne of it! Oh! I’ve seen this before! My child,” Saint Annabelle hurried up to me and grabbed my shoulders, looking down at me with longing in her sparkling blue eyes. “You must brace yourself. Before you meet the master devil himself, they will make you go through the strangest rituals—some you may have already learned of in the lands of Bhad!”
I stiffened. “What should I do?”
“Here, just wait for me, okay? For now that I’ve found you and you’ve finally gotten the right moment to see me, I can lead the other band of angels here to rescue you. I know what Satan is gonna do to you—he’s gonna taint your head with all kinds of tricks and lies to drag you down to Hell. For you are a spirit, and Satan couldn’t tempt you and then kill you again so that you’ll find your way to Hell. But that doesn’t mean you’ve escaped him forever. Even though you’re no longer alive, Satan can still tempt your spirit to make the wrong choices and lure you to his world with him. And trust me,” her eyes were now full of seriousness. “You do not want to be anywhere in Hell as much as you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Hell.”
I blinked. “That just tells me death is no escape from such things. I wasn’t able to escape evil in my mortal life on Earth, and even dead, I couldn’t escape him.”
“There is a place you can truly be free from Hell and all of Satan’s cunning minions forever and eternally, though,” said Annabelle smoothly. “Heaven is a place full of richness and happiness where you can live on happily forever. Oh! The joys of Heaven! The awesome feeling that you can go on happy without any such worry or pinch of anxiety!”
“Okay, I get it, you don’t have to rejoice here,” I muttered, feeling even more ashamed that I wasn’t one of the spirits to have gone to Heaven. “This place is not Heaven, so don’t act like it is,” I glared around at all the smoke and fires that erupted here.
Saint Annabelle looked at me and looked ashamed again. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweet child, I just get too carried away. Oh, the number of times I’ve wished that you, as our blessed godchild, would be able to join us in Heaven someday—you really do have a chance Zach!”
I crossed my arms and looked away. “Doesn’t look like I have such a big chance anymore now,” I glared at all the hellish fiends that accompanied us.

“Oh, child, you may be in more danger with Satan now that you’ve gotten yourself into this situation. You should have listened to Grenada when she told you not to follow your uncle!”
I would have told Annabelle to shut up, but she was too kind for me to snap at her like that.
“Where is my uncle, exactly?” I glared at her. “Have your angels traced him yet?”
“Oh, that’s what they were trying to do while I searched down here for you. Michael was off to see what Uncle E was up to, coming down to Earth without telling any of the spirits back in Purgatory-- it just concerned the angels in the upper world of Heaven. That’s why he sent half his band to arrive here with Hannah so they can search and rescue you. Michael was off to find Uncle E. But now! I must be going, for Hannah and the rest of the band cannot wait any longer. I may have taken long, but I found you, child, and I’ll make sure Hannah and the others come here to rescue you before Satan does anything rash. Farewell! And take care.”
“Hey, wait! What about--” I was just going to ask about my sister, Angeline, if she was that significant other in the altar. But Saint Annabelle vanished into thin air already, and there was no trace of her angelic light. Instead, a blast of fire landed in front of me and made me jump back as the fire burst into large flames. A horrible fiery dragon monster came from the flames and breathed a smoky stench in my face. I whipped around and caught up to Scollgrem’s side, for his pack was pushing Lexie and Dewey forwards to the core.
Scollgrem growled and whipped his tail at my back. “You better keep up and pay attention, kid. Don’t make the master any angrier than he already is at you.”
Then Scollgrem leapt towards the underneath of the core so that the light shone directly upon him from above. He looked so small and helpless, for compared to the fiery ball, even the largest creature here was like a speck of an ant compared to an elephant.
Scollgrem let out a terrible howl that echoed through the caverns and all the creatures quieted down.. Dewey hopped to my shoulder and hissed in my ear.
“You met another one of your saints! Congratulations! She better help us all.”
I frowned. “I doubt it. She seemed pretty clumsy and slow to find me first, and she might probably be the same to lead Hannah and the others down here.”
“Nonsense! Angels are more complex than you think.”
I glared at the little bird. “How would you know?”
A loud bark from Scollgrem was heard and I turned to see that a smaller younger looking hellhound was making its way. I winced in disgust. This one was three headed.
Scollgrem glared down at the hellhound as the three headed creatures addressed itself.
“Scollgrem,” the middle one spoke as the others panted noisily. “The master isn’t present right now. He’s dealing with….a far more complicated matter than this one.”
Scollgrem snorted and gave his head a violent shake. “What could possibly be more complicated than Satan’s own brethren?! Who else could be on Earth?”
“There appears to be a man of the afterlife as well,” remarked the left head. “A man traveling with a strong SoulBird from Hell.”
“Erecto,” growled the right one. “Erecto’s visited the planet again. Satan was eager to speak to him, for Erecto was once his own pet as well.”
I exchanged surprised glances with Dewey, who didn’t look as surprised. “Huh! I would’ve known.” Muttered the little bird.
“Well, who’s going to address this spirit for the anointing in Hell?!” Scollgrem turned to growl at me. “Satan must confirm him himself! There’s no other way a spirit can make its way into the world except through Satan alone! Not even a spirit as low-class in the lowest lands of Purgatory!”
I glared with hatred at the creature as he spoke about me like that.
I felt Lexie’s awe stare rest on me as she gasped. She knew the truth now.
The three headed hellhound growled together. “Well,” spoke the middle head, “Satan has asked his most highest child to do the anointing for him. A spirit that has showed such devilry in the underworld of Hell has proved himself worthy to do the confirmation for the spirit.”
Demetrius was playing with his tail. “Heh! Who in Hell could be almost as evil as the real Satan himself?”
And then the fiery glow of the core burst around and all the creatures were silent. Behind where Scollgrem stood under the core, a tall shadowy spirit started to rise from the ground.
Scollgrem turned to look behind and then immediately lowered his head and backed to the side to let the spirit come through. A whimpering noise came from the rest of Scollgrem’s pack as the shadow got taller and taller, and closer to the center underneath the core.
I stiffened and tried to narrow my eyes at the shadow. Even under the brightness of the core, this shadow still lingered and even continued to get taller.
Finally, a red glow came from within the shadow, starting from its heart. Then the rest of the body formed, and the spirit was standing there, glaring towards me with pure evil.
But I widened my eyes with horror at the spirit. I dropped my mouth open. The spirit under the core was none other than Lucien the Higher One.
“Lucien!” I couldn’t help shouting his name with awe. He stood there, tall and straight with his thin body facing me from the side as his head was turned to eye me with his devilish angry glint. His spear was no longer the spear he carried in Purgatory, but was that of a trident just like some of the other imps were carrying.
The Higher One suddenly looked just as surprised. His evil glare turned to a look of confusion as he met my eyes. “Zach? Is that really you?”
He turned to glare at the hellhounds with a bitter look of hatred. Scollgrem shrunk under his red eyes as they flashed under the core. “Scollgrem?!” His voice was soft, but dangerously furious. “I thought I was going to deal with the spirit Satan promised me. But it appears that you have brought me her brother instead.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Angeline! Of course she was that other soul hiding in the altar with Lexie. She was the one the snake from Hell was after, but after he had met me, he decided to change plans.
“Hm-hmm, not so fearless now, huh?” I flinched and turned as a familiar creepy voice hissed behind. It was that same snake.
“Wahh! You again!” Cried Dewey. Immediately, the little bird lunged towards the snake and jabbed its beak at its neck, making the snake’s head fall back.
The snake let out a yell and thrashed its slithery body, and somehow, the end of its tail managed to grab the end of my rosary and yank it down.
I yelled and fell forwards on my knees, for the rosary didn’t break and just pulled me down. The snake threw Dewey off and thrashed around to get into position to face me directly with a hissing look of hatred.
“Ooh, get ‘em! Bite his neck!” Demetrius’s voice shouted as the imp hopped to my side. “He’s not as tough as he looks!”
“Enough!” A sudden rumble erupted through the undergrounds and the creatures grumbled haughtily. I turned to see Lucien glaring at us with a stinging look in his eyes. “Igor…..” he addressed the snake.
“Hsssss,” the snake stuck his tongue at the Higher One.
“Leave the boy to me. Zachariah? You aren’t supposed to be here, I’m so sorry for this misunderstanding—I almost didn’t even recognize you with that…..filthy SoulBird by your shoulder.”
I trembled as he eyed Dewey, who was shrinking under his evil gaze near my ankle.
I stood up to face Lucien with a blank look. My hand clasped the cross of my rosary, and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know whether I was looking at the Higher One of Bhad, or the second most evil spirit in Hell.
“Come here, my boy,” said Lucien softly.
I hesitated for a moment, and then took a step forward. Dewey hopped alone with me, but Lucien immediately raised his trident and pointed towards the tiny bird’s direction. “I didn’t ask for the foolish SoulBird as well!” His voice thundered through the cave and made Dewey whimper with fear as the SoulBird stopped hopping to leave me go on without it.
I stood in front of the Higher One, looking at him with concerned eyes.
“Now,” Lucien’s voice was soft again. “This spirit you brought has already been dead, and has already gone through judgment,” he turned to Scollgrem and the rest of his pack that had joined the hellhounds. “He is a spirit from the land of Purgatory, and has only come upon Earth on his own accord.”
“We know that, your honor,” said Scollgrem, lowering his head in a bow.
“Then why did you bring him to me instead of the girl?” Though Lucien kept his voice low, there was no doubt about the obvious fury that shone from his eyes. He spoke through a creepy wide-eyed scowl at the dogs.
Satan’s hounds all lowered their heads. “Igor called us and wanted to take them both. But the girl was hidden in the altar of Jerusalem and we couldn’t catch her. Those who even neared the place were confined to ashes.”
“We brought you her brother since he happened to be there anyway,” said Demetrius. “Jezelle and I totally wasted our time though! We could’ve been swimming the river Hades in the underworld rather than escort the wrong spirit now!”
“Silence!” Lucien raised his voice and turned to glare at Igor. “What you’ve brought me, you should have brought to Satan. For this is a spirit of my own land in Purgatory.”
All the hellish creatures grumbled nervously among one another.
Lucien looked down at me with tenderness in his eyes. “My boy….let me explain in the quick moment that I have. I know you must feel confused and betrayed about what you thought of me. But let me tell you—I’ve been working for Satan before your own death. I am Higher One in the land of Bhad, but by working with the forces of Hell, I keep peace between the borders of our territories so that the fools in the academies of Bhad won’t easily be lured to Hell like they would have.”
I stared up at Lucien’s serious gaze. “Y-you keep peace between Hell and the lowest part of Purgatory?”
“Yes,” replied Lucien carefully. “It’s the only reason why such spirits like Damien or the most popular and naughtiest gangsters of the stage aren’t confined to Hell as easily anymore. I’m trying to raise the spirits and keep them from failing the last academy in the world of Purgatory, so that they wouldn’t end up in Hell… I did.”
I raised my eyebrows. “So that doesn’t make you a spirit fit for Hell. You’re trying to help us.”
Lucien narrowed his eyes. “You don’t know what you’re saying, boy.” He spoke dangerously. “It’s not what we do in our afterlife that makes a difference, but from our mortal lives. We are judged by our deeds on Earth before we take our paths, and if a soul deserves to go to Hell, they cannot change their path, for they have been confined to eternal punishment.” He raised his head. “Well, I’ve been punished! But at least I can still keep others from suffering what I’ve gone through. The souls in Purgatory—they still have a second chance. They have been judged, but not eternally yet. Unlike the souls that take the paths of either eternal life or eternal punishment, these souls still have a second chance to prove themselves for either one, before they take their eternal path. That is why I’ve come into the land of Bhad as Higher One to help those souls rise up and not suffer what I’ll regret for my everlasting afterlife of punishment.”
I blinked. Lucien was….quite the spirit. I was looking at him with interest. “So what do you want with me—or what did you want from my sister?”
“Don’t you remember, boy? I’m a good friend of your father. I want him to be happy in the confines of Hell, together with his family.” He spoke with such intensity that his hair seemed to be catching on fire just like mine. “You—it’s too late to just convert you to Hell unless the spirits drag you there by force.” There was a cough from Demetrius and Jezelle. “But! Your sister Angeline still lives. And she still has a chance to convert her spirit to devilry so that when she dies, her spirit can easily be judged to take the eternal path of punishment, and she’ll be with your father forever.”
I heard a whimper from Lexie as she looked with horror at Lucien and me.
“But your Excellency!” A terrible devilish boar spoke from the crowd. “You still have a chance with the boy!”
“Yesssss!” Igor slithered up behind me, making me jump with surprise again. I glared at the snake as he spoke. “Lusssssien, you did tell usss how you told the boy about making his own choice to go to Hell, did you not?”
Lucien glared at the snake. “It is the boy’s choice to decide. Not mine. I will not force such a soul to go through the terrors that I went through, as much it would make me and his father happy.”
I stared into Igor’s glimmering eyes.
“Come on, kid. Trusssst him. We hell creatures aren’t so bad when you’re ussssed to usss.”
I felt disgusted. I could feel Dewey and Lexie staring at me with disbelief, and I didn’t want to meet any of their gazes. I could feel Lucien’s hard stare sharpening on my back. I didn’t want to look at anyone around me, so I stared into Igor’s dazzling glittering snaky eyes.
Suddenly, a rumble sounded in the back of the crowd.
Demetrius jumped. “Borus! Are you gonna have your eternal indigestion pains again?!”
But suddenly, a dazzling light shone through the back walls, destroying the hell creatures in front of it, turning the blocking bodies into ashes. Hannah and her band of angels came through, and by her left side, her air SoulBird, Chelsey accompanied her, and to her right, a fair-haired valiant young man with long hair. I guessed it must have been Michael the angel.
“Lucien! Aha! Just as I suspected!” Hannah cried as she and the angels made their way over the crowd of hell creatures. The angels weren’t at all terrified from the creatures, for any spirit that tried to jump up and attack them immediately burst to ashes from the intensity of their angelic glow.
Lucien etched his face into a smirk as he met Hannah’s gaze. “Hello, Hannah. Michael.” He nodded to both the angels at the front.
Michael crossed his arms. “Satan is on the other side of the world, far from Jerusalem. Apparently, he’s caught Ebenezer and Erecto after they had just lost the golden SoulBird.”
I flinched. “They found the golden SoulBird?”
Hannah huffed. “They found it, but thankfully, right before Satan appeared, they got away! This SoulBird, though, was not the one that had gotten away from Damien.”
Lucien growled. “Perhaps Satan can take care of that.”
I glanced at the crowd of angels that accompanied them. There seemed to be more now, for Michael’s side had reunited them, and the place was shining from their brightness. The hell creatures were coughing and backing away, eying and cursing at their presence. I looked through the crowd and then saw a hand waving at me. It was Saint Annabelle, and she was gazing at me with an excited look as if to say, “See? I told you I’d come!”
I rolled my eyes and looked away from her. Some help this was. If she were really helping me, she would have found me while we were still in Jerusalem, fleeing from the rising hell creatures and the Satan dragon. What a slow saint she was.
“Zach! Are you okay?” Hannah hovered down to stand in front of me with her hands clasped together. Her face was a look of sadness. “Oh! Thank goodness you’re not badly wounded-- we must get you back to the world of Purgatory right now!” She wrapped her arms around me and escorted me to her hovering crowd of angels. “Earth is NO place for you anymore, especially in this state when hell creatures are taking over…..”
“Ah-ah-ah,” Lucien raised his voice and took a step after us. His trident was glowing and his eyebrows are raised. “Hannah?” He was chuckling. “I’m glad to have your sweet angelic presence to light up this darkening weakening center, but you can’t just waltz right in and take Zach from us now that we’ve got him in our hands.”
Hannah and I turned to face the tall Higher One.
“Oh really?” Spoke Hannah. “You didn’t want him anyway. You still have Angeline to chase after.”
“Ah, yes, but we weren’t finished with what we started with Zach.” He looked into my confused gaze. “Zach? Have you made a choice yet?”
“Huh? Already?” I winced.
“Oh stop it,” snapped Hannah, giving Lucien a look. “Zach’s got the rest of the year to decide whether to change his ways and make it to Heaven or Hell.”
“Oh, but he doesn’t,” said Lucien’s cunning voice. “You see, the spirits come to Purgatory to be cleansed of that little badness that lingers in them before going to Heaven. They must pass up to seven classes, though, depending on what stage they are confined to. But even you know that it could just be as simple for an angel from Heaven to come down and purify the spirit just like that, and then simply carry them to Heaven.”
I widened my eyes. “Really?” I turned to Hannah, who was looking worried. “You can do that?”
“Of course,” Michael answered for her. “If an angel gets the privilege from the Holy One, then that angel can come and carry the spirit from Purgatory to Heaven, purifying its soul just like that, and the soul doesn’t have to go through years of classes to learn their way into Heaven. But that matter is a very rare matter at that.”
“Free ticket to Heaven, kinda,” I muttered, feeling my spirits uplift.
“Hehe, now that is true,” said Lucien. “But same goes for the creatures of Hell. You could easily be dragged into Hell if Satan grants it. And I tell you my boy-- Satan always grants spirits to be washed up in devilry to enter the confines of Hell. Though you may suffer, you will be with your father-- your father….who has always spoiled you and tried to make you happy since your mortal life on Earth.” Lucien was kneeling down beside me again, putting a hand on my shoulder.
Hannah gasped. “Oh! No! Zach, you can’t! You will NOT be happy! Lucien! Please!”
I was staring into Lucien’s devilish eyes. “The choice is yours, my boy.”
Hannah took my hand and I snapped out of it. “Zach! Please choose wisely.”
“Hehe, yessss,” Igor slithered underneath our hands. “If you go back to Purgatory, you will be punished for venturing to Earth. St. Gretchen already knows of your disappearance, because that was the only way Hannah could leave to help you. She will punish you baaaaad for ditching her academy for this matter.”
I winced. I didn’t want to go back to Purgatory for more punishment. I looked down. I didn’t know what to choose.
Hannah huffed. “Oh! Zach, you don’t have to worry. Come with us! We can offer you a privilege to enter Heaven right now!”
I looked at her longing face. Michael was giving her a look and all her angels were murmuring to one another.
“Hannah, do you think the Holy One would let him?” Said Michael softly.
“Oh, I hope so!” Huffed Hannah. “Zach, you don’t want to go to Hell! Trust me! Heaven will welcome you! I can cleanse you myself! You will be simply purified and happy in eternal life!”
The hell creatures yowled and this and I could hear Dewey pleading cry. I stared at Hannah with disbelief. Here she was-- an angel finally offering me the free ticket to Heaven. I wouldn’t have to go through years of academies, training just to have a good soul. Hannah could offer it just like that-- but with the Lord’s permission first.
Lucien chuckled slyly. “Well, the choice is yours. You can go to Heaven--” I faced the band of Michael’s angels-- “or you can come with me to Hell, where you will be easily accepted and united with your parents. The choice is yours.”
I really didn’t want to be unhappy in Hell, but at the same time, I was worried about being granted into Heaven. I doubted a spirit like me would even make it simply just like that yet.
I sighed. “I-- I don’t know. I think I’d rather just suffer in Purgatory for now while I think about it.”
Lucien’s gaze faltered, dropping to a glare. He rose up. “You will be punished in the Punishment House, for that is what happens to all spirits who commit the crime of world-shifting. When you suffer in the Punishment House, you will NOT be able to hear yourself think-- for your punishment will be all the more torturous than your academy punishments will ever be.”
I felt my spine drop.
Lucien’s gaze suddenly became a cunning smile again. “But tell you what. How ‘bout I invite you to my palace where you can serve as a servant among me as the Higher One?”
At this, all creatures, including the angels, gasped.
“Servant of the Higher One?!” Hannah almost yelled. “Lucien! Are you crazy--”
“You will be happy in a palace such as mine,” said Lucien with an unblinking look. “I will provide you with the comfort and care that you have never received in your afterlife just yet, and you will feel much better in a place such as mine. Then you will be able to truly think and make a decision.”
Michael and Hannah both looked flabbergasted at this. Michael hovered forwards. “Your highness, I’m not questioning your authority, but isn’t this the worse time to invite the boy to your palace? I mean, currently, you are dealing with the devils that are coming in the world of Purgatory.”
And yet, Lucien’s always kept them out of our way, I thought. This was just so confusing.
“Well, perhaps the confused boy can learn a thing or two if he comes with me,” his hand touched my head, and my headband burned through them with intensity. But again, Lucien seemed unaffected by the burns. I looked at him, knowing why now.
I pictured it. If I were in the palace of Lucien the Higher, I could feel much better and free from the horrid life I already dragged with me in the academy. I could probably feel reborn, perhaps, and then make my true decision.
“I think I’ll come with you,” I said quietly to Lucien. “I’ve gotten to a rough start in my afterlife, and I’m failing my academy. Before I decide whether to change and do better for the sake of moving up to Heaven, or just give up and go to Hell, I think I should take a break and clear my mind in your palace, so that I can start over with the choice in my mind.”
Lucien’s eyes glowered. “Excellent choice.” He took my hand and gently pulled me out of Hannah’s gasp. Hannah watched me slip away from her grip with disbelief. The rest of the angels looked astonished, and Saint Annabelle had pushed her way through, hovering at the front with a wide-eyed look of horror. But she said nothing.
Lucien looked around all the hell creatures, who were keeping away from the angels’ presence. Dewey and Lexie were still under the guard of Demetrius and Jezelle.
“Now! The boy has made his mind! As for the rest of you, you may all return to the pits of Gehenna. Hannah?” The Higher One raised his gaze at the angel. “If you could all make yourselves useful? These creatures need to make it back where they came from.” He turned to Dewey and Lexie.
Demetrius grabbed Lexie’s hand. “This one’s still mortally alive!”
“Well, see to it that she returns to the altar where she can speak with the sister of this boy.”
Jezelle groaned. “Oh, can’t we kill her?”
Lucien’s eyes flashed and he gave them a dangerous stare. The imps remained silent and scurried away.
I looked up at the Higher One. “Are you saying I can’t bring Dewey with me?”
“My boy,” Lucien looked down at me carefully. “If you’re going to clear your mind and start over, you must do it without the help of a SoulBird. Those creatures only guide you to one or the other, and if you’re going to make your own choice first, it must be done for yourself, and for yourself alone.”
I looked away from Lucien’s intriguing gaze. I glanced at Dewey, who gave me one last look of sorrow and longing.

Lucien assembled the hell creatures to part their ways and meet him at the Stairway. I stood by the Higher One’s side as all the creatures started to gather around the back corner of the core. Lexie and Dewey joined Hannah and the angels and stood underneath them as they waited.
I hurried up to Dewey and knelt down to give him a good-bye.
“Dewey…I’m sorry. I really am doing this for my good, and I bet it would do for your good too.” I tried to explain it the best I could. “I’m only gonna be with Lucien in his palace for a little while until I feel like I’ve gotten my head straightened out.”
“Hmph!” Dewey frowned at me and whipped his head away. “After all I’ve been through with you—even though it was only a few hours! Ugh! You just wanna give up on me already?”
“I’m not giving up on you,” I snapped, frowning at the little bird. “Can’t you see? My whole afterlife I’ve been doing nothing but give up. Now, perhaps I could finally start over and get off to a fresh start and make better choices.”
“Zach, you didn’t tell me you were from the lands of Bhad,” Lexie stepped forward and looked down at me with sorrow. “Why didn’t you just say you were from Bhad?”
I stood up and sighed, not meeting her gaze. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. I’m a loser, and now you know it. There’s nothing else I can say about that now.”
“Oh, there’s a lotta things you can say about yourself, Zachy!” Dewey yelled, stomping his foot. “And if you’re not gonna tell her the truth now, then she’ll have to hear about it from me!”
I gave the birdling a hardening stare, thinking about the wounded SoulBird I killed. I also thought about the punishment outfits. There was nothing I could do now if Dewey was going to backtalk it all out to her.
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever Dewey says is probably gonna be true-- no matter how stupid or unreal it may sound from him. SoulBirds never lie-- at least the angel ones aren’t supposed to.”
“Oh yeah, you would know,” muttered Dewey, staring across with a narrowed look.
Lexie chuckled, slowly shaking her head as she looked down at the little bird. Then she met my gaze. “Zach….you could have just told me the truth. I wouldn’t have thought less of you, I really wouldn’t have.”
I gave her a look. “Oh yeah? Even if I were a spirit from Hell, you wouldn’t have doubted me?”
“Well, that’s different. Hell is Hell, and Purgatory is Purgatory, no matter what stage you’re in. I still would have believed there’s an explanation behind every soul no matter where their from, and I still would have had hope for you even if I knew you were from the lowest land.”
“Well, I’m sorry I’m a jerk and a liar,” I retorted, crossing my arms. “You’re lucky that when you die, you have a soul that would most likely make it to Heaven without question.”
Lexie chuckled and then looked uneasy. “Oh….I guess so…”
I winced. “Come on! You? In Purgatory? Not even the land of Guhd would suit a soul as pure as yours.”
Lexie looked at me and smiled. “Thanks, Zach.”
Hannah hovered forward. “Zach?” She had an urgent look on her face.
“Come now!” Lucien’s voice cascaded through the noisy area. “We haven’t got all night! I gotta get back to my palace and arrange the armies.”
“Armies?” I winced.
Hannah sighed. “Well, while you were out here snooping around, our academy was attacked by devilish imps.”
“What?!” I whirled around. Dewey let out a squawk of surprise.
Michael nodded, crossing his arms. “St. Gretchen issued the mediums to be under guard of Lucien’s guards. They are currently taking refuge in one of Lucien’s buildings around his palace.”
I looked at both of them, awestruck. “Damn….”
Saint Annabelle popped in between them and let out a loud sigh. “Oh! It was terrible! Imps flyin’ everywhere, bloodsucking fiends scourging the spirits--”
“Annabelle!” Hannah snapped indignantly. “You weren’t even there!”
Annabelle huffed. “Oh, yes! Of course I wasn’t. But I could see it from the clouds of Heaven! Terrible sight!”
I frowned at the saint. “So you were watching the destruction of my academy while I was wandering here on Earth from your sight, huh?”
Annabelle’s uplifting expression smiled at me. “I’m sorry, child! I just get so worried whenever I see any innocent souls under attack of foolish horrid fiends.”
I rolled my eyes and looked away. No wonder she was late to trace me down.
Lucien’s hand suddenly rested on my shoulder and I flinched to look up at him from his warm touch. He was smirking down at me. “Zach? You ready? I’m about to make the portal for the Stairway. You will get to see an easier route to get back to Purgatory-- a route I didn’t bother tellin’ your uncle since I liked to see him suffer the hard way.”
I blinked. “There’s an easier way to get back to Purgatory than the Gehenna Volcano?”
“Of course,” chuckled Lucien. “The Stairway to Eternality is a simple pathway that leads either to Heaven or to Hell. To get to Purgatory, we’ll have to find the more complex stairs that I can show you how to find once we get to the place. Did you say good-bye to your little angels?”
I looked at Hannah and Michael, who were both giving Lucien cold stares. Hannah’s beautiful light brown hair shone dazzlingly bright and flowed gorgeously behind her hovering body. She looked almost totally different from the simple nurse she looked back in Bhad, and even in that position she still seemed like enough to make a guy crave seduction for her. I bet if I were any happier, I would be able to crush on her if I had it in me to fall in love with anything.
I looked down at Dewey once more, who immediately turned away as soon as I met his eyes. But I snickered, for I didn’t miss that look of sorrow before he turned away to a frown. I looked at Hannah. “Take good care of Dewey for me, will you?” My tone was dry and somewhat reluctant.
Hannah sighed and softened her gaze. “Zach, I will always look to doing whatever I can for you. Please take good care of yourself, okay?”
“Yes! I’ll still be there for you!” Shouted Annabelle, waving an arm at me and wiping her left eye with a cloth.
I gave her an indignant frown, giving her a look to remind her to keep quiet about her sainthood.
But Lucien chuckled slyly and turned to head towards where his hell creatures gathered. “No worries, Zach. Your academy is currently under construction for repair, and they won’t be too far from you. Now come-- I will open the vortex. Feel lucky that I was here instead of Satan tonight….because things would have been quite different if the real devil were here.”
He turned to glint his eyes at me before raising his arms and let his trident hover y his side, glowing and revealing a fiery brimming light underneath the core of the Earth. Within seconds, the whole place busted with bright light and my vision was blinded until the brightness lessened and I was standing in a new place, where sets of golden-bronze stairs were set, leading up and down here and there. I looked around with wonder. The whole place seemed to be in an area of outer space, though there were no stars and no such air to breathe. I saw that I was on a small platform that hovered in the air (though it wasn’t really air, just an open space of nothingness) and to my left, the stairs lead far, far away, all the way up until they disappeared faintly in the faraway distance. To my right, another set of stairs climbed down, but these were only about a normal stairway length and below was a bigger platform where I could see a portion of the terrible hell creatures crowding.
There were stairways leading all around as I looked everywhere, and I could see that many of them either lead up and down, and some even went so far that they disappeared in the distance.
I turned to my left and stared up the stairs again. Just as one would feel dizzy from looking down at such a faraway height, I felt even dizzier just staring up, for the stairs seemed to reach so high.
“Like it?” Lucien’s sly voice scared me, but I didn’t flinch this time. I turned to meet the tall spirit as he climbed up the stairs behind and approached me.
I met his gaze. “Seems like a pretty damn long way to climb those stairs if they lead to Heaven.”
Lucien laughed. “Oh, that’s why you have the switch here.” Lucien walked over to the right corner of the platform just to the right side of the stairway. A four foot high wall was standing up with two buttons at its center. “Right-left-right-right. That’s the simple combination to change the stairways to escalators.” He pressed the right button, then the left, then the right twice. And I watched as the stairway gave a strange low creaking noise and nothing happened.
I looked at Lucien who was shaking his head, giving a sideways look. “Of course. That’s the stairway to Heaven, and if the escalators are to take us up to the kingdom, they have to respond to the right fingers.”
“So Heaven rejects you, huh?” I said.
Lucien chuckled, looking at his fingers. “Well, the buttons only respond to a soul that has already been accepted and judged, that way, ominous creatures from the outside can’t just randomly turn up in Heaven unexpectedly. Same goes for the Stairway to Hell, where my creatures are waiting for down there!” He nodded behind us where the hell creatures were crowding around and cursing at each other, screaming and snorting ugly sounds of disgust.
“Oh, Lucien! Of course the buttons have no response,” Hannah’s voice sounded across the airless space and the angel hovered her way to our platform. A distance behind her, her band of angels awaited with Michael on another platform that was surrounded by golden bronze staircases that lead up and down in different directions.
Lucien raised an eyebrow at Hannah. “Hannah, you ought to speak for yourself. You weren’t accepted into Heaven until the beginning of this year.”
Hannah huffed. “Well, I’m as accepted into Heaven as I am in Purgatory, for I am relied on as a nurse in that world. Zach, watch this. This is how to work the escalators.” She pressed the buttons rapidly, in the same pattern as Lucien pressed: right-left-right-right. She did it so quickly that I barely got to see it if I blinked.
“Hey, hey, slow down there, you’re teaching a medium,” mumbled Lucien sarcastically.
“There. Now watch,” Hannah stepped back from the buttons and the stairway gave a clicking sound and a loud clatter. The stairways started to rise up and ascending up to the faraway distance like an escalator.
I peered up and noticed specks of golden tall walls hovering at the sides of the stairs. I whistled. “It’s still gonna take forever at the speed these stairs go at. How long is the drive to Heaven if you take this path?”
“Well, it takes about twenty-four hours if you take this way,” said Hannah.
“Twenty-four?!” I widened my eyes. “Wait a whole day on the stairs? Dang! It’s no wonder a soul must really practice and learn patience before their truly accepted to even stand the arrival at the place.”
“Ahem!” Hannah gave me an indignant look. “There are convenient supplies along the way, though. You freely receive service while you’re ascending up the stairs, and while you’re on your way, you can even call massages offered on the floating platforms that pass by or come to hover at the sides of the stairs. That’s what those walls are for on the side of the stairs. They offer phone calls to different kinds of services so that you can just pick up the phone without dialing the numbers. It’s really worth it to take a whole day on the stairway actually! You’ll feel like you’re already in Heaven just by taking the stairs to the kingdom.”
I looked up with a raised look at the long stairway, and I pictured myself sitting on one of those steps, getting a massage by some random angel I called on one of those hovering phones. I also imagined the angel brushing my teeth and combing my hair for me as I waited to get into Heaven. Wow, perhaps I should change my mind and follow Hannah and Michael’s angels to the kingdom.
“Ah, now Zach, before you make second thoughts,” Lucien was smiling at me, knowing exactly what I was thinking, “let me let you off with a warning first.”
“Lucien, you’re not going to tell him about your stairway to Hell,” said Hannah, crossing her arms. Her angels gathered behind her and joined us on the platform.
“Yeah!” Said Annabelle, looking scared and horrified. “If you take the stairway to Hell, you’ll get treatment just the opposite of what you’ll receive on the way to Heaven! Why, I bet bugs will bite your butt the whole way, and you’ll be encountered by naughty devils that hover by to give you a smack in the face each time you descend pass each of them.”
I was already picturing myself getting whacked on the head and smacked in the face as I took the stairway that lead down to Hell. I shuddered.
“Now, don’t make it sound as uninviting as that,” said Lucien calmly, rolling his eyes. “I was just going to tell the boy that just like me, the escalators wouldn’t even respond to his presence.”
I sighed. “Yeah, it’s pretty obvious. You even said it yourself.” I turned to Hannah. “I have to be accepted by….the Holy One before I can be accepted by those buttons to work the stairway.”
Hannah sighed. “Well, I can speak to the Holy One for you! You can still--”
“Enough with your persuading, Hannah,” growled Lucien, looking annoyed now. “The boy is coming with me. We will return to Purgatory, in the lands of Bhad, and Zach will rest in my palace where he will receive treatment that will cleanse his mind to start over and make a choice on what path to take in Purgatory. He would be accepted in Hell any day, but as for Heaven, there‘s still rejections he‘s most likely to receive just by being at the foot of the stairway.”
“And not to mention the guard that awaits at the end of the escalators, just in front of the gates of Heaven,” added Annabelle, twigging her fingers as she stared at me nervously.
“A guard?” I gave Hannah an indignant look.
I looked around her band of angels and caught Dewey hiding in the back, though he was peering at me with curious eyes. As soon as I met his eyes, he again widened them and looked away, frowning. I had to chuckle with humor at the little bird. I knew he had longing for me to be with him, for he was my SoulBird.
“What about all these other stairs?” I asked. “Do they lead to Heaven as well?”
“No, these other stairs lead to certain parts of the universe, some even to a whole different dimension,” said Michael. “Why, you could go back to Earth on one of these stairs that lead down. But unless you want to walk, you’d have to know all the different patterns to work on the buttons for each world they would take you to.”
I looked down and noticed that the stairway to Hell was a darker bronze color, while the rest were almost all the same golden-bronze color. The ones that ascended to Heaven, though, were the brightest among all, with pure gold shining from the furnishings.
The hell creatures were all going one step at a time, some pushing and shoving each other as they descended down the moving stairs.
Igor was among the last ones as the hell creatures were almost all gone, and he turned to stare at me with a glinting smile, giving me a creepy wink before pressing the two buttons with his tail, pressing a longer pattern that changed the moving stairs to become a flat ramp that slid down. The creatures that were riding the stairs all yowled as they slid down the pathway, their cries echoing faintly in the distance. The snake hissed and snickered, and then slithered slowly down the flat platform leading down to the underworld.
“Come join us, Zach,” Igor’s voice flowered through the airless space into my ears. “The way to Hell, as you can see, is much easier, and way more FUN….”
I looked down the long steep slide and narrowed my eyes. There actually was a biting urge in me to slide down that slope and follow the fun the hell creatures seemed to have.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Hannah suddenly took my arm and took me off the platform, holding onto me as we both hovered down to watch the descending stairs. “It may look fun, but that’s just the beginning, before it gets worse.”
And she took me down to watch the ramp as it winded down and curved around like one of those super long water slides at a park. Hell creatures slid down the stairway, yowling and spitting fire and blood with glee, enjoying the easy way down that Igor had worked for them.
But suddenly, I spotted a swarm of mosquitoes hovering around one part of the slide, and underneath, a horde of black widow spiders crowded around. I watched as the hell creatures slid over those spiders with the mosquitoes swarming around them, biting and stinging at them, turning their yowls of laughter into howls of pain. The spiders crawled around them and bit into their blood, making them bleed.
Ahead, a hovering ceiling of spikes floated lowly over the slide, and the hell creatures were unaware with the terrible bugs in their faces, and I watched each of them bang their heads and faces against the spikes of the low ceiling, some of them even losing their heads as they zipped pass the underneath of the ceiling.
Two pirates were fighting on a platform hovered above the ramp, and as each hell creature slid underneath, they spit and threw swords that stabbed into their heads and backs. Those who had lost their heads were stabbed in the neck socket.
Then the slide was no longer a flat platform that slid down. Ahead, short prickly spikes jutted and the hell creatures slid down the prickly spiky platform, all screaming with agony as they scraped their bodies down the spiky sharp slide. They crashed through plants, poison ivy and horrible brambles that gave them rashes and itches, and crows appeared to peck at them. Imps hovered passed to leap onto them, hammering nails into their flesh and torturing the hell fiends until they moaned with dying pain.
“Yet, the journey to Hell still takes the same time as it does to get to Heaven, no matter what speed you go at. The scariest part though,” spoke Hannah, hovering away from the ramp, taking me back up, “is that those spirits never die. They live an afterlife of eternal punishment for the wickedness they’ve committed in the world.”
I looked back with distress and then raised my eyebrows as I saw Igor, slowly slithering down the slide. While the other hell creatures had been sliding down quickly and moving through all the terrible strikes and pains they endured, the snake seemed to be slowly making his way down the slide, carefully making his way through all the terrors of down the stairs. He looked bitten and scarred and in very bad shape, but he still managed to gleam at me with a smirk, before slithering to the handrails of the sliding ramp, avoiding the spiky points on the ramp.
“Cheater!” Yelled Dewey, who had joined us to watch. He aimed his beak towards the snake and shone his gem on Igor’s body, making him thrash and yowl, looking ever so close to falling off the edge of the handrail. But he fell on the spiky part of the ramp and wounded himself more. Crows cawed and started to peck at him from above as he thrashed his slithery body all around. Dewey even flew over to join them, shouting in his little voice.
But as Dewey hovered to the side of the ramp, he bumped into an invisible wall that blocked him from hovering above the ramp.
“Wahh! Hey! What’s the matter with this?!” Dewey shook himself and pecked his beak at the invisible wall that seemed to have blocked him.
“Well, just like the spirits who aren’t accepted into Heaven, there are spirits who won’t be accepted into Hell,” said Hannah. “If you don’t belong on that stairway and the buttons don’t respond to you at the front, then there’s no other way to get in and around the stairway.”
“Huh,” I nodded curiously. “So either way, you either take the stairs or you don’t.” I wondered if I tried to make my way over to the ramp, I would be able to easily climb in from this point.
“Even if you were accepted,” said Hannah, “you’d have to start from the beginning. The same thing would happen to you if you tried to hover over the ramp.”
She and I were hovering away. “Come on Dewey!” Hannah called. “The angels are waiting. We must return soon.”
Dewey hurried up to hover above us. Hannah and I made our way around all the stairways in the airless space to make our way to the platform where Lucien remained.
“I can’t wait to see the kingdom of Heaven!” Tweeted Dewey. “Will I still be able to watch Zach from there?”
“Of course you can,” reassured Hannah. “But in Heaven, you will be in your angelic form. You only remain in the form of a SoulBird when you’re in the world of Purgatory, but in Heaven, everything is pure, and you will be able to look however you want-- whether bird or angel.”
I snickered. “How ‘bout both? SoulBirds ARE supposed to be half angel and bird.”
Hannah gave me a sideways look. “Well, by half-angel, half-bird, we mean that they are angels disguised as birds, and only seen as birds in the world of Purgatory. In Heaven, they are seen for their pure form as the angel they really are, though because they were given the illusion of a SoulBird to mask them in Purgatory, they can become bird in Heaven if they wish as well.” Hannah then looked up and sighed. “Of course, that goes for all SoulBirds, both angel and devil, except for the Three holy ones.”
I raised my expression. “The ones from the golden eggs,” I muttered.
“Yes, those are SoulBirds that have a spirit so pure and ever so close to the Holy Spirit Himself, that they have the power to shape these worlds.” Hannah hung her head. “I wonder how Ebenezer dealt with the one that he found before….Satan scared it away.”
I felt a sickening feeling, and I really didn’t want to talk about my uncle, or what he could be up to. Dewey said something about Erecto and Uncle E, but I was too distracted to hear. I changed the subject and spoke solemnly.
“You got Lexie back safe, right?” I asked Hannah.
“Lexie? Oh yes! We returned her to the altar in Jerusalem after we healed her and cleaned her up. Very sweet girl-- I could totally see her soul joining us in Heaven.”
I felt a sinking feeling when I realized that she wouldn’t be sharing my world in Purgatory if she went to Heaven in the afterlife. But I pushed the strange feeling away and looked up to meet Lucien’s eying gaze as we landed on the platform.
Saint Annabelle was among the last angels waiting my the foot of the stairway. Michael was by her side, and everyone else had already gone and ascended up.
“You watched the journey to Hell?” Spoke Annabelle, raising her eyes. “Oh! I hope you aren’t scarred! I would have had to spray myself with catnip after such a scene like that!”
I winced and rolled my eyes at her, making my way up to Lucien. He was staring unimpressively at Hannah. “Finished?” He spoke tartly.
Hannah nodded carefully. “He’s yours, Lucien. Please take the safe way back to Purgatory.” And she walked to Michael with a nod as they ascended up the stairs on their own steps. Annabelle sniffled and smiled at me.
“Take care, Zach! I’ll be seeing you soon!” And she hurried to the stairs. I watched her leave as she waved at me. By soon, she probably meant twenty-four hours after she made it to Heaven to relax and distract herself with flowers for another long time before she paid me her next visit.
Dewey was the only one left, and he was staring at me with a narrowed look in his eyes.
I gave him a grimace and waved at him. “Enjoy Heaven. Tell me all about it!”
Dewey tweeted and flapped his wings angrily at me, yapping and yelling rapidly as he stomped his way over to the stairway and hopped on a step. He held his head high, not looking back at me as he rose up the stairway.
I turned to Lucien. “So how do we get to Purgatory?”
“Well, to get to Purgatory, you can either take the staircase to Heaven or Hell, though you must punch in a different pattern on the buttons so that the stairs can take you to the right path.” He walked to the buttons. “Left-right-right-left is the combination for Purgatory.” The stairs clicked and made a creaking noise. Lucien stepped on the step. “Ah! Well, what do you know? I’m on the stairway to Heaven!”
I stepped on the step after him and looked around us. “I bet we don’t get the same treatment, do we? If we’re not going to Heaven, we wouldn’t receive the same as others would.”
Lucien sighed. “No, unfortunately not. When you’re on your way to Purgatory, you don’t get any treatment whatsoever. Going to Heaven, you are pampered with happiness to entertain you. Going to Hell, you are tortured with utter painkillers. But on the way to Purgatory, you receive exactly nothing.”
“What?! I’m gonna be bored! How long does it take to get to Purgatory from here?”
“Well, judging by the distance of the world being in-between Heaven and Hell, I would say about ten to twelve hours? I really don’t take the Stairway whenever I want to return to Purgatory in a rush. I prefer to take the Gehenna Volcano if I need to get to and from Hell and Purgatory quickly.”
“Ugh, we should have taken that way then,” I crossed my arms and sat down on the step.
Lucien looked down at me with raised eyebrows. “Oh, don’t you like it here, though? It’s much nicer and easier, and we’ve still got four hours to spare before morning trumpets at 7 AM. Trust me, at my palace, the trumpets in the mornings are the only things you’ll have to get used to. Every morning they blow them across the entire city to waken the citizens up, and make sure they wake up!”
“And it takes twelve hours to get back?” I spoke. “We won’t get there until afternoon!”
“Perfect time to show you around the kingdom,” said Lucien with a smile. “Trust me, my boy, you’re going to like it in my palace.”
I sighed, feeling heavily sleepy. “Well, I could see why you let Uncle E take the Gehenna Volcano.”
Lucien chuckled. “I didn’t let him. I made him.”
“How bad is it to have traveled up the volcano?”
“Well, it would be rough, bumpy, and extremely hot. You probably fainted through your journey down that volcano. But anyways, the angels had to return to Heaven, and the Gehenna Volcano only leads from Hell, through Earth, and ends in the lowest land in Purgatory. The angels have no choice but to take the Stairway.”
I frowned. “Such effort it takes just to get from world to world. A whole day just to get out or into Heaven!” I wondered how late Saint Annabelle could really be.
Lucien smiled. “Well, same goes for Hell. But Hell has the easy Gehenna Volcano to take, only for those who have already taken the stairway at least once. To get to Heaven, a soul must have patience, obviously.”
I yawned. I peeked over the handrails of the escalator and passed by all the other stairways that led to different directions. Some platforms moved around here and there with angels and spirits of animals riding on them. I stared with interest at the familiar brown Earth creature with four long legs and a flowering mane and tail. A human spirit rode the creature as it kicked its front legs in the air, letting out a valiant neigh.
Ahead of the creature, another familiar animal rode over the human spirit and the animal, except this one was white and had wings and a sharp horn on its forehead.
I stared ahead for another ten minutes, passing by the hovering sights of spirits and different Earth creatures until it got boring. I laid back against the step behind me and fell asleep.
Before my dreams overtook me, I was visited my Saint Grenada speaking to me in my head again. But since I had my eyes closed at the same time, I was able to see her as well.
“Idiot!” She scolded, whacking my sight with her ruler.
“Ow!” I yelled, though I had no hands to rub my eyes. They were closed, and while they were closed, I was able to see Grenada’s spirit at this point. I wanted to open them, but I was too tired and falling into deep sleep.
“I sure hope you’re hurt! How could you make a choice so STUPID?! You’re following Lucien! A guy from the worlds of Hell! The second evilest soul after Satan!”
“Evil or not, he’s promised to help me start over and get off to a better start for my afterlife!” I snapped. “Even time cannot be turned back in the afterlife, so this is probably the only way! You sure haven’t been any help to me since the moment you and your sisters blessed me.”
“Oh!” Saint Grenada looked greatly offended. “I am here trying to reason with you to turn your back right now and stop listening to that fool who calls himself the Higher One! He’s trying to make you fall for the world of Hell, because that’s what he does! Why else would he be a devil from the underworld if he doesn’t even act for it?” She whacked my vision again.
“Oh, come on, sister Grenada,” a calm young voice came into my vision and Saint Annabelle appeared, hovering over to the stern old lady. “Don’t be so harsh on the boy! He’s been through enough, and I think he’s made a great choice.”
“A great choice?! Hannah offered him a free ticket to Heaven and he rejected it! You saw it right in front of your silly face!” She spat at the angelic looking saint. Seeing them both together, Saint Grenada looked more like a firmly dressed nun while Saint Annabelle was like a spirit happy angel.
“Well, at least he didn’t pick the choice to go to Hell with Lucien and his father,” murmured Saint Annabelle.
“Oh you are just as a fool as he is,” scoffed Grenada, crossing her arms and looking away. “If it weren’t for your late arrival to track him down, he wouldn’t have even had to make a choice!”
“I know, I am ever so sorry!” Annabelle buried her face in her hands and started to weep. “Oh, when I get to Heaven, I’m not going to do anything but spray my face with spicy peppermint as a punishment for myself! Ugh! Zach, you forgive me, don’t you?”
I said nothing.
“Oh quiet, you!” She gave Annabelle a scolding nudge. “I ought to ask the Holy One to fire you from your sainthood you’ve sworn to Zach, for you’re no use to him.”
“Hey! She’s no more use to me than you ever were!” I yelled angrily at Grenada.
Grenada glared at me and Annabelle sniffed, giving me a reassuring look. “Oh thanks, child. Bless you! If I were allowed to, I’d bless you a thousand times more, but I mustn’t. It’s up to the Holy One to allow such things like that.”
“How are you speaking to me and going to Heaven at the same time?” I asked.
“Oh we have our ways, boy,” Grenada said rather tartly. “And we’re not going to waste our time explaining it to you. Sister Annabelle’s got to get back to Heaven as soon as she can.”
“Oh, sister Grenada, can’t I stay with a boy a little bit?”
“No! you get your shiny little rear back where you belong! And Zach!” Her stern gaze bore into me. “You better watch out and DO NOT take everything for granted, whatever Lucien provides you. Do not take anything for granted. You still have that rosary around your neck that Hannah gave you. I tell you-- hide that from Lucien because I know for sure that the moment you enter his palace, he’s going to ask you to take it off so that he can get rid of it without you knowing it. Keep it safe, and listen to it.”
With that, my vision of them disappeared, and I fell into a deep sleep, dreaming my way into another strange vision. This time, I could see myself. I was back on Earth, wandering around the city of Jerusalem. It looked just as it had when I first arrived, and walking around, I passed by the sucking whirlpool where skeletons, wounded bodies, and pieces of broken buildings were being dragged in and flushed down like a toilet.
I tripped and hit my chin, cursing in pain. My body was starting to move and drag itself towards the nearby pool.
“Huh? No! Not yet!” I didn’t want to get sucked into Hell just yet….
But the force was pulling me in, and though I turned to desperately try and pull myself away, I was still being dragged in.
Suddenly, a small hand grabbed my right hand as I raised it with despair. A voice giggled.
“Zachy…..” It was a little girl’s voice-- a familiar voice that lifted my spirits.
And as soon as I felt my spirits rise, I began to rise from the edge of the pool and rose to my feet. The hand helped pull me up and as soon as I was standing, I looked down and the smiling face that stood there in front of me. I stared with a piercing stab of sympathy in my heart. I recognized the face, and thought I would never see that face again. It was my sister, Angeline.
“Zachy!” She immediately hugged my waist with her little arms.
I felt lost in a daze and I stared ahead blankly. I looked down at her. She looked but at me, still wrapping her arms in a hug. Her face was pale and nicely shaped with dark brown hair curling around it and hanging over both sides of her shoulders. Her big blue eyes shone in the dark and she smiled at me excitedly.
“I’m hugging a ghost,” she giggled, letting me go. “You’re a ghost now! I knew they were real!”
I blinked a couple times to regain my senses. I was still speechless.
“Zachy? Can you still talk? Do ghosts talk?”
I looked at her and looked down. I couldn’t think of what to say. This dream felt totally real. I didn’t feel any vividness accept for the sense of déjà vu.
“Well, that’s okay!” Said Angeline. “Before I couldn’t talk because I breathed in so much smoke and fire from the apocalypse. My voice sounded like frogs! Oh! I sounded like those gross globs of toads that ate up the poor babies of our neighbors! Luckily, I was healed in the altar and I feel good as new.”
“Wait-- so you are from the altar? Have you been taking refuge there?” I looked into her eyes.
Angeline nodded. “Yup. Alexandra Carroll, she was the one to help take me to the altar when she found me lying wounded on the streets. I fell that day! I scraped my knee and have this big gash! Look!” She lifted up her brown dress slightly so that she showed me an ugly dried up scar scraped over her right knee. I looked at it with a wince. She was bare foot, and like Lexie, she looked bedraggled like a slave.
I looked at her, feeling crestfallen. My sister was still alive. She recognized me, and she wasn’t scared of me, despite the real monster I really was in spirit. I wondered if she knew what afterlife I had gone to……..
“Angeline….” I couldn’t meet her gaze. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? You and that girl-- both of you are the only living souls in this city?”
“Yep,” Angeline nodded, giving a solemn look. “Me and Alexandra Carroll, who helped me get to the temple and inside the altar. If it weren’t for her, I’d be dead like you!”
“Alexandra?” I gave a wry look.
“She prefers to be called Lexie, actually,” said Angeline.
I laughed. “Her name‘s Alexandra and she wants to be called Lexie?” That was pretty uncommon for that nickname to come out of that name.
“Ooh! She told me all about you! I was so excited to hear that she actually saw the ghost of my own brother. She returned with…..angels, and I was sooo bewildered, I thought I was dreaming!” Angeline’s eyes were bedazzled. “I’ve always known angels were real….”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Well…..apparently, I’ve come back to meet you now-- I must be dreaming myself.”
“No! You aren’t dreaming!” Angeline took my hand. “Come on! I’ll prove it!”
And before I could say anything, the excited little girl took me through the city, and another strong sense of déjà vu hit me, for she used to do the very same when she was only five. Now, she was twice her age, ten years old, and still had the childish behavior she never seemed to let go of.
But being with Angeline made the place light up. Suddenly, I was looking all around me not at a destroyed dying town of Jerusalem around me, but a city full of richness and light where busy people roamed the streets here and there as we passed through.
Then it all flashed away and Angeline was standing with me in front of the altar. “There! Go inside the altar! Then you’ll see that you’re totally not dreaming! Lexie’s in there!”
I hesitated. Go inside the altar? “You’re gonna come with me, aren’t you?” I felt silly to be asking my own little sister this. But my fear of the altar was stirring up again, for I had never even so much peeked behind those sacred curtains, not even when the place was weakened.
“Of course! If they provide me and Lexie, they can provide you! Now go!” She gave me a hearty push. “I bet you’re trying to hide the excitement you have to see your girlfriend, Lexie!”
“What the heck?!” I gave her a haughty expression. “I barely know her! What are you talking about?”
Angeline shrugged, smiling with her hands behind her back. “She seemed very fond and happy to have met you when she told me about what she went through with you.”
“That’s ‘cause I’m your brother.”
“Yeah, but still. She seemed to still like you even though you came from the lowest class in Purgatory.”
I felt suddenly disheartened that my sister knew about how my life was like in the afterlife now.
“Oh, it’s okay!” She seemed to tell how I was feeling even though my face didn’t show it. “I still think you’re the best brother in the world, no matter where you go! You’re gonna make it to Heaven! I know it!”
Now at this, my face lifted. Did Angeline really think that? Best brother in the world that would make it to Heaven….I totally doubted the thought. I wasn’t worth anybody’s time. Not even Lexie’s. I even lied to her about who I was.
I turned with a sigh and faced the curtains of the altar. With another hesitating moment, I grabbed the bedraggled ends of the now torn curtain, and pulled them to the left.
A bright light shone through and hit me in the face, and my entire vision blanked out.

But I wasn’t dead this time—at least I didn’t die for a second time again.
As soon as the light shone in my face, I blanked out of the dream and shot my eyes open to darkness.
“Fool! When is it gonna stick to that ghostly airy brain of yours that you, especially, are not allowed in that altar!” Saint Grenada was yelling in my ears again.
I growled. “What just happened?! Was that not a dream then?”
“Oh, no, that was a dream alright,” replied Grenada. “You’re still headed for that darned palace of Lucien’s. It’s just that….oh how can I explain this—you had a star-portal kinda dream. It’s when you dream of something, and it truly happens somewhere else.”
I winced. “So while I was sleeping here, there was a duplicate spirit of me visiting my sister in Jerusalem?”
“Somewhat,” said Grenada testily. “Your sister was praying for you on that very night Lexie returned to tell her about it. And somehow, her faith pulled your inner spirit closer to her so that when you dreamt, you were able to visit her through a star-portal dream.”
“Weird,” I muttered. “And I bet I could never control or pick the nights in which I want to receive dreams like that.” I thought about dreaming myself being in Heaven, so that I could see Dewey in there and meet all the inhabitants of the place, and to see what it would really be like to live in an everlasting perfect afterlife.
“Aha! Don’t get your hopes too high, boy,” Grenada was reading my thoughts again. “You can’t just ‘pick’ your realistic star-portal dreams. They only occur to happen through other spirits’ prayers, or by strong powerful faith in yourself. You don’t just suddenly choose a night in which you want to dream a dream to make a real difference in your afterlife.”
“Huh, but what if Angeline prayed for me to go to Heaven?” I said snidely. “That way, it would help bring me forth to the place.”
“Hah! I’d like to see that work. She’s probably prayed all her life about having you be with her in Heaven—she even thought you were in Heaven before Lexie told her about you! I tell you boy—those star-portal dreams take more than you think. I’m not really quite sure how to explain it myself.”
Suddenly, I felt my dark vision burst into flames, and a spark ran through me. I jerked awake now, finding myself slouching on the step of the escalator. Lucien’s hand was resting upon me from behind.
“Zach? Are you awake?” Lucien was bending over as he gently shook me.
“Uh! I am now….” My head was spinning. That was some dream to make me feel nauseous as this when waking up from it.
“Well, we are here.”
I looked around and saw that the stairs stopped moving. Lucien was standing behind on the first step of the stairway’s end, and I was sitting in front of him. Around us were tall walls of brown rocks, for we were in some kind of cave. Light filtered from the top distance ahead of us, where a hole opened at the ceiling above a hanging ladder that hung from it.
“This is Purgatory?” I rose to my feet.
“Absolutely. We’re back in the lands of Bhad. It’s a good thing the stairway leads to the very spot where my kingdom is. We are just underground the alleyway of town. Once we climb our way to that opening, you’ll see the wondrous sights of the kingdom of Zellux.”
Zellux. That was the name of Lucien’s city. “Wow, awesome,” I muttered. “I had never ventured as far as that place whenever I had ditched by academy.”
Lucien chuckled. “Well, you have now.”
“Hey! There are cameras down here!” I glared at a small camera slowly pointing its way around, until it aimed at me and froze. I looked around and saw that there were many more hidden up on the corners of the ceiling.
“Hehe, well of course,” said Lucien. “If any such spirit were to enter our world through these stairs, I’d have to have cameras to see how it is, right? Don’t worry, my guards watch these cameras and take control. I’ll reassure them that everything’s cool.”
I stepped off the stairs and I followed him towards the hanging ladder. I looked around nervously. As we passed through, all the cameras continued to turn and follow my move, staring creepily at me through their dark holed recorders. I was feeling greatly annoyed. One camera aimed at me and stretched the front of its recorder another inch towards me, and I couldn’t help to stop and glare back at it, lifting a finger to flip it off.
“Zach?” Lucien was waiting for me by the ladder, ready to climb up.
I whipped around and hurried up to him.
“Come on, the first thing I’m going to do is show you around the city, and you will be escorted by one of my guards,” he let me climb up first.
“Huh? Wait! So you’re not going to tour me around yourself?” I looked down at him as he followed him up.
“I’ve got important things to tend to right now, unfortunately,” said Lucien with a sigh. “You haven’t forgotten your pathetic little Uncle Ebenezer haven’t you? Or Uncle E as he prefers to be called?”
I huffed. “Yeah….but has he returned already? You told him not to come back unless he recovered some valuable information about the golden SoulBirds.”
“Well, that’s what I’ll hear from my security. I’ve also got Erecto to call for, for it is through him that I can find out what Uncle E is really up to.”
Oh yeah, we were able to communicate with our SoulBirds—telepathically. I wondered if I could communicate with Dewey at any point, if he wasn’t too mad to talk to his own soul mate.
As soon as I rose from the hole, I immediately shut my eyes, for the light was terribly bright—brighter than what I had been used to. I wondered how Lucien had this light under his control, even when he was not around.
It was so bright for a moment that I didn’t even get to take a good look around me. I could hear the noise of crowds, but I kept my eyes tightly shut.
“Intruder! Call up the guards!” A loud voice thundered through and I was suddenly seized by strong men wearing armor. They were some of Lucien’s guards. I was knocked to the ground as someone whacked the side of my head with their fist.
Seeing stars, I fell and blinked my eyes open with a glare. Two men were standing there, looking tan and almost red-skinned, and over their heads, a fiery SoulBird cawed viciously and beat its wings at my face.
“Argh!” I swatted my hands, trying to scoot away, though the ground was terribly hot and burned my butt and feet.
The SoulBird was flapping its wings at my face, giving out the heat that wafted from its body, making it even worse. Damn, I really hated these SoulBirds.
“Lucien!” I called angrily.
“Hey! The kid’s callin’ the Higher One!” Growled one of the guards. Suddenly, someone bumped a hard metallic end of a pole at my back and I flinched, whipping around to glare at the same guard that kept nudging me with his spear back at the academy. It was that same guy, and now that I was face to face with him again, I realized that he was Asian and had his stiff black hair tied up in a stiff bun.
“Eh! Zachariah Ezekreth!” The Asian guy lowered his spear and crossed his arms, spitting at my face.
I flinched and covered my right eye, angrily wiping off that gross glob. My head was on fire now, and this time, I could feel it burn hottest upon me more than any other part. Angry thoughts raged through my head and I could barely breathe.
“Guys!” The Asian guy looked tauntingly proud. “Come on! Don’t you remember? This is the Zach kid from the Gretchen Academy!”
“Well! Well!” The other two crowded around behind me. I laid on my right leg, gazing up at them with hatred. “Look who’s decided to ditch his academy this time!”
“Yeah! And followin’ the Higher One around as well! Just ‘cause his academy’s gotten moved to the east building near the cornfield! You think you can just snoop around the kingdom as easily as you think?”
The Asian guy bumped my back with the end of his spear again. “Haha! He’s gonna have you boiled!”
He hit me again, and that did it. I leapt at the Asian guy, making him stumble back, for he was too heavy for me to knock over in that armor. So I clung onto his shoulders and gave a hard kick between his legs, hurting my own foot by doing so.
But I hurt him too, for the Asian guy yowled and dropped his spear, wobbling his legs and angrily pushing me off.
As I fell back, the other two instantly grabbed my shoulders and they both punched me in the face one and a time.
I thrashed and kicked all around, for I had been in fights like this before, and I was used to it. The only people I ever fought were just Damien’s stupid friends, though that last time I saw him with the SoulBird was the first time I actually got into a fight with him himself.

But Lucien’s guards were too strong. I was nearly pulled apart as the Asian grabbed me and tried to choke me.
The Asian managed to grab the back of my rosary and yank it off my neck, making me choke as the rosary refused to break.
“Heh! The fool’s wearing one of these forbidden accessories!” Cried the Asian. “Damn thing won’t come off!”

So the guard gave one more powerful yank and made me fall to the ground, nearly fainting with dizziness. The rosary broke and was in the hands of the terrible guard.
Suddenly, a tall red glowing figure appeared behind the guards and without saying anything, the guards let me go and widened their eyes, turning to face Lucien. The let me go and I was pushed towards the Asian, who wrapped his arm around my neck and continued to punch at me.
“Kahn?” Lucien’s voice was calm but stern as the Higher One faced the crazy yowling guard.
“Hey, Khan!” Both the guards yelled his name, but the idiot was still fighting with me and trying to tackle me like a possessed monkey.
Lucien let a low growl and gently banged his spear on the ground. Suddenly, red thorny branches grew from the ground underneath Khan and they sprouted around both him and me, though the guard was surprised and was immediately enclosed in the branches as they wrapped around him and whacked at him like whips. I managed to escape and look back at the stupid guard as he was bleeding and whining in the thorny branches growing around him and whipping at him. My rosary dropped from Khan’s hands and landed in front of him as he wailed with pain in the thorns.
“Now, Khan, you knew perfectly well why Zachariah was with me at the stairway,” Lucien spoke dangerously. “These two idiots had no idea,” he sprouted two vines between the two guards in front of him, giving each of them a scolding whack at the faces. “But you, you knew that Zach was being escorted by me, and not following me without my knowing of it.”
Khan fell to his knees as the thorny branches disappeared and crawled back into the ground. “Well, what could I do? The kid shouldn’t be with you anyway!”
“I will decide what’s to happen to the boy, not you,” growled Lucien, flashing his red eyes and making Khan suddenly grab his back in twisted pain. “As guards, you are supposed to be keeping watch of intruders that enter through the stairway without my expectance. But if I come from the stairs myself, you should know well that there should be know other intruder with me at the same time.”
“We’re sorry your majesty,” grumbled the two guards, looking down.
“Hey! But news has come from the patrolling SoulBirds!” Said the guard on the left. “The snakes have multiplied rapidly! They’re spreading all over the land! We managed to easily kill most of them, but not before the same amount reproduced at the same time!”
Lucien raised his eyebrows. “And this has been witnessed already?”
“Oh yes, the kingdom is terrified. The armies are trying hard to keep them from entering through the surrounding gates, but many have suffered. These serpents-- they may be easy to kill, but if they get to you first, its pretty dang bad news.”
I looked at Lucien through a bruised eye, wanting to heal myself with the rosary, but I glared at it from the corner of my eye as it lay there in front of Khan.
“Well, see to it that the armies are assembled to capture one of the snakes and bring it back for my observation,” spoke Lucien. “I wanna see what can be done with the snake and study its weaknesses to find a way to kill its spirit off.”
“Yes, your Higher,” they both nodded.
The fire SoulBird suddenly came from the sky and a middle-aged spirit came from the right where the crowds were busiest. He wore a headdress wrapped around at the top of his head, and he was dressed in a dirty white gown-like outfit that bore small jewels at the bottom.
“Your honor?“ The man spoke with a calm voice as he came up to Lucien’s right. “Arneus reported to me of your return,” he nodded at the angry devilish fire SoulBird in the sky. “What must be done about the armies? The city is in terror and the warriors are caught off guard.”
Lucien didn’t turn to face the white dressed man. He was eying me carefully, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable with this spirit around his guards and in his own kingdom.
“Take these guards back to the palace,” spoke Lucien, still keeping his eye on me. “But first, I have news myself to bring to you. Everyone, this is Zachariah Ezekreth. You all know of him as the daredevil of St. Gretchen’s Academy.” He glinted with humor.
The white-dressed man looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Ah, yes. Zach. We’ve all heard of you-- the whole kingdom knows about the complaints we’ve continuously kept receiving from St. Gretchen. She’s reported to us almost every single trouble you’ve caused her and the academy, even if it was just giving her a dirty look.” The man winked at me with an amused gaze.
The guards grunted and gave me looks of hatred, brushing themselves from the fight they had just started with me. I was aware of Khan’s grumbling and look of hatred as the man balled his fists and fixed a look of revenge on me.
“Zach, this is Raman,” Lucien gave a nod to the white-dressed man at his right. “He is the governor of the land, and comes second in command below my orders. Anytime you have anything to share with me, or if you have anything important that must me discussed with kingly matters, speak to Raman first. For he is the kingdom’s second most respected spirit and a headmaster himself of the St. Raman Academy in my own kingdom.”
I’ve heard of the St. Raman Academy in Lucien’s palace. Though it was under the command of the Higher One himself, and the very academy that was most under his watch and control, St. Gretchen’s Academy managed to beat its records of talented mediums that advanced through classes most consistently. Yeah, it sounds weird--for my academy has the snottiest, rudest and foul hearted spirits you could ever meet, but they were about as good as you can get in these lands, and were actually favored better than those of the other academies. The other academies had mediums that were evil and devilish at heart, which was why they were in this land. But at St. Gretchen’s Academy, the students were arrogant and terribly rueful, though they were the least evil than other academies that were full of mediums that were almost pure evil.
Of course, I was starting to make the academy worse by causing trouble and driving the headmaster Gretchen and all the other High Ones crazy at the academy, giving the students a bad example.
Nevertheless, Lucien was looking at me with a sideways smile as he studied me with his glowering red eyes. St. Raman was nodding at me.
“Well, it’s nice to meet the outlaw of St. Gretchen’s,” said Raman.
Outlaw?! I narrowed my eyes and glared at the governor.
“Also,” Lucien continued to speak, “Raman is half-soul of the palace and the land. As a half-soul, Raman has the highest connection with the Holy One above our world in the kingdom of Heaven. For all High Ones, Higher Ones, and half-souls are of the kingdom of Heaven and are here to teach you mediums.”
I gave Lucien a look, for he himself was no angel from Heaven.
But Lucien went on, “And the half-souls are the ones most strong enough to speak to the Holy One consistently for the good of our lands. Each stage of Purgatory has a Higher One, and each Higher One has at least one half-soul to communicate with the Holy One most often for support. Trust Raman, and I will make sure he trusts you.” He gave the half-soul a raised look. “Take good care of the boy for me, for I will be escorting these guards back to the palace. Show him around the kingdom and introduce him to the important parts of the place. Zach? Please cooperate with this spirit-- he will show you the wisdom that you must have to adapt to this place easily as you wish.”
I blinked at Raman who was still smiling calmly at me. I couldn’t help keep a narrowed gaze. How could Raman be a half-soul for Lucien if the Higher One was secretly a devil from Hell? Perhaps Raman, too, was of the confines of Hell secretly. I would have to speak to Lucien himself about this, and speak to Lucien only.
“Of course I’ll take good care of the boy,” Raman came up to me and rested his hand on my shoulder. I stared back at the man with an unblinking hardening gaze. “Come along. There’s so much to see in this city of Zellux. And it’s already quite late into the day.”
“Khan,” Lucien growled at the Asian who was taking my rosary and slipping it into the armor in front of his chest.
I raised my eyebrows at him and he narrowed his gaze into a grimace. He chuckled mischievously.
“Khan!” Lucien’s tone made Khan flinch now, though the guard still kept his angry gaze on me. He rose up and shouldered passed me, giving me another nudge at my hip.
“You’re dead spirit, boy,” growled the guard. “I’m not finished with you yet.” He eyed me with a scary look behind his shoulder as he joined the other two guards who were gazing at me with hatred as well. Lucien, who was noticing the scorn passing between us, rolled his eyes. He gave a hard push and them all and quietly grumbled something to them as he led them away.
Raman and I watched them go. “Oh, you’ll have to be careful now,” the half-soul sounded concerned.
I scoffed. “Yeah? That I’ll get my butt whooped later when I’m alone or something?”
“Exactly,” said Raman. “Khan doesn’t back off so easily. He’s one of Lucien’s top strongest warriors, as well as his most respected guard. Now that you’ve humiliated him like that, he’s gonna get you back whenever he could, for every fight Khan starts, he wants to finish it, and finish it with him winning.”
“He has my rosary,” I growled. “He’s not gonna win anytime soon…”
“Oh, now the rosary….” Raman narrowed his eyes and looked at me with a studying gaze. “That’s a different matter. Zach, you aren’t supposed to have such things around here-- especially when you’re in the kingdom of Zellux.”
I blinked. “Lucien didn’t seem to say anything about it.”
“He didn’t say anything about it YET,” said Raman carefully. “I can explain to you further on as we take our tour. Come along, and get a good look at the city around you. I will explain the consequences of that necklace when we get to the right part.”
So Raman led me into the city of Zellux. The kingdom was a wondrous city full of high buildings and awesome sights of bridges connecting up in the air and SoulBirds working all around with the spirits as they kept the city in its busy looking state. The spirits drove no cars or any automobile of any kind, for transportation was most simple here in this city. The spirits were able to teleport from one part of the place to another because of the wafting atmosphere that Lucien allowed in Zellux and in Zellux only. The entire place was like another version of the cities in Star Wars with tall huge buildings that could support a neighborhood, and neighborhoods that could support a forest.
Here, the buildings were mixed with the trees and natural environment as well. When Raman showed me the eastern part of Zellux, he showed me the hugest trees the size of Earth’s tallest buildings. Those trees had no leaves, for such things didn’t exist to grow in the lands of Bhad, but the branches supported important rooms where spirits gathered for meetings and discussed matters under the command of the Higher One.
“Our city is powered by the energy source that comes from the Bhadland Tree,” said Raman, taking me to the hugest, thickest, and tallest tree in the city. I stared up with wonder, not understanding how the thing could even be considered to be a tree. There were metallic furnishings over some of its branches, for all around on every side, there seemed to be branches sticking out here and there, containing buildings here and there, or containing buildings even inside its branches. “The spirits that work in this tree live for its existence, and all the spirits are High Ones, High Ones that have returned to Purgatory after achieving their way into Heaven, and coming back to help support the lands of this world.
I stared at the tree with awe. It was about a quarter mile just to walk around the whole dang tree. It’s branches were probably half a mile around from the looks of it.
“Whoa,” I muttered. My voice didn’t sound as excited as I felt inside. “Does the tree have buildings on its branches? Or are the buildings inside the branches?”
“Both,” said Raman. “This is the Energy PowerTree that spirits live in to keep energy going throughout the land. Without the spirits’ presence thriving inside the tree, the atmosphere of this land would be lost, and it would be just as if Earth lost all presence of oxygen. Everything would die off, and without this tree’s supporting atmosphere, the atmosphere provided to keep our spirits in this world would be lost.”
“Huh. Then we would all just go to Hell, right?”
“Or we‘d just be sucked into the closest world that could support our spirits,” said Raman. “If there’s no such energy in the atmosphere, our spirits would be nothing but flowing souls wandering around the world without a purpose, and we would either be sucked into the closest world where atmosphere is alive to support us. If you‘re in one of the upper lands, you‘d just be sucked into Heaven if your PowerTree went out, or if you‘re in the lower lands, you‘d be sucked into Hell if the PowerTree died and gave no more support for our spirits.”
“Hah, so like another free ticket to Heaven.”
“Well… doesn’t work that way,” said Raman with a chuckle. “It doesn’t take much to keep the PowerTrees alive. Even if they did go out, and we were sucked into Heaven, the Holy One wouldn’t just allow the unlearned spirits to just be purified automatically without giving them a chance to learn and purify themselves first. The spirits from Heaven come down and live in the PowerTrees because just by living inside, they are giving the tree strength of angels and light, therefore, helping the tree bring up that light of life to support the atmosphere in Purgatory. So it the trees ever did go out, the angels would hurry to bring it back to life, and we would just resume our daily afterlife activities once again.”
“Dammit,” I muttered.
“It is also from this tree that Lucien keeps the presence of light possible. Every morning, when the trumpets sound, the Higher One teleports to this tree to give its roots fire. Fire does not kill such a tree as this-- but gives it such energy to release into the high atmosphere to the sky and let light shine from above. By the time it is around 7:00 in the evening, that fire eventually goes out and darkness slowly overcomes the place.”
I nodded. “So the angels from Heaven come down not to serve as teachers to the mediums, but also to live in this tree to keep it alive and bringing forth the wafting atmosphere for the whole stage?”
“Yes, each stage has a PowerTree to do so, so that the spirits in the stages aren’t just lost, unaware ghosts that just become sucked down into the closest world of Hell or Heaven.”
“Too bad we’re the lowest class in the world,” I said. “The closest place we would go to is Hell.”
“Right,” said Raman with a nod. “That’s why it’s important to keep this city sacred and this tree powered and alive by the angels from Heaven.”
I peered up, narrowing my eyes through the thick branches, noticing that there actually were some flickering lights here and there. “Those must be angels moving around then.” But from here, they looked like traces of fireflies from so far away.
“Yes-- we must not disturb them. Let’s move on.”
As Raman walked forward, I wondered about Heaven and Hell, how they supported the life for their spirits. “If Purgatory has these PowerTrees to keep the spirits of the afterlife going, what does Heaven and Hell have? Do they have the same to keep the existence of our spirits?”
“Hehe, Heaven and Hell will exist no matter what. They don’t need any such PowerTrees for their spirits, because the spirits that live in those worlds are strong enough to go on forever. The ones in Hell are strongly evil and bad in every way, that is the energy that wafts through the atmosphere to make the world what it is. The ones in Heaven are all good and good in every way, so that is what keeps the world alive to go on forever and ever. In Purgatory, though, the spirits are just in-between, too much of neither good nor bad. So the PowerTrees must support the life to keep them up and finding their ways, which also explains the stages that get higher or lower, closer to the world of Heaven and Hell.”
“But isn’t there a Tree of Life in Heaven?”
“That’s nothing like our PowerTrees. The Tree of Life is just that tree in their world that bears life that would last forever eternally. It’s not like our PowerTree, and does not need the presence of angels living inside it to keep it alive. It is alive forever, no matter what.”
I wished we could tour the inside of that PowerTree. But apparently, it was so sacred that not even the Higher One could enter it with the angels-- especially not Lucien.
Raman showed me more wondrous sights of the city, showing me the water tower that was like a tall skinny building with an equally tall tree wrapped around its right side as if it grew against it. The water tower was what was in charge of all our fountains and showers and water supply in the land.
The bridges that we walked over from building to building were amazing. Everywhere I went, though, I was met by blank stares from the spirits that lived here. Apparently, they did recognize me and hear of my presence. Somehow, Lucien was able to get the knowledge of my presence through all the spirits’ heads so that he didn’t have to explain it in a meeting or spread the word about me. I didn’t bother asking how he did it, though, for he was the Higher One and he could just do such things.
We were touring over bridges and highways that the spirits traveled to and fro from, and at some points, I didn’t even understand how I had gotten so high off the ground to travel upon the bridges.
There was one such bridge that led over a huge flow of water that was released from the end of the water tower.
We even came to the St. Raman Academy, which apparently, was the academy that St Gretchen shared temporarily.
“Hah!” I had to laugh as I recognized the High Donner from the arching bridge over the academy. “So St. Gretchen is really sharing academies with you?”
“Well, my academy is the biggest in the land, considering it’s located in the Higher One’s city of Zellux. There’s always been enough room to support another academy if it were needed. St. Gretchen still has just as much control as headmaster of her own academy just as she had before, though.”
“Oh, well then I’m glad I’m not there,” I looked over the large building of the academy. I felt like spitting at the heads of the High Ones or at some of the cowardly friends of Damien. The academy was huge, and it did have taller buildings that were twice the size of Gretchen’s buildings. But then again, I wondered how good it would be for her mediums. I wondered how evil the mediums were from St. Raman’s academy. I wondered how rude and barbaric they could be to drive my academy to become the same way they were, therefore, faltering in the amount of successful students.
“They must not share classes, do they?” I asked.
“Nah, there were plenty of empty buildings and empty rooms that my own classes had to be split with so much room in each. Instead, my classes had to be put together and combined so that they could give more room for St. Gretchen’s classes.”
I tried to spot anyone I knew from this distance. I narrowed my eyes as a group of darkly dressed mediums crowd around a small spirit and chase him to the corner of the fence.
I widened my eyes. “Shion! That’s Shion!” I could see the little Indian Boy hide and try to defend himself from the dark mediums. “Hey! Shion!” I tried to wave my arms and yell for his attention.
“Now, he can’t hear you, we are standing almost two hundred feet high.”
“Those idiots,” I hissed through gritted teeth. “I can even find some of Damien’s friends in that crowd.”
“Oh, great, is that the mob of Jake and his brother?” Raman eyed the dark crowd of bullies. “They’re always terrorizing the academy.”
“Wait, how old are the mediums in your academy?” I faced Raman with a frown.
“My academy consists of students ranging from eighteen to twenty-one.”
“Eighteen to twenty-one?!” I nearly jumped. “Gretchen has students from ages fourteen to sixteen!”
“Pretty close enough for your academy’s age range,” remarked Raman. “Don’t worry, your academy won’t last here forever. Just until your academy is cleaned up and rebuilt again.” He left the side of the bridge and continued to walk forwards. “Come along now, there’s only a few more places I must show you now.”
I gave one more worried look down at the school. I lost sight of the dark mob in the huge area of the academy, but I did catch Shion sneak into a small building near the corner, though that small building was the size of the biggest building in my academy-- Gretchen’s office.
I followed Raman along, hurrying up to the half-soul, who was already at the far end of the bridge. “Hey! Wait!” I winced and hurried after him. He had been doing that all day-- he seemed to be walking so fast when I wasn’t looking.
I grunted and bumped into a lady with a fruit basket. She dropped all her fruits and screamed at me.
“Oh! How DARE you! Ill-behaved boy-- oh!” She suddenly recognized me as I turned to give her a fierce look with my headband on fire. “Zach Ezekreth of St. Gretchen’s Academy! Ugh!” She bent down to pick up her fruits. “Such a disgrace that the Higher One would have picked you to enter this city.” She muttered offending curses about me and I got up, facing the lady as she turned her back to pick up her fruits. Her butt was facing me, and I raised my foot to give a strong kick.
“Zach,” Raman’s calm voice was suddenly behind me and the man gently pulled me back with his hand on my shoulder. “Let’s go. Excuse us, please, Miss Richardson.”
The lady didn’t even turn to address the half-soul, for she was too busy grumbling with crankiness as she picked up her fruits.
As he lead me away, and glared at her over my shoulder. “Some bitches….”
“Now, we don’t need that if you’re going to learn to clean yourself up here.”
“She didn’t even say anything to you! And you’re the governor of this damn place!”
“Don’t you dare talk about the Higher One’s city in that manner,” said Raman rather snappishly, his eyes looking sharply at me. “I tell you-- Lucien may appear coaxing and kind towards you, but that doesn’t keep him from wanting to persecute and punish you in his fireplace.”
Raman took me to the Punishment House in the back of the city. The building was like a dirty alleyway with hardworking spirits that pulled wagons and furnished buildings-- some even having fire on their backs.
I had almost forgotten I was in the cruddy deserted lands of Bhad as I toured this city, but now, seeing the area of the punished ones, it reminded me of the ruined city of Jerusalem. Everything seemed torn and spirits were both destroying parts of the place, or being forced to build them together again. It was like Jerusalem after the apocalypse-- except with living souls to terrorize it again.
I saw on such man, naked with his hair on fire, and he was holding up a rock and throwing them up at the spirits that were remodeling the top windows of a tall building. Some of them he missed and crashed the rocks through the windows, some he struck and made fall to the ground.
The crazed man whipped around and met my gaze as Raman and I approached. I flinched and backed away, but Raman was suddenly gone.
“Raman?!” Please don’t leave me to deal with devilish freaks again. But the half-soul was locking the tall gates behind us. He turned and then widened his eyes.
“Look out!”
I turned and ducked as the man threw his rock over my head. Raman caught the rock in his left hand, frowning at the man, who lowered his head with surprise at the half-soul, and then ran away, yowling with fright.
Raman came to my side. “This place is for the punished souls. They can be so dangerous that they must have a place fenced to themselves.”
Raman and I made our way around the crazy people to the building on the far left.
“Now this is the building for the punished ones.” Said Raman, walking up the path that lead to the front door.
I really didn’t like this place. Everywhere, angry spirits glared and gave us foul faces, even giving us the finger, along with other strange sign language that I had no idea about.
“This place is for spirits who commit crimes in the afterlife?” I said. “Why don’t you just take them to Hell?”
“Well, usually they are only punished no longer than seven months. If they don’t get any better, they just get dumped straight to Hell down the Gehenna Volcano.”
I snickered. I’m glad I wasn’t taken here. Punishment never made me learn, it just never did.
I looked to the right where to guys were tackling each other, fighting ever so violently, and one even took a sharp piece of glass and whacked the other with it.
I flinched and looked away. “Raman? Aren’t you gonna stop them?” I muttered.
The half-soul shrugged and entered in. “Many spirits have had all the time in their mortal lives to be stopped in places like this. Now, in the afterlife, it is their choice whether they want to go to Hell or not.”
As we entered in the building of the Punishment House, I looked around and saw that it was very much like a human jail I read about before. There were cells where one or two spirits stuck around, and in some of them, there were even SoulBirds cawing and angrily spiting at us with envy as we passed through.
I really wasn’t fond of places where souls just yelled crazily at you for no reason and creatures scram with spite. I already hated SoulBirds enough, and these ones in the Punishment House looked even worse and more devilish.
“Why would there be SoulBirds here? They don’t seem like they would be helping the souls any more than they can help themselves.”
Raman nodded. “Well, you know that SoulBirds are lifelong partners and they’ll stick with their soul mates no matter what. So even though their soul mates make it to jail, they follow them along, and being the devilish SoulBirds they are, they keep up their jobs to lure them to Hell.”
I raised my eyebrows and eyed an earth type SoulBird that crept up to the front it its cell, glaring at me with its button eyes wide and furious. The devil horns glowed on its head, and its talons scratched the ground, looking sharpened and dangerous as if it could rip apart metal.
I couldn’t help look at it in the eyes, for it reminded me somewhat of Aracto.
I saw that at the right corner of the earth type SoulBird’s cell, a girl with long tangled black hair was sitting with her head buried in her knees. Her arms hugged around her knees as she buried her head in her arms and knees, and on her wrists, she had bracelets with thorns around, as well as cuts and bleeding marks, some looking nasty and old, some new and already bleeding. I raised my eyebrows. I’ve seen such things at my academy, but those cuts looked better on this girl for some reason. I couldn’t see her face, for her long black hair was covering the sides of her face and she had strands of tangled bangs over her forehead. She wore torn skinny jeans and I saw that there were dirty smudges on her legs and feet, as well as more cuts. Her shirt was low-cut, though only because half of it was torn and covered in blood.
Suddenly her earth type SoulBird started cawing and stomping its big feet, giving me a haughty glare, for I had been staring for too long.
The irritating cry of her SoulBird made the girl lift her head up from her arms, and I could see the top half of her face.
She wore dark eyeliner that seemed to be smeared and messy over her eyes, for she must have been crying. She wasn’t crying now though, for she was glaring at me with scary narrowed green eyes. Strands of her black hair hung over her face, though the fierce look she gave me through her eyes was noticeable.
As soon as she locked eye with me, I blinked, and then immediately looked away, facing forward and pretending like I hadn’t been staring at her too long.
I saw that Raman was all the way down the aisle, almost at the very end of the room. Wincing and muttering under my breath with annoyance, I walked on faster, turning behind my shoulder to glance one more time at the girl, who was still staring at me. Her eyes remained narrowed and dangerous. She was probably older than me, or at least around sixteen. She was very thin and I could see her ribs through that low-cut dark shirt. Something about her interested me though, for she was still hot and attractive, even though she was as dirty and bedraggled as though most mistreated slave. If she cleaned herself up and put on real low-cut shirts and a new pair of skinny jeans, she could probably make one of the hottest most popular girls in my academy.
As she glared with her narrowed eyes through her messy dark eyeliner, I saw that she gave me somewhat of a sideways smile when she turned her head to keep watch on me.
I looked away and ran up to Raman, avoiding all the clattering noises of cells and loud shouts that the prisoners threw at me as I made my way through.
Raman looked forward and spoke to me. “Unfortunately, many of these prisoners in this building have but one more month before they are persecuted and taken to Gehenna. That’s why they wait in their cells to think about what they’ve done and where it’s taken them. They have no more chances to work and do better, though, for once the seven month trial is over and they still haven‘t improved, they are sent to the cells before they get thrown down the volcano eternally.”
I raised my eyebrows and thought about that dark haired girl. “All of them in here get thrown into Gehenna?”
Raman nodded. “Don’t waste your time having crushes on anyone in here.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “That girl with the cuts around her wrists, her name’s Miranda Vera. She’s been one of the worst spirits getting on the nerves of those who are in control of this place. Like you, she’s tried to make escapes and break free from this prison that they had to tie her hands to the wall with chains hard as iron. But that’s not the reason why her wrists are bleeding like that. The girl’s tortured herself as much as the Punishment House has tortured her.”
“Every night she commands her SoulBird to cut deep wounds into her. Of course, her SoulBird obeys and enjoys the pain as much as she does.” Raman rolled her eyes and he and I exited the back of the building. “Some spirits are just born crazy that they have no choice but to die crazy.”
I followed the half-soul to one more place in the city. As we made our way across a street, I looked up at the sky, which seemed so far away because of all the tall buildings, and I saw that it was starting to darken already. And from the thickness of the clouds, it looked like it was going to rain.
“Alright, we don’t have much time, Zach,” Raman sounded urgent. “Over here is the temple of Harg.”
I looked forward at a strange dark building in front of the gates that surrounded the city. The building had a triangle shape to it, with a sharp roof at the top. The doors in front seemed old and plastered with something red.
“That’s a temple?” I didn’t have the same strange feeling that I got when I was around the temple in Jerusalem.
“Well-- that’s what Lucien calls it,” Raman muttered. I noticed he was glaring at the temple, and standing firmly, not taking a step towards it to let me get a better look around it. “This temple is more like a mosque to worship the devil. But only Lucien knows that.”
I felt a sinking feeling inside me and I turned to face Raman with a wide look. I wondered-- did he know…?
Raman was looking at me seriously. “Come now-- let’s not discuss this in such a….tainted place,” he glared at the temple-- or mosque-- again with a look of hatred.
Raman hurried through a dark alley and I had to keep up with the man. I was right-- he did walk pretty dang fast, and I had to jog to keep up.
We found an enclosed place where a low bridge arched over our heads and two buildings were on either side of us.
“Okay, so who are you exactly?” I looked at Raman with a narrowed gaze. “What did you mean by that was what Lucien called the temple? Does he worship Satan there or something?”
“Worse. He worships Satan there-- and lies to everyone to cover it up by saying that he speaks to the Holy One in there. He says that’s where I speak to the Holy One there as well, though I couldn’t bear to set foot in that horrid place.”
I winced. “Huh? That doesn’t make sense! How could the Higher One be a devil in secret if everyone around him-- especially his second in command-- is of Heaven?”
“It’s quite complicated,” muttered Raman. “I don’t have much time to explain too much-- but you can ask your Uncle E about it.”
“So you know my uncle too!” I threw my hands in the air and cursed with confusion.
“Don’t curse, Zach,” said Raman quietly.
“Hah! Of course you’d say that.”
“Zach, listen. All I can say, is that Lucien is a terrible leader. You may not know it-- but he’s plotting something for not only his own lands of Bhad, but the entire world of Purgatory.”
“What? How?”
“He’s a soul from Hell-- and what can you expect a soul from Hell to do but cause trouble? I’ve been warned of this trouble from Lucien. And just between you and me, all of Lucien’s minions are devils just like him.”
“All of them?”
“All of them. Khan, the armies, everyone. Secretly, I was an angel sent from Heaven, disguised with the power of the Holy One who’s kept my soul hidden from even the Higher One to read.”
“What?! The Holy One could disguise you from the Higher One?”
Raman looked at me sternly. “The Holy One could do anything and everything. It is He who has supreme power more than the Higher Ones could ever have. I was sent here to serve as second in command for Lucien, so that I can learn of his plans and what he’s truly behind. You see-- Lucien’s told you about saving this land from the confines of Hell, especially now that they are rising up and breaking through easier than before. Did he tell you that?”
I nodded.
“Well, that’s just what he wants you to think. What Lucien really wants is to pull this land into Hell’s gasp since it’s the closest part of the world that’s closest to Hell. Then slowly, he will prey on the other stages one by one, creeping his way up faster and faster than it will seem. For it is of Hell that Lucien wants to have power. He cares nothing for the purpose of Purgatory. Just like what happened to Earth, he wants the same to happen to Purgatory as well. You saw Earth in its ruins. That world has sinned, it has been destroyed, and now the leftovers of the planet are being overrun by hell fiends until the entire apocalypse makes the whole world disappear. But as for Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell, they are immortal worlds that can never disappear like Earth has. Therefore, the confines of Hell want to take over the immortal worlds, and they are starting with this world in Purgatory. As Lucien secretly plots against his own land, he will soon reach Heaven itself, and that will be when the greatest battle will come, for Heaven will not submit to Hell as easily as Purgatory could—Heaven is by far, much more powerful than Hell will ever be. And that is a fact.”
“Why are you telling ME this?” I winced, feeling strange to hear another spirit talk bad about Lucien from the opposite of what I had thought of him.
“You’ve met the one of the golden holy SoulBirds, have you not?” Raman eyed me closely. “Those SoulBirds can stop the world of Hell. That’s why Lucien wants to keep them separate, and that’s why he’s sent your uncle to retrieve at least one of them while he deals with the rest of the land.”
I looked down, shaking my head slowly with a narrowed look of disbelief. “I bet all this is happening because of Earth’s destruction. More spirits are coming to the afterlife, and Satan must want to drag as many of them into his world. Many spirits have already deserved to go to Hell so Satan must be pretty powerful now. He’ll use the new power of spirits to rise against the other immortal worlds as well…”
“You got that right, boy.” Raman was eying me. “I was glad to have gotten to you before Lucien could have used you as well.”
I suddenly looked up with a frown. “Use me? What could he want with me? And how can I trust YOU? How do I know you’re being any more truthful that Lucien as the second in command of him?”
Raman suddenly blinked and looked troubled. “What are you talking about, Zach? Why would there be any reason I am lying to you?”
“Well, prove that you’re the angel you say you are.”
“I cannot prove it—I am in disguise right now.”
“Then I doubt if I’m even safe around here.” I turned away, feeling frustrated. “You tell me that Lucien is a liar and just trying to plot for his own world of Hell. But you aren’t any more trustworthy yourself if you’ve got no proof. I bet you’re just jealous of him because he’s the Higher One, and he’s most attractive to all the women spirits. Just as I suspected my uncle of feeling against him when he told me the same thing.”
Suddenly, Raman grabbed my shoulder and gripped me hard. I flinched and angrily yanked forward, trying to pull myself away from him.
As I struggled and tried to kick him back between the legs, he jumped in front of me and pushed me away.
“Run! Snakes!” He hissed. But after a rough shove, he was pulled down to the ground and his body was tackled by a horde of small slithery snakes.

“Raman!” I looked around urgently, but I had nothing to help the guy. My cross was probably all I would’ve needed, but now it was gone.
Suddenly, the snakes screamed and they all slithered away from his body. Raman was glowing on the ground with his eyes halfway shut. Rising up from the ground, his body started to hover and long feathery wings unraveled from behind his back. The man had a halo above his head now.
The light that brimmed from around him shot at the snakes and seized them until they burned to ashes. Pretty soon, all the slithery snakes were gone, and nothing was left in their place but piles of ashes.
I looked at Raman with awe. The man was no doubt an angel. The jewels that were at the underneath of his gown were gone and broken on the floor, as well as his headdress over his head. It was gone and his whitish gray hair was revealed.
“Raman….” I didn’t know what to say. “Your disguise is gone.”
Suddenly there was a shaking and I heard the sounds of people screaming around the city.
“Zach, run!” Raman flew over me and shot a harpoon at an imp that crashed form the trash can up ahead (I had no idea where he had gotten the harpoon from…I think it was just an angel thing).
I ran out of the narrow path between the buildings and escaped into the open city. The entire city of Zellux was filled with spirits running around with horror as a huge fire shot over the bridges and caught some of the buildings on flames.
“What’s going on?!” I yelled as I made my way up the bride, escaping a swarm of giant mosquitoes that were heading towards my right.
Raman flew to my shoulder and shot a ball of light at another large snake that blocked my pathway. “Hell creatures have invaded. This is what I meant about Lucien’s plan!”
Suddenly a blast of fire shot at Raman and the angel fell to the ground.
“Raman!” I hurried up to his side and knelt down. His eyes were closed and his light was fading.
“Ugh….” He slowly got up. “I mustn’t be seen or recognized by anyone.”
I looked around and below us and above us, people were screaming with fear and fire was exploded here and there. They seemed to pay no attention to the governor of te place suddenly looking more like an angel than he should.
Then I gasped and heard a familiar yowl. Khan and a band of warriors were running their way up to an ugly horrible beast with their swords cast out. Khan was yelling at the top of his lungs, and I could only imagine he was charging at the beast with me pictured in front of him.
I looked at Raman with horror. “What are you gonna do? Lucien can’t see you like this!”
“Zach,” Raman looked at me seriously and gave me something from the pocket of his gown. “Take this—this is all you need.”
He handed me a wooden cross. I blinked and stared at him. “When will you--”
“I’ll be back in no time, I promise. I just have to get back to Heaven and renew my disguise—I cannot bear to have the Higher One find out what has become of me, especially during a time like this.”
And a fiery ball of flames shot through the angel, but as soon as it shot by, I saw that Raman was gone. Above in the sky, there was a spark in the dark orange tainted color and I looked up to see a long slithery dragon yowl through and whack its tail at one of the water tower buildings.
I gasped and hurried towards it down the bridge, clasping the cross against my chest. This one was wooden—it gave no glow just as the one on my rosary did.
But nevertheless, I knew this thing could work just like the other one could.
Looking up at the yowling dragon, I shouted and waved my hands at it, daring it to come and drag me to Hell.
The dragon swung its furious gaze down upon me and breathed out a shot of flames at me, but I held the cross at it and blocked the flames. The fire was immediately thrown back at the dragon and it roared as it fell out of the sky, crashing into a pile of trash near the alleyway. I gasped and realized what I had just done without bruising another bone.
“Hiya! Take that!” To me right, I heard a familiar young voice. I turned and saw a tiny earth type SoulBird kicking at a pair of newly born snakes that were slithering around the small bird. It was Dewey! And he was pecking and kicking at the small snakes like they were worms.
“Take this! Yah! Call yourselves hell creatures?! I could eat you up for breakfast!” He pecked at the snakes and they screamed and whimpered, thrashing their bodies around with pain and confusion.
I laughed and shook my head. Raising my cross, I aimed it towards the two snakes and they immediately caught on fire.
“Wah!” Dewey jumped back with surprise. The snakes immediately turned to ashes and blew away in the heated breeze.
Dewey whipped around and faced me with his little eyes glaring. “No! What do you think you’re doing?! I had it all under control!”
I snickered and walked up to the little bird. “I saved your feathers, smart one.”
“Yech! I was having fun slowly killing those devils! Ahh…you…” Dewey hopped along my side, muttering under his breath.
I looked down at him, giving a sideways look. He was happy to see me—I could truly feel it. I had to admire the way he followed me along with a look on his face that seemed like he would be doing the exact opposite.
“So what brought you down here?” I asked as we ventured through a quiet alleyway.
“Huh!” Dewey focused his cute little angry gaze ahead of him and didn’t look up at me. “Well, while you were lazing around this place and enjoying a time in Hell’s future land, I was in Heaven!”
“Oh yeah? Was Heaven as heavenly as you thought it would be?”
“Darn right it was!” Snapped Dewey, giving me a fierce look. “The place was like a city on clouds! It was huge—way more exotic than ten times this city was! The atmosphere was soooo nice and cool…oh! I never knew I could ever feel what it would be like to be not so hot for once!”
I winced. “Why come down here then?”
“Because it’s a SoulBird’s job to stick with their soulmate, no matter how foolish and useless they may be to them! I could actually look down at you from Heaven, and I could see parts of the city that you can’t see. I saw your favorite hero Lucien too.”
“Yeah! And I’m not gonna tell you what he was up to!” Said Dewey, holding his head high.
I chuckled. “Like I asked.” But deep down, I was itching to know what the Higher One was up to. Now that Raman had shared with me one of his biggest secrets—I was finding it hard to keep the flames on my head flickering with distress.
“Hah! You wanna know, don’t ya?” Dewey was smiling at me deviously, and his little halo gave a bright glow.
Suddenly a crash sounded from behind and I turned to see that the entire water tower had fallen down. The building and the tree wrapped to its side was suddenly out of sight, and a flicker of flames started to rise up from where it had fallen. I heard cries and the sound of rushing water flowing through.
“Ahh!” Dewey gave a jump. “Get to high ground! There’s gonna be water flowing through!”
Dewey and I rushed through the alleyway, but the place was too narrow and we seemed to be going downhill rather than up.
“Hey! There’s no way up!” Cried Dewey. “We’re doomed!”
“No we aren’t,” I muttered, narrowing my eyes around. I heard hissing creatures and I felt something move from behind us.
Dewey and I whipped around to see that there was nothing down the path in which we came from.
Suddenly, a shadow loomed over us but there was nothing in the sky. I felt like we were being watched.
“Well, of course it’s obvious that something would be watching us!” Yelled Dewey, rolling his eyes. “Perhaps I should have stayed in Heaven so I can watch over you and tell you what’s creeping up behind you! But that Hannah wouldn’t let me!” He whipped around to face me with a serious gaze. “Look, I saw Lucien from up there—Lucien went into that weird chapel place in the empty part of the city. He went in, but when I tried to peek in and see what he was doing inside, something was blocking my vision, and the whole screen just turned red. It was as if something was keeping us from seeing into it.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Well, of course you wouldn’t be able to peek in there. That chapel’s no other than a mosque built for worshipping…..the devil.”
Dewey ruffled his feathers. “Eeeh…..and that guy you were just with—Raman—apparently he used to be part of Michael’s squad himself. I was surprised he’s been fooling Lucien that long!”
I huffed. “Unfair. You can see me without me knowing, but I can’t do the same for you in Heaven.”
Dewey snickered. “That’s why Heaven rules! There’s a reason why it’s the highest world in the afterlife. And I also never saw Lucien come outta that mosque yet. Perhaps this whole terror in the city was what he had just caused!”
Suddenly, a whip whacked at my wrists and I gave out a yell, dropping the cross.
“Hey!” Dewey jumped up and gave an angry flutter with his wings.
There, ahead of me, was Khan, and in his hand was a whip. Behind him were three of the warriors that glared at me with hatred as if they had seen me before.
But I recognized none of them except for Khan.
“Oh great,” I growled. “I’m really not in the mood to fight anyone but REAL devils, not wannabes that wanna impress Lucien.”
Khan whipped at me again, whacking my hands as I bent down to grab the cross. Dewey let out a sharp tweet.
Khan dashed up to me and took the cross, and then bumped me against the wall, pressing his forearm hard against my chest. I grunted and struggled, but his grip was too firm. I looked up into his eyes, giving him a fierce glare.
“You’re dead spirit, kid. I never waste my breath when I say such things.” Said Khan darkly.
“Wahh! Get away from me! Freaks! Ahh!” Dewey was dashing and flying this way and that, trying to avoid the other warriors that tried to swat at him with their swords.
But Dewey was no skilled flier like any other earth type SoulBird.
With one grab, one of the warriors caught Dewey by his long legs and held the little bird in front of his face.
“Hehe! Let’s feed this to the serpent, Khan!” Said the warrior.
“Hang on,” said Khan with a devious smile at me, drawing out his sword with his other hand. “Lemme finish this kid off—slowly.”
I raised my knee and hit Khan in the same spot between the legs. Hurting my knee this time from the armor he wore, I still managed to make him flinch and loosen his grip to wobble and grunt in pain.
I pushed him away from me and gave the warrior a heaving shove, making the guy let go of Dewey and topple over his two partners.
“Dewey! Come on!” I rushed away into the shadows with the little SoulBird glowing and helping light up part of the place.
“What about the cross?” He hissed.
“Khan has it,” I growled. “Damn idiot, I’ll get him soon. Lemme find that dragon again.”
“Um, there’s no dragon, but there’s that huge serpent they were talking about.”
“What huge serpent?” But then something crashed in front of our pathway ahead of us. The red head of the large snake rose from the ground and towered over us with its head glowing red in the darkness of the area.
I felt my spine drop with horror. This was the same snake Shion and I met at the library.
“Oh no….not again.”
The snake seemed to smile as it stuck out its long vibrating tongue at me. Its eyes were red and intriguing…..I found myself gazing into the eyes of the serpent until I realized a dreadful horror. The snake had eyes exactly like Lucien’s.
“Zach, watch out!” Dewey yelled.
I was too caught up in the snake’s gaze that it wasn’t until the great serpent hissed with anger and raised its long tail to save me from that sword of Khan’s that came slicing down towards my head. I whipped around and saw Khan knocked to the ground, grumbling in horror. He looked up at the hissing snake that just ruined his chance.
“Master!” Cried Khan, his eyes wild with horror at the snake. “I-- this boy is a disgrace! He knows about you! I heard him!”
But the snake only screamed louder and shook the whole alley. The dark walls crumbled around us and the darkness became even darker. The snake whipped its tail over all of us, but Khan, Dewey, and I ducked under the tail as it whacked at the three warriors, thrusting them to the side and pinning them to the wall. The three warriors cried out in pain and begged for mercy against the snake, but the wall crumbled over them and they never came out again.
I turned and tackled Khan to the ground, and he yowled, thrashing. Something slipped from the armor on his chest, and I saw that it was my rosary. It glowed in the dark and shone brightly like Dewey did.
“Zach!” Dewey immediately took my rosary in his beak and flung it towards the snake.
The rosary hit the breast of the large snake and immediately, the snake sizzled and cried out with pain. Screaming and thrashing its huge body around, destroying the weakened walls, the snake slithered away, its huge body disappearing in the darkness. But as I looked up to glance at it, the snake turned around and gave me one last devilish glint, and then disappeared.
Khan suddenly gave a mighty blow as he punched the back of my neck with his fist.
Feeling knocked out and ready to faint, I fell forwards and rolled to my back, feeling my vision spin. Dewey’s yell of terror sounded and I saw the little SoulBird hovering over me through my blurred gaze. But the small light shining around the little SoulBird brought me back to consciousness. I rose up.
“Dewey….” I looked around. The place was dark and shadowy, and there were still walls that loomed over us. Behind me, I could see the destruction that snake made.
“Come on!” Dewey fluttered towards the darker shadows of the alley and I followed him, feeling my legs weakening.
“Dewey, ask the angels of Heaven to come down here and help me,” I muttered, frowning with frustration.
We suddenly came to a dead end of the alley.
Dewey gasped. “Darn it!”
“We can climb this,” I said, staring up at the crumbly wall.
But Dewey turned and widened his eyes. “No!”
Behind me, I saw the armored figure of Khan approaching me. With him, there was a small crowd of tall dark men, some with the incredibly spiky hair that I’ve seen from Damien’s friends.
I held my breath in horror. Those guys-- they were those bullies I saw at the academy earlier with Raman. They had befriended some of Damien’s stupid friends also, and now they were wandering here with Khan.
“Oh great where did they come from?” I muttered, squatting down to hide behind a trash can.
“Who knows? They look like they’d often come to this kind of place.” Said Dewey, hopping to my side and peeking from the side of the trash can. “My light better not give off our hiding spot for them.”
“Did you hear something?” One of the guys looked around.
“I think it came from over there,” a guy in the spiky hair pointed to my direction.
Khan grunted and made his way forward. “Huh! Well, they’re both gonna be dead meat. The boy and the bird! I don’t care what Lucien says.”
I stiffened as Khan drew his sword and stomped over to me. Dewey shivered and whispered something under his breath.
Suddenly, my right side darkened and I turned to see that a shadow of a tall dark spirit had appeared at my right. Flinching, I stared at the figure, for I hadn’t heard a single noise if it had climbed over the wall behind me.
But the tall dark shadow stepped forward to Khan and confronted the warrior. Khan flinched and stared up at the dark shadow. I saw that it was the shadow of a man, though from behind, he was so dark that I couldn’t make out a feature of what he could look like.
But Khan was staring up with horror at the shadow. His gaze hardened to a frown and Khan aimed his sword toward the shadow, who just stood there, facing the warrior without moving a muscle.
Then all of a sudden, Khan’s brave face turned back into a frightened gaze and his eyes widened. With a yowl of horror, Khan whirled around and pushed his way passed the crowd of Damien’s friends, crying like a baby.
I stared with awe. The shadow hadn’t done anything. Perhaps he had only taunted Khan with facial expressions?
Damien’s friends and the other guys turned to face the shadow. Though their faces were further and more shadowy than Khan’s were, I could still make out their narrowed expressions. They gave the shadow fierce glares and slowly turned away, walking to follow the direction Khan had taken.
Dewey gasped and hopped from behind the trash can, making his way bravely up to the shadow. I wanted to call out his name, but I was too scared to do or say anything. I rose from my hiding spot and watched as Dewey approached the side of the shadow, trying to peer at his face with a curious and bewildered look.
“Hey….thanks, man,” remarked Dewey.
The shadow turned his head to face Dewey and for a moment, I could feel the SoulBird’s stiffening and terrified feeling. I felt the same too. The shadow turned to look over his shoulder and face me. I stiffened myself. The shadow had but a dark face, and I could read nothing on him or make out a single feature of what his expression could be. The shadowy man was dark from head to toe, and there was nothing I could see on him but a jet black color.
I felt scared, and I couldn’t hold the shadow’s gaze on me, for I couldn’t even see nothing but a dark form of a face. I looked down, closed my eyes and looked into the darkness of my closed eyes. I noticed that the same darkness that I saw with my eyes closed was the exact darkness I saw on that shadow. I opened my eyes to face him again.
The shadow was gone. In his place, a glimmering object shone next to Dewey, who was also shining next to it. It was my rosary.
Hurrying up to it, I picked up the rosary and saw that it was fixed and put together again, and not split apart at the back. I stared at the cross, though. There was no man nailed to it. I widened my eyes in awe. The cross looked good as new, just like the rest of the rosary. It didn’t even look like someone had tried to carve off the figure from the cross, but it was gone. The cross looked empty as if it had always been that way.
I felt a breeze ruffle through me, and for the first time in the land of Bhad, I felt chilled.
Dewey looked up at me with the same surprise. “Zach……maybe that’s not your rosary.”
“No, this IS my rosary,” I knew it was mine, I just did. “But….the cross…..” I looked down at Dewey with concern. “That shadow! Did you get to see his face, or was it just me that was just seeing darkness?”
“No! I didn’t see anything but darkness on that man!” Said Dewey. “It was as if a shadow had actually escaped the reflection of a man, and has come to live on its own!”
I looked at the rosary on my hand, feeling an ominous feeling.
“Well, at least you got the rosary back,” said Dewey, still looking troubled. “We better get outta here before any other weird things happen. Maybe we’re just hallucinating in this darkness.”
It couldn’t be a hallucination. I walked along with Dewey, following the SoulBird since he had gotten a real bird’s eye view of this city before, and he claimed he knew the way out of this alley.
I was staring at the cross the whole time, keeping my head down towards it like it was a compass. What had happened? Did the shadow do something to my rosary?
“Hiya!” A scream suddenly came out of nowhere, and to my right, something collided with me and whacked me on the head to the ground.
“Ow!” I yelled, dropping my rosary and glaring up at the sudden spirit who struck at me.
“Yah!” The spirit yelled out again and that’s when I noticed that it was a girl-- I could see the form of her shadow, much smaller and lither than Khan or the other guys.
She whacked at me with a sword, but this time, I rolled out of the way. The spirit struck the ground with a strong envy, tearing the street with the sword and pulling it out of the ground to face me. I couldn’t see her face or anything in the shadows, but as she stepped forward towards me, she stepped in where a streetlight shone and revealed her identity.
My angry look turned into a surprised gaze as I recognized the girl. It was the same red-headed spirit I bumped into when I was following my Uncle to the Gehenna Volcano! That same girl who was carrying the wounded earth type SoulBird I had meant to kill. I could see her clearly now-- she was glaring at me fiercely with green piercing eyes behind sharp hot-pink glasses on her thin face. Her hair was bright red and tied back into a ponytail that hung down her back and swung with the breeze. She wore no armor whatsoever, but a simple light pink shirt with sharp cuttings on the sides, and tight green leggings. Her feet were bare like almost all the simple spirits, and only her ferocious glare and strong grip on her sword made her look like a warrior.
“Wait a minute,” I spoke and sat up to my knees, gazing at the girl with mischief. “It’s you again.” I looked around for Dewey, but there was no sign of him anywhere.
The girl said nothing but hissed and charged at me, raising her sword in the air. I immediately crawled to the right as her sword struck the ground where I was sitting, fiercely tearing the street again.
The girl was whacking her sword at me and I had to be quick like a ninja to avoid all her blows and surprisingly awesome skill. I had to admit-- this girl was a better fighter than Khan or the other warriors.
“Hey! Hey! Wait! Will you stop for a second?” I yelled as I ducked and jumped over her rapid strikes. “You know, I bet you still have that wounded SoulBird that you were carrying last time I saw you.”
Suddenly the girl whipped her sword to the ground and pushed my shoulders, making me hit the wall behind me with a loud bump.
“Do I know you from somewhere?!” Hissed the girl in a fierce tone. Her angry eyes bore into mine and her sharp glasses flashed.
I grunted, feeling like a steamroller was on top of me. The girl was pushing me extremely hard against the wall, and I felt like her hands would flatten my shoulders. The girl had skinny arms and her hands were thin, but her grip against my shoulders was twice the strength Khan had when he had pushed me against the wall. I felt greatly humiliated and I glared at the girl.
“Well¬¬--” I started to speak but the girl yelled and interrupted me.
“AHHH! Of course I know you! You damned idiot!” The girl let me go so that I fell to my knees, panting, and she took her sword and whacked my back with the end of the sword.
“Owww!” I growled, grabbing my back and shooting up to my feet to glare at her. At least she hadn’t sliced me-- but seriously!
“I sure hope you’re hurt!” The girl threw her sword to the ground at her right again. “You’re that blasted medium that hurt my poor SoulBird before! You deserve all the pain you can get for what you’ve done!”
Fearing a smack in the face or a punch on the head from the girl’s ferociously wild gaze, I flinched and narrowed my eyes, but she did nothing.
“Huh!” She crossed her arms and glared at me with unblinking eyes. “Lucky for you-- there are other dangers I need to worry about so I can’t waste my time dealing with a sick foul spirit like you.”
I looked around slowly. “The city’s not under attack anymore,” I muttered, noticing how quiet it had been. I no longer saw flying snakes or dragons in the air, though the smell of smoke still remained.
“Of course it’s not, idiot!” Yelled the girl. “If you weren’t snooping around in the alley, you’d be attending your Higher One‘s meetings!”
Your Higher One? Who did this girl think she was?! I huffed. “Yeah, well, I’m sorry that one of the Higher One’s warriors tried to kill me and that I’m here to waste time ruining your own sneaking around here.”
“I was NOT sneaking around!” The girl snatched her sword and pointed right at my nose. “Just get outta my sight, before I make you!”
I raised an eyebrow and snatched the sword from her hand.
“HEY!” Her face blazed in a redness almost identical to her hair.
“You’re not makin’ me do anything,” I muttered darkly. I rushed away, taking her sword with me.
“GIVE MY SWORD BACK!” Her loud screaming yell pierced through the entire alley. “I swear! I’m gonna slay you! Give it back!”
I rolled my eyes and ran on. I was gonna show up to Lucien and show him this crazy female attacking me. Then she’ll have to deal with HER Higher One. I didn’t care if Lucien was holding a meeting with the city or not. I was gonna show everyone the punishment Lucien would have on any spirit that tried to get wild with me.
Suddenly, I realized there was no sign of the girl. I looked behind and saw that she was gone.
Before I could even look around and expect her to jump out of nowhere, something swung in the air and collided with me in the face, making me fall to the ground. I shot up and saw that the girl had swung my on a rope to the building in front of me. She had the sword in her hand. She gave me a grimacing smile.
“Nice try, but I can see you’re just as worse as your land can get.” She leapt down from the building and landed on her feet.
I was amazed, but I put on a look of disgust to hide it. The girl had jumped twenty feet from the ground, and had landed easily like a monkey. She got up and faced me with a narrowed gaze, studying me through those sharpening glasses.
“You don’t know who you’re messing with, Zach Ezekreth,” she said sourly.
I held my expression. So she knew my name. How surprising.
“When you hurt another spirit’s SoulBird, you’ll suffer harshly-- especially if that SoulBird belonged to a spirit from another land.”
I crossed my arms. “Haha,” I remarked dryly. “What are you? A spirit from the land of Guhd?” I spoke with sarcasm.
The girl flinched and shook her head, glaring at me viciously. “I’m from Primal, you dunce! Sheesh! Don’t they teach you how to read spirits?”
“I dunno, all you girls look the same to me,” I said.
“Argh!” The girl stomped up to me and stood there with me nose to nose. She was same height-- 5’9. And she smelled of strawberries and nectar. “You’re a fool to think that you can get away from what you’ve done. I’m here to follow my SoulBird because of a strange vision she had about this place. And what you’ve done to her interrupted us and she had to be specially cared for, for several days! I swear! She’s all better now, and the both of us are gonna make you pay.”
I glared at her and let my head on fire.
Giving a scream, the girl jumped back in surprise, glaring up at the fire on my head. “What do you think you are doing?! Are you one of the creatures risen from Hell?!” She held up her sword.
I chuckled and smirked at her as the flames danced on my head. “Maybe.”
Suddenly, I heard happy calls of tweets and I turned to my right to see that Dewey was chasing another earth type SoulBird with a happy playful gaze on his face.
The earth type SoulBird was angelic, though this one had a brighter color of green on its feathers, and also with the white wrapping bandages covering both of its legs. Half of its end was also covered with wrapping white bandages. The SoulBird Dewey was chasing looked somewhat dirty on the face, and just one glance at those bandages told me the SoulBird belonged to the girl’s.
“Gracinda!” Yelled the redhead, dropping her sword and running up to both of the birds. They were both tweeting and happily chasing after each other, giving each other playful pecks of affection. They both ran along the ground, hopping mischievously and Dewey seemed to be having the time of his life.
“Gracinda!” The girl snapped harshly at the bird. “Come over here right now! Don’t you realize?! That’s Zach’s SoulBird!”
The female SoulBird turned and looked over at her angry soul mate. “Jenna? Come on, now. You haven’t met Dewey yet.” The SoulBird spoke with warmth in her voice. “He’s so sweet! You should have heard what he said about how I look in these bandages.”
Dewey snickered and hopped to her side. “Those bandages make her legs look totally sexy and she can pull of a good ballet with those!”
The female SoulBird laughed and gave Dewey a playful whack with her tiny wing.
The redhead, Jenna, did not look humored. She crossed her arms and glared sternly at both of them. “Grace! I said the same thing about you too! And I’ve said it hundreds of times!”
I snickered. “I bet you didn’t use the exact same words, though.”
“Well, YOUR SoulBird should know even better than me!” Snapped Jenna. “Ugh! He’s an angel, for crying out loud! Now shoo!” She stomped over and swatted her hand towards Dewey, making him jump back with confusion. “Grace, you’re coming with me. Let’s get outta here.”
I watched her reach out her hand for her SoulBird. Grace looked troubled, but then obediently hopped on Jenna’s forearm and the girl rose up.
I winced. “Leaving so soon?”
Jenna huffed and narrowed her eyes at me. “None of your business! Grace and I secretly come from Primal, and what we do has nothing regarding YOU.”
Dewey tilted his head. “What? But Grace told me you were looking for him anyway.”
“What?” I looked at Dewey and heard a huff from Jenna, who rolled her eyes.
“Grace!” She scolded.
Her SoulBird looked at her with a raised expression. “Well, he was the SoulBird of Zach, and you were looking for the boy anyway….”
“You were looking for me?” I gave the girl a sideways smile now.
“No, I--” Jenna was glaring fiercely, but I could tell she was getting tongue-tied.
“Zach?” A new voice came from above.
Jenna and I looked up and saw that it was Raman. The man didn’t look angelic anymore, and he wore the headdress around his head once again, with the dirty white gown. He was clinging to the side of the wall, and a fiery SoulBird was hovering by his side. He leapt down at Jenna’s side and rose up to meet my gaze. With the fire SoulBird resting on his shoulder.
I frowned and rolled my eyes. “Oh great. Lemme guess-- she’s your secret agent?”
“No, idiot!” Yelled Jenna, glaring at me fiercely. “See, Raman is a close relative of mine-- my grandfather-in-law. He knew the whole plan Lucien was up to, and by keeping a close bond between his SoulBird and mine, Gracinda, my SoulBird right here, was able to hear about what was going on, and that someone has been traced with one of the eggs of the Holy One. YOU, apparently turned out to be that boy, so Grace and I ventured here to fetch the egg you had had, as well as have a talk with you.”
“Oh….” I nodded, realizing now. I looked at Dewey and snickered, remembering those earth type SoulBirds dancing around the golden egg that one night. “Apparently, your SoulBird turned up unexpectedly at me and I struck it with my crowbar then.”
Jenna stomped her foot. “Don’t bring it up! How DARE you--”
“Now, Jenna,” Raman laid a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. “You came here to meet the boy and reason with him-- not curse about his mistakes.”
“Psh, yeah,” I muttered, giving her a mischievous look.
“Ugh!” She gave me a disgusted look and hugged her SoulBird. “I just can’t stand it when spirits can be so cruel. If you wanna hit ANYTHING with a crowbar, it should only be those filthy devil creatures from Hell!”
“Well, I’ve explained to the boy what he needs to know about the Higher One-- but he doesn’t know every important thing yet.” Said Raman.
I winced. “What? What do I have to know?”
But suddenly, there was a low rumble in the distance, and Raman looked up at the dark smoky sky. “Lucien’s meeting is just about to be over. You and I better show up to see at least the last of it, for he will be expecting us.”
Jenna rolled her eyes and gave the half-soul a hardening gaze. “You want me to just wait here in hiding then?”
“No, you and Gracinda have been hiding too long,” said Raman. “I’m sure you both are exhausted.”
“Oh yes,” sighed Jenna’s SoulBird. She smiled at Dewey. “We were looking for some fun.”
“Well, you guys can come along with us and listen to the meeting, but keep to the back of the crowds when we join Lucien,” Raman and his SoulBird were already moving forward. “We must not waste any time.”
So Jenna and I followed the half-soul with Dewey and Grace playfully chasing after each other as well. I found it annoying that the two birds were running around our heels, noisily tweeting after each other childishly. I followed my gaze on them and glared, muttering with annoyance. But Jenna kept her head held high, keeping her eyes stern, even though I could tell from her angry gaze that she was probably more annoyed than I was. The redhead said nothing to me as we followed Raman, and I didn’t bother saying anything to her. Apparently, she was with Raman and helping him save us all from Lucien by tracking down whatever we can of the golden SoulBirds.
When we finally found the crowd of spirits listening to Lucien, who stood at the front of his great palace, I realized how firm his palace looked compared to the rest of the place.
The city of Zellux was destroyed, though not as bad as I thought it would be-- not as bad as Jerusalem. But some buildings were on fire, and some of the bridges looked broken. The sky looked dark and smoky with a dark orange glow.
The Higher One stood at the front of his palace where a balcony jutted out at the center so that everyone in the crowd could see him. He had guards on both his sides, and even from a distance, I could see how angered his red eyes looked.
“The armies have been assembled to go up towards the upper lands now,” his voice was stern as he continued to speak to the crowd. “As you can see, our armies are too weak to fight off this terror alone-- so we are going to need more recruitments from the upper stages. We will have as many as we can gather down here, so that we face the uprisings from Hell-- together.”
The crowd murmured uneasily and both Grace and Dewey flashed their gems with concern.
“How can we all risk ourselves to fight Hell together?” Asked a voice.
“Yeah! If we couldn’t fight them ourselves, what makes you think the other spirits in this world could do so?”
Lucien narrowed his eyes. “We need as many as we can to fight. Those of the upper lands are more skillful in battles, so we could greatly use their help. For now, let us all disperse and clean up this mess that the Hell creatures have made. Get some rest and leave all the worries to me. I know what I’m doing.”
And with that, Lucien turned from his crowd and disappeared into his palace.
The rest of the spirits murmured among one another and than scattered.
Grace hopped on Jenna’s shoulder and looked nervous. “What should we do now?”
Raman looked at the girl and the SoulBird. “Wait for me by the academy. Tomorrow morning, Zach and I will discuss things in private with you.”
“I’ll get information about our Higher One back in Primal,” Jenna retorted. “He must know about this ridiculous plan.”
Raman and nodded and watched as Jenna and her SoulBird walked away, with Grace giving a final wave with her tiny wing at Dewey before disappearing in the crowds.
Dewey tweeted and waved back, even though she was out of sight. I rolled my eyes and turned to Raman.
“There’s a lot I need to ask you about,” I said.
“Yes, I can see that,” said Raman, who was leading me and Dewey up to the palace. “But for now, we must accompany the Higher One, for we have been absent a little too long from his sight.”
I stared with nervousness at the huge palace. It was tall and wide, and in the dark, it looked like an evil fortress. Statues of lion heads stuck out from the sides of the large front door, but I couldn’t help picturing that red giant snake being the statue that stuck its head out from the castle. That red snake-- it was Lucien, no questions asked.
We entered the palace and the inside looked just as big as it did on the outside. But it looked much more vile. Everywhere, there were strange creepy pictures of wildcats, widening their jaws with flames around them.
The walls seemed to be an outline of blood, even though they were only red patterns lined across. I felt like I was hallucinating here already. The thought that I was supposed to clear my mind and calm down here had already escaped my mind. It was as if a mother walked into her son’s room and saw pictures of him as a murderer.
We made our way up the long winding stairs. Servants passed by here and there, and none cast any glances, for they seemed to be in a hurry.
We met Lucien at the top or the stairway and Raman and I flinched with surprise to suddenly find him standing there.
“Oh! Your highness,” Raman bowed his head. I hastily did the same. “We were just tending to the hell creatures in the alleyway.”
Lucien nodded, eying Raman. He didn’t meet my gaze, and to my surprise, he seemed more focused on the governor than me.
“Raman, please come with me in my room,” muttered Lucien.
I felt a sinking feeling, and I watched as the half-soul nodded and followed the Higher One to walk down the long hallway to the left.
Lucien gave me a narrowed look with his devilish eyes.
“Zach?” He spoke with a careful tone. “Your room is the door ahead of you. Please stay inside. You are not to wander around the palace without a servant’s escort.”
I blinked, waiting for him to say more, but his gaze pierced at me, and he said nothing. I gave a nod.
“Yes…..Lucien…” I felt hotly embarrassed at the way I addressed him, but I was nervous out of my wits. I quickly walked towards the tall door that was ahead of the stairway, feeling his sharpening gaze follow me.
I opened the door and closed it, feeling relieved. But I was far from feeling any safer. Looking around my room, I was expecting to see traces of snake heads and dragons sticking out of the walls, but instead, my room looked as plain as a room can be. There was nothing but a bed, a closet, and a large box under the window, which was empty.
The curtains around my window were a fancy red, and I could peer out the castle and see almost half of the city from here.
Dewey, who I had almost forgotten was on my shoulder the whole time, let out a whistle.
“Not as bad as I thought it would,” said the SoulBird. “But to think! Could Lucien seriously be that snake that attacked you at--”
“SHH!” I hissed turning at the SoulBird as he jumped off my shoulder with surprise. “Lucien might have cameras or some kind of sensor for his palace as well. If he has such things in the academies, it’s most like he’ll have some kind of receptor of tracer in here.” I was looking under my bed and peeking in the closet as if I were expecting something to be hidden to jump out and scare me. But I found nothing.
“Huh!” Dewey leaped on the bed. “How comfy is the bed for ya?”
I sat and felt immediately taken away. The bed was comfortable-- it was nothing like the creaky hard mattresses back at the academy! Laying down and putting my head on the pillows, I felt like I was headmaster. The bed had a high canopy, and I could gaze up at its pointed top. I was suddenly feeling uplifted and cleansed, and I sat up, feeling an excited feeling.
Dewey was getting the same feeling and was hopping around, looking up at me with excitement. “What? What you gonna do? I bet this place can be awesome now! You think Lucien would give me a kingly birdcage if you asked?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “But I think I am gonna like it here.”

I couldn’t help take at least one peek out of my room to get a better look at the palace. Lucien said that I was not to wander about without a servant to escort me but I was too excited to even listen to the Higher One.
I creaked my door open—there was never a taller higher door I had seen than this one—and looked around the hallways with my right eye. The stairway was just up ahead, and there were other bedrooms to my right. To the left the hallway was less of an aisle and opened out in a wide space where there were still more rooms.
“You not thinkin’ of nosing around the palace, are you?” Dewey was right beside my ankles and peeking out as well, with his long beak sticking out of the crack. “The Higher One’s not gonna let you off easily just ‘cause you’re in his palace and he’s giving you a break. Did you see the look on his face when he addressed you and Raman?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Well, it’s not like he’s gonna punish be that hardly. He’s promised to make it easier for me.”
“Huh! You really think he’ll keep his promises?” Dewey jumped back, grimacing at the door. “You wanna get in trouble, go ahead! I’m staying outta it!”
“Fine,” I muttered, half smiling. I knew Dewey would eventually turn up to follow me anyways.
I opened the door slowly, glad that the huge thing didn’t make a sound. Just as I stepped out from the room, a ghostly figure appeared in front of me and I rolled my eyes with annoyance and the figure of Saint Grenada.
“So! Decided to disobey the angels, now you’re disobeying the devil as well, huh?” Saint Grenada had her arms crossed again. “I guess you truly can’t pick which side you’re on. That’s why you’re still stuck here in Purgatory!” She whacked my head with her ruler and I yelled.
“Since when did I disobey the angels?!” I snapped. “Hannah wasn’t forcing me to do anything, so I had a choice!”
“You picked a silly choice, so now you’ve got to live with it!” Grenada yelled back. “You can’t always have your way, kid! If Lucien told you not to wander around his palace, do not do so!”
“Oh, so now you want me to listen to a hell spirit.”
“I want you to listen to anything!” Saint Grenada threw her arms up in the air. “It doesn’t matter who tells you what to do-- you just need to learn what it’s like to be obedient and listen to those who CARE about you!”
“Hah, I thought you said Lucien doesn’t really care about me.”
“”Wah? Oh! Forget it!“ Grenada looked ready to explode. “Where’s Saint Annabelle? Perhaps she can reason with you.”
“What?” Dewey snickered. “You mean the angelic blonde one?”
“Annabelle get over here!” Grenada squeezed her eyes shut, raising her clasped hands in the air.
Next to her, a shine of light appeared and the young softhearted saint was hovering next to her, brushing her hair and humming a sweet song to herself. Her eyes were closed.
“Annabelle!” Snapped Grenada.
The saint flinched and realized where she was. “Hmm? Oh! Sister Grenada, what is it? Hello, Zach!”
I gave a slight nod, looking bored and annoyed.
“This impious little fool doesn’t know how to listen to anyone but himself!” Saint Grenada eyed me angrily.
“Ooh, Zach! We’re here in the palace of Lucien?” Annabelle looked around with a raised expression. “My! Exotic looking place fit for the hottest spirit from Hell!”
“Ahem!” Saint Grenada was giving Annabelle a sharp look.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Annabelle hit her own forehead. “I’m so dumb when it comes to attractive spirits, I’m sorry! But come on! He’s hot, isn’t he? You would think so too, sister Grenada. Admit it!” She gave the other saint a raised look.
I snickered. Saint Grenada’s eye twitched.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” sighed Annabelle. She turned to Zach. “So how has it been so far? Oh! The dreadful uprisings of Hell have invaded the place, haven’t they? My goodness, are you alright?”
I raised my eyebrows and looked around, hoping there were no servants walking around to give me weird looks. “Well….I met that guy Raman before--”
“Raman!” Grenada flinched, widening her eyes.
“Who’s Raman?” Annabelle blinked. She looked at Grenada and then gasped. “Ohhhh, Raman! Yes, yes-- he was that angel in disguise that arrived earlier for disguise…yes, of course he came earlier in the day, I remember now. Oh, he told us all that he revealed to you! Why, Grenada and I were having the longest chat with him about what else should be done of you.”
I raised an eyebrow. They had a long conversation huh? Why would Annabelle forget his own name that quick then?
Grenada let out a low growl, eying me. “Yes, Raman was concerned about how we should keep you safe from Lucien’s grasp now. He wants nothing more than to drag you down to Hell with him as much as your father does.”
“But why?” I frowned. “Why do it for my father?”
“Fool! He’s not doing it for your father-- he’s doing it for the whole good of Hell! Idiot! Don’t you realize? Raman just didn’t tell you a bunch of bologna. What Lucien wants is true!”
Dewey flinched and looked around. “Can the Higher One hear ghosts talk?”
“Ugh!” Grenada glared at the little bird. “We are not ghosts!”
“Now, now, sister Grenada, don’t be so harsh. All spirits are difficult to deal with in their first visit to the afterlife. Just think about how hard it was to deal with that huge new arrival of spirits in Heaven!” Annabelle was trying to reassure the old lady.
I gave both of them a look. “Yeah, just imagine how it would’ve been like it I went to Hell.”
“Oh, that would be terrible!” Said Annabelle.
Grenada was clenching her teeth, glaring at me with a look of fury. “Oh, just come off it! Let me explain to you the whole concept now. The apocalypse has coming to Earth, twenty-five million years after it has been created. People died-- many souls died just a few months ago when it started! The Holy Creator of the Earth has put an end to His world so that all those will either suffer for what they’ve done, or be rewarded for what they’ve done. The good people died and their spirits ascended to Heaven!”
Annabelle nodded, smiling. “There are many new faces I’ve been so excited to meet and I’ve made many new friends!”
“I get it, I get it,” I mumbled. “And the bad ones went to Hell, right?”
Dewey jumped up. “Yeah! And those who weren’t so bad but weren’t so good came here to Purgatory!”
“Not so fast, fools!” Saint Grenada whipped her ruler across my face, but didn’t touch me with it. “There are actually two resurrections. I sure hope you’ve heard of…Jesus Christ, haven’t you, child?”
Saint Grenada was giving me a cold hard look and I returned it back. “Of course, you dummy.” I scoffed at her. Jesus Christ was the guy on that rosary I kept losing. Now……strange enough though, He was missing from it.
Grenada ignored my tone. “Thank goodness! Well, Christ came into the world long, long ago, born of the virgin Mary. He was the Holy Spirit’s Son, and He came to the world to die for all the foul sins that you filthy humans were performing. Ugh! You humans make me sick. I’ve always been flabbergasted-- you humans were supposed to die for all the bad you’ve done for the world! But instead, Christ, a Man who had done no sin or did no wrong to the world, died instead, so that all you beasts would be saved.”
“I’ve heard this story before,” said Dewey with awe.
I had heard it too. But now, hearing it from an angel rather than a boring old schoolteacher at the academy, I was starting to feel intrigued.
Annabelle was listening with her hands clasped. “Oh! Such a story! Brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it!”
I winced at her. “I thought Christ was the Lord Himself, in the form of a human.”
“That too!” Snapped Grenada. “By becoming man, he healed the sick, gave to the poor, humbled the proud, lightened the despaired, and did all kinds of holy and unforgettable things that had helped benefit the world!”
I blinked. “So why’d they kill Him?”
“Because you people are ruthless and cruel, that’s why!” Growled Grenada. “Many of you didn’t believe that Christ was the Messiah-- the Son of God. They thought he was crazy. They nailed Him to the cross, and by His death, He saved the lives of thousands of sinners across the world.”
“But he came back to life!” Annabelle quickly said, looking enlightened. “He resurrected from the dead, and then now, by His resurrection, we can be saved from our sins. He returned to Heaven where He will promise to come to Earth for a second time-- His second coming in which He will judge the whole world-- living and dead-- for all they’ve done since the last time He came.”
“Yes, and on His second coming, that was what came of the Apocalypse,” said Grenada. “The world suffers terribly for the people’s sins because STILL, some of you impudent humans don’t take Christ’s matter seriously and obey His laws. Still, some continue to sin and disgrace the name of God. Now, for doing so, He has punished the world with the Apocalypse so that those who did such evil things will suffer harshly. The good ones that have believed in Him and have obeyed His word, submitting their lives to Him, they have been taken to Heaven with Him! The rest of the world consists of the sinners left behind to suffer form the terrors of the ongoing Apocalypse.”
I raised my eyebrows. “So no one has gone to Hell yet?”
“Those who have done bad in the name of God aren’t in Hell yet-- they are left behind on Earth to suffer the punishment for their deeds.” Said Grenada.
“Terrible,” said Annabelle, shaking her head.
“But what about us in Purgatory?” I asked.
“Well, some had a little bit of goodness in them that could be restored, and those that were halfway there to Heaven were still given a second chance!” Said Grenada. “Of course-- you can’t just be a little good to get into Heaven. You must be pure and truly cleansed before entering such a kingdom of happiness. Those souls that were just somewhat there were given a chance-- they died in the Apocalypse so that they would cleanse themselves from that little bit of badness they still had in them, and purify the goodness in them as much as they could. These stages in Purgatory are what help you earn your way to the top so that you’d be fully cleansed to enter the kingdom of Heaven. And unfortunately, that redneck of a Higher One is trying to ruin that!” Grenada turned to glare down the hallway.
Dewey, who was keeping surprisingly quiet, spoke up. “So….what happens to the sinners on earth? How long will they stay?”
Annabelle giggled. “We have but one thousand years to live with the spirits in Heaven. Right now, the spirits in Heaven have already been made a kingdom under Christ and the Father, and while they will be enjoying their one thousand years in Heaven, the people left behind on Earth will be suffering the apocalypse.”
“Yes, they will suffer so much that many will wish to die, though death will never take them. They will live on for one thousand years until the Lord will send the confines of Hell to arise and take over the last left behind sinners of the world, dragging the ones left below to Hell where it will be even worse than the apocalypse.” Grenada eyed me as she explained.
I raised my eyebrows and Grenada continued to speak. “Hmph! Just be glad you’re here in Purgatory. You’re not in Heaven yet, but at least you’re not suffering one thousand years on Earth where the Apocalypse will reign. After those one thousand years, you will truly be taken to Hell where you can never have a chance to turn back.”
I looked down the quiet hallways. “Raman says Lucien wants to create an unstoppable kingdom in Hell where there will be so much evil that they would even take over Heaven.”
“Yes, Lucien’s already starting with Purgatory,” said Grenada. “Because in this world, souls have half chance of getting into Hell and half chance of getting into Heaven, Lucien wants to make sure many are gonna give in and just take the path to Hell. By creating such a force of evils from Purgatory, he will also work with the world on the sinners in the apocalypse and make sure none of them ever give up their sinful attitudes throughout the one thousand years. By the time the thousand year reign is over, Satan will be able to drag the last of those sinners to Hell, and together, Lucien will become as strong as can be, and his next aim will be Heaven.”
Dewey looked up. “So you have a thousand years before you can worry about Heaven fighting Hell! Right now, you just have to worry about those in Purgatory!”
“Oh not so fast, hatchling,” snapped Grenada. “Lucien has his goal to convert Purgatory to Hell right now. After that, he will even try to fight against Heaven and weaken them one by one before the thousand year reign is over. Satan will stop at nothing to make sure as many souls as possible are converted to evil.”
I heard footsteps coming from the stairs and I looked up at Grenada and Annabelle.
“Uh, was it safe to just explain that whole concept to me in this palace of Lucien himself?” I suddenly felt a chill run down my spine, and it was not from the refreshing air conditioner here.
“Huh!” Grenada crossed her arms and Annabelle laughed.
“No worries, child!” Said Annabelle. “No one can hear us unless we want them to. Just remember! Be careful what you do, and watch out for whatever Lucien tries to ask of you. Trust no one in this place…except for Raman, who has promised to help protect you from anything the Higher One tries to do with you.”
I sighed. “Well, I have a thousand years to shape up and try to make my way to Heaven…..and now it’s gonna be even tougher since the Higher One of the lowest stage is gonna reach out and destroy all the other stages, starting with his own, in which I am stuck in.”
“That’s right, boy!” Scoffed Grenada. “That’s why I’ve warned you!”
“Well, rubbing it in won’t do,” said Annabelle calmly. She laid a hand on my shoulder and I felt warmed by the touch of her angelic hand-- a different kind of warmth than what I would always feel from the devil’s touch. “You still have that rosary Hannah gave you, don’t you?”
I gasped. “Oh yes! Of course-- look!” I had the rosary in my pocket so that it wouldn’t be visible when I wore it. I took it out and showed Annabelle the empty cross. “Look-- how do you explain that? He’s gone!”
Both Grenada and Annabelle both gasped at the sight, but Annabelle’s gasp was even louder. A servant passed us, walking right through the saints, giving only me a wincing expression. I let my hand down. I must look like I was holding up my rosary in the air when there was absolutely no one seen in front of me.
Annabelle snatched the rosary and widened her eyes at it, turning the cross backwards and forwards.
“Oh, you idiot!” Grenada rolled her eyes and snatched it. “There’s nothing on it! Can’t you see it?”
“Yes-- I know! But how? It would not be considered a rosary if the cross had no sign of Christ on it…..I mean, that is Hannah’s right?”
“Of course,” Grenada was eying the necklace as she hung it in front of her face. “I don’t know….who was the last one to have stolen it from you this time?”
“Khan-- one of Lucien’s warriors,” I retorted.
“But he couldn’t have taken Him off so neatly!” Dewey brought up. “You can’t even see a mark on there as if someone tried to carve Him off!”
“Exactly,” Grenada handed me back the rosary. Her face was twisted with a studying angry look. “I’m really not sure myself. You‘ll have to be careful, boy. Try not to let it get stolen again.”
“Ooh! Wait a minute!” Dewey was flapping his tiny wings. “Actually, the last person to have it was this weird shadow guy. He took it from Khan somehow, and then gave it back to Zach.”
Grenada whipped her gaze to me. “ A shadow?”
“Well, he didn’t really give it back to me,” I spoke, “but he left it in his place when he suddenly disappeared from us. I don’t know-- it was strange.”
“Yeah!” Said Dewey. “He was a real walking shadow! All over he was nothing but a jet black shade as if someone’s shadow had escaped the reflection on walls and came to life!”
“Well, perhaps next time you see Mr. Shadow Man, you should ask him what he did to your rosary,” said Annabelle with a giggle.
Grenada huffed. “We have to be going now. Remember the importance of the Man missing on your rosary, and remember the plot behind Lucien’s devilish mind.” They were fading away. “Do not give him what he wants….”
As soon as they were gone, I was left alone in my thoughts-- and Dewey. He voiced them out loud.
“Oh! That sure wasted our time sneaking around the house!” Huffed the little bird. “But Saint Grenada had a good point. Why didn’t she tell us about Lucien’s plan the first time she met you?”
I frowned. “I know. I wouldn’t be here if she had told me sooner-- like when I was about to kill Jenna’s SoulBird.”
Dewey snorted. “Grace is such a sweetheart-- I can’t believe you had actually tried to kill such a spirit! But anyways, hey! If the sinners are still alive on earth, suffering the apocalypse for a thousand years before being dragged to the real Hell, then what about Lexie and Angeline?”
I stiffened at this. Dewey was right-- why were Lexie and Angeline still the only ones left. “Well…Jerusalem was the only city to have all its inhabitants wiped out. All the sinners in that place were the first to go to Hell, just as they had the first ones to go to Heaven. But the temple that had the altar was a place of refuge for any soul-- Lexie and Angeline were to survive from that.”
Suddenly, a door down the hallway opened, and two servants came out, carrying two small trays with a stack of cups.
I ignored their stairs and hurried down the hallway with Dewey keeping up at my heels.
“What are you doing?! You can’t just barge in wherever you want!” Hissed Dewey.
But I kept running on, feeling the cool airy breeze from the vents above. The floors were cold and smooth under my bare feet, so much unlike the rough poorly made grounds of the academy, and the air conditioner was like a wind from Heaven. The academy never had an air conditioner.
Then I stopped myself, nearly bumping into Raman, who had exited the farthest room at the hallway’s end. I realized I had made it all the way to the last room and the hallway seemed incredibly long behind me.
“Oh-- Zach!” Raman looked at me with surprise.
Lucien stepped up behind him, looking down at me with his tall red gaze. “Hello, Zach,” he seemed calm again. “Are you alright? Is something wrong with your new room?”
Dewey stepped behind my ankles and hid from the Higher One.
I looked up with an unblinking gaze. “Um-- no, I was just…..”
“The boy just must be curious,” said Raman carefully, turning to look up at the Higher One with a raised look. “Shall I show him around?”
“No, no, you’ve done enough with him,” remarked Lucien simply. “Tomorrow, I will give the boy a tour around the palace,” Lucien met my gaze with a smile. “Why don’t you get some sleep? You must be exhausted after today’s battles.”
I stiffened but then nodded. “Yes…your Higher.”
I couldn’t help thinking about how Lucien had appeared as that snake. And for the next day as I took the tour with him, he didn’t mention a single moment about yesterday or even informed me about how busy the armies were doing.
Somehow, I managed to get a word from Raman that the armies were being sent to the upper lands with a flock of devil SoulBirds, and the SoulBirds were to capture those with the angelic ones, and trick their minds into trusting Lucien about the incoming war with Hell that they must help him fight.
But overall, I was enjoying the comfort of the palace. Lucien the Higher spoiled me with all kinds of comfortable rooms and let me relax in the finest halls of his palace, or play with Dewey in the exotic garden he had in the back of the palace. If Raman or Saint Grenada hadn’t been around those days to help remind me and annoy me with such warnings of what would come of me from what I was falling into, I would have been totally brainwashed by now.
One day, a flock of devil SoulBirds had arrived at the palace with news that stirred me from my dreamy daze I was enjoying in the palace. Spirits have been held as captive and outside, there was a band of crowded spirits that had their hands in handcuffs. Apparently, these had been souls that had refused the call of Lucien to gather for a war, refusing to fight with the Higher One since somehow, word had gotten out that he was from Hell himself.
“I don’t know how such a thing has slipped out,” Raman was speaking to me in my room one night. “You or Dewey haven’t told anyone, haven’t you?”
“Oh, no!” Dewey and I both replied at the same time and I frowned. “Perhaps it’s just rumor since those hell creatures have spread further. Spirits must think that Hell has easily taken over the stage closest to its world and is making Lucien trick the other lands to join him.”
But from that point, I had hatched a plan. Those who refused Lucien were kept in his bottom chamber in his basement where they would be taken to Gehenna by three days if they didn’t agree to change their minds.
I decided that Raman, Dewey, and I could help free the spirits. We told Lucien that on the third day, we would take those spirits and throw them down the Gehenna Volcano. Being so busy with other matters, Lucien easily agreed and trusted us.
So we would free the innocent prisoners three days after their arrival. We would take them to the route to the volcano, but instead of climbing up to throw them in, Jenna, who was still hiding near the back where the academy was, helped by meeting us there to escort the spirits to at least four miles up the land of Bhad where they could be safe. She also gave them specific directions how to get back to their lands if they were from Primal or below.
We were saving these spirits for about a week and luckily, Lucien suspected nothing of Raman, Dewey, and I, and he hadn’t even heard of who Jenna was yet-- or at least he seemed like he didn’t suspect a thing.
One day, I snuck out of my room when I saw Raman heading away from the palace by himself. He didn’t seem like he was sneaking out, but I was still curious. Dewey helped me hover down as I escaped from my window, for I was too lazy to take the entire stairway and walk that entire length of a palace to the front door.
I got to ground and we hurried up to Raman.
“Hey! Raman, where you going?” I caught up to his side.
Raman gave me a studying look. “Zach, I’m heading back to my academy since I’ve been absent for a while. I am headmaster of the place, though since I have been more busy with the Higher One and with other matters, I’ve left St. Gretchen in charge.”
“St. Gretchen in charge of the whole academy?” I laughed. “I bet she’s driven the mediums of your classes crazy.”
“Well, St. Gretchen’s been doing a good job and it’s been easier with her help. But now, today we have no prisoners due today, so we are free from all that sneaking out,” he gave me a wink.
I shrugged. “It was nice to get outta the palace at least once a day to get another glimpse of the stupid land and compare to how lucky and comfortable it was to be living inside.”
“Yes, but you mustn’t stick around too long,” said Raman quietly. We were crossing over the arching bridge. “I tell you-- as soon as Jenna sees anything unusual or if Grace detects the golden SoulBird, we are to set out and hurry after it. We cannot keep you here too long, no matter how much you like it.”
I frowned, but said nothing. Dewey spoke out just what I was thinking again.
“Yeah! You wanna enjoy anything from this world, you’ll have to keep away from Lucien’s palace.”
Raman arrived at his academy where Jenna was sitting by the fence on the outside, closing her eyes with Grace sitting on her lap. The both of them had their eyes closed, and Grace’s gem was glowing on her head while Jenna had her eyes shut with a frowning expression on her face.
I winced. “Are they meditating, or what?“
Raman stepped forward to them. “Ahem….”
Grace immediately opened her eyes, but instead of meeting Raman’s gaze, she was looking over at Dewey, who stood in front of my feet. She gave a hearty flap of her tiny wings and Dewey hurried up to her, tweeting excitedly.
Jenna slowly opened her eyes to eye the two SoulBirds as they tweeted happily with each other, and Grace hopped off her lap to chase Dewey around.
“Sorry to have disturbed you,” said Raman calmly. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything important?”
“No, Grace and I were just tracing the last group of prisoners we freed, making sure that they found their SoulBirds and made it safely home,” Jenna replied rather tartly.
“Oh, well I hope they did. Are they safe?”
“I guess so,” Jenna’s tone was edgy.
“Well, you’ve been doing a great job escorting them.” Said Raman warmly. “I’m here to return to my academy for a few days as headmaster, so take care and make sure you keep an eye out for Zach whenever he delivers to you the incoming prisoners.”
“Are there any innocent souls to rescue today?” She stood up, not even meeting my gaze.
“Not today-- the other prisoners are going to be due to Gehenna tomorrow, so Zach will be there to sneak them out without me. I will be here in my academy, so take care.”
Raman turned to the academy and made his way to the front gates where St. Gretchen was waiting.
“Hello, St. Raman,” Gretchen addressed him politely in her sharp old tone. The two of them disappeared into the building up ahead.
I peered over the gates to stare at the large campus. Dewey hopped on my shoulder and whistled.
“Now why can’t Gretchen’s academy have been that big?” Said the little bird. “That way it would even take longer for them to reconstruct the place again!”
“They’ve started all over now, for the hell creatures came to destroy it a second time,” remarked Jenna, who was staring at me to the left, eying me with a glaring sharp gaze. Her arms were crossed and Grace was standing by the side of her feet.
I turned to her with a raised expression. “Oh really. Hah! I wish I’d seen it get torn down a second time, especially since they were still in the middle of constructing it!”
Jenna said nothing but continued to glare at me with her eyes unblinking behind her sharply narrowed hot-pink glasses.
I turned to cross my arms and return her expression with a mischievous smile. “I come from that school, you know.”
“Hmph,” Jenna just held her head high and turned to look to her left. “Figures,” she muttered.
I gave her a hard stare and then rolled my eyes, snickering.
“What? What are YOU laughing at?” She turned to me with a fiery gaze again.
I shook my head, not meeting her gaze. I turned with a naughty look on my face and started walking away.
“Hey! Where you going?” She called after me. “The rules in this academy are more strict! Anyone caught on school grounds when they shouldn’t be will have to swim the ritual pool!”
I turned and gave her a haughty gaze. “I’ve swam the ritual pool a hundred times since I was born to this world! I think I could manage a few hundred more!”
I walked up to the front gate where I saw a short small spirit walking passed me in the distance. I raised my eyebrows. It was Shion. Pete was fluttering by his head.
“Shion! Hey, Shion!” I tried to call for the guy, but he didn’t hear me. I wanted to know how things were going without Damien since both of us had left the school. “Shion!” Dewey called with me too.
Suddenly, a darkly dressed spirit stepped in front of me with heavy black boots. “What YOU callin’ Shion for?” The guy was wearing black eyeliner and had his hair in a crazy tall Mohawk, and there was no mistaking him as one of the gangsters of Raman’s school that had befriended Damien’s friends.
I stared up simply with a bored gaze. “Nothin.’ I was just gonna ask him to whoop your butt for me.”
“Eh?” He raised his thick eyebrows. “Hey, guys!” He looked to his right and a larger group of about a dozen gangster dressed teen boys appeared, and this time, there were even girls. Apparently, Damien’s friends bonded with the worst mediums of the academy quite well. I looked at the girls and was disgusted by their ugly gothic makeup and clothes. “This here idiot is so whimpy, he’s even asked Shion to do us some fighting for him!”
One of Damien’s friends, Alder, recognized me. “Hey, that’s Zach!”
The Mohawk guy at the front gasped. “Really? No way! Zachariah Ezekreth?”
“Yeah!” Dewey scoffed at the bullies. “He’s called Shion to beat you all up because he thinks you’re that weak!”
The group of gangsters looked angry now and they grumbled among one another. The Mohawk guy at the front growled.
“Well! How bout showing us your guts first? We’ll warm up with you before we have to beat up a whimp like Shion first.”
“Hey, Josh!” Nicholas called to the Mohawk guy. “Be sure to snap his SoulBird in half! The thing’s the size of your own hand!”
Dewey let out a loud angry tweet, but I faced the bullies with a yawn and turned away. “Can we fight later? I’m a little lazy right now.”
But Josh suddenly grabbed my shoulder and gripped me hard. He wore rubber gloves and had a spiky wristband around his wrist.
“Hey! You’re not goin’ anywhere.” And before I knew it, the guy had punched me in the nose, making me throw my head back and stumble backwards.
“Zach!” Cried Dewey , jumping off my shoulder and giving me a look of horror.
My nose was bleeding, and I looked forwards through a dizzied gaze as I saw that the bullies were laughing at me behind the gates.
“Loser!” Someone called.
I immediately charged at them and leapt over the gates, jumping onto Josh’s chest and rapidly punching at the guy’s face, giving him all my strength.
Josh yowled and fell to the ground with pain, and the other gangsters crowded around me and kicked at me, trying to throw me off.
Suddenly, two guys yanked the back of my legs and swung me behind, hitting me against the gates. I yowled and felt like my body was going to break. But Dewey tweeted and lifted up the latch to open the gates.
“Zach! Come on, run!” Dewey flapped his wings with a furious look on his face.
I crawled on my stomach to head out the gates and kicked back at the guys as they tried to grab at me. Dewey yowled and lunged at the crowd, giving each of them rapid pecks with his long sharp beak and sliced them with his long deadly talons. I even heard some of the girls scream.
I felt a chain whack my back and I yowled in horror, turning to sit up on my knees and face Josh, who had a chain in his right hand.
“You’re an idiot to think that you can fight a medium from Zellux as easily as you fought Damien, a medium from a simple academy,” and he raised his chains to whack at me again.
But suddenly, a pair of long green legs in tights stepped in front of me and faced the gangsters.
“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing to Zach?!” It was Jenna.
I stared up at the girl as she had her back turned to me, facing the bullies. She was giving Josh her regular fierce sharp glare and her glasses seemed to flash dangerously.
At this, Josh let down his chains and met her gaze with a raised expression. The rest of the bullies crowded behind him and grumbled at her.
“Hey! What do we have here? It‘s Jenna!” Josh grimaced. Apparently they had been acquainted before. “What brings you here this time?”
Vince peeked over at me as I stood up and joined her side so that it didn’t look like I was trying to hide behind her.
“Hey!” Vince snickered. “Zach! You gonna let your girlfriend do the fighting for you?”
“Hell no!” I yelled. “I have no idea who she is!” I was lying, for I was furious to the point when I could feel the terrible burn on my head all over again. I lunged at him, but Grace tweeted and hovered in front of me, pecking at me to back away. “Ow! What the--”
“Zach, we have no time to fight right now,” Grace hissed.
“We have plenty of time for this,” I snapped, glaring at the bird with gritted teeth. Dewey was at her side.
Jenna huffed and kept her glare on the gangsters. “For your information, Zach’s living with the Higher One at this point! If you want, he can prove it to you buy having you thrown into the volcano of Gehenna by Lucien himself!”
“Oh yeah?” Josh was still grimacing at her. “How bout you back off and we’ll have our own little fight later behind a private building?” He grabbed her right arm to pull her aside, but immediately, as soon as Jenna was gripped, she yanked her arm out of Josh’s hand and punched him in the right eye with her right arm.
I raised my eyebrows as soon as Josh yowled and covered his eye, stumbling back. The bullies were surprised and crowded around her, but Jenna fought back at anyone who tried to attack her, and kicked at each of them, flipping the guys over and even yanking some towards her so that she punched them back with a powerful blow from both of her fists.
It was more entertaining to see her fight with the girls. As they tried to approach her from behind and strangle her with their hands, she punched at them in the cheeks and ripped the clothes off the ones who were dressed extra ugly.
Josh was kneeling at the back, cursing. His right eye was bleeding where she had punched him, and he was constantly taking his hand on and off from it.
Finally, Jenna broke from the crowd and ran passed me like the wind with a fierce look of envy on her face. Before she zipped passed me, I was able to notice that she didn’t even have her glasses out of place.
Grace followed her and Dewey ran after them on the ground. “Zach! Come on!” He called.
I hurried after them and escaped the bullies, catching up with Jenna as we entered our way into an alley.
Finally, we stopped and looked around.
Jenna’s eyes were darting wildly from here to there. “Of course. They wouldn’t follow us!” She stomped away down the narrow pathway.
I followed after her, wincing. “You know, as awesome as that was, it’s terribly embarrassing when a girl stands up for a guy and finishes off his fight.”
“Oh, come off it!” She whirled around to glare at me fiercely. “I only did it because I knew you weren’t gonna win! I’ve seen the way Josh fights, you know. I’ve been sneaking around here for Raman before you came! That kid could have whooped your ass and broken you apart like the toothpick you are!” She jabbed her two sharp fingers at my ribs, making me stumble back.
I nearly laughed. “Yeah! And what about you? You think you’re stronger than I am? I’ve been into a bunch of fights with all kinds of bullies from random academies whenever I had ditched my own. I’ve even fought with Khan!”
Her eyes pierced into mine. “I really wouldn’t have saved you if I knew you could take care of yourself. But I barely know you and from the way you were handling them, they seemed to have already gotten the best of you. If I knew you would have defeated them, I really would’ve just stood there and watched.”
She whipped around, turning her back on me. Her red ponytail whipped my face and I winced, taking a step back and watched her walk away with Grace following after her. I couldn’t help staring and admiring her long skinny legs that almost seemed to match her SoulBird’s legs.
I snickered. I can’t believe I actually let someone like her do the fighting for me.
I followed after her, for there was nothing else I could do. Dewey was already running after Grace with glee.
Suddenly, something moved behind us and I felt a shadow loom behind me. Raising my eyes and turning around, I saw a shadowy figure, but this time, it was of a man in a long black cape. He was grimacing at me as he stood there straight, wrapped in his long black coat and black cape behind him. His face was pure white as snow. I blinked, feeling ominous. This kind of spirit seemed terribly familiar.
“Zach!” Jenna’s sharp voice made me flinched as she came back up to my side with an annoyed look. “What are you doing?! Huh!” She stopped at my left and stared at the man with widened eyes. “Zach, that’s a vampire,” she whispered.
The man chuckled and slowly stepped forward, making his way towards us. “Now, now, there’s no need to get worried. Are you children lost?”
“We--” I started to speak but Jenna interrupted me.
“We’re not kids-- we’re mediums and we’re both sixteen years old,” she snapped sourly, glaring at the vampire.
Actually, I was fifteen, but I kept my mouth shut.
“Oh, excuse me then, where are my manners?” The vampire had a deep but clear voice. “I’ve lived a hundred more years than you two have. It gets confusing when I have to refer to people’s regular ages. But why don’t you take the safe way out? I saw those bullies come in around the corner of this alley, and they must be looking at you. If you want, I could escort you safely back out the other side.”
“Thanks, but we’re not here to fraternize with creatures from Hell,” Jenna was bending down to pick up Grace, who perched on her forearm with a glaring look. “We’re here to defeat them.” And her SoulBird’s gem flashed and a beam of light shot out, hitting the vampire in the eyes. The vampire yowled and stumbled back.
I turned to Jenna with a glare. “What are you doing?! At least let him help us before we kill him!”
Jenna huffed and jumped back, looking ready to lunge forward as Grace let out a loud tweet. “He’s not gonna help us at all!” Yelled Jenna as Grace aimed another beam of light at the vampire.
Dewey hopped to my feet and watched with wide eyes. “Whoa.”
The vampire fell to his knees and threw his head back, screaming out to the sky. His scream became a piercing monster-like cry and suddenly, he was transforming into a darker, alien-like creature. His pale skin became an ugly gray and his clothes tore off, for his body was growing longer and more flexible. Pretty soon, he was a crouching gray monster with a human shaped head-- naked-- but with flesh gray and dry and a face that was twisted with a fierce scowling look of fury.
Jenna gasped. “Run!” And she dashed away from me again.
I gave the strange vampire creature one last look of horror, and as soon as its crouching gray body leapt at me, I instantly dashed away, with Dewey keeping rapidly at my place.
I caught up to Jenna.
“Quick! I know a place we can hide!” I yelled.
“Argh! Use your rosary!” She screamed.
“No way! I’m not throwing this at people again!”
Jenna let out a maddening growl and then screamed as the vampire creature leapt over her head, knocking her to her knees.
I stopped at her side. “Jenna!”
She looked up with a ferocious glare and grabbed at my neck, yanking my rosary down and made me fall forwards at her side, hitting my chin.
“Owww!” I felt more angered and annoyed than scared now.
Jenna easily slipped the rosary off my head now, and threw it at the vampire just before it came crashing down on us from above.
The rosary immediately flashed and the vampire froze in midair, just two feet hovering above us. The creature screamed and twisted with envy as the light from the rosary entangled with it and burnt the creature to flames.
Jenna huffed and pushed me to the right, and I rolled away as she crawled from underneath the hovering creature. Pretty soon, the vampire exploded and ashes fell from the place it had been hovering. The rosary that was tangling around it fell to the ground and still looked good as new.
Jenna and I got up and she took the rosary, handing it back to me with a raised smile on her face. “See? Your rosary knows how to save us AND take care of itself.”
I snatched it from her and put it in my pocket, cursing under my breath.
Jenna rolled her eyes, still smiling. She turned away and then screamed. There, in the trash cans behind us, a band of six imps were approaching, each of them holding small red tridents that blazed with fire.
“Oh great,” Jenna muttered through clenched teeth. Grace and Dewey faced the imps with challenging glares.
I took Jenna’s arm and hurried away. “Quick! I know a place we can be safe!”
I ran out of the alley with Jenna and the SoulBirds at my right. The imps followed behind, following us rapidly, keeping as close to our heels and swatting their tridents behind us.
“Agh! Just where are you going?!” Yelled Jenna.
“Just come on!” I was nearing the Harg Mosque in the distance ahead.
“What?!” Screamed Jenna. “Harg?! This is NOT a church! We’re not gonna be safe from any devil in here!”
“Just come on,” I repeated in a mutter, narrowing my eyes.
“This is where devils come from! We won’t be safe at all!”
“Yeah, this is where they come from, and this is where they’re going back,” I hurried forward and as soon as we got to the front of the building, I didn’t hesitate to crash open the doors-- which consisted of sticky gooey blood that seemed new, as well as spiderwebs that wound over it.
Jenna and the SoulBirds followed me in, as well as the rest of the imps that screamed as they entered the mosque, and as soon as they were all in, the doors immediately shut by themselves. A cold chilly air whipped through the building, and I looked around with horror as the imps started to float in the air-- and disappear.
Dewey and Grace were already pecking at the door, and Jenna walked over to pull open the two large hanging knobs. She turned to me with a look of distress.
“It’s locked,” she muttered.
We were trapped inside the building of devils.

The temple of Harg was dark and shadowy. But thanks to the light that glowed around the SoulBirds, we were able to see at least each other—which wasn’t very thankful. Jenna was glaring at me again with her eyes hardening behind her piercing hot-pink glasses. I returned her gaze with a narrowed and bored look.
“What? At least we’re not being raped by a vampire or beaten up by foot-tall imps.” I spoke dryly.
She huffed. “Well, nice job getting us stuck in here! Now we’re gonna be attacked by devilish spirits from within this building! Great! Much better to be in the place where devils come from rather than dealing with the devils ourselves.”
“If you couldn’t defeated those imps, why didn’t you?” I scoffed.
“I left my sword at our hideout by the Gehenna River! We should have used your rosary again!”
Dewey gasped. “Ooh! Maybe it can clean up this place since you still have it! Zach, take it out and we can use it as a defense shield or a weapon against any forming creatures!”
I narrowed my eyes at Jenna, returning her angry gaze as I slipped my hand in my pocket.
Suddenly, the doors rumbled. Jenna gasped and pushed me to the right behind a short table. “Someone’s coming in!”
I only knew one spirit that was ever allowed in such a place as this. And as the doors banged open, letting light filter through, I saw the tall shadow of Lucien the Higher step in. his shadow stretched all the way across the floor. The entire room lighted up from the fires that lit on the torches that stuck out from the walls.
Jenna gave me a sharp nudge. She nodded at the door with an urgent look on her face.
I followed her as she crawled to escape. Grace followed her with Dewey right behind, but just before I was about to leave, I stared back, watching as Lucien stood there, facing forward and standing still, as if waiting for something. I was curious with what he was going to do here.
Turning away from the exit, I crawled back in ever so quietly. Dewey turned with a confused look, but didn’t make a sound as he ran back in before the doors shut again behind us, locking me out from Jenna and Grace this time.
Lucien stood barely ten feet in front of me, but he didn’t turn to notice me or Dewey. He walked forward, going down the strange hallway that stretched out ever so far.
I winced as I watched him go. Dewey and I looked at each other.
“On the outside, it doesn’t seem as if the building were that long,” muttered Dewey.
“Exactly,” I muttered. I got up and crept after Lucien, following him down.
I realized that the walls to either side were mirrors, and there were about six of them that I passed by in a single step. It was like I was looking at twelve reflections of me when I stood there.
“Interesting,” I muttered, eying me at all my reflections.
Dewey was admiring himself in front of a mirror, smiling and brushing the tip of his head. “Yeah, I know,” he said slyly, giving himself a devilish smile.
I winced and then gave the bird a gentle kick. “I didn’t mean that. I meant the mirrors.” I walked forwards.
Dewey hopped along, laughing. “Sure…..I gotcha.”
Suddenly, we came to a dead end. Below us was a second floor that led up to a fireplace. Lucien was walking towards the fireplace and he kneeled down just two feet away from it.
“What?” I hissed. “How’d he get down there?” There was a banister in front of the dead end, and I didn’t see how Lucien could have jumped that far down. but he must have, for he was on his knees and he had his eyes close. He raised his arms and uttered a strange hymn under his breath.
I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying, but I did catch some strange words that I had no idea about or what language it was. But I did hear the name “Satan” repeated from time to time.
Suddenly, the fireplace burst into flames without a single coal or matches to light it. There in the fire, I saw the eyes of a devil bird—the very eyes of Lucien’s devil SoulBird. Its face was shaped around its eyes by the flames, and it was glaring at Lucien and looking into his eyes. I realized Dewey and I had to kneel down ourselves in case the bird could look up see us all the way up here.
But as we made our way to the right, I realized we could watch Lucien from the side, as well as the spirit in the fire that he spoke to.
“Aracto….” Lucien raised his head and stared into the fire. His red eyes looked wider and brighter in the flames, making the red cracks around his eyeballs more distinctive and bloody. I feared the Higher One at this point. “Show me…..let me speak to Uncle E.”
And the flames flickered as a new face formed in place of the SoulBird. I could see the horrid look on Uncle E’s face. Even the flames made his hair look wild and messy. The helpless man was crying out with mercy.
“Lucifer!” Uncle E was sputtering and crying, shaking his head in the flames and making the fire dance and sway around.
Lucien just stared forward, keeping his eyes wide and unblinking as he watched Uncle E’s head struggle in the fire.
“Lucifer!” Uncle E cried out, trying to keep his shaking gaze on the Higher One. “Have mercy! Please! I cannot do it! I—wahh!” The flames burst and thundered up the chimney through his head. “Lucifer….!”
His face immediately vanished.
I stared with confusion. What was that all about? What was happening to my uncle? And who was Lucifer?
Lucien’s eyes narrowed and the red cracks started to bleed. “Ebenezer Ezekreth, you are a fool.” The Higher One muttered with menace and he closed his eyes, throwing his head back and raising up his hands in the air. His mouth moved as he muttered a strange new verse, and suddenly, the room became hot.
I looked around and started to feel my pocket burn. “Ow!” I hissed. It was as if a match lit up in my pants.
Dewey flinched. “Your rosary!”
I immediately pulled out the necklace and dropped it in front of me. I watched as the cross sizzled and flickered with light.
The whole room started to become hotter and hotter until I felt like I was melting.
“Ugh, Lucien, what are you doing?” I muttered, eying the Higher One. I widened my eyes with disgust as I noticed that blood was leaking out from the corner of Lucien’s eyes. The red cracks were truly bleeding, and now they were leaking from his tightly closed eyes. But he continued to utter those words—whatever they meant—and made the fire burst more and more until the flames were probably sticking out of the building.
Then, a roar shook the flames and the most monstrous ugly looking face was formed, and I nearly fainted with such disgust and heat, for the face was that of the same dragon that had attacked me back in Jerusalem.
Except this time, it looked even worse than before. There was blood etched over its face, drawing its way around its seven eyes. Its ten horns were bloodied and scarred, and the creature was breathing heavily and snorting towards Lucien.
Lucien gasped and opened his eyes, facing forward, panting. The Higher One’s eyes were still shedding blood and thick red tears streamed down his pale thin face. His eyes were wide at a look of horror now. He looked like he had taken a lot of energy to summon this devilish beast that was heating up the room to a thousand degrees.
“Satan…..” Lucien’s voice remained calm and astonished as he stared at the beast. “You’ve returned….”
But the beast roared and thrust its head around just as Uncle E did. It looked deeply in pain.
“Zach—the rosary must be doing that,” whispered Dewey, who was standing right by the necklace.
I gazed at it and saw that it was sizzling in the hotness, yet, it was still shining a white bright light.
The beast gave out a groaning terrorizing roar.
Lucien’s eyebrows rose. “Satan?”
Suddenly, a shine of light blasted from behind Lucien, appearing with such a strong force that Lucien was pushed forwards, falling on his chin in front of the fire.
Grunting, Lucien strained his eyes and looked up at the beastly dragon in front of him that was roaring in pain and fading away in the flames.
I held my breath. There, standing behind Lucien, was a slender angel dressed in a flowering gown with a crystal crown on her head, underneath her halo.
Lucien turned to gasp at the sight of the angel, for she was hovering two inches off the ground, glaring at him with a maddening look in her eyes.
The angel’s light shone upon the fire and the beast disappeared with the dying flames. The room was only lit up by the light of the angel. The place started to cool down.
The angel pointed at Lucien, still glaring sharply at him. The Higher One, buried his face in his hands and yowled with pain, and then the whole building started to shake. Bricks were falling from the top and I nearly felt like this floor was going to collapse.
I got up and Dewey yelled with horror. “Let’s get outta here!” The noise in the building was too loud for Dewey’s voice to have been noticed. Running from the room, I suddenly heard a blast of flames and heat come from behind me. I looked back to see that Lucien was standing up with his trident in his hand, and he was facing the angel with a devilish look.
The fire lit up behind him, and two imps suddenly jumped out, jumping around Lucien and making snide faces at the angel.
I stared with a sinking feeling. They were Demetrius and Jezebelle.
The angel was angered. Thrusting both her hands in the air, the entire place started to shake. Lucien immediately vanished into thin air, leaving the two imps alone with the angel. The entire place was shaking, and Dewey and I ran through the hallway of mirrors.
I was ignoring every reflection on the mirror, but then I tripped and gasped. “The rosary!” I yelled.
“Ahh! You’re bleeding!” Dewey looked at me with horror.
To the side of my cheek, I felt a stinging cut of blood. Groaning, I got up and looked at the mirror to my right—and screamed.
I was looking into the reflection of Damien. The spiky haired darkly dressed jock was eying me with an evil grimace.
“Wattup there, Zach?” He raised his eyebrows and spoke calmly. “Never thought I’d see you here in the house of the devil.”
I immediately ran away from that mirror, but Damien’s image appeared on all the mirrors ahead, faster than I could run. They were all laughing at me and taunting me.
“You can never escape what’s inside you—never.” He was cackling.
I shut my ears as his voice rung through the room. The entire place collapsed behind me.
I suddenly made it to the door where and banged at it desperately, tugging at it and pulling it open. But it was locked.
“Help! Help!” I yowled.
Dewey was pecking at it. “Grace?! Jenna?! We’re stuck!”
The place was falling apart all around me, and looking back, the mirrors were crashing automatically as the angel hovered her way between them.
She came up to me, facing me with a stony look, though her gaze wasn’t as angry as she had been when she was staring at Lucien. She opened her right hand and handed me the rosary.
I gasped and slowly took the rosary. I looked up at her, wanting to thank her, but my heart was beating too loud for me to speak.
The angel raised her arms up and opened the doors for me. Dewey and I immediately rushed out, and then turned to watch the angel disappear as the entire building of Harg sunk down and disappeared under the ground. I stared in awe. In its place where the building had stood, there was nothing but an empty space with a mark of peace at the center—drawn in blood.
I took a step back and bumped into someone. Yelling with fear, I whipped around to see that Jenna was standing behind me with her arms crossed. She had a narrowed look on her face and Grace was on her shoulders, eying me with concern.
I blinked and sighed. “Damn! You won’t believe what just happened in there! You should have stayed.”
“So! What did you just do to the mosque of Harg?” Jenna spoke with an irritated tone. “The Higher One’s gonna be pissed to Hell at you.”
“Hah! Hell can kiss his ass! Some angel appeared in there and set the whole place to ruins! It was…..pretty amazing,” I looked at Dewey, who was panting.
“Amazing?! That was astonishing! I think that came from your rosary, Zach,” said Dewey.
“Probably,” I looked at the rosary with awe. “Dang, this thing had more power over an entire building of the devil. I pretty much just…..defeated the devil’s house.”
“Puh-lease,” Jenna rolled her eyes. “You can reward yourself for now—but Lucien’s gonna find out. He’ll know who did this, and he’ll drag you to Hell with him. There’s still many more ways to get to Hell than just that mosque. Just by being a dirty spirit will damn you to that world.”
“Oh dear,” Grace muttered. “I was glad we were out of it though. But good job, Zach!”
Suddenly, two spirits appeared above my head and I looked up to see Grenada and Annabelle both coughing and groaning.
“Ugh! Goodness! Agh!” Grenada was shaking herself. “Uh! That was terrible!”
“Yes! I never wanna try and mess with the devils again!” Annabelle was struck with surprise.
“What in the--?!” Jenna jumped back and frowned up at the spirits.
Raising my eyebrows, I looked from Grenada and Annabelle above me, to Jenna. Darn it! if she could see them, I’d be greatly embarrassed.
“You see something?” I started walking away passed her, but Jenna grabbed my arm and whirled me around to face my saints.
“Who are THEY?!” Jenna’s eyes pierced up at Grenada and Annabelle, though she was studying them intently and didn’t seem angry at their presence.
“What? I don’t see anything?” I looked at Grenada with a wince.
“What?! Oh you impious fool!” Grenada took out her ruler.
“Zach, seriously,” Jenna’s voice was firm, but she wasn’t forceful now. “They are angels, aren’t they? Are they your guardians?”
“Oh yes! Very much so!” Said Annabelle, grinning happily at the girl.
“No, not very much so,” I said, crossing my arms and frowning towards both of them. “If you were my guardians, why didn’t you save me from that building? I had to rely on some other angel from my rosary. And I bet she wasn’t even one of my saints! She was too noble looking for that.”
“Oh!” Grenada looked deeply offended. “Well just--”
“Wait a minute! Who are you guys? What are your names?” Jenna was looking up hopefully at them. “I’m Jenna—you must have heard of me through Raman.”
Annabelle gleamed at the redhead. “Oh yes! I’ve seen you before! Raman has told me a lot about you. you’re such a valiant girl exceeding through all your classes in Primal!”
Jenna smiled back and gave a single nod.
“Well, my name’s Annabelle, and this is sister Grenada.”
I huffed, still crossing my arms. “Again—the both of you are too late and slow this time.”
Grenada growled and whipped her ruler to her side. “Well let me explain! We TRIED to get to your head that you mustn’t be there, but the forces of evil were blocking us from appearing to you in such a place! Annabelle and I strained our backs just to fight our way inside!”
“Yes,” Annabelle was nodding, giving me a sorrowful look. They both did look tired and bedraggled. “I’m sorry, Zach, but by the time we entered the building, we were told off my Serenity Grace—the angel that saved you all. She told us that something terrible was going to happen if she hadn’t been retrieved to have heard about what Lucien was doing in there. She told us to stay behind and wait until she handled everything and defeated the place after rescuing you.”
“Did the rosary call Serenity Grace?” Dewey asked.
“Yes!” Snapped Grenada. “And I’m surprised she didn’t let you sink in with the rest of that building.”
“Oh, sister Grenada!” Cried Annabelle indignantly.
“Well, anyone who ventures in that building deserves to die with it!” Said Grenada. “Why do you think it locked once you were inside?! Hell drags you in and you can never get back out, unless you’re the Higher One who created the stupid building! The place is for the devil for cryin’ out loud!”
“Well, we were trying to drive the creatures back inside it!” Said Dewey.
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” huffed Grenada. “The place is gone and we won’t have to worry about anyone coming in it to call upon the devil.”
“But that doesn’t mean anything about defeating Hell,” said Jenna. “It’s still just as powerful whether we have this building or not.”
“Right,” said Annabelle. “I get goosebumps just hovering around here! Let’s leave this place! We’ll find a better area to chat about this.”
We walked away from the place, heading back up the hill towards the city. But I cast a glance back at the place. Lucien was truly going to be furious. I dreaded returning back to the palace today.
But then another fear crept up inside me. There, in the distance by the bare bushes in front of the gates, were two red creatures scurrying across the empty land to hide behind a rock. I gasped and Dewey flinched back as he realized it as well. Demetrius and Jezebelle were there—they had escaped the building and were roaming in our land.

For the rest of that day, I saw no sign of Lucien in the palace, nor did I even hear of him for the rest of that week.
But I knew he was far from being defeated as quick and easily as that. Flocks of devil SoulBirds still continued to arrive at the palace, bringing loads of more prisoners from the upper lands. And even though Raman and I continued to sneak them out on their third arrival, the Higher One never turned up to the palace.
Armies were starting to disappear but then they would come back the next day with bustling news. Raman, as second in command, took more charge of the palace those days and he dealt with most of the busy armies.
One night, he and I were discussing Lucien’s sudden absence and the disappearance of the mosque of Harg.
“Lucien’s been in the world of Hell,” said Raman. “He strengthens his armies by secretly bringing up rising forces appearing in the upper lands. There have been traces of Lucien and an army of hell creatures up north near the land of Primal.”
And we were continuously getting reports of Lucien’s activity in the upper lands. Many spirits were being corrupted and parts of the land was overrun and destroyed by the devils.
At this point, Raman was starting to make quick visits to Hannah, talking about what should be done with my presence in the palace.
“Zach, I think it’s best if you and Dewey accompany me and Michael for the battle against the Beast,” Hannah spoke to me one clouded day. The sky was gloomy and unpredictable as Lucien’s appearance. We were at the back of the academy where it was quiet. Saint Grenada was accompanying us as well.
I looked at Hannah. Jenna and Raman were behind me and the SoulBirds, Dewey and Grace, stood on the ground with Raman’s fire SoulBird, Ace, hovering above them.
“The Beast?” I spoke. “You mean the….Satan creature with the seven eyes and ten horns?” I remembered the terrible creature I had seen in the fire.
Hannah was nodding, giving me a solemn look. “Yes. Satan’s spirit is within that beast, though his spirit thrives everywhere. He is not a single creature-- he is a wandering spirit of evil that can appear in all different kinds of forms and disguises.”
Saint Grenada gave a serious narrowed look. “He can come in unseen forms as well-- such as by pride, anger, and temptation. These are forms of evil that can trick the spirit into obtaining Satan hiding behind those feelings.”
“Yes,” Hannah nodded. “Satan can come in all kinds of forms but the Beast, preferably, is the most powerful creature he sticks inside whenever it comes to physically defeating a spirit. This Beast belongs to the underworld of Hell, but now, it is arising. As you have seen it on Earth, it has gotten one stage up from its world, and now, from Earth, it is here in Purgatory-- just as you saw Lucien try to help bring it forth from the fire in Harg.”
“And guess where it’s going to go next from this world,” said Raman.
“Heaven?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Yep,” said Hannah. “Michael is already assembling his angels for battle.”
Jenna stepped forward. “Wait, I thought the mosque was destroyed before the Beast could escape? Didn’t Serenity Grace just keep it from entering?”
“She kept it from escaping the fire,” I said to her. “But perhaps now that Lucien has also disappeared, he’s probably helped the Beast break through from some other pathway. We have been getting reports of Lucien appearing out of nowhere in the lands of Purgatory, rising with hellish creatures each time.”
“The battle will take place between our land of Purgatory and Earth,” said Hannah. “Zach, for your safety, we can take you with us and you can search the Earth for your uncle in the meantime.”
“Uncle E!” I realized how much I actually missed my uncle.
Jenna huffed. “If his uncle has found one of the golden birds, then of course we ought to trace him down.”
“Damien is with one of those birds!” I said. “I swear! I even saw Damien’s reflection in those mirrors!”
Hannah widened her eyes. “Well, his spirit could be under control of the devil, or from that golden SoulBird he’s with. But for now, try and keep out of the palace’s ways and meet us over at the front gates of Zellux at dawn. Raman and I will be there for you.”
I chuckled. “What do we have to do until then? Oh right-- there are still prisoners that must be taken to Gehenna.” I looked at Jenna. “You still wanna help these guys?”
“Oh course we’ll help them!” Jenna snapped. “What? You think just ‘cause we’re leaving doesn’t mean we can help while we can? What kind of Purgatory spirit are you?”
I snickered. “One from the lowliest class in this world.”
So I headed back to the palace while Raman dealt with the rest of the coming armies that reported of the fights going on in the upper lands. Hannah stayed at her academy as nurse and Jenna awaited me by the river Gehenna near the volcano.
Dewey and I freed six prisoners that were due today. After reassuring them what I was really going to do with them, Dewey and I left the city of Zellux and traveled up the land, following the Gehenna River.
As soon as we made our way to the region of the terrible volcano, I looked ahead where I saw a line of spirits taking up the path to the volcano, along with the crazed looking spirits of the Punishment House.
I looked at all the moaning spirits as they were thrown down to the Gehenna Volcano, ending their insane lives here in this afterlife to continue it in another more terrible place.
Dewey whistled with awe and I turned to the scared prisoners behind me. “You’re too innocent for that. Don’t worry you’re free again-- as long as you don’t get captured to this place a second time.” I gave them a wink.
Jenna was approaching my right with Grace walking beside her.
“That’s it for today?” Jenna winced at the small group of prisoners.
I shrugged. “Unless I left any behind, these are the only due for today.”
“Why don’t you just get the entire room of prisoners free today?” Jenna’s eyes flashed. “If we’re not going to be here anymore, you should’ve freed as many prisoners as you can!”
“Hey, you never know when Lucien’s just gonna turn up and realize that the wrong prisoners are gone from the chambers.”
“Well, that wouldn’t matter anyway!” Said Jenna. “He’s gonna persecute you no matter when he comes back. You might as well have just done the last thing you can to stir him up.”
The volcano suddenly rumbled and the punished ones were grumbling at the top. I yawned sarcastically. “Um, these poor innocent spirits are getting scared around this place-- you wanna guide them to the border or not?”
Jenna huffed and gave me a sharpening stare. Her glasses flashed. “Fine then. But before I do so, I’ll have Grace free the last prisoners so that I can take them all to the border myself.”
She turned her back on me and Grace jumped up and down, tweeting at the group of spirits behind me to follow.
I sighed and gave them a sideways look. “Sorry, but you’ll have to follow the crazy redhead from this point. Good luck.”
Jenna let out a scoffing noise but didn’t turn her back to face me. She muttered something under her breath about guys and waited impatiently, tapping her foot.
The spirits all gave Dewey and I thankful looks.
“God bless you, spirit,” said a lady as she passed me.
I raised my eyebrows. If I ever deserved to be blessed…..
“You too,” I replied quietly.
As I watched them leave with Jenna and Grace, Dewey and I turned to the volcano to watch another spirit get thrown in with a piercing scream.
“Whoa!” Dewey hissed. “I’m sure glad I’m not that crazy to deserve that!”
I winced. “What are you talking about? Of course you are.”
“No I’m not!” Dewey gave me a perky look. “I’m an angelic SoulBird. You, on the other hand, probably would deserve it by now if I hadn’t come along to help straighten you out.”
“Hey, you’re just as deserving as me, SoulBird,” I replied sourly, turning from Dewey, rolling my eyes. “And you’ve helped me with nothing but irritate me and follow me around.” I muttered.
“No I haven’t! If it weren’t for me, you’d still be in that academy or lost on Earth, defeated by those hellish spirits! I was the one who called for Hannah’s SoulBird and bring help for you.”
I said nothing but gazed at the line of punished ones with narrowed eyes.
Suddenly, near the back, I caught a spirit struggling to hold a punished one in chains. The punished one was trying to escape the spirit’s grasp, and was kicking and yowling with piercing anguish. I recognized that punished spirit from here. It was that dark haired emo girl I saw when Raman walked me through the house.
The girl was screaming angrily and the spirit that held her back was a man-- strong and muscular to be dealing with such a spirit. He looked like he could easily snap her, but surprisingly, the girl was going crazy and thrashing madly, nearly escaping the grip. She was taller than him, and with a sudden kick between the legs, the girl escaped the man’s grasp and ran to the right, disappearing behind the crowded bare trees down the hill in the distance.
Raising my expression, I hurried after the spirit, sneaking around the line of escorted punished ones.
Dewey tweeted and followed along angrily.
“Oh great! Where do you think you’re going now? You can’t run away from me! You know that!”
But I hurried along, curious to see where the spirit was going. No other spirit bothered to leave the line and chase after her.
Peering behind a thicketed bush, I spotted the dark haired girl sitting by the Gehenna River that flowed from the back of the volcano. She was cursing and spitting under her breath, and she was struggling to yank a long sharp boot from her foot.
I eyed at her and realized she still looked the same as I had last seen her. She had a black low-cut shirt that was torn around the bottom, and her long black skinny jeans were covered with blood and torn shreds on the left leg. Her arms were wounded with cuts and around her wrists were the worst of the bleeding cuts. She looked like she had new ones this time. Her wristbands were wrapped around them, and this time, she also had broken handcuffs that still wore around her.
Dewey peeked from the thicket bush and snorted. “Who the heck is she?”
I looked down and gave him a look. “She has a nice SoulBird for you. It was earth type, and it was a devil.”
Hearing me, the girl whipped her head around to face me with a fierce scowling look of fury. Her face was smeared with blood and eyeliner, and the dark black masque around her eyes made her look even scarier when angry. Her long black hair was tangled with blood near the bottom, and strands of her side bangs hung over her left eye.
Yowling, the girl leapt at me and pinned me to the ground, tackling me like a wild animal.
It never felt weird to fight back at a girl, though I had never really gotten the chance to do so as often. As I kicked and fought back with surprise, I easily threw her off and she rolled back, falling into the tangled bush beside Dewey, who jumped to the side.
The girl screamed and thrashed angry, shooting up to her feet to glare down at me.
“Who are you to spy on me?!” The girl’s voice was hard-edged like Jenna’s, except with a little bit of roughness and sass to it.
I slowly got up to my feet and gave her a narrowed, confused look.
“Oh! It’s you again,” her expression immediately changed and she giggled. “Zachariah Ezekreth, right?”
I huffed and gave a sideways look. “So you’ve heard of me too.”
“Hah! Of course. I come from this very land, and just ‘cause I’m trapped in some shitty house of punishment doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the outside world like most losers there would,” remarked the girl.
Dewey gave her an eying look of disgust as she strutted up to me, giving me a haughty smile.
“You remember my name?” She raised her eyebrows.
I looked into her eyes as she faced me with her body turned sideways. She was biting her nails, which were a patterned color of red and black.
I snickered. “Nah, sorry, I forget.”
The girl huffed and glared at me. “I’m Miranda Heron. You can call me Mira.” She gave me a sassy smile and winked. “And I saw you escorting those prisoners from the palace. Smuggling them away home, aren’t ya?”
I raised my eyebrows. “What are you talking about?” I pretended not to understand.
“Oh, come on!” She faced me and crossed her arms. “You knew what you were doing! You’re going behind the Higher One’s back and escorting away the prisoners away from the Gehenna Volcano!”
I blinked and Dewey narrowed his eyes at her. “So! You gonna rat us out now?” The SoulBird was glaring.
Mira huffed and gave the Soul Bird a dirty look. “I’m not ratting on YOU.”
I sighed. “Well, the Higher One’s gonna kill me whether he finds out or not. Bet you know why, though.”
Mira turned to me and gasped. “Oh! Yes! Of course-- you were the one to destroy the temple of Harg!”
“It’s a mosque,” I said.
“Whatever. But you actually made it sink to the ground I heard,” she started walking around me, smiling at me deviously, blinking her dark darks. “Smexy. What sorta things did you do in there? Did you fight demons and meet Satan?”
I gave her a look. “Well, I did meet Satan in a way.”
“Ooh,” Mira stood behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. I stiffened, wincing as she leaned her head next to mine, speaking quietly in my ear. “Ya know, if you keep my little secret and don’t tell anyone about me escaping the Punished House, I’ll keep your dirty little secret behind the Higher One’s back.”
“Hah!” Dewey was obviously disliking this slut dressed girl. “As if! We’re already escaping anyway!”
“Ooh, is that true?” Mira was still facing me. Her hands were surprisingly cold on my shoulders and her voice flowed next to my ears. “Where ya going?”
“No place that’s your business!” Dewey shouted, ruffling his feathers.
Mira huffed and whipped her head forward to face the bird with a ferocious glare. “You shut your little beak, you little butt munch,” she muttered through gritted teeth. I felt goosebumps crawl over me at her angry tone. “I wasn’t asking YOU.”
“I know,” Dewey snapped back. “But I was answering you. We’re off to do things that a jailbird like you would make no significance for.”
“Dewey…” I tried to speak and warn the bird, but Mira was already blazing.
Her grip on my shoulders hardened and her nails dug into me sharply as she glared at the bird with furious envy.
“Shiigo!” She yelled.
And from the thicketed bramble bush, a long-legged devil earth type SoulBird stepped out with a glaring devious look on its face. Its long beak pointed towards Dewey and it lowered its head as if to creep up on the bird. The SoulBird was the same earth type in Mira’s cell last time.
Dewey flinched at backed away from the bird. “Whoa!” The earth type was slightly taller than him, and its horns glowed with its shining dark green gem. “Hehe, you sure could make a good mate for Aracto.”
“Why thank you!” Mira spoke sarcastically. “Shiigo loves the Higher One’s SoulBird.” Then her expression fell into a glare again. “Shred it, Shiigo.”
The devilish earth type SoulBird tweeted furiously and pecked its long beak towards Dewey, who jumped and instantly ran away as fast as his long legs could carry him. But Shiigo also had long legs and ran just as fast. The devilish SoulBird pecked at Dewey as it chased him in circles, both of them tweeting and squawking with anger.
I would have done something about the SoulBirds, but with Mira gripping my back and watching her own pet, I could only watch with distress.
Mira huffed and loosened her sinking grip. “I asked you a question?” She looked at me again.
“Um….like Dewey said-- we were off to do…..something important.”
She immediately yanked me to the side and banged my back against at tree. I grunted with confusion and faced her as she leaned her head to me, fixing a cold stare. Her arms were on both sides next to my head on the tree, and I could see the nasty cuts and scrapes along her arms. I stared into the eyes. They were strangely attractive, and even though she was dirty and covered with wounds, she still made a good looking harlot.
“Something important?” She hissed. “Is it so important that you can’t tell me?” She raised an eyebrow.
I said nothing. I stared at her blankly, and then sighed. “We’re off to battle that Satanic dragon beast that Lucien tried to bring to this world through the mosque.”
“Ah,” She gave a slow nod. “What makes you think you must battle it? Must you force yourself to go against the Higher One?”
“Not just the Higher One,” I retorted. “Lucien the Higher is from Hell, you know that?” I narrowed my eyes carefully. “That temple of Harg is a mosque to worship the devil-- everyone in the city and in the regions totally have had the wrong idea about Lucien. He and all his other minions are all devils from Hell.”
Mira raised her eyebrows. “All of them?”
“All except for Raman. We’re leaving with him tonight-- at dawn.” I knew I was just blurting the whole thing out to this strange girl. But I didn’t care. She was too hot to be keeping secrets from.
Mira was etching a cool smile across her lips. “Mm….I wonder how you know all this. You know, I bet if I come and fight that beastly dragon, I’ll slay him with coaxing. I love to coax spirits, you know.”
“Hehe, that’s great.”
“You must be very sneaky since you live with the Higher One at the same time, huh?”
“Oh yeah,” I replied.
Mira chuckled slyly and gently rubbed a finger at the side of my cheek. “Nasty wound,” she narrowed her eyes at the cut sliced on my right cheek. “Did you get that in the mosque?”
“Probably,” I said with a shrug. “Where’d you get all YOUR nasty wounds?”
She gave me a sideways look. “I cut myself,” she said simply. “I’m sorry, but when you’re stuck in a cage for a month, you’ll get bored, you know? I have to entertain myself with some pain.”
“Yeah? What did you do before you were in the cages?”
“Oh, I hooked up with a lotta guys,” she gave me a wink. “But none of them were special. I’ve found no interest in any such boys that I met-- but you’re actually kinda cute,” she gave me a devilish smile and brushed a strand of hair that was in my eyes. I felt deeply scared and excited at the same time, but I kept a narrowed stare on my face. “You were never known to get a girlfriend though, weren’t you?”
I shifted. “Nah, girls have asked me out before-- but I prefer to stay a loner at my academy.”
“Ah, I see. So you’re still single, huh?”
Suddenly, there was a loud squeak and Dewey was on the ground, kicking at Shiigo as she tried to jump around and jab at Dewey with her beak like he was prey.
Mira snickered. “Look at our SoulBirds! I think Shiigo likes him.”
“Oh yes. Shiigo’s always picking on the ones she loves most. Dunno why, but that’s just my SoulBird.”
“Zach!” Jenna’s sharp voice came out of nowhere and I saw her approaching us from the other side of the Gehenna River with Grace walking at her feet. “Zach, what are you-- AHH!” She flinched and gave a surprised stare at Mira.
I could understand how strange it must be for her to barge in on me when I was pushed against a tree with a jail breaking girl in front of me. Shiigo stopped pecking at Dewey and looked over at Jenna and Grace with a menacing glare.
“Zach, what are you doing?! Who is SHE?” Jenna narrowed her eyes at Mira.
Mira was looking at Jenna with disgust. She let her arms off the tree and stepped up to Jenna on the other side of the river.
“Excuse me, but who are YOU to disturb our little talk?” Mira spoke with a rough tone.
Jenna faced her without blinking. “I was just here to make sure Zach and I return safe back to the city. Apparently he hasn’t because he seems to have nearly been attacked by some jailbird!”
I stiffened as I watched Mira’s gaze smile devilishly. “Oh, I’m no jailbird anymore! Those idiots at the Punishment House can’t take me anymore and no one can stand me back there, so I guess I can run free all I want now.”
“Um, Mira?” I stepped up to her side. “This is Jenna. Jenna, Mira. I’m sorry but….I gotta go right now,” I faced Mira with a steadying look. “We were just here to drop off the prisoners and-- you sure got them to the borders pretty fast.”
“I didn’t take ’em there,” said Jenna sharply. “I left them to Hannah, who was out in the woods for her break.”
“Oh, must you go so soon?” Mira faced me with a longing look. She was biting her long nails again. She faced Jenna. “I was just telling Zachy there that I can help him fight the dragon if they let me. You’d be surprised with how easy it is for devilish spirits to fall for me.” She gave a haughty expression.
Jenna raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Thanks, that’s really kind of you.” She spoke politely and then she closed her eyes as she straightened her glasses. “But we’ve got enough to worry about besides fighting the dragon, and I don’t think you’d be interested in the rest of the things we’ll be up to.” She stepped over the river and passed me with her head high. “Come on, Zach. Hannah told me to get back to the city as soon as possible--” She flashed me a look. “--Lucien’s returned, she says.”
“Lucien?!” I nearly jumped.
Dewey gasped and got up. “The Higher One?”
“Ugh,” Mira gave a dirty look and grabbed my shoulder again. “You got him all scared now. Why don’t you stay with me, Zachy?” She gave me a grimacing smile. “I can keep you safe.”
“Uh….” I stared at the ground, not wanting to meet her hot but scary face.
Mira grabbed both my shoulders and spoke in my ear again. “I can protect you from all the demons and beasts out there, ya know. For I communicate with demons much better than you think.”
Jenna was watching me, and I could see she was holding back a laugh. “Of course,” she said with a snicker. “She’s from the Punished House. I bet she’s been in jail for all her mortal life.”
“Actually since I was twelve,” Mira flashed a glare at Jenna.
I touched Mira’s hands and turned to meet her gaze with a naughty smile. “You know, I’d love to have your protection with us. But you’d have to check with Hannah first. And I doubt she would accept a spirit who’s been in jail like that.”
Mira’s gaze immediately maddened and she was glaring at me sharply. Her nails dug into my shoulders and she pushed me forward from her grasp.
“Fine then!” She was screaming. “See if you like being with your girlfriend instead!”
I turned to see that she was standing with her fists clenched as she yelled. Shiigo squaked with rage and joined her side. The two of them were stood with the volcano behind them giving out a rumble that shook the land and nearly made me stumble over.
“Come on, Zach,” Jenna huffed, rolling her eyes and taking my arm. We hurried away with Dewey running behind.
“This won’t be the last time I’ll see you though!” She was screaming over the loud rumble. As she watched us leave. “I’m not finished with you yet, Zachariah!”
I turned and gave her a look. “I hope not! I’ll look forward to seeing you then!”
She must have taken that as sarcasm, for as I turned away to face forward, she picked up a sharp rock and threw it at the back of my neck.
“Ow!” I flinched and grabbed the back of my neck but I didn’t look back. The volcano spilled fire behind us and when I turned to see behind, Mira was gone.
As we got to the city, Jenna spoke nothing to me about Mira nor did I tell her anything.
But then I stopped and looked to the sky.
Jenna turned. “Zach!”
“Hang on-- you said that Lucien was back?”
“Yeah, Hannah says we should get you to the back of the academy where she knows a small house that you can hide in.”
“Well, maybe I ought to check on the Higher One just to see how angry he can be with me,” I said. “Just to see how bad he’ll be looking for us once we leave.”
Jenna huffed and gave me a look. “Well, if you’re gonna go back to that dreaded palace, then I’m going with you.”
“What? No! You don’t have to come, I--”
“Listen, I really don’t wanna stick with you any more than I have to, but Hannah told me to make sure I keep with you to make sure you’re safe,” she was glaring at me angrily. “If you’re gonna do something as stupid as you’re doing right now and you’re not gonna listen to me when I tell you no, then I’m just going to have to come with you and make sure I keep you safe myself.”
I gave her a wince. “Hah! I should’ve taken Mira with me then! She could’ve done the work for you!”
“Puh-lease!” Jenna rolled her eyes. “You really trust Mira? You’re so stupid! She’s a punished one.” She was giving me an indignant look. “All punished spirits are crazy! She deserves to go to Hell and today, she was just about to be thrown to it, but she just crazily escaped. Now you’re the first person she meets from her escape, and you’re just gonna trust her just like that?!”
“I never said I trusted her,” I replied simply. “Just saying-- she sure seemed to be positive about keeping me safe and defending me from any other interfering spirits.” I gave Jenna a look.
Jenna huffed and crossed her arms. Grace landed on her shoulder. “Zach, you shouldn’t let anyone come with us but the spirits you truly know. Hannah specifically told Jenna and I not to spill this out to anyone whatsoever-- unless they are a spirit from Heaven.”
“Yeah,” said Dewey. “Mira’s so not a spirit from Heaven. Just look at her SoulBird!”
“Oh, Dewey!” Grace jumped down. “Are you okay?”
“All the same,” said Jenna edgily, giving me a sharp look. “I have to make sure you come to Hannah safely at dawn. Here, wipe the blood on the back of your neck already.”
She threw me a cloth and I winced as she turned to walk away.
Like Jenna said, she followed me back to the palace as I snuck around the corner to peer into the garden where Lucien and Raman were standing at the corner away from the pool. I listened closely behind the thin walls that surrounded the yard. Khan and the other warriors were with him as well.
“So the boy’s destroyed the temple,” Lucien was speaking creepily nicely, and he didn’t seem to be bothered at all.
Raman was keeping his calm as well. “Has he? The whole city’s speaking of it. But I don’t believe rumors.”
“Nonsense,” said Lucien. “Zach followed me into the temple. He summoned the Heavenly angel to keep Satan from escaping the fire, and destroyed the temple herself. But it was through Zach’s rosary that she did so. If it weren’t for the boy, the angel would have been too late-- and too weak.”
I raised my eyebrows and gave Jenna a look. I was remembering the way Grenada and Annabelle were having a difficult time breaking through such a hellish place.
“I say we slay the boy!” Khan growled. “Kill him and rip him apart, then throw him down to Hell!”
“Now, we mustn’t do such a thing,” said Lucien. “Remember-- his father wants him safe in his hands, and that’s all he wants from him.”
“But master!” Said Khan. “Aren’t you pissed about the temple? How will you communicate with Hell now? You’ve had to spend so much time dropping down the volcano and finding other ways to rise with the devil creatures in other parts of the land-- it would have been so much easier if we just still had the temple.”
“You’re right,” Lucien’s voice was menacing now. “I think the time’s right. We must find the boy. Drag his spirit to Hell. Let the worms of fire suck his blood and eat his insides for what he’s done-- but do not destroy him so much that he returns to his father as a ripped up doll. We’ll find him, and make him suffer. But we will not destroy him.”
“What about his SoulBird?” Spoke one of the warriors.
Lucien let out a menacing hiss. “The SoulBird-- you can destroy and damn to Hell with its insides ripped out.”
At this, Jenna was already creeping away. Dewey and I immediately followed her and crept away from the palace.
I caught up to her before she could get any further. “Jenna!”
“You heard what he said!” She hissed.
“Wahh! We’re gonna die!” Cried Dewey. “At least I am!”
“Come on!” She turned around.
I was just about to follow her, but then the gates crashed behind us and I turned to see that Lucien was standing there with Raman at his right and his warriors at his left. Lucien was giving me a menacing half-smile and the warriors were all growling at me. At his feet, there was a band of imps that crawled around, hissing and spitting at the sight of Jenna and I.
“Hello, Zachariah,” Lucien chuckled slyly. “Jenna? Nice to finally get to see you.” He fixed his red eyes on the girl.
Jenna stayed by my side and stared at the Higher One with widened eyes.
Raman was standing with calm, though his narrowed look betrayed his worry.
Finally, Lucien’s eyes flashed. “Take them.”
And the band of warriors charged at us with the imps.
Immediately rushing away, Jenna and I ran through the city and made our way to the nearest surrounding gates of the city. Jumping over as our SoulBirds took flight and flew over our heads, we made our way into the woods and headed for the thickest part of the forest. The loud thundering cries were left behind as they trampled through the woods.
“I don’t get it!” I yelled as we ran on. “Couldn’t Lucien have just used his strange eying abilities to make me suddenly collapse just like that?” I remembered the way he had tortured my uncle a bunch of times without even laying a hand on him.
“I don’t know!” Shouted Jenna. “Let’s just be happy that he didn’t do so!”
We ran into the woods with our SoulBirds racing hard on our feet.

Jenna and I walked through the dark tall bare trees of the forest. Gracinda and Dewey both glowed in the dark as they walked along the ground at our sides.
For a long moment, Jenna and I spoke nothing to each other and just kept moving forwards until we were sure we were lost from the warriors’ sight.
At last, Jenna huffed. “Okay! Somebody tell me where in the afterlife are we! The only thing I can be sure of is that we are still in the land of Bhad. But how far are we? Zach! This is your land! Do you know where we could be?”
I met her gaze with a stony look through the shadows. “Honestly, I don’t pay attentions to directions. I just ditch and wander around when I want to. But from the looks of the this place, there’s a variety of trees so we’re probably somewhere in the east.”
Jenna huffed. “Well, we don’t wanna wander too far! If we go anywhere other than north, eventually, we can find ourselves in the outlands surrounding this stage. Every stage in Purgatory has outlands surrounding the stage, and those lands are where most SoulBirds thrive and where spirits are less common.”
Grace sighed. “I hear there are dangerous spirits out there-- spirits that have run away from their academies and never came back. They could be living there as savages.”
I snickered. “How sad. Some souls may just never leave Purgatory even though they have as much as a thousand years to get to Heaven before they return to earth.” I thought back to what Grenada and Annabelle explained about the one thousand year reign in Heaven while the bad souls are staying down on earth. Then, when the thousand years were over, those souls will be dragged to Hell and the kingdom of Heaven would return on Earth where there would be peace forevermore.
Jenna was pressing on, keeping her head facing forward and wasn’t even turning to meet my gaze.
I hurried up to her side. “Slow down, will you?” I mumbled. “I thought you didn’t want to go too far.”
“Well, we have to get somewhere!” She snapped. “We need to meet Hannah and Raman. They’re probably already waiting for us back at the city. I’m trying to find a good place where we could communicate with our SoulBirds to trace where they are.”
Dewey hopped along a small brook and stuck his beak in the water. “This place seems pretty nice! We got water right here!”
“Ah!” Jenna raised her expression and walked up to the little SoulBird. “So the land of Bhad does have some natural water.”
I scoffed. “Be thankful for it right now-- this is all the water we may ever find besides just boiling fire water.”
Jenna dipped her bare feet into the small brook. “Ugh, it’s still as warm as a hot tub but its will do.”
Jenna sat by the brook with her feet in the water. Grace and Dewey played around for a moment while Jenna stared across the brook towards the land out of the tree ahead, looking deep in thought.
I hung behind and eyed them with scorn. I didn’t want to stick with Jenna any longer than I had to. Hopefully we would find Hannah or someone from Heaven that can help us unite with Michael’s angels and fight that Beast.
Suddenly, I looked around, wondering if Lucien would actually appear out of nowhere like he’s been doing recently. What if the hellhounds dug their way from underground and attacked us while we slept? He was Higher One of the place-- he could do whatever he wanted.
I looked around, hoping that we were as far from his territory as possible. Perhaps we should have made it to the outlands since at least the Higher One couldn’t track us down.
I glanced at Jenna. “You should look into Grace and try to communicate with Hannah’s SoulBird whenever you can,” I remarked. “We don’t wanna hang around here more than we should.”
Jenna turned to fix me with a piercing gaze. “I know that! I will! If you’re in such a hurry, why don’t you use your own SoulBird?”
I gave her a sideways look. “Dewey doesn’t like to obey me any more than I obey him.”
Jenna rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you come here and cool down? The land has been so hot, it’s driven me crazy! I don’t know how you spirits can stand it.”
I chuckled. “So you weren’t born into the land of Bhad at the beginning of your afterlife?”
“Hell no!” She scoffed. “I was born in Primal only several months ago! Like you, I was killed in the apocalypse to come to this afterlife. I was chosen to go to Heaven, nor was I bad enough to go to Hell. Luckily, I wasn’t placed in the lowliest position here like YOU were.” She eyed be scornfully.
I kept a bored look on her. “Yeah? Well, that’s too bad. The land of Primal is not much of a higher land than it is.”
“It’s the middle!” She snapped. “Primal’s not considered an upper land or a lower land! It’s between both!”
I shrugged and turned to look away from her. She wasn’t going to give up on an argument anymore than I wasn’t. I turned to wander into the woods.
“Where are you going?” She called.
“Nothin’ you’d care about,” I replied quietly so that she probably didn’t hear me clearly.
I stopped to gaze at a burnt tree. I peered closely at the trunk and realized it wasn’t burnt, but splattered with blood. I touched it with my finger and then gave a wince of disgust. The blood was gooey and wet. I rubbed it on my shirt, but it was still stuck to my fingers.
Rolling my eyes, I turned to get back to the brook and washed my hands. I looked down at the bright sun and moon reflecting on the water, and then at my own reflection.
Suddenly, my reflection dissolved. The face of Damien was staring up at me with an evil smirk across his face. I yelled with surprise and jumped back.
Damien was chuckling evilly. His eyes were a red glint. “You’ll never find all three SoulBirds, Zachariah,” his voice seemed to echo in my head as he stared devilishly from the water. “There will always be one with me….forever….”
His red eyes seemed to swirl and bleeding and with a sickening daze, I picked up a rock and threw it right at the reflection. His face immediately disappeared.
I was panting, feeling my heart beat noisily. Did I just imagine that again?
“Hey!” Jenna’s loud snappy voice made me flinch and whip around to face her. She raised her expression. “Whoa, what crawled up your soul?”
“I-I saw Damien’s face in the pool. I saw him! His reflection was just right there!” I pointed to the brook behind me.
Jenna huffed and crossed her arms. “Ugh, as if.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “If you don’t wanna believe me, fine then. I’ll have him torture me by myself.”
She gave a nod and stuck out her chin. “You go do that. I’ve traced Hannah’s SoulBird and apparently, they are already along the outlands of this land since they heard of Lucien’s chase on us.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Really? They’re back there that fast?”
“Yeah, we should get there as fast as we can before Lucien appears out of nowhere.”
It turned out that we were already quite close to the outlands. Within ten minutes, we were looking around at more dry grass and tall trees that had dead leaves. Jenna and I decided to rest until morning since dawn was already arriving.
That night, I fell into a surprisingly deep sleep. I was hoping to meet Angeline and Lexie in another star-portal dream but unfortunately, I couldn’t choose what I wanted.
I woke up in another realistic dream though, feeling the same way I had felt when I met Angeline. I was freezing cold though-- the land around me was covered in snow and I felt chilled to the bone. The headband on my head was the only thing to warm me, but in this chilling weather, it barely heated up.
I shivered and hugged myself, narrowing my eyes around myself. The area was a rolling flat land of snow ahead of me and behind. Snow blew around me from the thick blank sky. To my left was a high cliff covered with ice and snow glazed over the ledges. To my far right the land was cut off as the edge of the cliff in which I was on.
I was so cold that I couldn’t move. I was waiting for myself to wake up from this dream, but I was freezing so badly that I almost thought this was for real.
Suddenly, there was a rumble in the sky. I looked up as my hair whipped around my face. Oh great. Was there going to be more of a storm than there already was?
In the distance, a shot of lightning struck the snow ahead, and I found it interesting for there to have been lightning in this kind of snowy weather.
I felt a spark in my pocket and remembered that I still had my rosary. Reaching into my pocket with cold stiff hands, I was just about to slip out the rosary until I heard a loud piercing cry.
Looking up, I strained my eyes to see a moving creature in the distance. It was an air type SoulBird, and it was giving out its cooing musical cry. The sound echoed piercingly through the mountains and suddenly the bird was rising higher. It was gazing over at me with neither a devil glow or an angel glow around its body. It had no halo or devil horns-- it looked like a natural living SoulBird.
Perhaps I was on Earth? I wondered…..
“Zach…..” A lady was suddenly forming in the storm ahead. The falling snow was twirling together like a tornado, and in the middle of the spiraling snow, the body of a woman was starting to form. She was calling my name-- her voice was becoming more and more clear until I was staring across the land at a tall thin lady with long black hair flowing from behind. The lady was dressed in a light ice blue dress that trailed behind her in the wind, and around her waist there hung white sharp icicle shaped cloths that blew in the wind.
I was drawn to the lady and she almost reminded me of Mira for a moment, though this lady was too prim and rich looking to look like the dirty gothic teen girl. This lady was also no teenager-- from here I could see that she had eyes the color of dark violet and they were the sharpest most piercing eyes I had ever seen. They looked like they could stab me from this distance just by staring at me.
“Zachariah,” the lady’s voice was calm, but she had a hard tone that sounded like she could be a very loud yeller. “Come…’re freezing. Warm your soul over here.” She stretched out her left arm to the side to welcome me.
I was too cold to think. Forcing myself to walk up against the wind, I made my way towards the lady. She kept her piercing sharp gaze fixed on me and she seemed to smile as I gave her a look of sorrow and let her wrap her long arm around me.
Looking up at the lady, I realized how tall she really was. She was probably almost as tall as Lucien himself. As she hugged me against her side, I felt how ice clod her dress was, and how thin her tall body was. Gazing up at her face, she was like a powerful goddess of ice-- so astonishingly beautiful with a pale white face that almost blended in with the snow around her.
On her head she wore a light blue crown with sharp piercing ends at the top. Her shoulder were bare as her air type SoulBird landed with a studying look on me. Her SoulBird too-- something about the creature made me feel a feeling I never felt for SoulBirds; a feeling of admiration and interest for the lady and her graceful creature.
The lady smiled at me and I felt my spirit immediately warm in her grasp. “Awfully cold out here….” She spoke distantly. “Let me get us out of this storm.”
She raised her other hand and cast out a long thin spear, much like Lucien’s except for the bluish white color and curving blade at the top, and she raised it high towards the Heavens until the blizzard wound around us and disappeared.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a cave with a lighted glow in the center. It wasn’t fire, but instead it was the lady’s air SoulBird standing with its long feathery wings wrapped behind its back.
The lady suddenly reached out and laid her cold hand on me. She was wearing cold black gloves over her pale white hands.
Startled, I flinched and the flames on my head suddenly burst with hotness.
The lady behind me screamed and jumped back, glaring at me with a look of raging fury.
“Pierrr maquii!“ The lady screamed some strange words and struck out both her hands at me. A shot of ice hit me in the face and I fell to the ground just in front of her SoulBird, who flinched and cooed ominously, flapping its long wings and breathing out a breath of cold air at my head, and immediately, my headband’s fire froze into a sharp glacier of pointed ice. My head felt an awe coldness and I felt like I was wearing an ice crown just like the lady herself.
The lady was panting angrily, glaring at me. “Foolish boy….” she muttered dangerously. “You don’t know any better, though. My apologies.” She stepped forward and lent down a hand to me and for a moment, I just stared up at her with a startled look. “Come on now!” She hissed, her voice piercing the cave. “I haven’t rescued you for nothing.”
I slowly grabbed her hand and she pulled me up easily. For a moment, I was just standing in front of her, gazing up into her purple sharpening eyes. They were like no eyes I had ever seen-- I didn’t think they were even human eyes. They looked sharp like isosceles.
She looked at me carefully and then made her way around me until she was standing at my side, fixing her gaze on me with a half smile. I looked up at her, and found myself admiring this strange lady. She seemed powerful and from the look on her face, she seemed a lot like a goddess that could take on almost anything.
“Zachariah Ezekreth,” she spoke my name with a low voice. Her eyes were a blazing purple and they bore into me like daggers. I felt scared and intrigued. “Do not be afraid,” her voice was rather sharp than comforting. “Do not be afraid, for I am not here to harm you. I am but a lost spirit myself.”
“Lost spirit?” I questioned. “Who are you? Are you an angel from Heaven?”
The lady’s eyes blinked and she chuckled slyly. “Oh no, my dear. Heaven is far from the place I come from, though it is not far from my reach.” Her eyes flashed. Her SoulBird gave a low murmuring coo and stared at me blankly with its small dark button eyes.
I gasped. “Are you from Hell? You can’t be from Hell….” This lady may look stern and powerful, but not in a bad way-- though at the same time it wasn’t in a good way either. She was stunningly beautiful and something about her made me feel both exhilarated and scared.
The lady chuckled. “Dear child,” she spoke with a calm tone, though her voice was clear, kind of like a cross between Annabelle and Grenada. Her voice was edgy and hard, though when she spoke softly, she had that soothing tone that Annabelle always had. “I am not from the fiery confines of Hell,” she spoke in a careful tone. “The world of Hell is too fiery for me-- and I am NOT the fire type.” She met my gaze with a wink.
“So where are you from? Are you from Purgatory?”
“No-- the world I come from is a….very different place you may not understand.” The lady wrapped her arm around me and smiled. Though she was cold, I felt a warmth in my soul at her touch. “I am what you may call…..a time traveler. I come from an entirely different dimension, a world far from the reach of Earth, Heaven, Hell, and even Purgatory. I am Prima Dona, sorceress of ice, shape shifter of the dimensions.” She turned and eyed her air type SoulBird. “This is my SoulBird… may call her Madonna.”
I raised my eyebrows at her words and continued to stare up into her eyes, falling lost in her gaze. Prima Dona-- and Madonna. How classy.
“I was wondering who you were-- you seemed lost, like you didn’t belong in this world either.” Prima Dona looked down at me with a fixed sharp gaze.
“Um….I’m only dreaming-- at least I think I am…”
The lady raised her eyebrows. “Dreaming? I must be in one of those dream world dimensions again, aren’t I? I’m sorry…..what world do you come from?”
“I’m from Purgatory. I originally came from Earth but then I died and my unfortunate afterlife lies in Purgatory.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said the lady rather tartly. “I understand that concept about afterlife. But you’re from Purgatory? What stage?”
I bit my tongue. “Primal….”
“Liar,” her eyes flashed and I was expecting her to seize me. But she remained calm as she glared. “You are a Bhad spirit, aren’t you?” She gave a sideways smile. “Don’t feel ashamed. There’s many other worse worlds out there than the land of Bhad could ever be.”
I huffed and looked down, feeling embarrassed. I said nothing.
“Zach,” she gently grabbed my chin with two fingers and lifted my face up to her. “You are unhappy, aren’t you?” Her eyes seemed to be studying me.
“Yeah…I guess. Who are you-- I mean, how do you know my name?”
She etched a smile. “I know the names of all spirits I read. Spirits I’ve always been able to easily read them-- mortal bodies, not so much. But I tell you-- as a time-traveler and a sorceress, I am able to read into the souls of living creatures in the living mortal worlds, and interpret their spirits inside. Here, in the afterlife, you all are already spirits so it is much easier to easily read. You are Zach-- spirit of Purgatory, placed in the lands of Bhad where the uprisings of Hell are getting ever so close, aren’t you?”
I widened my eyes and nodded. “I bet you know everything about what’s going on then?”
She chortled. “Oh yes, I’ve been watching your world far more than you think. Since the beginning of the apocalypse several months back, I’ve been keeping my eye over the worlds in the afterlife, watching over each world through the power of aura and ice.”
Her eyes flashed and in her other hand, she gripped her tall spear. The blade flashed and reflected a bright white light from the air SoulBird, and I was looking at a reflected image of a dry desolate land.
I gasped. “The land of Bhad!”
“That’s right,” she said slyly. “The element of ice is unmistaken-- it has the power to freeze auras, and unless it is controlled and melted, can those auras be free. I know how to deal with ice just as Satan can deal with fire. Through the frozen aura of ice, I can interpret worlds in other dimensions before I shape shift into those worlds. I’ve lived a long lifetime-- for I am immortal like the angels of the sky. I’ve lived years in many different dimensions-- including Earth itself.”
I gave a sideways look. “Wow.” She must have made herself famous at some point. “What year did you come experience Earth?”
“Oh, I’ve come there through many years. I’ve enjoyed the planet quite well, I’ve come back more than once!” She chuckled. “But of course, I couldn’t just make appearances several years later after I mysteriously disappear. I would come at some point, live my life and experience, then disappear and not come back until several hundred years later or so.”
“Did you ever come around the year 41030?” That had been the year I was born, according to what Lucien had told me.
“Oh yes,” Prima Dona’s smile grew. “Such a time that was-- that was close to the apocalypse, wasn’t it?”
I nodded. “That was when I was born.”
“Ah,” her eyes gleamed. “No wonder you seem so familiar. We have met once before you know.”
“Really? Did you met my parents too?”
“Oh, yes. They were ruling over the city of Jerusalem, weren’t they?”
“I guess so. I barely remember a thing except for what the Higher One had told me.”
Prima Dona’s gaze faltered. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you lose all your memory?”
I nodded. “And unfortunately, I was too….unworthy to go to Heaven.” I told her all about my story, about how my parents were both full of evil and pride, and how they tried to pull me to be like them through my mother’s abuse and my father’s spoiling. I told her about how I came here and lived in the academy of St. Gretchen and how the creepy janitor was my Uncle Ebenezer, and I explained his significance with my parents as well. I told her everything that had happened up to this point.
At last, Prima Dona nodded, understanding who I was and why I was here.
“I see,” she was eying me carefully. “Zachariah-- you are a very worthy spirit. Trust me. I can read it on you easily. You are more than just a medium trying to do better in Purgatory.”
I looked down and narrowed my eyes. “Sometimes I just feel like I’m no other than a worthless old spirit no good for any place. Sometimes I think there’s no other reason why I’m in this world-- because I wasn’t good enough for the most perfect place in the world, nor the worst place in the world.”
Prima Dona nodded. “I understand you. It’s not such an excitement to be middling all the time, isn’t it? Sometimes you feel like you deserve the best, or you don’t deserve it at all. Getting a little bit of both just confuses you and doesn’t satisfy you, hmm?”
I nodded slowly. “I don’t know whether to be nothing but pure evil, or nothing but pure righteous. Right now, I just feel like I’m nothing.” I looked up at her with worry. “But I am probably falling closer to becoming all evil.”
“Oh, you really think so?” Her eyebrows raised.
“Look at me-- I still wear this stupid headband.” I kept myself from feeling any strong emotion so that the flames flickered. I kept in mind that Prima Dona was a strong hater of fire. I couldn’t feel any such warmth anyway, for the ice was surprisingly strong enough to hold back the fire that burned inside. “I’ve been through so many punishments and pissed off so many people that I don’t even care anymore.”
“Well, Zach,” Prima Dona put her hand on my shoulder. “You’re not worthless. You’re more than just a regular medium striving for the top or giving up for the bottom. You are special. I can see it.”
I winced. “That’s what Hannah would tell me. Except she’d say ‘the Lord sees that I’m special.’”
The lady narrowed her eyes. “Has the Lord ever told you that Himself?”
“Well…..I’ve never really kept such a connection with Him….I’ve never kept long connections with anyone in my life or afterlife.” Unless they forced me to-- like Saint Grenada or Annabelle.
Prima Dona smiled. “Zach, if there ever is anything you’d like to talk about, you can always discuss it with me. You can always trust me-- no one will ever know of your visits to me, or a single word that you speak to me.”
I was starting to feel nauseous. “This dream really is happening as I sleep, don’t I?”
“It appears so,” she was gazing closely at me. “But that’s alright. We are in a faraway world ourselves, for this is the land of my birth. I was born in everlasting coldness-- my body is shared with the ice. This world is far from the world that contains Earth or the worlds of the afterlife. Whatever you tell me here will not be heard by anyone of the other different dimensions.”
I raised my eyebrows. “What about….my saints? They are always watching over me….”
“Not in this dream they won’t,” said Prima Dona seriously. “This is a world where the endless ice lives, a land of pure freeze and thriving coldness. Like I said-- the ice traps the aura and freezes it. No aura of your saints can trace the aura within this world because the ice is so powerful.”
I felt my own body start to chill up, but this time, with longing. “And you control this ice?” I would really expect such a thing from this sorceress.
She was nodding. “Madonna and I-- we reign over this land since I was the first soul to have been born of this ice, and Madonna was the first soul I called up and brought to life through the ice. I am the only soul that has ever lived in these icy worlds, for any spirit that comes to live here shall freeze from the power of the ice. Only my spirit was ever so strong to have been born from the ice, to live on and provide more power for the ice within. I do get lonely, being the only spirit in my own world, so that‘s why I‘ve learned to time-travel through the strong power of ice-- to break through the dimensions and find my way into other different worlds. I also created Madonna so I didn’t get so lonely.”
I looked at the air SoulBird. “So that’s why she’s not an angel or a devil SoulBird?”
“She is not exactly a SoulBird altogether,” said Prima Dona, grimacing. “I formed her soul out of ice and used the power of psychics to put together her outside body. I made her look like the air type SoulBirds that I discovered when I first came to visit the world of Purgatory. I found those creatures pretty interesting-- but I knew I couldn’t take any home with me. Any soul would die in this world of ice, for like I said-- the ice is powerful enough to freeze any minds that try to read this place, or freeze any soul that tries to enter this world.”
“Then why am I here?”
“This is what I meant-- something about you is special,” Prima Dona’s eyes gleamed at me. “You are a very specific medium, Zach. don’t underestimate yourself-- you are more special than you think. I was surprised to have found you wandering in this world in the first place.”
“I’m sorry-- it’s not like I meant to invade this world, I just fell asleep and randomly found myself here in a dream.”
“Well, somehow you managed to break through the strong portals frozen by powerful ice. Somehow, your spirit was able to break through to take the survival in this place. Many times I’ve had spirits come follow me to my own world when I time traveled, and they’ve all foolishly disbelieved my warnings. I have seen many spirits turn to ice and their auras freeze away and never come back because of the extreme power of this world. But you-- your aura possesses a strength that can break through the ice. You have been my first visitor to this world, in almost twenty-four thousand years.”
I gasped. “You’re really that old?!”
Prima Dona chuckled. “Well, twenty-four thousand, three hundred and nineteen, but let’s just say I’m twenty four thousand, kay?” She gave me a mischievous smile.
I coughed a laugh. “How bout just twenty four?”
“Oh please!” She rolled her eyes and gave a sideways smile. “You have nooo idea how it’s like to live twenty-four thousand years! I could not hold back a laugh or scoff every time someone would say I’m only twenty or thirty years old.”
I chuckled. “Dang. How old’s Madonna?”
The air SoulBird cooed and Prima Dona gave her pet a tickle under the chin. “Well, I got her not very long after I learned the ways to time travel. She’s about….twenty-four thousand nine hundred? Something like that,” she winked at her SoulBird. “But there’s not much of a difference between her and me.”
I snickered. “Only six hundred years difference.”
“Yes, whatever. We’ll put it that way,” she gave her SoulBird a kiss on the tiny beak. Then she turned to face me again. “But Zach—you must understand how important this is. I’ve never had such a spirit survive like this in my world. I mean, yes, you were freezing to your bones when you first arrived here, but your soul didn’t freeze up when it was just a distance away from breaking through and appearing to exist here. I say, Zach, you are a very special medium, and I think that power you have to break through to my world comes from that fiery power of evil that you obtained from your parents.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You think? My mother…..she was born of pure evil. Uncle E says she had a strange soul that was so evil, she didn’t even make it to Hell.”
Prima Dona raised an eyebrow. “That’s odd,” she spoke tartly. “There’s no other afterlife but Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. And the only place worse than Hell would be my world. For in my world, a world of everlasting ice and coldness, an aura not only suffers from such pain and eternal fire, but disappears altogether after freezing up eternally in the ice of this world.”
“Well then, I guess this place is NOT as worse as Hell because at least your spirit totally disappears forever instead of existing to suffer forever.”
“Well, your mother cannot be here,” her eyes flashed. “My world is far too powerful, and if her soul could have escaped to here, I surely would have known about it—because I am born of this ice, and I am part of the ice myself.”
“My mother must have not died then. She could have disappeared into some other dimension. That’s what Uncle E predicted.”
“Perhaps,” Prima Dona was narrowing her eyes at me. “Your mother’s name was Sarah Madonne. She was a very sweet lady to me when I met her, though.”
I looked up at the lady. “You actually met my parents?”
“I spoke to the king and queen of Jerusalem once I found out they had taken over the city. I knew about their treacherous secret of killing the former king. Your uncle wasn’t the only one to have known.”
“Oh….” I thought back and then closed my eyes. “Did you remember my father’s name? I didn’t even know my mother’s name until Uncle E mentioned it and then it all came back as déjà vu. I would remember my father’s name if he had told me as well…..but he didn’t. And neither did Lucien.”
“Hmph!” Prima Dona raised her eyebrows. “That’s strange. Well your father I found a very handsome man and I was almost thinking of killing your mother for him,” her smile became devious. “I am very capable of doing such things. And your father was AMAZINGLY stunning to me—even though he remains in Hell of the eternal fire.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t start it.” I swear I was going to kill my spirit in this world if someone ranted about how hot my father used to look.
Prima Dona chuckled. “Well, your father looked just like you. His name….was Lucifer.”
At that moment, the ice upon my head crashed and a small spark of fire started to flicker underneath. My eyes became wide and I was horrified.
Prima Dona flinched and Madonna gave a distracted cooing cry. “Zach, what’s the matter now?” Prima Dona sounded rather snappish at the sight of my fire.
I couldn’t believe it—but I could. Lucifer. I recalled that moment in the mosque of Harg when Uncle E was helplessly crying out, “Lucifer! Lucifer!” And the devilish gaze of Lucien was staring him in the face. Of course—it was no wonder. Uncle E was crying out to Lucifer, my father. And he was right there in front of Lucien.
I felt a striking blow at my head again and I had another brainfreeze. I immediately snapped out of it and faced Prima Dona who had struck me with her icy powers again.
“Sorry….it’s just that…” I couldn’t quite speak.
“The Higher One,” spoke Prima Dona for me. “He’s your father, isn’t he?”
“Lucien…” I was catching my breath. “He really is my father. He’s Lucifer—the brother of my Uncle Ebenezer. The thief prince of Jerusalem that stole Sarah from him!” I could just compare now—the image of my father in that dream I had of him in Hell. His face that was covered with a blankness became clear now, and I was looking up to the devilish eyes of Lucien. The tall, seven-foot structure of the guy—he was truly my father. And I couldn’t believe it—yet I easily could.
Prima Dona narrowed her eyes. “Hmph….to think you were born of his blood too—your blood contains the evil that flowed from your mother, but now that you’re dead, your spirit in the afterlife is affected by the evil within both your parents. Zach, that’s what makes you strong enough to have broken here in my world.”
“I’m sorry—I really mean no harm,” I was starting to feel even colder than I had been when I had first arrived here.
But Prima Dona only chuckled. “Nonsense—you don’t have to feel any sorrow. I like you, Zach,” she smiled at me. “Whatever you feel like you need to discuss, you can talk to me about it. I won’t betray you—but you better not betray me.” Her eyes flashed. “Don’t tell another soul about my world, or how you’ve visited me. My world may be powerful enough for other coming spirits who try to break in, but still. Keep this quiet, and don’t tell anyone about our meeting, for they will surely suspect you and become curious about why you have such power for this world. Don’t tell anyone about your meeting with me, and I won’t tell anyone about my meeting with you.”
I nodded respectfully.
“Of course—I probably wouldn’t have found out about my father if it weren’t for you. I probably would’ve found out when it would have been too late.” I managed to force a smile at the ice lady. “Thanks, Prima Dona.”
Madonna gave a coo and Prima Dona smiled back with her thin red lips. “No problem, dear boy. Remember—you can tell me anything or ask me of any help along your journey. I will truly keep our conversations secret in this secretly frozen world, and you will be safe with me.”
I blinked. “What about my SoulBird, Dewey?”
“Oh-ho-ho,” Prima Dona chortled. “Dear, not even the SoulBird is stronger than the likes of this world—like I said, ALL souls would freeze and perish before they even set foot upon the very land.”
I chuckled. “Good.” I didn’t want Dewey to be infiltrating on these such dreams.
Prima Dona smiled. “It’s probably time you should wake. Our moments do take time, and we don’t want you falling asleep forever to this world.” She gave me a wink.
“Hehe, of course not….” I was already finding myself slowly drifting away. Prima Dona and her SoulBird shortly vanished, and I was blinking my eyes open to a scorching hot sun.

“Wake up already, Zach!” Jenna gave me a sharp shove on the shoulder and I blinked my eyes open. The sun was shining hotly on my face and I gave a wince of irritation from the sudden brightness.
Dewey’s head appeared in front of my face and his long beak pointed down as he gleamed mischievously. “Having good dreams without me?”
I sat up and felt the sharp twigs in the back of my hair. My dream…..had that really been a dream if Dewey hadn’t been part of it? Yes, of course it was a dream, but it was a star-portal dream at that. I had literally somehow escaped to another world that wasn’t the world of afterlife, nor was the world of the temporal life. Prima Dona’s world had been a vast expansion of ice and coldness. No spirit but hers would have ever survived in such a place, but I had. I looked at my forearms and raised my sleepy expression. They were paler than normal. As I felt them, they were somewhat cooler and not yet hot enough from being under the warm morning sun. I really had dreamt my way into that….ice realm.
Jenna huffed and gave me a look. “Zach! Hello?! You can moon over your arms while we search for Hannah and Michael’s angels. Right now we gotta hurry! I just got word through Grace that they’ve countered a tribe of savages and are taken captive.”
I met her gaze. “Really? Savages took the angels captive?”
“Well, the angels may be able to easily defeat them, but they choose not to. The spirits mean no harm to them at the moment so it wouldn’t hurt for them to stick around until we find them as soon as we can. They said they’re just right over a dry hill where the hot water from the brook flows. We can catch up with them from there.”
As soon as we set out, thoughts in my mind kept occurring about the dream and the strange ice lady, Prima Dona. I kept slightly behind Jenna as she pressed on quickly, keeping my head down with frustration as I continued to think deeply about what had just happened. I glanced over at Dewey, who was staring at me intently.
I narrowed my eyes. “What?”
“Hmph! Pretty rude for you to have a dream and not share it with a lifelong partner that could have made it better!”
I gave him a sideways look. Actually no, he would not have made it better. My moment with Prima Dona was personal, and she was the only spirit I knew that I could finally find private times with. Every time I had been dreaming, Dewey had either been part of it, or he would just know about it. This time finally, the nosy little SoulBird could finally be absent from my dreams so that I can have a moment of peace and private time.
Also, if it weren’t for Prima Dona…..
“So you’ve discovered Lucien’s your father, huh?” Dewey continued to speak.
Jenna, Grace, and I all turned to Dewey with disbelieved looks.
Dewey snickered. “Ask Zach! He’s the one who had the dream without me.”
“How could you have a dream without a SoulBird?” Grace winced. “SoulBirds are supposed to either take part in a dream or shape one up for you.”
I gave a wry look. “Well, it wouldn’t hurt for a spirit to finally get a dream in peace without the presence of his SoulBird for once.”
Jenna was eying me. “What was it about Lucien that you dreamt about? How can you totally be sure he’s your father?”
Dewey huffed. “Well, he’s tall and extremely hot for one! Just look at all the attention he gets from the ladies!” Dewey raised his eyebrows twice.
Jenna gave a disgusted look. “I totally find nothing gorgeous about him,” she said scornfully. “I think he’s rude and conceited—overall evil. Nothing but a son of Satan!”
“Excuse me, that’s my father you’re talking about,” I said with a teasing look.
Jenna glared at me.
“I don’t know how I figured it out but I did,” I said. “Déjà vu hits me like a bomb. It just somehow came to me and I recognized everything clearly. I remembered my father’s name! he was Lucifer—the exact name I saw my uncle calling Lucien when they met in the mosque of Harg.”
“Well what about your mother then?” Grace looked up at me.
“My mother….she’s still missing from the world—we can’t be sure whether she’s in the temporal worlds or the worlds of afterlife.”
“Well, if she were in the afterlife, she’d be in Hell, that’s for sure,” said Dewey ruefully. “Ugh, if this dream were as important to have led you to your memory of your father, why wasn’t I in it? That just doesn’t make sense!”
I crossed my arms and gave him a proud look. “Too bad. You were probably so nosy that you must have missed the most important part of what I was dreaming about.”
“Now that’s nonsense!” A sharp firm voice cracked through the air and Saint Grenada and Saint Annabelle showed up.
“You guys again!” Said Jenna, looking up at the angels.
I rolled my eyes. Grenada was facing me with an angered look. “Now, what you’ve done, Zach, has been totally off guard! For a spirit to have dreams without the presence of a SoulBird to be able to read it means something very serious!”
Annabelle looked at me longingly. “Perhaps the child had another one of those star-portal dreams?”
“Nonsense!” Grenada repeated. “Even in star-portal dreams, the SoulBirds would be able to have read it.”
I grumbled angrily under my breath. I finally had a dream in private and here were the spirits making a big deal about it.
Annabelle seemed apologetic for their disturbance. “Oh, come now! Don’t bother the child. Perhaps he’s just had a dream he’s too ashamed or embarrassed to tell about. We shouldn’t force him to share it with the world.”
“Don’t share it with the world—just share it with me!” Said Dewey. “I’m your SoulBird!”
“Well, I bet you saints are just jealous you finally didn’t get to watch over and stalk me when you finally wanted to,” I glared up at the saints. “Whatever it was that I dreamed about, it’s helped me a lot and I’ve finally found out about who my father was.”
Annabelle flinched. “Oh dear! The child knows now!”
Saint Grenada rolled her eyes. “At last! Sheesh, it wasn’t that hard! Couldn’t one look in Lucien’s eyes have told you something?”
I scoffed. “Apparently it didn’t until I had that dream.”
Jenna blinked and looked at me and then faced the hovering angels. “Well, does it matter whether Zach can have such dreams? It’s not gonna hurt anyone, is it?”
Annabelle smiled warmly and clasped her hands together. “Oh, Zach wouldn’t be dreaming it if it were to hurt anyone. The boy surely would never mean anyone such harm anyway.”
I gave a raised look at Annabelle and held back a laugh. Grenada just grunted and gave her sister a look.
“Listen fools!” Grenada raised her voice. She pointed at me. “You, especially, need to be careful especially now that you’re trailing in the outlands of Purgatory. Whatever dreams you have—make sure you interpret them correctly. Usually, they aren’t supposed to mean as much as they used to in the temporal life. For in the temporal life, the creatures could dream and sometimes those dreams could be their only connection with the eternal life. But when you’re already in the eternal life, dreams mean more to you, more than just cobwebs designed by SoulBirds. Sometimes, you can even dream up such dreams like star-portal dreams—when you dream up such a moment that can truly happen in another place, but that can only happen if you’re a spirit. But those dreams are still controlled by the SoulBirds of that spirit. Zach, if you had a dream that wasn’t designed by your own SoulBird, and it was a dream that not even the angels above your world can read, then it is most likely that the dream could be a trap.” Her eyes were dark and serious. They pierced towards me, but they weren’t as piercing as Prima Dona’s.
I stared back with a simple look. Dewey was still narrowing his small round eyes at me. “Yeah, and you better watch out—I may not be able to read that dream, but I can read your soul and mind about it.”
Jenna huffed. “Zach, would it not hurt just to confess your stupid dream to us? We’re wasting time just standing here talking about it!”
I rolled my eyes. “Do I tell YOU what you’re thinking about every time you’re not speaking?”
Suddenly, an arrow shot passed my face and hit the tree to my right. The tree immediately withered and sunk to the ground. Raising my expression, I turned to face Jenna with a wincing look, but she hadn’t been the one to have thrown that arrow.
Dewey gasped. “Look! Faeries!”
To the left, a small hovering creature was glaring at us with redness in its eyes. Its body was the size of a SoulBird—merely a foot tall, and it had long hair that hung longer than its height. It was a female, and on its back it had glittering wings that flapped like a dragonfly’s.
Grenada hissed. “A dragonfly angel. There’s no such thing as fairies. These are just simple middle-world angels that don’t belong in Heaven.”
“Oh my, these are the native inhabitants in Purgatory, aren’t they?” Annabelle cupped her hands over her mouth.
I winced. “Native inhabitants?”
Jenna huffed and spoke quietly. “Don’t you Bhadland mediums learn anything? The spirits born into this world that are NOT resurrected spirits of those from earth, are born into this world naturally and live on eternally in this world. The Purgatory angels here aren’t very common though—they thrive only in the outlands, away from the busy life of the stages as spirits pass through.”
I winced at the dragonfly angel as she hovered higher, moving her arms in circles. “Are they any dangerous?”
“Of course,” scoffed Grenada. “Any soul from this world has a bit of danger inside them, though they are not all bad. Sometimes these angels, though, can bring a bit of help as well as pain, for these angels aren’t Heavenly as those in Heaven, nor devilish like the devils in Hell.”
I huffed. “So they aren’t fully angels and neither are they fully devils. I’m just gonna call them faeries then.”
And suddenly, all at once, the dragonfly faerie created a spiral twist in the air as it spun its arms in circles. The faerie gave a blow at the spiraling twist, aiming it towards us like a tiny twister.
Dewey gasped, for the twist was nearing his face. He hopped backwards and let out a tweet. “Oh no! Looks like I’m stuck in a tornado that’s gonna suck out my soul!” Dewey was speaking sarcastically. He hopped by Grace with a mischievous look. “Seriously! Is this all they’ve got?”
“No! That twist can suck your spirit out of this world and down to Hell!” Yelled Grenada.
The faerie was circling her arms faster and faster, and suddenly, about seven more twists were created in the air, twisting their way towards us. Jenna and I ducked and scattered from the twists that whirled around after us.
It wasn’t long before the air became windy and fierce from the numerous amounts of tiny twists that was only the size of a hand.
“Run!” Cried Grenada, dashing away as the dragonfly faerie met her eyes and aimed another arrow at her.
Pretty soon, we were scattering from the tiny twisters in the air, scurrying through the trees and the thickets.
“Ugh! What the--?!” Jenna stopped and grabbed the back of her head. Just above her ponytail, a twig-sized arrow had struck the back of her head, caught in her red hair.
I laughed. “Wow! One little angel sure own you.”
She rolled her eyes and flicked the arrow out of her fingers.
Suddenly, she looked around and saw glittering eyes glaring at her from the trees. Peeking from the branches were hundreds of tiny faeries with gleaming red eyes full of fury.
“Uh-oh,” I muttered. The flames on my head started to flicker.
The faeries all aimed their arrows at us.
“Move!” Jenna whipped around to push me away but the faeries shot their arrows too quickly. Hundreds and hundreds of their arrows covered our backs and shot at us like stinging needles.
I yowled and Jenna screamed.
“Zach! Your rosary!” Jenna yelled, covering her head with her hands as more arrows darted at us from behind. The faeries were rapidly chasing and shooting after us as we ran through the woods.
I growled. “You think it would do any good against spirits from an intermediate world like this?”
“Just try it!”
“No way! I’m not risking my rosary again!”
Suddenly, we were driven out into the open, and we were standing out of the woods, in front of a huge old building made of bricks. From the looks of it, it looked deserted and dry mosses were already growing from the cracks in the bricks.
The trees rustled behind us and the whistling blow of tiny twisters sounded from the woods.
Jenna and I hurried inside the opening, which had no door, but was like a tunnel into a cave.
The building was large and empty inside, and Jenna looked around in awe.
“This looks similar to the church we have in Primal,” she said.
The walls around us were very high and the floor under our feet was bumpy and cracked just like the walls on the outside. The ceiling looked bumpy but it was the only part that didn’t look cracked. To both of our sides there were benches that looked tippy or ready to collapse and fall apart. Up ahead were three steps widening from one side to the other, leading up to a platform where a tall stand rose at the center.
I narrowed my eyes. We had learned of churches before, but I hadn’t paid much attention to their significance or studied them anymore than just looking at the pictures of them in our textbooks. This place actually did remind me of a church, though, for the walls also had glass windows patterned with shapes and different colors. They seemed to be revealing pictures, but the window was so dirty that I couldn’t make out what was of the different colors.
“So this is what a church is,” I muttered. “Why would one be in the land of Bhad?”
“Oh, you idiot!” Snapped Jenna. “Churches are the most important things a spirit could ever know about in the afterlife! How could you have no idea about churches? Every stage has at least one!”
“Hey! I’m not much of a success in my academy as you may have already guessed!” I turned to Jenna with a frown.
“Well, you should at least have heard of the churches in your own region! All stages have a church that appoints them when a spirit graduates. When a medium passes their stage, their passing is not determined by the High One or the headmaster of the academy. When the term is over for the academies, the mediums are taken to the land’s church where they will be judged on whether they have passed that land or not, before moving onto the next one.”
I narrowed my eyes and looked over her shoulder at the opening in the right wall. A stairway curved its way around to the top.
“I’m learning, I’m learning,” I replied. “We have gone over churches in our classes a number of times and this is all coming back to me. What’s up there? Is that where they are judged?”
Jenna crossed her arms. “Down here is where they are judged.” She replied tartly. “They pray during a sermon that is directed by the Higher One and the governor, who has the most connection with the Holy One. Then after the sermon, the mediums are led up to the upper chapel.”
A creepy hiss came from outside and from the distance, I could see the swarm of faeries crowding near the entrance.
Jenna grabbed my shoulder and pushed me in front of her, hurrying towards the stairway. “Go! They’re coming!”
I huffed as I ran up the stairs. “Apparently this church is too old to fend for us against these spirits.”
It took a long time to get to the top, and my legs were already getting tired.
“Hurry up!” Jenna was behind me and I was slowing down.
“Ugh! How long are these stairs? Why couldn’t have there been an elevator?”
“Churches and holy places don’t have such things, you dunce!”
Jenna gasped as a sizzling sound was heard from below. I started to feel dry air blow through from below, and I heard the whistle of the twisters.
“Go! Go! They’re coming!”
I hurried up the stairs as Jenna kept right behind me. And passing through the winding stairs, I started to notice all the carvings on either side of the walls. The ones on the right were filled with carvings of stars, constellations, and animals form the world of earth, slowly becoming winged creatures over the clouds as I continued to climb on.
But on the other side, the walls were filled with carvings of flames and fierce looking creatures from earth—bats, vicious dogs, terrible wildcats and insects, and as I climbed on, the pictures were slowly becoming more hellish until I was noticing the fiends and the ugliest creatures that rose from a fire, attacking each other and suffering from the terrible confines of fire.
I realized that Jenna and I were in between these pictures—running up the stairs between pictures of good, and pictures of bad.
“We’re in between such things!” I said as I turned form right to left, hurrying up.
“That’s right!” Hissed Jenna. “That’s because we’re of Purgatory! We must become one side or the other, and either find our way to Heaven or Hell. They say that during the time of graduation when the mediums are running up these stairs, those that have done well and deserve to pass their stage will feel cooled down with an uplifting feeling to keep running on the stairs with a new strength in themselves. But those who do not deserve to pass their stage will be tired out before they are halfway up the stairs, and instead, they will feel warmer and warmer as they reach the top.”
I widened my eyes at this and the flames burst on my head. “Oh, crap,” I muttered, struggling to hurry up. “I’m already dying up these stairs.”
Jenna huffed. “Relax! This is not graduation time anyway! The sermon has not even been done for us, so we would not be feeling any of the feelings we would be feeling if we graduate!”
An arrow shot over my head and hit the wall before Jenna and I turned around.
I cast her a sideways look. “Well, I sure am sweating and feeling the hotness from all this running up the stairs.”
“Oh stop it!” She gave me a sharp nudge and pushed passed me, hurrying up even faster.
I winced. “Hey! Wait up!” She disappeared as she wound around the stairs and I struggled to pick up my legs and continue to run upwards. But my legs were as stiff as rocks. I immediately tripped and fell to my knees as I tried to run.
Behind me, the swarm of angels were fluttering up, hissing and spitting with fire on their torches. When I looked at them, I couldn’t help noticing that they were devilish creatures from Hell, ready to drive me back down the stairs to the place of Satan.
A faerie leapt towards me with its tiny arms outstretched and its mouth wide open in a scowl.
“No!” I got up and hurried away, but then a strong wind pulled me back down and I fell backwards towards the swarm.
I landed on the back of my head and the tiny faeries tackled me, stabbing at me with hundreds of tiny needles. I yelled and cried, feeling my spirit bleed and ebb away.
“Zach!” Jenna’s scream sounded distant but suddenly I felt a hand grip my arm and yank me up to my feet. The faeries were surrounding me as I rose and they swarmed around Jenna as well.
She screamed and squeezed her eyes shut as she turned with a strong grip on my wrist. “Come on! We’re almost there!”
Swatting around myself as I hurried up the stairs, the fire on my head erupted and scared the faeries. I clenched my teeth and glared at each of the tiny creatures that stuck around me with a look of hatred on my face. I could feel the blood and fiery hotness dripping around my face and the faeries suddenly looked at me with fear. Some even turned and stopped swarming after me. Finally, we made it through the terrible tiny faeries.
The fire on my headband calmed down, but I was still feeling hot.
“Ugh…..oh great, I’m heating up in here.” I turned to Jenna, barely noticing that I had even stopped running. “You sure this means nothing that I’m not ready to leave this land?”
Jenna ignored my question and quickly glanced around the room. The place was a large rounded area and in a circular line at the end of the room there were openings that led into their own dark shadowy pathways. Torn curtains hung at the front of the rooms.
“Come on-- this is the room of anointing.” Said Jenna, pulling me forwards with her. “This is the final destination for the mediums for their graduation-- if they had made it up the stairs.”
I groaned. “What happens if they don’t?”
“The mediums MUST make it up the stairs for graduation. If not, that just means they’ve tired out and are not ready to graduate yet. If they can’t even get up to the place of final graduation, then that just means they’re far from being ready.”
I raised my eyebrows. “So I made it up! If this were graduation, would that mean I would be ready?”
“Not exactly,” Jenna whipped around to face me with a sour look behind her glasses. Her face was scratched up and bleeding a little bit from the faerie swarm. “Anyone could have made it up the stairs. But that’s just the first part of their graduation. The second and final part is when the spirit goes into one of these rooms,” she pointed around at the surrounding openings around us, “and within those rooms there awaits their final anointing when the Holy One.” She whipped around and started walking away towards a room. “Argh! You really should have paid attention to your studies! I’m NOT gonna be your teacher more than I need to!”
I chuckled and smiled. “You sure wouldn’t wanna be my teacher. I so wouldn’t want to be your student either.”
She turned to meet my gaze. “Oh, if I were your teacher, I’d make your afterlife so hard that you’d feel like you’ve entered Hell already.”
I chuckled. “You won’t be able to do so without having the same done to you as well.”
She narrowed her eyes and turned her back on me again. She stomped into the room, pushing back the torn curtain.
I followed her inside and looked around the room with wonder. It was small, about the size of the cells back at the Punishment House, but it smelled of incense inside. I had never smelled such incense as strong as this, and this church was already deserted to have such smells.
The walls were crumbled with old bricks like the rest of the church. Above on the low ceiling there was a mirror that I could look up and see my reflection gazing up from below.
“You wouldn’t be seeing your real reflection if you were meant to graduate,” said Jenna’s sharp voice. I turned to look forward at Jenna who stood only a few feet away from me at the end of the room. Above her head, hanging on the wall behind her, there was the cross, made of wood. It looked darker brown than the tiny one on my rosary. This cross reached the height from the top of Jenna’s head to the ceiling, which wasn’t very high. On the cross was the statue Son of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, nailed to it just like it showed on all the other crosses.
I stared passed Jenna at the Man on the cross. “Wh-what do you mean I wouldn’t see my reflection in the mirror?” I asked distractedly, not meeting her gaze.
Jenna eyed me and kept her arms crossed. “Well, you see those chains on either side of the wall? Zach!”
I blinked and snapped out of it. I glanced at my right and left and noticed the chains. They had handcuffs at the end.
“Those chains wrap around the spirit’s wrists,” explained Jenna. “While the grip is ever so strong, a fire burns from these floors and rise around the chained spirit. The spirit stands at the center-- right where you’re standing-- and the chains grab the wrists as fire dances around the spirits’ bodies. At that point, this cross right here, the statue of the Son will come alive and look forwards to judge the chained spirit.” Jenna’s eyes grew dark as she eyed me. “If the spirit has passed its stage of this land, then the Son will tell the spirit to look up at the mirror and the spirit will get a glimpse of the Heavenly world where angels are flying over on the reflection. The spirit will be freed from the chains and the Son will come from the cross and help the spirit rise from the fire, rising up towards the mirror above. The spirit goes through the mirror with the Son of the Holy One to find themselves in the church of the next stage they are to start.”
I stared with wonder and looked up at the mirror, visualizing what the angels of Heaven would look like as they hovered over me.
Jenna chuckled. “But if the spirit does not pass the stage in which they are in, the Son will tell the chained medium to look up in the mirror, and instead, they will only see their own reflection staring up from the terrible fires that are surrounding itself below. The Son won’t grant the spirit’s pass to enter the next stage, and instead, the chains loosen and the spirit is released only to be consumed by the terrible fire, appearing in the same church that the spirit entered in, finding themselves still existing in the stage they were currently in before.
“And if you think that’s the worst of it, that’s only if you do not pass and are just being held back to finish up your completion in your current stage. If you FAIL your stage so that you deserve to drop to the lower stage, then the chains around you will tighten. The Son on the cross won’t come alive at all, and if you get to look up at the mirror, you’ll get to see your reflection in the surrounding fires, and your reflection will be that of an ugly, terrible image of yourself in Hell. Hell creatures will rise from the surrounding fire and you will be attacked and consumed by the fire, and you’ll find yourself in the church of the stage lower than the one you were trying to graduate from.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Dang.”
Jenna raised her expression back at me. “Pass your glasses, Zach. The graduation ceremony would be all the more easier for you if you do what you’re supposed to do.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You too, Jenna. I hope you’re not doing any worse than I am,” I spoke sarcastically.
Jenna gave a piercing look and gave a sideways smile.
Suddenly, the church shook. I felt the ceiling pierces crumble over me. “What’s going on? Are the faeries back?” I felt the fires on my head burst with anger.
Suddenly, the curtains tore from behind. Two imps stood at the opening with devilish looks on their smiling snickering faces.
I jumped back. “Demetrius! Jezebelle!”
“Who and who?!” Jenna gave me a confused look.
“AHAHA!” Demetrius cast out his small trident and whipped it towards the front of him. Jezebelle tore the curtains in her hands and burned the remains with a fire from her pointed tail. Demetrius stepped forward. “Fools! Lookie here, Zach! You thought you defeated us at the temple of Harg?! HAH! You couldn’t even get rid of Jezebelle, let alone ME!”
I glared at the imp and started to feel the room heat up with the presence of these two hell creatures. I felt Jenna’s sharp stare from behind as the two imps stepped forward upon us.
“What are you doing in this chapel?!” I growled. “I bet Lucien’s weakened the holiness in this church, huh? That’s why it’s so old and collapsing?”
Jenna huffed. “Imps in the chapel! What the heck! This MUST have been some kind of act of the Higher One!”
Jezebelle crept to Demetrius’s side and glared at the redhead. “Huh! How nice, looks like Zach’s gotten another girlfriend? Who’s the chick now?”
Jenna and I widened our eyes with anger.
“I have no girlfriend,” I said with a look of disgust and hatred.
“Hah! I’ve turned down way too many guys to stop here,” added Jenna.
Demetrius snickered. “Well! Then you wouldn’t mind us set this place on fire! The Higher One assigned us to set fire all the churches in this world, starting with this old one.”
“You can’t do that!” Jenna yelled. “No matter how old a church is, it will always hold back those of the devil!”
Demetrius snickered. “Not us. We’re too powerful.”
He threw his trident towards the cross behind Jenna’s head. Jenna screamed but she didn’t duck. The tridents caught on fire, but before it struck the cross, the trident burst into flames and burnt itself up to ashes that dropped on Jenna’s head.
“Heh?” Demetrius winced with confusion.
Jezebelle scoffed and pushed the other imp aside. “Move it, damn you! Lemme show you how to do it.”
She flung at Jenna and the girl yowled, hitting against the wall behind her.
Jenna angrily threw the imp of her face, throwing Jezebelle all the way out of the room. With an angry yell, Jenna charged out of the room to attack the blasted imp.
I was just about to hurry after her but Demetrius immediately tripped me. I fell to my chin and then all around me, fire erupted and flames were dancing all around the room. Gasping and looking around, I saw the cackling imp running through the flames around me.
“Bah-hah! Trapped in your own graduation ceremony already? You’re goin’ down to Hell with me!” Demetrius’s taunting voice rang through the flames in the small room.
I sat up and got to my feet. Looking around me, the fires blazed and suddenly, hot metal grasped around my wrists, making me yowl with pain.
Demetrius had the chains wrapped around my right wrist and the imp immediately ran around to attach the other cuff.
“Hehe, now this is like yer real graduation! You failed, Zach! Down to Hell with you! There’s no stage lower than here in Bhad!”
And the imp tightened the grip on my left wrist. The wounds that I still bore from my punishment outfit became even worse under the extreme hotness under the metallic chain, giving me a feeling that felt a hundred times worse than the wristbands. Those metal chains were hotter than leaving your hand on a stove forever.
My wrist hurt so bad and I was feeling so hot that I couldn’t scream. My head fell back and I gazed up at the mirror, looking at that of my own helpless reflection staring up at myself in the midst of the terrible fiery flames. My arms were gripped in the chains and I felt like I was truly going to Hell at this point. I waited for my reflection to become ugly and devilish before closing my eyes and shedding a hot tear. I felt like I had truly failed life and afterlife. This may not be my graduation ceremony but I was still going to Hell. Demetrius was cackling and dancing around me in the flames, taunting me with hellish songs.
I opened my eyes to face the reflection again. The devilish face of Lucien was glaring down at me-- the devilish glare of my father.
“WAHH!” I screamed and struggled in the chains, trying to yank my arms and stomping my feet.
Lucien-- my father-- looked so familiar as his bleeding red eyes pierced down at me from the mirror. The surrounding flames fit him so well.
Then suddenly, another face appeared next to Lucien’s. It was Damien. The terrible teenage jock was gleaming evilly with his devilish smirk.
Looking forwards and closing my eyes tight, I clenched my teeth and braced myself, waiting for the flames to hurry up and swallow me.
There was suddenly a terrible scream from Demetrius and I felt the imp zoom pass me. His piercing scream became faint as he escaped the room and crashed out of the shaking church.
“Zach….” A voice sounded from behind.
“No! Go away! Just take me to Hell already!” I kept my eyes tightly shut and continued to wriggle and struggle.
“Zach….you don’t belong there.” The voice was masculine, and suddenly became familiar.
I opened my eyes and felt the chains loosen. I felt myself start to rise and list up. I immediately turned my head to gaze at the cross. The cross was empty. I widened my eyes and looked wildly around me, but I saw no body around the room or carrying me.
“Where are you?!” I cried. I looked up to the mirror, but I still saw nothing.
I struggled, but I felt the feeling of someone grasping me. “Ahh! WHERE are you? WHO are you?!”
“I am who you believe me to be,” answered the voice.
I looked back at the cross as I rose passed it ever so slowly. The statue body of Jesus Christ was back, nailed to the cross.
Feeling a sense of horror, I looked back up at the mirror. There, I saw a dark shadow hovering with me, wrapping his shadowy arms around me. I saw no face or anything on the figure of the shadow that wrapped around me. This was the same Shadow Man that I had met before, back at the alley.
“AHHH! HEELP!” Everything immediately brightened in my face as I reached the mirror, but then suddenly darkened as I blacked out.

I awoke to a sudden bang ringing through my ears. The area around me was dark and shadowy. It looked as if I were still in the chapel, though the brick walls were somewhat darker and less older looking.
I heard voices echo around me. I sat up at found myself in an enclosed room similar to the fiery graduation room I was just in. there was a mirror above of me and behind me was the cross with the statue of Christ nailed to it.
I looked around and didn’t feel like I was in the same place. The curtains were purple like before, but they weren’t torn. I pushed my way out of the curtains and made my way down the curving stairs. The voices grew louder and before I reached the bottom, I saw a small group of spirits wandering around. There was a man at the front, and behind him was a tall dark-haired girl with a low-cut black shirt. I widened my eyes with interest. It was Miranda! I could see how much better she looked now-- her eyeliner was smudged and smeared over her face and her clothes weren’t so torn. But she still looked like a gangster’s girlfriend with that upset emo look on her face. She also looked like she had brushed her dark hair, and she had two small pigtails at the top sides of her head while the rest of her long hair hung down behind her back. Her devilish earth type SoulBird, Shiigo, was by her feet.
The man turned to her and yelled to the group of people behind her. “No one’s here! Move on now! We’re still safe!”
And the murmuring crowd behind turned to leave towards the exit. There were doors in this church.
Miranda was still holding her spot. She glared at the man as he came up to her.
“Mira?” Spoke the man. “It’s alright. There’s no sign of Lucien’s minions here in the land of Nawt. So far, we are on a safe path.”
Mira eyed the man and said nothing. Shiigo gave an unfriendly squawk and looked ready to charge at the man.
The man muttered something to her that I couldn’t hear. Mira narrowed her eyes and turned around, walking away after the small crowd. Shiigo gave another spiteful sound and hurried after her soul mate. As soon as she and the other crowds were out of sight, the man turned to face the stand behind him. He closed his eyes and whispered something under his breath. Then he turned and left the church.
I slowly made my way down and saw that there were doors from where the crowd had left. I totally was in another church, and from the sound of it, I was probably in the land of Nawt.
But that could only mean…..I had graduated from the chapel of Bhad! I couldn’t believe it! Was that really a pass to have gotten me to this next land? I realized one thing that wasn’t happening as I freaked out confusedly over this-- my head wasn’t on fire.
Grabbing the top of my head with both my hands, I felt no headband. I was free from that punishment band. That must have meant….I really must have graduated. Had that really been the Son that took me here? Had He taken it off from me? And where was Jenna?!
Suddenly, a flame of fire erupted from the back of the stand. I turned and gazed into it, and then fainted from the hotness.
A cool drop of water smearing against my forehead. I blinked my eyes open to a blurry vision of Hannah, who was wiping a cool wet washcloth over my face.
“Argh!” I immediately sat up and the washcloth fell off.
Hannah gasped. “Zach! You’re awake!”
“He’s awake?!” The voice of Annabelle sounded to my right. “Oh, Zachariah!” White hands suddenly grabbed me around my shoulders and hugged me. I narrowed my eyes and stared up at Annabelle’s brimming face. “We were so worried about you! Oh, I couldn’t believe Hannah found you where she was expecting to find you!”
“Zach-- I found you in the St. Nawt chapel,” Hannah was gazing at me with seriousness. “Are you alright?”
“Huh?!” I looked around myself. I was surrounded by angels. “What happened? Did I make it to Heaven?” I did remember rising up to the mirror.
“No, you idiot!” Saint Grenada’s sharp voice pierced me from behind. “You’re in the land of Nawt now. Michael and Hannah have been waiting around this area for you and your little friends to arrive here!”
Dewey suddenly hopped onto my lap and gazed at me excitedly. “Oh boy! You passed out for an entire day without a single dream daze whatsoever! Or were you just having that same dream you had without me?”
“I didn’t dream anything,” I muttered, pushing the SoulBird from my lap. “Ugh….what happened? We’re in the land of Nawt? That fast?”
“Look over there,” Hannah pointed to the left. I saw that there was a finely built chapel-- old looking, but much better than the one in the outlands of Bhad. “That’s the St. Nawt chapel of the land of Nawt. After Michael and the rest of us were free from those Purgatory angels, Saint Grenada and Saint Annabell came to us and told about how you and Jenna disappeared into the St. Bhad church. Your guardians knew you best-- they told me that from there, you could arrive here in the next stage of the land of Nawt. They saw how you were in the graduation room of fire and how you were raised towards the mirror. They knew that meant you were moving onto the next stage-- regardless of the graduation sermon.”
I winced. “How was that possible without the sermon?”
“Well, for one thing,” spoke Grenada sharply, “the Higher One of Bhad is a disgrace and nothing but the pure opposite of what the land requires. Therefore, he could not hold a graduation sermon even if he tried.”
Michael appeared by Hannah’s side. He was looking at me with warmth in his eyes. “Zach, if you traveled far enough around the outlands, you could make it into the outlands of the next stage-- but you would not be allowed to get into that stage if you didn’t graduate. No spirit cannot just walk right into a stage higher than the one they are currently in if they haven’t graduated from their own first.”
“So did I graduate from Bhad already?” I widened my eyes.
“Not so fast, kid,” said Grenada. “Just as we said, there was no graduation sermon before that happened. You need a graduation sermon for full graduation-- that’s just the way it is. But since you appeared through the mirrors of the Bhad chapel and appeared here, my guess is that you were granted a graduation by the Holy Spirit Himself. When Annabelle and I watched you….we were stunned to see such a thing happen.”
I winced. “You were watching me? Why didn’t you rescue me?”
“What?!” Grenada gave me a look of disbelief. “You didn’t need to be rescued! The Son was truly giving you a graduation sermon Himself, and allowing you to pass from the land of Bhad and move on to the next stage to meet the angels here!”
“That wasn’t the Son-- that was a Shadow Man that was carrying me,” I said sternly.
Grenada winced and gave Hannah and Michael a raised look. “Hah! I don’t know what he’s talking about. I saw no shadow! Did you, Annabelle?”
“Hmm? I shadow? No-- not in the chapel.” Replied the angel.
“Ugh, whatever,” I crossed my arms.
Dewey was hopping next to me. “Aren’t you happy, Zach? You were granted a graduation! You should be proud!”
“Yes,” said Hannah. “If the Holy Spirit actually let you pass that quick, He must be very proud of you for something. He wouldn’t have done it just because you needed to meet us here.”

I looked around and all the angels were looking at me with gratefulness in their eyes as if to congratulate me. Jenna was among the front with Raman at her side and Grace at her heels. To my surprise, Raman was in his angelic body again.
I got up and made my way up to them. “So I’ve really been granted by the Holy Spirit to pass and enter this land?”
“Apparently so,” said Jenna. “I sure didn’t get to see you in the room as soon as it caught on fire, but after Demetrius rushed out and escaped the church with Jezebelle, I saw that the fires were rising and I got the feeling that something was going on there. It was then when Saint Grenada and Annabelle came to me with Grace and Dewey, and they all teleported us to this land where we met up with Hannah and the rest of Michael’s angels.”
I shook my head disbelievingly. “So I passed Bhad?”
“Zach,” Raman stepped forward. “The reason why the chapel of Bhad looked so old and ruined was because as the Higher One, Lucien disgraced it and destroyed it with his devilish powers. But of course, such holy grounds could never be defeated by devils from Hell. The church still had some power to it, and if the Higher One truly could not hold the right ceremony for a deserving spirit, then the Holy One would do it Himself.”
“The Holy One always has power greater than any spirit ever could,” said Hannah. “Through His son, spirits are drawn to faith and by honoring Him, we can truly receive the righteousness we deserve.”
I turned and looked at all the angels around me. I realized that around them were trees with slight leaves growing among them. We must really have made it out of the land of Nawt.
Grenada was eying me, but I could see a hint of humor in her eyes. “I’m very proud of you, though. To have been granted like that means you must have done an act so deserving.”
“It was probably because you destroyed the mosque of Harg,” said Jenna.
“Probably,” I muttered. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen the Son come alive myself. But perhaps the Spirit must have guided me invisibly. I probably wasn’t deserving enough to see Him for real anyway.
“But this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to enter the land of Pryde as easily,” spoke Michael, hovering forward. The angels were gathering behind him. “You may have been granted a pass through to the next stage from Bhad, but don’t be so sure that you’re succeeding that excessively.”
I sighed. “This means we’re gonna have to make it around from the outlands again, don’t we?”
“Yes,” said Hannah with a sigh. “And I hate to have left my academy in Bhad without a nurse-- but Lucien’s taken over Zellux and assigned every spirit to a scouting army. The lands aren’t safe back there because Lucien is multiplying his troops by the minute. We must escape to the outlands where it is safe anyway. Lucien won’t bother to look for spirits in the outlands because the Purgatory outside angels won’t make it to Heaven or Hell.”
Dewey scoffed. “I hate those faeries!”
“We must move right now,” Raman put a hand on Jenna. “Those faeries are safer to deal with than the troops of Hell. Rather deal with the intermediates of the worst than the worst or worst.”
As we trudged on the lands and made it to the outlands, I discussed to Hannah specifically about what had happened to Jenna and I in the chapel. Jenna discussed with Raman just a few feet behind us.
Hannah listened carefully and explained the significance of the churches in the lands just as Jenna had, but even she didn’t know about the Shadow Man in the mirror that was carrying me.
“Christ would always be the one to save you, Zach,” she said. “You still have that rosary I gave you?”
“Oh yeah,” I slipped it from my pocket and looked at it. Dewey gazed with wonder.
“Hm! The body of Christ is still….missing.” Said the bird.
“Yeah….” I looked at Hannah. “Why is that?”
Hannah peered curiously at the rosary as she walked forwards. “Well…..perhaps that could mean your faith is missing. You see, the Lord is open to all those who believe in Him. Those who honor and obey His commandments, they will receive the justice they deserve, and the Lord is open to all those to come forth to Him.”
I narrowed my eyes and put the rosary in my pocket. I was never much of a believer unless I saw it first.
Apparently, Hannah seemed to be reading my mind. “Zach, sometimes you’ve got to believe before you see. Saint Grenada and Annabelle told you the story, right? Christ knew no sin-- yet, He still died for us so that He could exchange the death of our sins for His righteousness.”
I looked up at Hannah with hope.
“By dying, He took the punishment for all our sins so that we could obtain His righteousness instead. Then, by rising from the dead, He went into Heaven before coming back for the judgment of all spirits alike.”
I listened carefully as I turned to look forward.
“Now the Lord watches over those in their temporal lives, hoping that they, too, could suffer what Christ suffered. You should die from sin yourself-- and then resurrect to be born into a righteous life.”
I huffed. “Well, it wasn’t my fault I have evil in me.”
“Zach, it doesn’t matter how bad your parents were. Your faith is what kinds you to Christ to live in His righteousness. Now that it’s too late and you’re here in the intermediate world of Purgatory, you have to learn again about what must be done in order to achieve eternal happiness. You don’t want to be a lost spirit here forever.”
I felt hot tears in my eyes and I felt like crying. There was so much I regretted doing-- I really wished I wasn’t who I was.
“Zach?” Dewey was looking at me with a solemn look.
I turned away and glared to hide the tears in my eyes. “If the Lord so much cares about me to be free from sin, why doesn’t He just magically make me obey Him?”
“Oh, Zach, the Lord isn’t so selfish to do such a thing. He gives freedom. Jesus says to His disciples, ‘follow me.’ He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him, but He will always be open to anyone who chooses to-- anyone who has faith in Him. Zach, please remember something important.” She looked at me intently. “If there’s ever anything you’re struggling with, if there’s ever a moment when you totally feel like you just want to give up and just don’t exist whatsoever… to the Lord. I’ve told you this before-- talk to the Lord about your problems. By the Son of God, Jesus Christ, you can truly reach the Holy One and hear what He has to say to you. Speak to Christ about your problems through prayer, and leave all your problems to Him. He will help you find a way, and nothing will ever hear of your darkest secrets the way the Lord would. For He is always there whenever you need someone to trust for privacy.”
I raised my eyes at this. Those were the same words she had used before on the day I first met her. But those words-- they were also the same words assured to me by Prima Dona.

We traveled onwards towards the land of Pryde. Keeping to the outlands, we kept our eyes open for any territorial faeries that would launch any surprise attacks on us.
Michael’s angels had tranquilizing harpoons that would only put a spirit to a temporal sleep if struck. Annabelle wept as she stared at her harpoon.
“I totally hate to shoot any such creature whether it’s in the life or afterlife.” She mourned.
I looked up at her and saw a mischievous young bush faerie peer from the branches above Annabelle with a harpoon of her own. She was aiming it towards Annabelle with a silent snicker.
“Um, Annabelle?” I spoke. “The faerie wouldn’t give a care whether you get shot or not.”
Annabelle looked up and as soon as the tiny faerie shot her arrow, Annabelle covered her face with the palm of her hand facing the faerie. The tiny arrow blasted and turned to ashes before even piercing Annabelle’s hand.
The faerie hissed and spat angrily at Annabelle. I frowned and wished I had my fiery headband to scare it away. But instead, I gave it an angry look and swatted my hands at it.
“Go! Shoo! Get away!” I yelled angrily.
Dewey tweeted angrily and chased after the faerie as the creature hissed and disappeared up in the trees. Dewey fell from the branches and kicked his feet angrily as he hovered to the ground by Grace’s side. “I sure wish we earth types could fly better like the other birds! I hate these stubby wings!”
“Well, we are built for the ground,” said Grace. “Our type is the only type among the SoulBirds that have the highest speed on the ground.”
I raised my eyebrows and looked up at Annabelle as we moved on. “Hey, how was Dewey like when he entered Heaven? What did he exactly look like as an angel?”
Annabelle smiled at the little SoulBird. “Well! Dewey wasn’t quite old enough to reveal his angelic soul in Heaven just yet. SoulBirds are still connected with their SoulBird look once their spirit adapts to the feature in Purgatory. They must remain as that feature in order to function in the world of Purgatory that well. When he gets older, he’ll be able to leave the SoulBird form and find himself as an angel in Heaven when he visits the kingdom.”
A quiet moment passed between us as we continued on near the side of the band of angels. Michael and Raman were at the front with Jenna talking with the half-soul about our recent journey in the chapel again. Hannah was behind her chatting with Saint Grenada, who seemed to be somewhat alert and worried as her stern eyes focused on forwards.
I sighed and looked up at Annabelle as she busily cleaned the ends of her harpoon with the cloth of her dress.
“Why haven’t the other spirits shown up yet?” I faced her. “There were five of you watching over me. Where are the other three?”
Annabelle was murmuring to herself as she cleaned her harpoon and didn’t seem to take notice of me speaking to her.
“Annabelle!” I snapped, rolling my eyes.
“Hmm?” She looked up. “Oh! I’m sorry, Zach, what was that?”
Dewey turned and fixed her with an intent gaze. He repeated the question for me.
“Ah! The others-- well, they are watching over you, Zach,” Annabelle fixed a reassuring gaze on me. “Trust me-- in Heaven, sister Grenada and I are with them all the time! They just haven’t appeared to you yet because….well, they don’t believe it’s the right time just yet.”
“What do you mean? It will always be a right time that I’ll need someone else’s help!” I said.
“Oh, perhaps they’re just waiting for the best time to show up.” She giggled. “Unlike me, the others don’t just wanna pop up randomly one moment and introduce themselves if nothing’s going on! Me-- I love to meet new spirits and it was an excitement to meet you unexpectedly near the center of the Earth!” She gave me a hearty nudge. “But really, I would have been the first saint you would have met if you hadn’t nearly killed Jenna’s SoulBird, Gracinda.”
I grumbled. “Don’t remind me about that.”
“Well! Grenada was pretty stirred about that. It got her so angry she finally revealed herself to you since she’s the most scolding saint out of all of us!”
“Well, that’s good, I don’t wanna meet more types like her.”
Annabelle giggled. “Don’t worry, child, you won’t. You’re going to love the rest of us! I’ll assure you that! And sister Grenada isn’t as scornful as she seems. She’s very loving, you know. She only snaps and gives you hard time because she loves you.”
I said nothing and just stared ahead. Michael was facing us and the rest of the angels.
“Ooh, what’s this?” Annabelle peered up over to where Michael was standing.
“Everyone? Pay attention please,” Michael sounded urgent. Hannah‘s air-type SoulBird, Chelsey, was on the angel‘s shoulder. “I have just received word through Chelsey that an escaping headmaster, Frederick Grange, has escaped the lands of Bhad and managed to save only a small handful of his mediums to this land by taking the path of the outlands.”
“St. Frederick‘s Academy‘s been overthrown by Lucien‘s minions?” Called one of the angels at the front.
“St. Frederick’s Academy has been under attack,” said Michael with a nod. “He tells me that Lucien has sworn to have his academy become a refuge for the insane, serve as a second Punishment House for crazed spirits that refuse his will. Of course, St. Frederick knows it would be terrible to serve crazed spirits rather than punish them-- Lucien thinks the crazed spirits could be a good defense towards those who try to contradict and go against what Lucien strives. St. Frederick managed to save a handful of students that were just as reluctant as he was. So he left with the mediums to head up towards the land of Guhd where they can recruit as many as they can against Lucien and fight his minions from his academy to all around the Purgatory world.”
“Only twelve students managed to escape with him,” added Hannah. “And now, St. Frederick has tried to grant his mediums a pass through to this land by visiting the inland territory that leads to the church. Unfortunately, when he and the mediums went in, he felt a strong sense of rejection and he couldn’t contact any of the headmasters in this land through his prayers at the St. Nawt church. Therefore, he and his mediums are unable to venture any farther into this stage of Nawt, so he’s headed our way to continue upwards around the outlands until Guhd, where communications are open with all kinds of headmasters.”
“But unfortunately,” Raman stepped forward, “a group of imps have invaded them just along the borders, not far from the St. Nawt church they just left. We are nearing the borders they were attacked on, and St. Frederick needs help right now.”
A loud murmur echoed through the crowd of angels.
“Oh, this will be easy!” A voice said.
“They’re just imps-- they’re one of the easiest hell creatures to defeat!”
As soon as we were already following Michael, I looked up at Annabelle. “Great-- more hell fighting?”
Annabelle huffed and gave me a raised smile. “Yep! This is what it’s always like whenever we leave Heaven. We’re always fighting devils. Oh well! This is great practice before we get to Primal and fight the real devilish Beast.”
It wasn’t long until we heard anguishing yowls and screams. Annabelle and I got up to the front. Jenna was wincing.
“Those are more than just imps,” said Jenna.
Grace huddled closer to her ankles. “Oh, I know those sounds anywhere-- those are hellcats!”
Dewey flinched. “Hellcats?”
“Yes! Much worse than hellhounds.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What are we gonna do?” I looked at Raman. “We aren’t angels.”
An angel tapped my shoulder and handed me a harpoon.
“Here! Take this! An extra lightning harpoon! You don’t have to be an angel to work it’s awesome power!” Said the angel.
I raised my eyebrows, but before I took it, another angel gave her a nudge.
“Nadine? Is that harpoon even fixed?”
“No! absolutely not! That’s why I’m giving it away!” She turned to me. “That thing works like crazy! One shot can release like a thousand volts! You’re gonna love it!”
I took a step back. “Nah, no thanks.” I already had Dewey to defend for me.
Jenna huffed, hugging Grace against her. “Well, Grace is not gonna be fighting because she’s still recovering from a stupid attack caused by some impious Bhad boy!” She glared at my angrily.
I pretended like I didn’t hear as I bent down to speak to Dewey.
“Hey, you’re okay with imps, aren’t you?” I muttered.
“Of course! Why, if you had me in that chapel when Demetrius and Jezebelle were attacking you, I would have had their tails ripped off!”
A fierce yowl crashed through the trees and I looked up to see the trees shaking ahead. The tree immediately caught on fire and a devilish feline creature sprung from the trees, zooming up to us.
Dewey and I instantly dodged to the right and barely avoided collision with the terrible creature.
“Wah! Hellcats!” Screamed Dewey.
I huffed and stood up, facing down at the snarling creature. The hellcat was crouched and looking ready to spring at us. Around me, the angels had already parted and I could see their glow appearing in the crowd of trees as the yowls grew louder. Dewey and I were facing this hellcat alone.
“Dewey…..jab its back with your beak, just like what you did back on Earth. Your angelic light absorbs into them that way.”
But Dewey was shaking behind me, peeking from behind my legs. His gem on his forehead was flickering light rather than fully glowing.
The hellcat gave one snort and Dewey yowled with horror.
“Ruuun!” The little SoulBird immediately took off like a roadrunner, dashing away behind me. The hellcat shot forwards with a scream and I turned to flee after Dewey with a narrowed look of horror.
“Dewey!” I called through gritted teeth. That was the most humiliating act I had ever seen from the SoulBird! I guess hellcats were a silly weakness for him.
The hellcat was surprisingly fast and I had to keep making confusing turns and ducks to avoid the swiping feline’s claws. I could have my head swiped off if I were just running straight forwards, for the hellcat was ten times faster than me.
I wished I had that harpoon, whether it was too out of control or not. The hellcat leapt at me and I threw myself to the ground, watching as the hellcat flew over my head and skidded forwards on the flat ground. A line of fire erupt from the ground behind the creature as it slid forward.
I stood up and tried to hide around the flames as the hellcat slinked around, trying to turn back and look around for me. I made my way around the line of fire where I was surrounded by the flames. I peered through the flames to try and see if I could find Dewey or the terrible hellcat. But I glimpsed what looked like a tall building in the distance. Through the shadows ahead under the gray-red sky, a pointed house was up ahead, and I could only predict that it was abandoned since these were the outlands.
But I also glimpsed a small band of fighting imps gathered near the front. A small light was dashing around them, colliding with the imps and easily destroying them. It was Dewey.
I rose and dared to step through the flames. The fire surrounded me-- but perhaps I could withstand this fire. I was just about to take the risk and step through.
But then the hellcat leapt down behind me and fixed me with a fierce glare. It darted at me so suddenly with a pierce yowl that it would have crashed into me before I could even blink, but suddenly, something shot at its side, striking the cat sideways and it rolled to the right, rolling through the flames and catching on fire until it gave out a deafening scream and exploded.
The fires burned immensely around me and I looked to the left to see who had shot the cat for me. A tall gothic looking girl with dark eyeliner stepped through the flames with a heavy looking harpoon in her arms.
“Miranda,” I muttered with disbelief.
“Hey, Zachy,” she said in a naughty tone, though her expression looked dark and unhappy. She looked like a warrior in the fire. That harpoon in her hand looked heavier than her, but I couldn’t help admiring the way she stood there in front of the flames with that fearless but depressed kind of look on her face.
She stepped forward to me and looked me in the eye. “Not safe for you to stand in the fire for too long.” She said quietly.
I raised my eyebrows. “I’ve been in hotter fire longer than this.”
“Oh yes-- where’s your little headband?” She ran her finger over my head, narrowing her eyes.
“Hehe, it turned out I was freed from it after graduating the land of Bhad.”
She huffed. “So you graduated the land of Bhad?” She stared at me with her narrowed sharpening gaze. “Lucky you.” She threw her harpoon aside into the fire and it exploded to ashes.
“Hey! Why’d you do that?” I winced.
“Puh-lease, you don’t need my help anymore than you need your SoulBird’s help.” She muttered as she turned around to walk into the fiery flames.
“Hey! Mira! Wait!” I reached out a hand towards her but she walked away with her back turned towards me, stepping forwards right through the flames-- walking right through the fire. I stared with amazement. The girl was making her way through the flames as if she were walking through simple curtains. As her tall thin body stepped through the flames, the flames immediately burst and rose higher around her, but she wasn’t affected.
I widened my eyes. She didn’t take the pain from fire. Was she from Hell?”
“Yowww!” Dewey suddenly appeared behind me, kicking off the last of the imps that were jumping over at him. The SoulBird madly kicked and pecked at three more imps before turning to face me with awe. “Zach! What are you doing?!” I was standing there, staring blankly ahead into the flames, even though Mira had already disappeared.
I snapped out of it and looked down. “Huh…?”
“You’re surrounded by hellsfire! Hello?! You wanna be burnt up and consumed by Hell!?!”
“This is hellsfire?” I looked around myself. The flames were rising and reddening.
“DUH!” Dewey stomped his big foot and glared up at me. “The hellcat created this fire, didn’t it? This fire is the eternal hellsfire punishment! Let it consume you, and you will be burnt with a rage that will drive you to be able to withstand Hell! You want to be able to withstand the Purgatory fire! Not Hellsfire! Hellsfire makes you desire for Hell! Get outta here!”
Dewey was just about to turn back but the flames erupted in front of his face, making the bird jump back.
“You’re trapped!” A menacing familiar voice snickered behind us. I turned to see that Demetrius and Jezebelle were creeping up through the flames.
“Argh!” Dewey cried, facing the imps. “You guys again!”
“Of course, dearie!” Jezebelle cackled. “What? You think the Purgatory fire in the chapel was enough to kill us? We can survive through hellsfire! What makes you think we could have been defeated by the fire from this world?”
As I stood around the terribly burning hellsifre around me, I couldn’t help picturing myself reaching out to touch the flames and let it consume me. The Purgatory fire had touched me many times-- I had been able to take it all. Perhaps, like Mira, I could withstand such hellsfire without feeling a single pain again….
“Go ahead, kid,” I turned and saw that Demetrius was smirking evilly at me, tapping his fingers together. “Touch it. Feel the burn. Withstand the fire, and you’ll find that you’re fit for entering the world of Hell….”
I turned to my left where the flames were closing in on me. Giving both the imps another look, I turned to reach out a hand, reaching ever so close to the fire….
“Nooo!” Dewey’s loud cry shot through me and a beam of light struck the fire, hurting the tip of my fingers.
I gasped and jerked my hand back. The fires died down to my left and Dewey was running around the flames, shining an angelic light from the gem on his forehead.
“No! Ugh! You fool!” Jezebelle whined and angrily jumped up and down. “He was so close! Fine! I’ll force him myself!” Jezebelle turned on me and leapt at my neck, yowling and thrashing as I grabbed the imp’s burning body and through her off, flinging her all the way over Demetrius, who ducked and let the imp fly through the flames with a scream.
Demetrius growled angrily and reached in the hellsfire, pulling out a red trident.
“Run, Zach! Come on!” Dewey pecked at my legs and I flinched. Turning to run from the angry imp, I made my way forwards to the flames ahead, narrowing my eyes and bracing myself to run through that fire the way Miranda had done.
But just as I was ever so close, Dewey let out a beam of light and opened the flames for me so that I ran through an opening in the blinding light.
Making my way through the fire, I gasped and looked back as the hellsfire was just a distance behind us.
“No…why’d you do that?” I muttered as Dewey ran speedily by my side. “I almost made it…”
Dewey scoffed. “Puh! Yeah, you almost made it to Hell! Do you know how dangerous hellsfire is? If you can withstand the burn, then you’ll be driven to wanting to withstand more and more such fire so that you’ll long for the world of Hell where you can suffer through an everlasting punishing fire!”
“But….if I could tolerate it, I could tolerate Hell…..”
“Idiot! That’s what the fire WANTS you to feel so that you can long for the world of hellsfire more! Sheesh! You got your brain melted from that fire, or what?”
It wasn’t the fire-- it was Mira. She had trapped me in that fire. She had only shown up to save me from the hellcat, and then she left me alone to become trapped in that fire by myself. And by being trapped, I had become intrigued to the hellsfire. Was that what Mira wanted?
“Wah!” Dewey’s scream suddenly snapped me out of my thoughts just in time to notice that I had stepped into a hole and was falling down a tunnel until I fell into a warm flowing water underground.
I looked up and saw that Demetrius was peeking his head over the hole I fell into. He was cackling as his trident blazed by his side.
“Losers!” He called.
Dewey suddenly splashed up from the water, shaking rapidly by my head. “Hey! How dare you!” He glared up at the imp before Demetrius turned and disappeared with a snicker.
Dewey huffed, fluttering his tiny wings above the water.
“Will you stop flying?!” I snapped. My voice echoed through the tunnel. “You’re splashing droplets into my face!”
“Oh! Soh-ree!” Dewey was glowing and I could clearly see his glaring face. “You don’t wanna cool down from the hellsfire you were so close to touching?”
“This is no cooling water,” I growled, treading over to the wall where the water became shallow enough for me to stand and get out.
“How could you want to go into Hell right after you just graduated from Bhad?!” Dewey landed near my feet and fixed me with an angry stare.
I frowned. “I don’t wanna go to Hell.”
“Well, you sure wanted to follow Mira,” said Dewey intently. “If that spirit’s from Hell, then you better do the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do-- and stay away from her! She could try to be pulling you into Hell with her if she meant to trap you in the fire like that.”
I looked up and narrowed my eyes. “I thought she was going to help me…..I don’t know. How do we get out of here now? Demetrius and Jezebelle dug this trap for us-- they must be expecting us to arrive somewhere to confront them.”
“Well, we will confront them!” Dewey stomped forward and headed farther into the tunnel. “We just gotta find our way outta here as soon as we can before the angels leave without us!”
We wandered through the tunnels, but it wasn’t long before we came to a dead end. But to the left of the wall, I could see a ladder upon the left side, rising up from the water.
Dewey and I climbed up, finding ourselves in a small room with caged windows near the ceiling. The room stretched out about twenty feet long, but it was a dead end as well.
“No hope!” Dewey huffed, turning around. “Let’s go back and take the other way.”
But as I looked down the hole towards the tunnel, the waters started to rise and steam up with such heat that I felt hot just standing by it. I widened my eyes as I saw that there were floating skulls and broken bodies of hell creatures flowing through the water.
“Oh great!” Dewey groaned. “Now we’re trapped!”
“Zach? Dewey? Are you there?” A voice came from the farthest end of the room.
I turned and saw that there was a small figure lying on the ground, sitting up as he stared over at us. A glowing fire SoulBird was hovering at his side.
“Shion!” I cried. I hurried up to him with Dewey at my side.
“Zach!” Gasped the Indian boy. “Eh, I burnt my leg badly from that hot water. Pete and I were trying to escape back, but seriously! That water is hotter than fire when it rises up like that.”
“What are you guys doing here?” Dewey faced Pete.
The fire SoulBird huffed. “Eh! We was running from those darn blasted imps when they attacked St. Frederick’s squad. We fell into this trap the same way you guys did!”
“You met Miranda?” I asked dumbfounded.
“Who?!” Shion winced.
“You idiot!” Dewey gave me a kick on the ankle. “They aren’t as dumb as you to follow a jailbird into the hellfire!”
“Don’t you kick me,” I growled, giving Dewey an even sharper kick that made him roll away.
“Oh! The jailbird Miranda?” Shoin spoke. “Oh yeah, I know her. But no, we fell into this hole by those two wannabes, Demetrius and Jezebelle.”
“The freaks have been on our trail since we’ve left Bhad!” Pete spat.
“Wait, so you guys followed St. Frederick as well?” I knelt down in front of Shion. “How’d you escape St. Gretchen’s academy?”
Shion frowned. “Long story. I got chased out by those bullies, first, and then found St. Frederick taking refuge, hiding in the outlands afterwards. We joined them to find our way to the land og Guhd so we can recruit a strong amount of allies as we can to face against Lucien. So far, he’s only terrorizing the lower lands. He or his minions haven’t gotten any further than the land of Primal-- yet.”
Pete raised his expression at us. “Well, what about you guys? Did you ever piss the Higher One off until he set fire on your butts?”
I snickered. “Nah, somewhat.” I told them all about what happened with Raman, and told Shion all about what had happened since I hadn’t seen him. I explained what had happened at Harg, and what I had found out about Lucien and my uncle…. And then he finally understood how we were with Michael’s angels to head to Primal and fight off the Beast over Earth.
“Awesome,” said Shion. “Well, we can’t do anything now but wait for the water to clear up! I’ve been stuck in here for hours now.”
“Where are we anyway?” I got up and saw that Dewey was glowing in front of some writing against the wall. I couldn’t read the writing and different symbols.
“Hey…” Pete hovered at my shoulder and peered at a line of symbols near the top of the low ceiling. “Crosses.”
I saw a pattern of crosses and X marks along the bottom of the ceiling.
I peered up at the barred windows. “We could be in the basement of some kind of abandoned church….perhaps if Dewey and Pete were a little bit smaller they could fit through those bars and get help.”
“Hey! Not our faults that we don’t stay as small as we were born!” Said Pete.
“Oh! You said you had a rosary from Hannah?” Said Shion.
“What, you think I can simply use it to get help?” I winced. “The body is missing for one….and I don’t know how anyone from Heaven can help me now if they haven’t helped me as much before.”
“Try calling your saints!” Said Dewey. “Sheesh! Are they really that unreliable? Here you are trapped in some unknown chamber and they don’t even show up when they’re needed.”
“Well, they are fighting the other devils,” I said with a growl. I stepped up to the window, peering up through the bars. I heard a deep rumble in the darkening ashy sky and it started to rain.
“Hah! Just what we need,” grumbled Shion.
I turned and saw that we was wincing at his burnt leg, terribly dried and scorched.
“Hey, I bet my rosary could do some healing,” I said, coming over and slipping out the necklace from my pocket. As I set it right beside Shion’s leg, we all watched with wonder as the light shone upon the wound of his leg, and within a minute, Shion’s leg was shining and became good as new.
“Whoa.,” Shion raised his eyebrows.
I stared with wonder and picked up the rosary, managing to give a grateful look at it, even though the body was still missing.
A silent prayer echoed through my head as I closed my eyes and held the rosary: Lord…..if you are really watching me….help us all. I don’t know how much longer I can last around here before the waters flood and overtake us….”

The heat was getting us all tired. Pretty soon, I had passed out before noticing how tired I even was.
Suddenly, a rumble echoed from outside and the waters were starting to get louder and louder. Waking up, I looked around. Shion, Pete, and Dewey were all still asleep. I stared at Dewey, who slept on peacefully. Strange that he hadn’t woken up at the same time I had.
I narrowed my eyes towards the window. A light shone through the window in front of me, and my hopes raised. Was this perhaps an angel from Heaven that was coming to rescue me? Hannah did say that when Paul prayed in prison for help, an angel had actually come to save him. Was this actually possible for me?
I was starting to see a body in the midst of the light. Behind the bars, a lighted body came into view, and I was looking at a hovering man that wore a long navy blue robe with his head tilted back as he was pouring a cup into his mouth. Red liquid was pouring from the cup and the angel was consuming it with his eyes squeezed shut. I couldn’t help but stare with confusion and disgust.
“Ahh!” The man faced his head upright and gave a refreshing sigh. “I can sure call THAT the blood of life!” He had a deep, drunken voice. He turned to me with a big smile on his face. His eyes were half closed and he brimmed at me with such a smile that the light shone too bright in my face. The angel was black-- he had thick furry short hair over his head, and he had a thin mustache and beard covering his smiling lips.
I narrowed my eyes and winced, slightly taking a step back.
“Oh! Ho-ho, where are my manners?” The angel just realized he was hovering behind the bars. He let out a loud cough, spitting a little and drooling. “Ugh! Sorry, son! ‘Scuse me for a moment!” The angel clasped his hands together and hovered forward and moved through the bars of the window, appearing in front of the window, just a few feet in front of me. “Eh-HEH! It tickles to do that!” Another cup appeared in his hand and he glugged it down noisily.
“Who are you?” I asked, wincing at this strange rowdy angel.
The angel spat out his drink noisily, and I was glad he was facing the left so that he didn’t spray all that “blood” in my face.
“Who am I, you say?!” He gave me a disgusted look. “Why-- you ought to have known who I am!”
I stared at him tiredly.
He suddenly broke out in a loud laugh and pointed at me, laughing with a huge grin. “Oh, man! I’ve always loved you and your reactions! I am Saint Bernardo! Your guardian angel! Of course you wouldn’t know me, HAHA! I’ve been stalkin’ ya yer whole life! NOW you finally need me for help!”
“What are you talking about?” I winced. “Are you the angel sent for my prayer?”
Bernardo stifled a snicker, half-closing his drunken eyes again. “Why, of course, kid! What? You never believed to get anything you ask for?”
I sighed and gave a sideways smile, for I was finding this guy a little humorous. “Well, I never expected angels to be consuming the blood of Christ as excessively like you, getting all drunk and such.”
Saint Bernardo cracked up in another loud, “Bah-ha-ha-ha! Oh, you funny, man! I AIN’T DRUNK! I’M HAPPY! This blood means life! Of course angels drink the blood of Christ!” He held out his hand and another cup appeared. “Why, the blood of Christ is life!” He consumed the wine and let out another refreshing, “AHH!” He gleamed at me with a happy drunken look again. “Hey! The hell creatures drink wine and that’s usually what causes them to be all drunken and sinful ‘n such. But this here wine in Heaven is the blood of Christ that was shed for CLEANSING sins!” He cracked up and threw his head back, making the entire place echo in loud laughter. I was holding back a snicker, for I was finding myself laughing along with this angel.
“Eh-heh!” Saint Bernardo smacked his thigh with a loud laugh. “And here you are, thinking it’s bad to be drinkin’ it! WAHAHA! Hey, you wanna try some?” A handed me a cup and then started breaking out into loud laughter, dropping the cup at my feet clumsily.
I jumped back, but before the cup broke to pieces, the entire cup and wine disappeared. I looked up to Saint Bernardo, who was falling back on his back and kicking as he hovered in the air. “HAHAAA! DRUNKEN ANGEL! HAHA!”
I snickered and then cracked up into laughter with the angel, and as I started laughing, I felt my spirits rise up more and more, and pretty soon, I found myself laughing louder and louder just like Bernardo, even though I had already forgotten what I was even laughing at.
All our loud laughing and Saint Bernardo’s constant “WOO-HOO!” Echoed through the chamber room and Dewey, Shion, and Pete awoke and gazed at us.
“Whoa! An angel!” Pete immediately shot up in the air, widening his eyes.
“Zach!” Shion was looking at me with a surprised expression. He had never seen me crack up like this.
“Shion!” I faced the Indian boy with a brimming smile. “Hey! My prayers are answered! Here’s Saint Bernardo! We’re gonna be saved!”
“WOOO!” Saint Bernardo raised his hands in the air, holding up two fingers. “Lemme introduce you myself so you don’t mistaken me for what this BOY here called me!” He snickered loudly, snorting and giggling.
Dewey jumped around, narrowing his eyes mischievously. “Hah! Zach, I bet this guy got you on crack or drunken on wine.”
“Haah! I’m not drunk!” Laughed Bernardo, pointing at the little bird and cracking up at him.
Dewey narrowed his eyes at Bernardo. “Oh yeah? I feel jittery just by your presence! Zach! How’s he gonna help us? Is he gonna get us so drunk and happy that we can resist the hotness of the floodwater?”
I laughed, dropping to my knees. “AH-HAH! I dunno! I forgot we were stuck in the first place!”
“Guys…” Shion was peeking out of the window. “I see someone coming! Someone with a fiery harpoon!”
Saint Bernardo gave a wry look. “Huh? Well, that’s nothing to worry about. ‘Cause I’m here to rescue you all!” He broke out into laughter again. “What? There can’t be two messengers coming for your prayer! HAHA! The Lord won’t confuse his rescuing angels in that way! HAHAHA! IT AIN’T APRIL FOOL’S DAY YET!” And his laughter echoed through the room.
I couldn’t help but crack up as well, and I ended up laughing harder than needed. Dewey too, gave the angel a playful kick, making Bernardo make a loud hooting noise. The SoulBird instantly cracked up and laughed his loudest.
“Guys!” Shion looked at us with a raised look. Pete was burning up with annoyance.
Suddenly, a burst of fire shot through the window just to the left of the one Shion stood in front of. I immediately stopped laughing as I felt the burning feeling of fire again. This fire was red-- hot as the hellsfire I had encountered.
Saint Bernardo rose up with a narrowed look. His mouth was an O shape as he stared at the window that was now burnt and open from the fire.
“Hey, now! Who in the HEAVENS is tryin’ to do MY job?!” Bernardo crossed his arms and tapped his foot as another blast of fire shot through the open window. “HEYYY! HELLO?! I’m the one supposed to be doin’ that!”
Suddenly, Miranda jumped in from the opening of the window, tumbling head over heels and landing on her standing feet like a ninja. She faced me with a naughty smile.
“Hey there again, Zachy boy.”
I widened my eyes. “Mira!”
“Hey!” Shion stepped behind me with Pete on his shoulder. “Miranda! What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to rescue you, what does it look like?” She faced her body sideways and gave me a raised look. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
I winced. “Um….you pretty much left me trapped in the fire and I was nearly dragged to Hell….” Not to mention she looked unhappy to see me again.
“Oh, come now!” Mira strutted up to me and put her arms around my shoulders and smiled deviously at me. “I’m here to rescue you, aren’t I?”
“Oh for crying out loud!” Dewey stomped his feet and rolled his eyes. “I knew what you were doing! You got Zach in danger like this just so you can turn up and look like a hero for him, didn’t you?”
Mira fixed a haughty stare on Dewey and suddenly, Shiigo appeared from behind Dewey and gave him a surprise peck on the back. Dewey yelled and Shiigo chased him around angrily.
Bernardo stepped up to Mira and tapped her shoulder. He had a stern look on his face now.
“Ahem! I was sent by the Heavens to rescue the boy? I don’t care if you were planning on this rescue or not-- I was the one who he wanted to rescue him!”
Mira whipped her head to glare at the saint.
Immediately, Bernardo flinched and his eyes beamed. “Well! Excuse me, but I’m sorry to have addressed you like that-- you’re quite good-lookin’ for a jailbird, eh?” He gave a low bow.
Mira smiled and chuckled. She turned back to me, still eresting her arms on my shoulders.. “Come on, Zachy. We better go.”
I huffed and gave her a look. “Really? Just a moment ago, you were--”
A crash erupted from below and a flood of water started leaking out as two imps broke from the hole, charging at us. Demetrius and Jezebelle.
“There! Get ‘em! It’s the slutty jailbird again!” Jezebelle yelled.
Mira narrowed her eyes and gave the imp a kick as she tried to strike her with her trident.
“Let’s go,” growled Mira angrily, facing the window. She grabbed my hand and leapt out of the window. I was pulled after her, and Dewey followed with Shiigo chasing after him.
“Eeeh! Catch us if you can! WAHA!” Bernardo’s laugh echoed behind as he caught up with us with Shion and Pete below.

We ran through another forested land, aware of the two imps on our trail. Mira’s hand grabbed tightly to my wrist as she took me through the land with Saint Bernardo hovering after us.
“Where do you think you’re taking us?” I huffed, stopping and yanking my hand away from Mira.
She turned and gave me an upraised look. “Somewhere safe! For all we know, those stupid imps could drag us to Hell if they keep up any farther with us.”
“Eheh!” Saint Bernardo hovered lower to the ground and closed his eyes. “You don’t think I’m enough of a shield for those weaklings?”
“And what about St. Frederick?” Shion came up to her. “They’re probably still back there, fighting off the rest of the hell creatures with Michael.”
“Oh yeah,” I eyed Mira. “What were YOU doing with St. Frederick? I thought you liked to fend off alone in hiding after you escaped punishment.”
Mira chuckled. “Oh, St. Frederick was the headmaster of the academy I used to go to before I was sent to the Punishment House.” She winked at me. “I pissed him off and set the school on fire when I didn’t make the graduation ceremony.”
“Ah! Held back, eh?” Saint Bernardo gleamed.
Mira nodded, crossing her arms. “I didn’t think it would make much of a difference. If I were to stay in Bhad for the rest of my life, I might as well do whatever the Hell I wanted since I would pretty soon end up in Hell anyway.”
“Well then why’d you escape punishment at the Gehenna Volcano?” I asked.
“Oh! I had unfinished business, that’s why,” Mira started walking around me, smiling coolly. “See, I didn’t wanna go to Hell by myself. I needed a boyfriend to come with me first. But of course, I never found the right guy—yet.” She gave me a raised look. “You’ve always been single, right? And you’ve been one of the most popular mediums in Bhad, fit to go to Hell just like me.”
“Hey! Before you drag him to Hell with you, know that he graduated the land of Bhad just recently!” Dewey said.
Mira scoffed and glared at the SoulBird. She turned her glare at me. “Is that true?” Her voice was haughty.
I nodded. I told her about the St. Bhad chapel and how I was literally taken up by Christ Himself to move on to the next stage.
Miranda listened with a look of hatred in her eyes. “I see.”
I raised my expression. “Hey, come on—you’ve escaped the land of Bhad anyway, so that doesn’t mean we still can’t be together.”
“Yeah!” Snickered Bernardo. “You’ve got to be the most haughtiest girl I’ve met if you truly WANT to be with your loved one in Hell.”
“Well, it’s not enough to live as refugees out here,” snapped Mira. “In the outlands, there are traces of either faeries, or spirits that have given up on the purpose of the academies, ditching the school to live in the outlands as outsiders that will never leave Purgatory. Do you want that, Zach? Do you want to live in this forsaken world forever?!”
An eerie screech pierced through the trees and I looked up at the black sky. Dark fluttering shapes were coming towards us, and I almost thought they were more faeries, but then I saw them clearer.
“Bats!” I cried, turning to flee. “Run! There are still hell creatures out here!”
Mira scoffed and held her ground as the rest of us ran. I turned back to see that the vicious monstrous bats were fluttering around her and biting at her. She screamed and fell to her knees. She didn’t even try to fight back at them.
“Mira!” I yelled, heading back to save her. But before I could reach her, a shot of fire zipped pass my face. I turned to the right where Demetrius and Jezebelle were scurrying along the ground, snickering as they tried to stab at my feet. I dodged their strikes and then Dewey came out of nowhere to give them fierce kicks with his long legs and big feet.
Saint Bernardo gave a yowl of triumph as he sped through the bats, destroying them to ashes at every one that he collided with.
“Hell creatures! This world ain’t bad enough for you!” He called.
I glanced over at Mira, who was still on her knees with her head hanging down. Her long black hair covered the sides of her face, and she sat there frozen, ready to faint.
“Mira…” I was just about to make my way towards her when I flinched with terror. A lithe brown snake was slinking its way from the tree next to her, stretching its head to hiss at the back of her head. It was Igor.
“No! Mira!” I dashed towards him and yanked the snake from the tree, gripping him hard as he thrashed and spat, trying to wriggle free.
“Foolish kid!” Igor hissed, whacking his tail at my face. I dropped him and he rose his head to face me with a hissing look of anger. The flaps at his neck rattled.
Mira slowly turned with a tired, upset look on her face and gazed up at the snake as it faced me with devious eyes.
“You don’t belong here anymore than I do,” hissed the snake. “Why don’t you come with me? We’ll both go to Hell….along with your desperate old girlfriend here.” He gleamed at Mira. The girl glared at him and crawled away, disappearing into the bushes behind the tree. But I barely notice her absence. Igor’s eyes were bearing into me, and I was getting that transfixed and hypnotized feeling again.
Then Igor lowered his head and slinked around me, slithering around my legs and making his way up to my shoulders like he did before. “Come on….trusssst me. Your father misssssessss you….he needssss you.”
I fell into a daze at the snake’s malicious words. I couldn’t bear to imagine me living in Hell with Lucien, or living anywhere with that spirit.
Suddenly, Igor’s gleaming expression turned into a wide-eyed look of horror as he stared passed my head with a dazed look. The snake let out a long terrified hiss, and then his eyes rolled back. He loosened his grip on me, fell to the ground, and disappeared.
I stared with confusion. He didn’t turn to ashes, but he disappeared, as easily as that. I turned to see who or what it was that had caused the snake its sudden horror and disappearance. I felt a stab of surprise. A tall shadowy man was staring at me—the same one that I had met back at the alley.
“Hello…..Zachariah,” the Shadow Man addressed me with a familiar masculine voice. But gazing up at his face—his blank, dark shadowy face—I felt a rush of nausea and wonder. Without another word, I felt myself drop to the ground just like that snake had….and everything blanked out.
I awoke to a bright stream of morning light from outside. I was laying on a soft nest where there were comfy feathers and mosses to my side. I sat up and saw that I was in some kind of cave. Outside, the sky was white and gloomy, but still shone in my eyes quite intensely. I narrowed my eyes to a wince. The mornings never hurt my eyes that much—it was as if they were just extra sensitive right now.
“Zach…” The voice spoke to me again.
I whipped around and there was the Shadow Man, sitting upon a rock and facing me with a faceless dark look. With a gasp of fear, I turned to try and crawl away, but my surprisingly weak body gave way and I clumsily fell on my chin, cursing and clenching my teeth with embarrassment. The light shone directly in my eyes and I felt like I would go blind if I didn’t keep blinking as rapidly as I was.
“Why do you fear me, Zach?” The Shadow Man rose and helped me get up and sit back in my nest. “Don’t you realize that the reason for your sensitive eyes? You have seen too much darkness-- you cannot bear the sudden light that’s shining on you.”
I stared up at the Shadow Man with a narrowed look. Looking up at his shadowy blank face, I suddenly felt my eyes snap into focus and I could see clearer again with such extreme brightness from outside. I also suddenly felt my body regain regular strength again.
“Who are you?” I muttered, still keeping my eyes narrowed. “I’ve met you before-- are you trying to follow me?”
The Shadow Man was silent for a moment, and then he made his way back on the rock to sit and speak. “You have met me before,” the man spoke carefully, “but you have not met me in spirit.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I’ve met you before! You were at the alley-- you gave me back my rosary!” I gasped. “Except it was empty-- it was missing the body on the cross.” I narrowed my eyes at the Shadow Man, ignoring the chilling feeling every time I looked at that living shadow. “What did you do to it?”
“Your rosary….do you still have it?” The Shadow Man spoke in a calm but serious sounding voice.
I huffed. “You didn’t answer my question. You were the last person with my rosary! Tell me what you did to it!”
“Let me see your rosary,” the Shadow Man stretched out his arm towards me, giving his shadow hand out.
I winced, but something about the way the man spoke made me obediently take the rosary from my pocket and hand it to him.
I didn’t realize what I was doing until the Shadow Man had the rosary in his hand. I didn’t know how I had handed it over to him as easily as that.
I watched with a sinking feeling as the Shadow Man took the rosary and held it from the cross, hanging his head down to observe it.
Then he looked up and handed me the rosary. “Your rosary has been the same as it has always been since it was given to you.”
I took the rosary from his hand and looked at the cross. To my surprise, the body was there-- back and the same as if it had never been taken off.
I winced and shoved the rosary back in my pocket. I looked at the Shadow Man with narrowed eyes. “Seriously? Why can’t you just say you took it off and gave it back just now? I knew you did something with it.”
“Zach,” the Shadow Man spoke seriously. “The body has always been there-- like I said, you have seen too much darkness that you’ve become almost blind.”
“What?” This Shadow Man was flabbergasting me. “That makes no sense. Everyone else noticed the missing body.”
“The darkness you saw covered it up from everyone else as well. You lost it in the alley, didn’t you? It was at the time when you were doubting the rosary and falling into someone else’s power at the same time.”
“You mean being around Lucien made it disappear?” I was confused.
“No-- being around Lucien made your belief disappear. If you don’t believe in the Son of God, He will disappear from you.”
I stared with awe at the Shadow Man, and then looked down, not able to gaze into him any longer.
Suddenly, two men approached me from behind. I was startled by their sudden appearance and I flinched around to face them. They were both wearing white long robes and had humbly calm looks on their faces. The one on the right was dark haired with a short dark beard and mustache, and the one on the left was younger looking, with tan brown hair and a goodhearted expression.
“Your honor,” spoke the man on the left, gazing at the Shadow Man. “Is the spirit feeling much better?” The man laid a hand on my shoulder, and I started to feel cooled down and somewhat uplifted by his touch.
“He is healed,” spoke the Shadow Man, “though his heart still lies in recovery.”
I winced and just said nothing. I turned to the two men.
“Hey, excuse me, but can you tell me what’s happened? Where am I? Am I still in the land of Nawt? Who are you guys?” I felt like a little kid, asking all these questions.
The men turned to me and they both smiled.
“Spirit….” Spoke the younger man in front of me. “You are at the western outland part of Nawt. Do not fear-- you and your friends are in good hands.”
“We are holy followers,” spoke the man on the right. “We keep to the holiness of Christ and the Most High, worshipping Him wherever we go. I am Eric Stewart-- this here is Gabriel, an angel from Heaven.”
I gazed at the older looking man on the right. “Wait, you aren’t both angels?”
“No,” spoke Gabriel. “I am the only angel of the four followers-- I was sent here to guide lost refugees towards the Holy One and help prepare them for their academies they had run away from.”
“There are a few more of us outside, tending to your friends,” said Eric. “See, we all ran away from our academies with such worry of failing them. Gabriel came to us and he’s been teaching us this whole year what it’s like to be a follower of Christ. He’s helped us lots and we’ve been properly prepared to return back to our academies at any time now.”
“Then who is he?” I pointed to the Shadow Man, still sitting on the rock, gazing at us.
The two men said nothing.
The Shadow Man spoke towards them. “Take the spirit to his friends-- they mustn’t stay here long, for they’ve got a place to reach.”
I winced. So he knew about our destination and what we were up to as well. This man had totally been spying on me. I wondered how much he had seen…
The two men took me from the cave and around to the left where Dewey and Pete quietly sat and listened to two of the other followers as they told them some kind of story about the Word of God.
Behind them, the other follower stood with Shion and was showing him a thick book that was probably the Bible. All the followers were dressed the same, for they all wore white robes. Even Gabriel looked just like them, for he didn’t have his halo right now.
“Dewey!” I called, hurrying over to him.
“Shh!” Dewey hissed, giving me a quick look. He faced the followers, who continued to tell them about the Word.
“See, God has existed since the beginning of time,” spoke the man on the right, facing the two SoulBirds. “Everything has always been under His creation. You asked if there were ever anything that created God Himself. Well-- absolutely not. The Lord has no beginning, or no end. He’s always existed without a beginning to His existence.”
I blinked and looked around. “Hey, where’s Saint Bernardo and Mira?”
“Hmm? Bernardo?” Gabriel looked at me. “Oh! The silly fool has gone off to find the rest of your friends and the band of angels. You guys are really traveling with Michael’s angels to fight off the Beast?” He looked at me hopefully.
I nodded. “I’m only with them because I’m trying to escape the Higher One’s grasp,” I said halfheartedly.
“Mm-hmm,” Gabriel nodded. “Bernardo explained everything.”
“But where are Mira and Shiigo?” I asked.
Eric winced. “Mira? Shiigo? I’m sorry-- were they recently with you? You were the only ones we found in the woods.”
“What?! Where’s Mira?” I rolled my eyes. She must have disappeared again.
“Well, Eric and I found the saint, your SoulBirds and the short guy,” Gabriel nodded towards Pete, Dewey, and Shion. “The Shadow Man found you and took you back to our cave. But none of us found anyone else.”
I winced and sighed. “Forget it, then. I bet she’s just run off because I rejected going with her down to Hell.”
Both the men winced.
“Well, you shouldn’t follow anyone who wants to take the pathway to Hell then,” said Eric.
I heard a loud cry in the distance.
“Ho! The boy’s awakened! He’s still alive!” Saint Bernardo was arriving in the distance with another angel hovering at his side. Behind him were Jenna, Raman, Grace, and Raman’s fire SoulBird, Othello. The angel at Bernardo’s side was a lady, and she had a crimson gown with strange hair, short on the left side and chin-length on the right. The left side was a bluish color and the right was dark purple. She wore heavy makeup and earrings, and it was strange to see such a spirit look like an angel at the same time. The only thing angelic about her was her halo hovering above her head. She was drinking a cup of wine slowly, keeping her eyes shut.
“Zachariah!” Bernardo rushed up to me and gave me a playful nudge on the shoulder.

I snickered and gave the saint a playful nudge back.
Jenna made her way up to me with a stern look.
“Where do you think YOU have been?” She sounded annoyed. “I swear! Raman and I lost the rest of the angels to look for you!”
I frowned at her. If she was going to make a problem and sound unthankful for reuniting safely, then I wasn’t going to sound happy about seeing her either.
“Well, you really didn’t have to,” I scoffed. “It wasn’t my fault I was trapped in hellsfire again.”
“Hellsfire!” Jenna raised her voice. “You were with that jailbird girl again, weren’t you?” Her eyes blazed.
“Yeah? What do you care?” I replied simply.
Dewey and Grace approached us with curious looks.
“Argh!” Jenna rolled her eyes and stomped her foot. “Zach, don’t you realize how STUPID it is to trust anyone of those spirits from the Punishment House? She’s crazy! You don’t have to get to know her to be aware of that! She was supposed to have gone down to Gehenna if she hadn’t escaped!”
Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed me from behind and hugged me. I smelled the scent of strong perfume and a loud female voice laughed in my ear.
“Ahaha! How hilarious! I‘ve always wanted you to experience a relationship finally!” It was the female angel that arrived with Bernardo. She hugged me tightly against her and then let me go with a devious smile on her head. “Hehe, this time it’s the wrong one now, huh?”
I winced at the saint as she hovered behind me with her hands on her hips.
Saint Bernardo hovered to her side with another cup in his hand. He gave the saint a rough playful nudge that nearly tipped her over.
“Waha!” Laughed Bernardo. “Sorry, Zach! But they were all I could find! Jenna and Raman were the first ones I met, and apparently, the band of angels must have left without all of us now. But hey! Meet another one of your saints!”
I stared with a narrowed look at the woman who was cracking up as Bernardo gave her another push.
“Idiot!” She gave a shove at the man. “You nearly made me spill the blood of Christ!” She had a twisted look of anger on her face, but then immediately returned to a smile at me. Her lips were big and dark in the lipstick she wore. “I’m sorry! I make terrible first impressions! I am Saint Hoshinda. I’ve watched over you since the time of your birth when you were just a tiny innocent little baby!”
Bernardo huffed and crossed his arms. “Embarrassing, huh?” He gave me a wink. “If you ever think there has been something wrong with you, blame it on her blessing,” he elbowed Saint Hoshinda.
“Achh!” Hoshinda let out a loud huff of disgust and elbowed him back even harder. Her face was fierce like a pissed off rockstar. “All the mistaken accidents with Zach have been YOUR fault, you drunken fool!” She had a loud voice that would do good for a Cruella DeVil. But then she laughed and faced me with a humored smile again. “Sorry, hun! Where were we? What seems to be your problem now?” She looked at me and then at Jenna.
Jenna huffed. “Nothing! Zach’s just wasted his time again.” She walked passed me with her head held high.
Saint Hoshinda kept a raised gaze at her and then looked at me.
“Meh!” Hoshinda stifled a snicker and looked at me. “What’s her problem?”
I shook my head and walked away. “I dunno.” I made my way to the corner of the front of the cave and sat down. I thought about what must be done next. We had to leave soon and catch up with those angels.
Raman came over and sat by my side. “You feeling okay, Zach?”
I didn’t meet his gaze. “Yeah,” I lied. “When should we leave? I mean…..can’t you contact the angels and ask them to wait for us somewhere?”
“Oh, we can’t tell them to wait,” said Raman seriously. “I have just contacted them with my SoulBird just earlier. They are heading towards the land of Pryde and my guess is that they will be arriving in Primal and escaping this world before we catch up to them.”
“So what are we going to do?”
A shadow crept up behind me and I turned to face the Shadow Man as he spoke. “You can take the Evergrowing Tree located on the border of Pryde,” he said. “There is a tree that grows along the western border of Pryde and reaches up high enough to make your arrival to Primal much faster.”
Raman looked at the Shadow Man and smiled. He stood up and faced him.
“Hello, your honor,” said Raman with a bow.
I winced at both of them. Why were these spirits calling the Shadow Man “your honor?” And how could Raman have met or known this guy before?
“The Evergrowing Tree, you say?” Said Raman. “I’ve been thinking about that, but are you sure? The tree is filled with….unholy spirits. They don’t follow the ways of the Lord and they are like a foreign race of spirits.”
“The Evergrowing Tree is the quickest route,” said the Shadow Man. “For the lands get higher and higher in each stage, and it would be a long hike to reach the stage of Primal. This tree, however, is tall enough so that you can reach the top and reach the stage without having to take the long way on the ground.”
I blinked. “The tree is really that tall?” The world of Purgatory was like a pyramid-- the higher the stages, the higher you had to hike to reach the next one. And I did know about the Evergrown Tree, how it grew from the land of Pryde and reached its height to the next stage so that one could climb to the top of the tree and just hover forwards from there to get to Primal. It would be like taking the elevator rather than walk up a ramp.
“Yes,” spoke the Shadow Man. “I’ve arranged plans with the angel, Garbiel, to help guide you there and accompany you at the tree. There are many disbelievers who are untrustworthy and cunning, though, which is why Gabriel has agreed to sticking with you and making sure you don’t fall into any of the spirits’ tricks in that tree.”
“Must we leave right now?” Asked Raman.
“Tomorrow morning,” said the Shadow Man. “It would be good for the spirits to stick around here a little more and have the followers teach them what they have been taught by Gabriel so far.”
I turned to where the followers were still teaching Dewey and Pete. Dewey seemed intrigued and interested in whatever it was they were learning. He was actually keeping quiet for once.
So I spent the rest of that day listening to the followers. They had a nice library in their cave as well, and were filled with books Gabriel had given them. Many of them were about spiritual help and connection for spirits like ourselves.
I actually learned a lot from the followers, and I was even starting to feel much better and calmer than I had ever been for a while. The followers taught us true prayer to the Lord, and what it meant to offer sacrifices towards the Lord.
“Back on Earth, we would burn animals upon the altar,” said Eric. “But here, as spirits, we strive to offer sacrifices to the Most High through just lighting incense around our cave every night. By lighting this incense, we are offering a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord.”
The incense was incredibly strong, and I felt myself transfixed by the smell. Even Jenna looked calmed and hypnotized. We all lit candles in the cave and said a prayer together to thank the Lord for providing this world of afterlife so that we could have a second chance to learn His ways.
All through this, I felt like I was totally being revived. I forgot all about my problems back at the academy and all my worries over Lucien the Higher.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I had spent the entire night, staring at the candle lit in front of me, thinking about all that I had learned about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Zach?” The Shadow Man’s hand touched my shoulder. “Are you ready to go? We are leaving now.”
I blinked and slowly snapped out of it. I shook my head on got up, for I had been kneeling in front of the table for hours.
“Did you recite any prayers, boy?” Bernardo approached me.
I sighed. “I…I don’t know.” I had been staring at that fire, so deep in thought, that I didn’t know what I had been doing.
The morning was dreary and the sun and moon were hidden behind the thick clouds. Raman stood with Jenna and Shion at his right and his SoulBird at his shoulder. Dewey, Pete, and Grace stood at the front and faced me as I exited the cave.
The Shadow Man turned to Gabriel. “We will head northwards and avoid Jehovah’s followers,” he said solemnly.
I winced. “Jehovah’s followers?”
“Haven’t you heard?” Jenna fixed a piercing gaze at me. “Jehovah’s followers are those spirits that believe in the Father, and they‘ve decided to take their own paths in this afterlife to study Him through their own way of learning. They don’t want to follow Purgatory‘s academies or live in the lifestyle as this world lives.”
I winced. “What? They want to follow the Lord but disobey their purpose for this world? That can’t make sense.”
“Well, to them it does!” Said Jenna.
“Ugh!” Hoshinda’s loud voice scared me as she approached my side with a disgusted look. “Those spirits are nothing but liars here in this world! It’s a disgrace that Purgatory could even allow their spiritual presence! See, the ones referred to as ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’ look up to the Lord as Jehovah, and follow in only His name, and they live outside lives from the stages of this world so that they can find their ‘own‘ way to Heaven. They are totally despicable!”
“Jehovah’s followers believe in the Son,” said the Shadow Man. “However, their belief is somewhat more complex. These particular spirits will try to convert you into believing in what they believe and coax you into living in the lifestyle they have chosen.”
“We do not want to encounter such spirits at this moment,” said Gabriel. “We will take the outside path and hopefully they wouldn’t spot our presence and pull us into such nonsense. Such spirits think they have been chosen ‘witnesses’ to the Jehovah God and they will do anything to convert other outsiders in the outlands to follow their ways.”
I found it creepy that there were such lifestyles out there, even in the outlands. To think that spirits would actually try to lure you to be like them was a little annoying as well.
We set off soon after we bid farewell to the followers of Christ. I found myself unwilling to leave, for I had enjoyed my time with those spirits. Somehow, they had made me feel much better and much more relieved.
Dewey was stomping with his head down.
“Ugh! I don’t wanna leave!” He complained. “Can’t we just give up and become like them? They seem pretty happy living their solitary life in Purgatory.”
Gabriel chuckled. “Well, they aren’t going to be staying out there forever. As soon as they feel comfortable with what I have taught them about self-control, humility, faith, and other teachings of a follower of the Lord, then they will be returning to their own academies.”
“The only problem now is that there are lots of hell creatures wandering out here,” said Raman. “It will probably be awhile before they return.”
“Well, I think they ought to pass their academies easily,” said Jenna. “They seem so nice-- I’m surprised such people like them had ever been rambunctious enough to ditch their academies!”
I turned to meet her gaze with a sideways smile. “I’m surprised some people haven’t ditched their academies themselves.”
She frowned. “Hey! Not to brag, but I’ll have you know I’m the top medium in my academy! All the High Ones say so!”
I turned away. “Teacher’s pet,” I muttered.
“Like you’d ever become one,” she snapped back.
I narrowed my eyes forward as we walked on. The Shadow Man, who was apparently coming with us, was at the front, several feet ahead. I slowly came up to his side and peered up at him.
“What brought you to Christ’s followers?” I asked.
The Shadow Man kept his gaze forward and spoke, “I didn’t bring myself to Christ’s followers-- they brought me to them.”
I winced. “How? Did they do some kind of ritual to summon the Shadow Man living among the lands?”
“What brought me to them was no ritual, but their faith and kind hearts made me interested and happy for what they were going through.”
“So now you’re leaving them? Why follow us? Why HAVE you been following us?”
“I haven’t been following you, for you have no strong interest in me to start with.” The Shadow Man was speaking seriously and he didn’t turn his shadowed head to face me. I bet if he had a face, he would look arrogant and annoyed with me.
I rolled my eyes and snickered, thinking about the acts of faith the followers taught me. What did this strange creature mean by “not having interest in him?” Of course I was interested! I’m itching to know who the heck he is and what he wants from us! So far, he didn’t seem totally on the bad side, just a little….mysterious.
Suddenly, a howl pierced through the air. At first, we thought it was the wind, but then the howling continued and grew more ominous. We all stopped walking and looked around. The land we were walking upon was flat like a rolling prairie, bearing a few skinny trees here and there. And the grass was short and a little dry.
“Okay, the outlands of Nawt sure are wide and flat, but seriously!” Said Jenna. “What’s with the howl?”
The Shadow Man in front of us froze and seemed to observe the land around. Though he was covered with a dark shadow, he seemed to be wearing a robe that blew in the wind from the bottom. But just like the rest of him, the robe was covered in a dark shadow.
The howling sounded again and Shion stepped closer to the Shadow Man.
“What is that?” He muttered. “Hell creatures?”
The Shadow Man turned to the right. “Not hell creatures. Jehovah’s followers.”
And turning to the right, there were five men coming up towards us with long purple robes. Unlike the followers of Christ, these spirits seemed to have a peculiar glow around them-- a somewhat dark glow from the purple they wore on their long robes. They were gathering around a tree with their heads bowed down, and they were all holding hands, seeming to utter a prayer.
“Hey! I thought you said they were around the borders, not along our path,” I turned to the Shadow Man, but he was gone. Shion stood there alone as he faced the spirits in the distance.
“Hey!” Saint Hoshinda hovered at my side. “Where’d mister Shadow Dude go?”
“I dunno,” I muttered, feeling a pang of annoyance.
“No! Grace! Dewey! Pete! Get back here!” Hissed Jenna, glaring at the SoulBirds as they curiously stepped forwards to get a better look at the spirits.
The five men suddenly turned and faced the SoulBirds, and gathering around the three of the creatures, they all sang a strange song. Then four of the five men picked up the SoulBirds that seemed to be unconscious-- and disappeared at the back of the hill.
“No! Eeh! Thieves!” Wailed Bernardo. “What they doin’ to our pets?”
Hearing his loud voice, the last one to stay behind turned to face us. He made his way to us and then bowed.
“Greetings, fellow brothers,” he said.
“Ahem!” Saint Hoshinda gave a haughty cough and gave them an upraised look with her arms crossed.
The spirits smiled and bowed down. “And sisters,” he added.
“Come-- you look lost. Do you not belong here in the outlands of Nawt?” The man held out a hand towards me and Jenna.
Jenna huffed. “Um, no. We are not from the outlands. And we haven’t run away to start a life out here whatsoever,” she gave me a nudge on the shoulder to move on, but the man suddenly laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Dear child,” he spoke with a strange calm look in his eyes. These spirits all had a distant dazed look in all their eyes. “You must come with us. What we will show you will make the biggest difference in your life. For we are Jehovah’s witnesses. And it is our duty to serve as an organization for the Lord and bring forth as many spirits as we can to seek Him.”
“We’re already seeking Him,” said Shion, wincing. “It’s been a huge part of our afterlives to do so.”
“Ah, but have you been taught from those filthy academies?” Said one of the men. “Come now, those academies are nonsense. They speak the truth of the Lord, though they mix it up with ridiculous ideas that we, as Jehovah’s followers, don’t tolerate as anything other than insults to the Jehovah God.”
“Oh, yeah?” I raised my expression sarcastically. “Like what? Do you have anything against our teachings-- or our SoulBirds?”
“Come,” the man raised his arms and fixed us with a sharp stare. “If you’d like to see your forbidden pets, you must come with us.” He turned and headed away towards the direction the others had disappeared to.
“Oh!” Hoshinda frowned and stuck her tongue out. “Bleh! See what I tell you what a disgust they are?!”
“Faugh!” Bernardo looked angry. “Such spirits are disgraces to Heaven, even though they would be allowed inside!”
Jenna huffed and looked up at Raman and Gabriel, who gazed after the man with narrowed looks. “Well, I’m not just gonna let Grace be taken into pain again!” She said. “I’m going after them.”
“We have no choice,” muttered Gabriel. “Just be careful. Don’t listen to everything they believe. Be sure to question me or Raman-- whatever advice they give you.”
Narrowing my eyes with a sickening feeling, we followed the man up the hill and then down to a strange two-story house. The inside was totally wide open and empty except for the strange statues of angels and weird looking creatures at the corners, and the stairway that led straight up to a hall of rooms.
Jehovah’s followers were kneeling around in circles here and there in the house, and many wore the dark purple robes while some wore a bluish color.
The man that led us turned and introduced himself. “I am Keith Flint. I am one of the seventeen elders of this house that direct the ceremonies and prayers going on, and the rest of those who are not wearing the purple robes of elders are servants that mostly work to find other spirits and convert them.”
“You’re trying to convert us though,” I remarked quietly.
Keith ignored my statement and faced Gabriel with an intriguing look. “I see that with you, you have brought along an angel in Heaven-- one of the mightiest and highest ones. Gabriel, aren’t you?”
Gabriel nodded. “Yes. Do you mind? You have something the mediums want. Their SoulBirds belong to them, and belong forever.”
“Ah, the SoulBirds,” an old short lady approached his side and eyed us all with a creepy smile. “You see, we don’t count SoulBirds as such matters of importance. As a matter of fact, the whole world of Purgatory is totally wrong in its purpose, and it doesn’t need such creatures to help choose their paths.”
“So you’re trying to convert the whole world of Purgatory to just doing what you do without going to Heaven or Hell?” I said with a wince.
“Of course-- we all belong to wherever we go to,” said the old lady. “Many spirits think they need to move on to another afterlife, which is totally unreliable. We believe it is a contribution to stay here in Purgatory since we have made it here, for the Jehovah God does what He does, and we shouldn’t strive to change it.”
“Bah!” Saint Hoshinda gave a scornful swat with her hand, rolling her eyes. “Then what explains the graduations at Guhd when such spirits DO make it to the eternal happiness in Heaven?! The Lord wouldn’t let such things happen if He thinks we ought to stay here!”
The old lady narrowed her eyes at the saint. “You speak out of foolish manner, spirit.”
“Hah!” Hoshinda nearly cracked up laughing. “You’re speaking to an angel from Heaven, old lady!”
“Look,” I stepped forwards. “Just tell us where our SoulBirds are. We aren’t interested in your belief and we are totally not interested in staying here forever as middle-class spirits of the afterlife. We’re either going to Heaven or Hell. Now can you please tell me where the SoulBirds are?”
“I’m afraid we can’t let you leave,” said Keith. There were a few elders gathering behind him and the lady. “I shall arrange an examination of the behalf of each of your spirits. Gabriel? I’ll have you come along with Dante’s elders here.” He faced the angel and then nodded to the spirits behind him.
Gabriel raised his eyebrows, but there was nothing he can do. Jehovah’s followers were fixing us all with hungry intent looks. He nodded and obediently went away with them.
Raman and Shion were both assigned to another group of servants, while Raman’s SoulBird, Othello, was taken separately by another spirit. Jenna and I were the only ones standing at the door. Saint Bernardo and Hoshinda hovered above with suspecting looks.
“Now, you two,” Keith smiled at us. “Why don’t you two come with me? I’ll show you your SoulBirds, and explain to you why such creatures are unreasonable.”
I narrowed my eyes and spat at their feet. Keith and the old lady gasped with surprise and I turned to make a break for it. But just as I whipped around, I was facing the Shadow Man, who was standing barely ten feet away from me, facing into the house.
“Shadow Man!” Jenna cried.
All at once, the sky’s darkened and a loud thunder clasped through the air, startling all the spirits. Keith and the rest of Jehovah’s followers were all gathering about the door, looking outside and gazing at the Shadow Man with peculiar looks of awe on their faces.
“Sir….” Keith stepped forward and faced the Shadow Man. “Please….you know us, don’t you?”
The Shadow Man said nothing.
“Oh, certainly, you must come in,” breathed Keith. His dazed eyes looked even more lost. “Please, do come in….” He reached out a hand to grab the Shadow Man’s hand and escort him inside, but he lifted his hand ever so slowly as if he feared the touch of the spirit.
The Shadow Man remained silent and walked past the spirit, and then made his way up to my side. He lay a hand on me.
“This boy is not to be judged,” he said to the Jehovah followers. “Whatever you examine from him, and whatever you reveal, you must not react with such judgment that would displease the Holy One from above.”
I raised my eyebrows and gazed up at the Shadow Man. I bet he was referring to the soul of mine that was connected to that with the devils, Lucifer, and Sarah Madonne. I saw that the Jehovah followers were nodding. Jenna was fixing us with a narrowed gaze.
“Please… you say,” said Keith, still fixed with awe. “I’ll leave the mediums with Mother Karusa here,” he nodded at the old lady. “I must direct the elders and servants to settle…..matters with you.”
Jenna and I turned with a disliking expression at the old lady as she slowly stepped up to us.
“Come now, sweeties. There are plenty of things you’re going to find interesting here-- trust me.”
And Jenna and I quietly followed the lady down the room. I looked back and saw that the Shadow Man was being crowded by the Jehovah witnesses, who all were silent and intrigued with awe.

Mother Karusa led us through strange chambers where fiery torches were lit on either side of the walls. She explained to us strange rituals they underwent through here, chanting the Lord Jehovah’s name in holy prayers so that they can keep a daily praise with Him.
When we got to the end of the room to the next door, she showed us the SoulBird sanctuary where they kept our SoulBirds captive—along with a handful of many other SoulBird species.
“You CAPTURE SoulBirds and just keep them captive in this basement?” Jenna faced the old lady with disbelief. “That’s terrible! SoulBirds need the light—or at least fire light if they are devils.” There were SoulBirds of all species, both angel and devils as we peeked into the caged wall to the sanctuary. The place did seem nice with lush trees and open areas with ponds here and there to suit every type, but it still wasn’t right. SoulBirds could fade away and disappear from this world if they didn’t live near the light long enough,
The old lady chuckled creepily. “Well, of course we keep them here in the sanctuary. It is totally unbiblical to count on unreasonable SoulBirds as if they hold the key to your happiness.”
“But they do hold the key to our happiness!” Jenna huffed, flashing her piercing gaze. “Without SoulBirds, we won’t found our way to Heaven, or even Hell.”
“Exactly!” The short old lady stretched up her wrinkly neck and glared back at Jenna. “As spirits in the afterlife of Purgatory, we mustn’t look forward to descending or ascending to another world. This is the afterlife, and our spirits belong where we belong. We are no longer earthly mortal bodies with flesh and bone—we are spirits of the afterlife. Whatever world our spirits end up in, we must stay in that world, whether it’s Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. And as Jehovah’s followers, we seek to understand why we could be here, and what we could do to continue on living for the God Jehovah and serve Him no matter what afterlife we have ended up in.”
I snickered. “Yeah, disobeying Purgatory’s purpose isn’t living up to God. He wants us to move on from this afterlife—THAT’S why we’re here.”
“Oh, shut up, you!” The old lady looked pissed now. “Shall I have your SoulBirds erased right now?! We followers have special rituals that can truly rid a SoulBird of its soul so that its spirit can never come back to this world again. We’ve done it before! Don’t make us do it to you!”
She turned around to head inside the door of the sanctuary and check around the SoulBirds.
Jenna crossed her arms and eyed the old lady. “Well, keeping them in this sanctuary long enough is going to erase their souls from this world! I can’t bear to never seeing Grace again!”
I sighed. “Well, spirits never die off….” Unless they are in the world of Everlasting Ice, but I didn’t mention that. “But if Dewey is ever kicked out of this world somehow, at least his spirit will be in Heaven in his real angelic form.”
“Yeah, but I shouldn’t be separated from Grace no matter where she’s gonna go!” Snapped Jenna. “You should feel the same too! None of us should be separated from our lifelong soulmates, because we should follow them and follow each other wherever we go!” She turned to face me. “We’re gonna escape tonight. We’ll sneak down here and retrieve our SoulBirds, then we’ll make a break for it. I don’t care what it takes. I am not becoming a Jehovah Follower.”
I laughed. “You think it’s gonna be that simple?”
“We’ll do what we can.”
I peered into the sanctuary and tried to spot Dewey or any of our SoulBirds. I caught them around the pond, where most of the water types were found. I had never seen a water type SoulBird before, since the lands of Bhad were so try that no such SoulBird type would find the place appropriate for them. They all looked interesting. The water types had a flat club-shaped crest behind their heads and the ends of their tails pointed to a mermaid fin. They had webbed feet and flat, un-sharp beaks.
Dewey, Pete, Grace, and Othello were playing around with a funny looking water SoulBird. The SoulBird was angelic, thankfully, but it was a feisty one. It quacked and beat its wings at them, chase them around and spashing them all with water, especially at Pete and Othello, who were fire types. Othello easily avoided the SoulBird, for he was older and wiser than all of them, but Pete was complaining and dodging clumsily from the SoulBird’s annoying splashes. Dewey fought back and tried to peck at the bird, without resulting in an angry splash from the water type’s swatting wings. Grace, too, tried to stay out of it as well.
“Hmph!” Jenna eyed the water type as it quacked at Grace and beat its wings at her, luring her towards the water so it can splash her. “That water sure would get on my nerves if it were to travel with us.”
I watched as Mother Karusa scolded the birds and tried to hold back the water type. “Truman! It’s no wonder you were born in the wild and never adopted by another spirit! It just proves you don’t deserve to be in this world!”
The water type looked around itself curiously as it was being picked up by Mother Karusa. It’s eyes were dumb and blissful as it was carried away from Dewey and the others.
Suddenly, light flashed behind me. Saint Grenada and Saint Annabelle appeared out of nowhere, with shocked looks on their faces. They were both looking around.
“Ugh! My word!” Choked Grenada. “What kinda place is this? I can feel the atmosphere twisting, as if it were Heaven, though Heaven was somehow changed and corrupted!”
I laughed and turned to them. “I know right? What else can you say about Jehovah’s followers?”
Annabelle gasped. “Oh! This is the house of Jehovah’s followers?”
Grenada rolled her eyes and shook her head tiredly.
Jenna stepped up and faced them. “Grenada! Annabelle!” She looked happy to see them. “Where have you been? Have you been with Hannah?”
“Oh!” Annabelle brimmed at Jenna. “Well, since you guys were separated, we just watched over you carefully and waited till another good time to show up. You guys seemed so calm and relieved to be with the followers of Christ! I couldn’t dare to disturb you, because I knew I would just bring up nonstop conversations out of my excitement for you.” She giggled.
“Well, you picked the right time to show up now, I guess,” I muttered, crossing my arms.
Grenada huffed. “Listen you! Both of you! Do not pay attention to a word these spirits say to you. It is NOT a requirement to live forever in this world. No spirit belongs in Purgatory, they either belong to Heaven where their pure good hearts lie, or in Hell where their bad hearts lie. No spirit totally ‘belongs’ in this intermediate position in Purgatory.”
I shrugged. “If they wanna stay here forever, take part in the academies and hold themselves back over and over again for a thousand years until Heaven’s reign is over. Then they’ll find their way to Hell.”
Annabelle clasped her hands and gave me an admiring look. “Oh, you still remember the thousand year reign after the apocalypse, don’t you?”
“Well, Christ’s followers did open up my interests and teach me many more.”
Jenna nodded, giving me a raised look. “Yes, remember the seventy weeks of Daniel? Jerusalem is to be rebuilt for sixty-two weeks before the end comes for the entire area forever.”
Grenada was nodding. “But remember that a week is like seven years. So seventy weeks would be four hundred ninety years in all.”
Jenna and I both nodded. I glanced over at the sanctuary where Mother Karusa was still tending to the SoulBirds, making sure she wasn’t hearing.
“Now listen!” Hissed Grenada. “She can’t hear us. Remember that we angels can make ourselves visible or invisible to those we want to. We will be here to watch over you and make sure you keep from falling for these forsaken spiritual freaks.”
“Wait, you’re invisible to these guys?” I said. “Hoshinda and Bernardo aren’t making themselves invisible. They seem to be interacting with the witnesses with rudeness and scorn for them.” I added a humored snicker.
“Oh please!” Grenada rolled her eyes. “Saint Bernardo and Saint Hoshinda are among the most obnoxious angels I’ll ever meet! It disgusts me so to think that Bernardo, especially, was one of the five to bless you with us.”
“Ooh, I love Saint Bernardo!” Breathed Annabelle happily. “He’s so dreamy! Have you seen his abs?” She looked at me. “They’re AMAZING. He may be a drunken lunatic, but he’s got the most amazing muscles!”
I winced. “You’re telling me?” I glanced at Jenna, who was looking at Annabelle with a half humored, half wincing stare.
“Oh, you just gotta meet Saint Tyler soon!” Annabelle added. “He’ll be the last one, and then you’ll finally have met all your guardians!”
I laughed. “Is he going to be a drinker like Bernardo and Hoshinda?”
“Oh, goodness no,” Grenada said with a huff. “Tyler is…..totally the opposite of what you’ve seen Bernardo to be. But…..I like him.” She was nodding with a narrowed look in her eyes. “He’s always been my favorite angel. I believe you’d like him too, Zach.”
I raised my expression and said nothing. But before any of us could say another word, Mother Karusa emerged from the sanctuary with a haughty look on her face.
“Despicable birds,” she muttered.
I gave her a look. “Hey, they are God’s creation. Why must you banish them? It’s not respectful for the ‘Jehovah God.’”
“Oh, quiet, you!” Mother Karusa turned her back and led us away. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Pay attention to what we teach you, and you’ll understand the concepts of our works.”
So for the rest of that day, Jenna and I were put with a group of servants that walked us through rituals and explained us the significances of becoming a Jehovah Follower, how one day, we will be “rewarded” for our following, no matter what afterlife we end up in.
Saint Grenada and Saint Annabelle watched over us without saying anything, for the spirits had us so involved with them that we barely had time to even talk to each other.
Saint Bernardo was wandering around the house, seeming to ignore and loudly reject the teachings of Jehovah’s followers, who didn’t believe he was an angel. He tended to the wine until the spirits wouldn’t let him drink anymore.
Saint Hoshinda followed the spirits that pulled her to their rituals and teachings, though she did so with a scorn and rough haughty attitude, laughing and making fun of the ways she could contradict what they told her. They didn’t believe she was an angel from Heaven either.
Shion and Raman were together in a group with the elders, and Gabriel was with an elder that seemed to be sprinkling him with some kind of water from a leaf.
All through this, I kept an eye out for the Shadow Man. He sat at the right corner of the house where the fireplace was, and Jehovah’s followers were kneeling before him and uttering a strange prayer under their breaths. It was all I could do to not ask why they were mooning over him so much. I didn’t want to stir up anymore explanations from the spirits by asking any kind of question.
The strangest part about that day, was that we were repeatedly going through an hour-long ritual. Every two hours, we would stop our work and worshipping, and then make our way to the outside of the house. All of the witnesses and the rest of us, except for the Shadow Man, would walk around the house in a circle, reciting a strange prayer of the Jehovah’s beliefs:
"Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am Jehovah; and besides me there is no saviour.”
We had to repeat this verse thousands of time in a low whisper, or at least repeat it over and over again until the hour was over. It was tiring, and not only was my feet getting tired of continuously walking around the large house in circles, but my voice was getting dry under my breath as I kept the repeating words. If we stopped repeating, a witness next to me would give me a swat on the back of the head and swear punishment. I was surrounded by witnesses I didn’t know, for during the whole ritual, we were all separated from each other and surrounded by the witnesses.
And as my voice grew dull, my head was starting to grow dull as well. That wasn’t good—next thing that would grow dull would be my spirit.
It wasn’t long before I realized what they were trying to do to us—they were trying to make our spirits hypnotized so that we could easily fall into their trap of wanting to stay with them and recite more rituals and keep more of their beliefs in our hearts. I glanced up at Grenada, who was shaking her head at me with disappointment. I was right.
That night, we had to sleep in chambers under the house, for the spirits had told us we weren’t worthy of living in the chosen rooms of the witnesses yet.
Luckily, I was sharing a room with someone I knew, rather than another follower.
Jenna lay quietly next to me, gazing up at the dark ceiling with strange lighted symbols etched along.
I huffed. “Do you think they’re trying to make us become transfixed by these symbols?”
“Probably,” replied Jenna lowly, still staring. “I’m just keeping my eye on them with a strong feeling, knowing that not a single one of these tricks is going to fool me.”
I snickered. “You think your spirit alone is more powerful than all twenty-seven of these followers?”
“Of course!” She looked at me. “Anyone can have stronger faith if they believe hard enough. One simple belief is strong than a thousand non-believers.”
I blinked. “That’s what Christ’s followers told us.”
“Exactly,” she muttered. She turned away. “And I have a lot to believe in for myself if I am to ever pass the rest of my academies.” She turned up to the symbols. “There’s a lot I regret doing….but that’s all in the past. Now I just got to work for the future, for the afterlife will always be in eternity.”
I looked at her carefully. “What exactly brought you to Purgatory?”
Jenna shrugged and gazed up with a narrowed look in her eyes. “Oh, you know….my attitude against others…..being a little too hard and unloving against others. I was way more forceful in my mortal life. I was surprised I didn’t end up in the lower classes of this world when I died.”
“Well, sometimes you should be forceful,” I muttered. “People are stupid, and sometimes that’s all you have left to do.” I thought about the bullies at the academy, and those idiots in the academies of Bhad who just didn’t seem to care.
Jenna looked at me with a sideways smile. “You mean yourself, don’t you?”
I shrugged. “I guess. I’m probably the last person in my academy that would ever make it to graduate….even though Christ somehow was nice enough to let me be the first.”
“Hey….if He let you pass, then you must be the most deserving to graduate,” said Jenna.
I chuckled. “You don’t have to say so if you really don’t think that. I may not be as worse as the other students and as obnoxious on the outside, but deep down, I’m way more uncaring and scornful than you think.”
“I think you deserved what happened at the chapel,” she looked at me with a frown. “I told you before—I don’t waste my breath saying things that I totally don’t think fully true.”
I looked up at the symbols and said nothing. It was strange for me to be having a real conversation with a spirit like Jenna. We were both so different from each other. She was strong-willed and determined, especially to do the right thing—I wasn’t. She could be loud and difficult to argue with—I never voiced my opinions towards others except in my head or behind their backs. But at the same time, I was feeling better to be talking somewhat heart-to-heart with her, for although she hated me and I hated her, we could find interest to share feelings with each other.
I sat up, muttering under my breath. “These pillows are filthy and there’s nothing to sleep on except this ground.”
Jenna huffed. “It’s damn obvious that they want us to lie down here and stare up at those pictures. Well, I’ve been staring at ‘em for almost an hour and I still don’t feel as nauseous as I did during that stupid ritual earlier. Ugh, I can just taste those words in my mouth.”
I frowned and recited it. “’ Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am Jehovah; and besides me there is no savior.’”
“Don’t say it! Gah!” Jenna sat up and shut her ears.
I chuckled. That was what they wanted—they wanted you to taste those words and fall into their work.
I turned around, hoping to find any of my saints appear and discuss what silly things they had learned today, but no one was here but me and Jenna. Shion, Raman, and Gabriel were in the other rooms.
I slipped out my rosary and gazed down at it. I did learn some true teachings that were the same as Christ’s followers’ teachings. Also, what really struck me, was that Gabriel had been the high angel in Heaven—after Lucifer had been kicked out.
I turned to Jenna with a worried look. “It’s strange….they say the Lord created Lucifer, an angel with perfection of looks and richness. But because of his conceit for that, he was kicked out and dropped to Hell. Yet, he appeared on earth to bear me—his son…”
Jenna gave me an intrigued look. “You’re the son of not only the devil, but of an angel that used to be most high in Heaven.”
I looked down at my rosary. “I’ll never look at Gabriel the same way again now.” I stared at Christ on the small cross, wondering how He could have reappeared there. I could’ve sworn that the Shadow Man must have somehow put Him back.
I turned to Jenna. “You saw the body missing on this cross before, didn’t you?”
Jenna turned and widened her eyes. “Yeah—what’s it doing back now?”
I sighed and told her about the Shadow Man’s first words to me back at the cave of Christ’s followers, and how he had told me “it had always been there” and “the darkness in my eyes had kept me and others from seeing it.”
Jenna winced. “Maybe it was just because of Christ’s followers that the body came back.”
“But why did it disappear in the first place?”
“It never disappeared,” a low voice spoke and I turned with fright to see the Shadow Man standing at the end of our room.
“Ahh!” Jenna sat up and faced behind her. “How’d you get inside?”
The Shadow Man didn’t answer her question. “Zach, what did you learn about yourself—or about your father, Lucifer?”
I was silent.
“Your father had a choice,” said the Shadow Man. “Even though he was created in Heaven, he still had a chance to make it to Hell. He still was able to find his way to eternal punishment and get exiled from the kingdom of Heaven. What does that tell you?”
“That even the spirits will always have a choice for their striving in the afterlife?” Said Jenna.
“The spirits will always be in the place they deserve,” said the Shadow Man. “If a spirit lived in a temporal body in the temporal life on Earth, and strove to follow the Lord and keep His commandments, then he shall be rewarded in the afterlife with eternal happiness. But if he were born of the immortal life, that spirit will have a choice to either keep his birth of spirit, since he has never experienced temporal body of flesh in the mortal life. If he decides to abandon that reward he’s been born with, and simply does wrong to become prideful and conceited of himself, that will drive him to come to the place where he deserves, and it will always be Hell. No spirit returns to Purgatory, so from that point after they leave the world, it’s either eternal life or eternal punishment for them.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Same goes for hell spirits? If they strive for happiness, will they reach Heaven?”
“Same does not go with those in eternal punishment,” said the Shadow Man. “For eternal punishment is what it is—eternal, and eternal happiness is what it is—eternal. You cannot turn back from either one if you were a temporal body of the mortal life, but for the angels that were already born of immortality, they are the ones that can choose.”
I stared at the Shadow Man with a fixed expression. “How do you know all this?”
The Shadow Man’s shadowed body seemed even darker in the shadows of our room.
“I know,” was his strange answer.
For the next three days, we were stuck in that strange house, for the witnesses had been very watchful and demanding over us. We hadn’t even had time to plan an escape route. Saint Hoshinda was becoming very annoyed, and so were the rest of us.
Luckily, we weren’t falling too hard on the teachings. The hour-long ritual was especially challenging to avoid, but with the saints watching over us, we were kept safe.
The Shadow Man was becoming more and more of my concern. He stayed by that fireplace, and the witnesses were continuously offering him things—candles and incense mostly—and praying to him as if he were their Jehovah God himself. But I couldn’t find the right time to finally ask the Shadow Man about that. I didn’t even want to ask the witnesses, and neither did Jenna, who was becoming more annoyed than the sour look she kept on her face.
Finally, one night, I was glaring at the symbols in my room. A spirit came to our chamber door and opened the barred cage.
“Jenna?” It was Keith. “Will you come with me to the fireplace? It is time for your cleansing.”
Cleansing? Oh right, they had been preparing us for this day so that we can be “blessed” by the Jehovah God and become a full follower. Jenna, Shion, and I had been faking our transfixion, pretending to have fallen for them.
Jenna sat up and, saying nothing, she made her way towards the man and he led her away, closing my door.
I watched them go. The fireplace—was that where the blessing was going to take place? They said they worship their Jehovah God through the fire. But they didn’t explain why they had the Shadow Man sitting in front of it while they did so. I guess the Shadow Man wasn’t the one they had been praying to—they prayed to “Jehovah” in the fire behind him.
I realized Keith had left my door unlocked. Sneaking a plan in my head, I decided to creep out of my room and unlock the other doors in the chambers. Then we could all leave and then have one of us to take Jenna from their blessing and leave all at once.
I crept through the rooms and unlocked the doors.
“Zach!” Hissed Shion with surprise. Raman wasn’t behind him.
“Where’s Raman?”
“He went to speak with the angels by taking a way through Heaven,” said Shion. “Don’t worry—he’ll be back.”
Quickly telling him to meet me at the front door, I set him free and then turned back to head for the room of the SoulBird sanctuary. I had to free the SoulBirds, for we had learned it took about five days before the SoulBirds slowly lost their power from the light.
I made my way to the door, and then realized I had no key for this one. Cursing under my breath, I stomped my foot and looked around for something to simply break the door with.
There, to the corner behind my left, there was a mirror lying against the corners of the walls, about my exact height. I was staring at my reflection, realizing that the wound on my cheek had healed. But I also saw how paler and flushed I looked. Wow, this place may be affecting me physically.
But suddenly, the mirror blazed with a reflecting fire. I flinched and turned to face it with horror. From the fire, there was the face of Damien, staring hard at me with a malicious smirking smile. He looked even worse than before—he had ugly wounds parting his chin and his right cheek. His eyes looked brighter red than before.
And finally, there I saw the golden SoulBird, fluttering around him, trying to bring light around his face and against the fire. But the fire was too strong. The golden SoulBird was sucked into the fire, and then appeared in Damien’s hands as a reddened creature with its eyes still closed, along with horns and a strand with a red triangle as its tail.
I gasped and then narrowed my eyes at Damien. “You cannot do that. You’re tricking me with the mirror. You cannot defeat one of the golden SoulBirds, for they are each powerful—whether alone or together.”
Damien chuckled and kept the smirk on his face and let the bird go. It disappeared into the fire. Immediately, I understood that the same went for the SoulBirds, and that they couldn’t defeat the devil unless they were on one, all together as the Three—the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Suddenly, the fires grew and consumed Damien, making his body disappear. As they continued to dance and flicker, I didn’t have to peer closely to see that another reflection was forming. I was staring right at the face of Lucien the Higher.
“Lucien—Luciefer…..” I felt my knees shake, feeling the heat and energy drained from my spirit just by gazing at him.
He was staring at me with a devilish glare, with his eyes narrowed and bleeding at the corners. His hands were clasped and he held something red and glowing.
Clenching his teeth and moving his body to face sideways, he hurled the red rock at me and it smashed against the mirror that he was inside. But as the mirror crashed and fell to pieces. It caught on fire and the red rock was right there, burning the mirror with flames around it.
I gasped as the fire was creeping up at me.
Stepping to the left from it, I looked up to see a shocked face from Mother Karusa—who was standing right there at the opening, watching me with horror.
She pointed a scrawny finger at me. “Y-you!” She was shaking and as the fires erupted just at her side, she let out a scream. “There is a devil in the house! This is the son of the devil! We have been sheltering a devil and bringing him forth to Jehovah’s presence!” She was screaming to the ceiling.
I ran to the left as the fires made its way to my side. They were burning the metal caged wall of the sanctuary, and I used this as a way to help the birds escape.
“Yahh!” Mother Karusa was charging at me with both her arms in front of her, ready to grasp and strangle me.
I dodged over the short lady and ran around to get at the door that had been easily burnt down.
“Get back here! You devil! You Satan child! It’s no wonder the God Jehovah has been rejecting our offerings! He is angry with you!”
The flames cut her off, but she managed to crawl around it and swat at my legs as I ran passed her.
“Now it’s the time to sacrifice you to Jehovah! Come with me to the fireplace, where you will truly be destroyed!”
Feeling the sting of pain in my heart at the words she yelled at me, I pushed them away and ran into the sanctuary. The SoulBirds were all cawing and gathering around me, all devils and angels alike. The devils were the first to escape and fly through the fire as it burned through the weak ceilings above. The angels avoided the fire and headed towards the ceilings.
Mother Karusa screamed with terror as some of the SoulBirds gave her angry pecks and kicks as they passed her.
The last SoulBirds to leave was Dewey, with Grace at his side. Pete and Othello flew above them, and they all headed towards me.
“Come on!” Yelled Dewey. “This fire’s gonna burn the hole house before Jehovah’s followers could stop it!”
“Hurry up!” I yelled back as the fires closed in and Mother Karusa was fleeing. “She’s gonna come back with more followers!”
So Pete, Dewey, and Grace all hovered above my shoulders and pulled me up through the opening above. As SoulBird spirits, they were able to easily carry any spirit alone.
Once we were on the upper floor downstairs, I saw that all of Jehovah’s followers were screaming and running around, panicking.
I peered through the crowd and caught sight of Jenna, who was in front of the fireplace with Keith right behind her.
“Jenna!” Grace cried. She immediately ran towards her and I followed.
Dewey and Pete met up with Shion and Gabriel, who became an angel and carried them all up towards the opening and up to the roof of the house.
Grace and I headed towards the fireplace, pushing pass all the followers. Grace fiercely struck the spirits that tried to grab at me. All around me were the terrible cries of people accusing me and pointing at me with looks of horror.
Imagine being chased by an angry crowd of super strongly spiritual people, calling you a devil’s child. That’s how it was like for me. I felt hotter from humiliation at being called the devil’s child than I felt by the fiery flames.
But the fireplace seemed to be the warmest part of the house I had been. The Shadow Man was still there, in front of the fireplace, standing as Keith uttered something under his breath with his hand on Jenna’s head.
“Now,” Keith lifted his head off Jenna. “Step aside—let the Jehovah God come forth and bear His own blessing from her.
I watched as Grace held back the spirits and scared them off with her tweeting squawks.
Jenna stood there still and I could only imagine the stern and serious face she bore.
The Shadow Man spoke. “She has not been received by your god because she has NOT been blessed.”
Keith narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“Keith!” The elders were screaming. “Throw this spirit in the fire!” I felt a push behind me as a lady knocked me to my knees. I fell with a grunt. Jenna and Keith turned around and Jenna widened her eyes as she saw me on the ground. People were kicking at me and spitting with envy.
I cursed and instantly sat up, grabbing at someone’s ankle with furious anger. The man yelled and tried to kick at me, but I twisted his leg and made him fall. I felt my humiliation turn to irritation, and my irritation turn to hot anger. If these people wanted a devil’s child, they’ll get a devil’s child….
I slipped out my rosary and got to my feet. Some of the spirits gasped as they saw the necklace in my hand.
“What?! A devil child with the rosary? Not possible!”
“Duh!” Jenna yelled. “What does that tell you about calling him a devil now?”
Keith snatched the rosary from me, but I yanked it back, giving him a fierce, devilish look. whacking it behind my back, I hit someone’s face and made them scream. I whacked all the spirits around me with the rosary as they tried to close in on me again. I felt the exhilaration pulse through me as I hit them with my necklace.
“Feel the pain from the Lord, you impious freaks!” I thought with envy. “Call me a devil; you aren’t much closer to Heaven than I am!”
“Stop!” The Shadow Man raised his voice and stepped forwards. Surprisingly, the followers froze and faced him. The Shadow Man rested a hand on Jenna’s shoulder and faced me with his blank shadowed face. “Leave the boy alone. I’ll take him with me and deal with him myself. do not disturb the Lord and try to pull His wrath upon him.”
And Grace came to hover and land on Jenna’s shoulder.
“Come, Zach,” said the Shadow Man.
Hesitating for a second, I stepped forward and kept the rosary in my hand.
The Shadow Man took my other hand and suddenly, all my four saints, Saint Grenada, Annabelle, Bernardo, and Hoshinda appeared to gather together above the Shadow Man. Then we all started to rise with the Shadow Man holding my hand at his left side and Jenna at his left. The saints remained above us and we all escaped through the opening that the flames grew from the bottom of the basement.
Jehovah’s witnesses all watched in awe as we left the house and landed on the roof. Before we disappeared, the Shadow Man spoke to them one last time.
“Remember what I’ve told you,” his voice was serious. “Mark my words and think about what you have done to yourselves. You want to please the Lord, then you would change your ways.”
We landed on the rood and Dewey, Pete, and Shion were waiting at the edge with Gabriel.
I slipped the rosary in my pocket and looked up at the Shadow Man. “What was that all about? Why would they think so much of you?”
The Shadow Man didn’t reply.
“Hey! Where’s Raman?” Jenna was looking around for her grandfather-in-law. I didn’t see him or his SoulBird anywhere.
“Oh! Raman….” Annabelle spoke calmly. “He’s coming—do not worry.” She was facing up at the sky with a hopeful look in her eyes.
Before any of us could question her, the Shadow Man stepped forward and pointed up ahead of him. “Look and see. There is light.”
And from the thick gray clouds, there shone a light that made its way to shine on the edge of the roof right where Shion and Gabriel stood.
And from the beam of light, a white horse was riding form the heavens. Its rider appeared to be a glorious and valiant looking angel from the distance, but when he came closer, we all realized with awe that the rider was Raman.
“Whoa!” Gasped Dewey. “That’s really Raman?”
And the white horse landed right at the edge, awaiting us. Looking into the horse’s eyes, I could somehow recognize its spirit as the same spirit that had been Othello, his air type SoulBird.
“See, Zach?” Hoshinda’s whisper was loud as she gave me a nudge. “Raman’s SoulBird has its natural spirit form in Heaven, though its natural form is that of a white horse that carries the Word of God on its back.”
Raman looked much more valiant and kingly. Something about him seemed stronger about his angelic form now. Shion and I were gazing with awe at him.
Jenna was smiling proudly. “Very seldom will you see my grandpa-in-law in this form, especially here in Purgatory. He and Othello are among the strongest warriors and riders of Heaven, and I would think this would be a limited time for him to stay looking like this.”
Raman nodded. “Jenna is right. Come—I have granted a temporary time to arrive like this so that I can get you across much faster. We will travel to Primal within three days if you ride Othello with me.”
Gabriel was already hovering to the front with the saints. They were all giving us reassuring looks.
Jenna, Shion, and I climbed upon the shining white horse and Othello seemed to be admiring the way we felt about riding his back. Just moments ago, he was a SoulBird trapped in the witnesses’ sanctuary.
The Shadow Man was the last one to get on. He stood there, watching us as we climbed, and then got on to the very back, just behind me.
Raman was at the front and he rode out towards the sky upon Othello. It felt refreshing to be traveling this high in the sky. Though you probably already know it, but we spirits in Purgatory cannot fly when we please. Such things are only granted to good and pure spirits that deserve it in Heaven.
Jenna was in front of me, and she looked behind at a loud call in the sky.
“Look! Those are some of the angelic SoulBirds we freed.” She pointed.
I turned to see that a mix of the angelic types of SoulBirds, mostly air and fire, were flying in the sky just a distance across from behind.
I narrowed my eyes as I saw one strange looking SoulBird flap his way over. I raised my expression.
“Hey, it’s that water-type again,” I recognized the dim-witted look in the water type’s eyes as he flapped over to us with an intrigued and dumbfounded look, quacking loudly at Dewey, who was upon my shoulder.
“What?!” Dewey whipped around to glare at the water-type. “No! Great! That jerk-off SoulBird?!”
The water-type quacked angrily and flapped around Dewey. Dewey yelled and jumped around, hovering off to peck at the water type. “Sheesh what do you want from me?!”
“Agh!” I swatted my hands as the two of them flapped in my face. “Move it, Dewey! Both of you!”
Pete huffed. “Dang, not on the warrior’s back, please.”
Jenna turned to glare at the noisy SoulBirds. “Someone ought to shut the water-type up!”
Raman turned and chuckled. “It’s alright. He looks like he wants to come with us. Let the little guy tag along.”
Shion turned and snickered. “We’ll have to give him a name. I’ve always wanted a water-type named Truman.”
“Whatever,” I muttered. I didn’t think I was going to make a difference whether he was to tag along with us or not—he was still going to follow us.
Raman rode forwards across the skies with all of us riding upon Othello.

The skies were so calming wherever Raman rode. Now days, I looked to him as a fierce warrior of Heaven rather than a humble governor of Bhad. Othello was a patient and obedient horse, brave as he was when he was a SoulBird. He was still able to speak with Dewey and the other Soulirds, and even give remarks towards the water type, Truman, who proved to be a very big handful.
Jenna admired him, but at times, she couldn’t stand him as much as I couldn’t. Shion was the only one to treat him respectfully, other than the Shadow Man, who remained silent as he sat at the back of the horse.
Jenna was either praising Truman for his dim-witted and blissful look of innocence on his face, or scolded him for the clumsy things the SoulBird did around the skies. I just kept an untrusting look of dislike towards the SoulBird and pushed him away whenever he neared me. I wasn’t much of a fan of spirits that didn’t know what the heck they were doing when they were creating an annoying raucous. Even Dewey disliked him as much as I did.
Of course, Saint Annabelle loved all spirits so she treated the new SoulBird with admiration as well. Saint Grenada wasn’t very fond, so she kept away from its presence. Bernardo loved to toy and tease with the water type and wiggle a bell necklace at its face to make it follow him. He apparently enjoyed the little SoulBird. Hoshinda found the SoulBird annoying, but unlike Grenada, she didn’t try to ignore it. Instead, she followed it around and laughed at its stupidity towards the other SoulBirds, or scold it when it would become an irritation towards her.
At last, when it was the second day of our flight, Truman was flapping around the Shadow Man, as if he had just taken notice of his presence.
The Shadow Man was still silent, yet he reached out his arm towards the SoulBird and welcomed it to sit on his shoulder. And being around the Shadow Man, Truman seemed to have calmed down with a dazed look in its small round eyes. At last I could rest my spirit without that creature to constantly quack in my ear and flap at my face for no particular reason.
I drifted off to a deep sleep as the winds caressed against my face. We were almost to the land of Pryde, and in about another day and a half from now, we would be in Primal.
I felt my spirit fade away as I closed my eyes into a dream.
At first, all was dark. Nothing felt alive except my own spirit—and something else. In this aura of darkness, I felt as if a truly powerful spirit were with me, and that there was nothing but that spirit with me.
Then it all passed away and I felt my spirit enter a strange realm where the darkness started to fade, though there wasn’t exactly any light giving off. Pretty soon, my soul started to chill and I felt like I was ready to freeze up. I knew where I was going now. I was entering the world of Prima Dona.
“Zach….” I heard her sharp voice murmuring through the chilling atmosphere. The atmosphere around me felt so cold that I thought that it would even freeze the sound of her voice before it totally reached my ears.
“Come forwards,” her voice was getting clearer. “I see you—you are entering my world again…my world of the Primeval.”
My vision blurred into focus and I was looking into the face of Prima Dona. We were surrounded by everlasting falling snow all around us—snow that neither fell from the sky nor reached the ground. This was Prima Dona’s world of the Primeval. There was no life, for all spirits that had ever tried to come here have been erased completely. Those in the afterlife would be forgotten if they disappeared here, erased from the world of the afterlife and erased form the memories in the mortal life. This was Primeval, and it was the complete frozen end of all spirits, all except mine.
“Hello, dear,” Prima Dona’s voice was edgy, but she seemed happy to see me. She etched a smile on her thin white face that almost blended with the falling snow around her. Her beautiful long dark hair hung behind her and flowed gently in the wind. I was hovering in front of her while the falling snow fell past us. When I looked up, I saw no sky where the snow fell from. When I looked down, I saw no ground where the snow landed. This truly was everlasting snow with a cold that would forever freeze the spirits of those who dared to enter here—all spirits but Prima Dona’s….and mine.
“I’ve missed you, Zach,” she slowly brushed off a small pile of snowflakes that had landed on my head. “How has your journey been going? Are you getting along well?”
“Oh, Prima Dona….” I spoke with a distant tone. “So much has happened already.” I told her everything that had happened since I last met her. I told her about my escape from the city of Zellux, and about meeting Jenna and the other angels. I told her about the new saints that I met, and that I had already uncovered four of them so far. I explained about the followers of Christ, and told all the interesting things I had learned from them, and all the interesting things that had captured me.
Then I explained the misunderstandings of the Jehovah Followers, and how they had tried to convert us to their belief and take part in the way they believed we must remain where we are placed, even if it’s in a world like Purgatory. This had caught her interest, for her eyes were unblinking and intent.
Her purple gaze grew even darker. “Hmm, you did not believe in these followers, did you?”
“Absolutely not,” I muttered, frowning as I looked away. “In the end, they even taunted me and tried to sacrifice me for being the ‘devil’s child.’”
A low growl sounded in Prima Dona’s throat and she looked deeply offended. “No one calls you the devil’s child but your devil parents themselves.”
I winced. That statement didn’t make me feel any better.
“Not even I would call you that!” Said Prima Dona. “Even though that is part of what makes you strong enough to withstand this world, I would NOT call you such a thing myself. Whatever did you do to escape those wretched fools?”
I explained how the Shadow Man had strangely saved us by reassuring them with some advice about changing their ways towards their “Jehovah God.”
“Something about that Shadow Man is just….calculating,” I said. “He won’t tell us who he is, for whenever I ask him, he always answers with some sort of response like—‘you won’t know who I am until you escape the darkness in your eyes and your heart.’”
Prima Dona narrowed her eyes and gave a nod. “Hmm. Interesting.”
I looked up and remembered something about what Christ’s followers had told me. “Well, when we were back at the followers’ refuge, we learned more about the Son of God and what it’s like to have true faith and dedication to Him.”
“Ah, yes,” Prima Dona gave a sly chuckle. “Faith is important—tell me everything you’ve learned, dear boy.”
So I told her about the stories the followers told us about the Lord and the Son, and all the interesting and important things about the Scriptures.
“I heard that the higher the lands are in Purgatory, the more spirits will be able to have a stronger connection to God,” I said. “I’m excited to get to Primal, even though we won’t be there long enough. I hope to meet up with Michael and the angels and fight off that terrible Beast so that I can perhaps earn another reward to advance to the higher lands. I’ve defeated the devil’s building in Zellux, and that’s probably what granted such an early graduation for me! I wanna do the same for the rest of the lands so that I can move up as quickly as possible. I only have a thousand years to get to Heaven, or enjoy my time once I do get there.”
Prima Dona was smiling strangely, and she looked a little wry. “Hmm,” she said with a nod. “I see that you’ve become happier about doing well in your world.”
“Oh yeah,” I said with a chuckle. “I mean….I’ve learned important things from Christ’s followers, and with the angel, Gabriel and Raman as the warrior of Heaven, I am learning more about what it would be like to live in the kingdom of Heaven. Saint Hoshinda explained to me about how after the kingdom of Heaven is finished, and the Earth has been restored, we will all go back to the New Jerusalem where peace on Earth will reign forever. The sinners that have been struggling and suffering all through those thousand years will be sucked up by Satan, who will be that Beast defeated by Michael’s angels. That’s why we must defeat that Beast as soon as we can. The Beast must be defeated and fall to Earth, where it will lie in hiding until the time comes for that Beast to take what belongs to it on Earth, and bring it down to Hell forever, where spirits will suffer eternal punishment with the hell creatures that live there.”
“You sure seem to know your stuff much better now,” said Prima Dona in a cold tone.
I faced her carefully. “Are you proud of me? I mean….I still haven’t told anyone about you, and no one has exactly read my mind to have traced you—not even Dewey.”
“Ah, of course I am proud of you, dear,” cooed Prima Dona. “Just….why is it that you would want to defeat the Beast? Hmm? The Satan Beast may be a danger to the afterlife above Earth, and it must find its way to where it belongs down on the suffering planet close to Hell, but why defeat it and throw it down if you aren’t going with it yourself?” She looked at me carefully. “Satan is like your grandfather, Zach. He’s like your ancestor, for you were born from Sarah Madonne, a woman of pure darkness, and Lucien, a man that has turned his ways to serve the devil and become highly ranked in Hell than a spirit has ever been. To have the Beast defeated and fallen to Earth—that would mean the end for you in the afterlife you are in right now.”
I raised my eyebrows and felt a tightening in my chest. “What do you mean?”
“Think about it,” said Prima Dona carefully. “You are only in the world of Purgatory because your dear little saints from Heaven have blessed you with a good heart to be baptized into Christ. You still have a trace of your parents’ evil in you, as well as that good heart that belongs to the Lord in Heaven. That makes you the most intermediate bonding spirit in Purgatory than all the others in that world, for you truly have the devil and a trace of the angels in you. But that cannot last forever, my boy. One is going to have to win over the other, no matter what you do. Your spirit will either fall into the blessing of Christ that you have received from your saints, or you will fall into the evil spirit that remains in your from your parents.”
I felt the cold around me chill my spine as I gave a slight shudder. Prima Dona was right. In Purgatory, spirits worked to be free from the evil in them, or if they chose to, they would fall to become free from the goodness in them. If one just continuously held themselves back in their classes, eventually, they would improve somehow to give up and fall back or shape up and move forwards. No spirit remained in Purgatory forever—unless they were a Jehovah Follower. And even if they did, when the thousand years were over, the world of Purgatory would be no more, just like Heaven would be no more. And without the kingdom of Heaven, Purgatory would only have one place to fall to, and that would just be the evil confines of Hell. Therefore, all spirits that never made it out of Purgatory would just fall down to Hell, for the world would no longer be an existing intermediate state.
But I looked at Prima Dona with confusion. “What makes you say that I won’t be equal if I defeat the Beast to Earth? Lucien is working to make sure Hell rises and takes over Purgatory to make sure as many spirits fall back before the thousand years are over. He wants to make sure no one escapes to Heaven. He wants me, especially, to fall back and find my way into his world so that we can all be powerful enough to even take over Heaven before the kingdom leaves to the New Jerusalem after a thousand years. He wants no eternal peace, and he’s already working against it now! If I get rid of the Satan Beast from this world, we have a better chance of less Hell creatures rising into our world and helping Lucien with his scheme.”
“Yes, but don’t think the Beast would disappear just like that,” said Prima Dona icily. “Don’t think the Beast has a small chance of taking you down with it before it lets itself fall to Earth. Lucien’s following you around, isn’t he? You saw his face in the mirror before Jehovah’s followers had their house burned down. You’ve been seeing Damien as well, haven’t you?”
I slowly nodded. I remembered the golden SoulBird in his hands as well.
Prima Dona narrowed her eyes. “Do not forget your uncle as well. He walks the earth in shame, accompanied and tortured by Aracto, the devilish SoulBird of Lucien. With him is the coldhearted bully, Damien.”
I gasped. “Damien is with my uncle?”
“Have you not dreamt it yet? Hmm, I guess your mind has been in Heaven’s clouds a little more than it should be. Yes—together with your uncle, Damien works to possess the golden SoulBird in his hands and defeat it so that the Three will never unite and save the worlds of the afterlife from Hell.”
I bit my lip. “Well….like I said—we must defeat that Beast so that it can perhaps stop what’s going on upon Earth while Damien and my uncle are doing such things.”
“Zach,” Prima Dona’s voice was sharper. She was glaring down at me with a piercing gaze. “Tell me what you’ve learned of the golden SoulBirds. I’m sure Christ’s followers have explained to you their significance.”
I nodded. “The Three birds represent the Godhead. They are the Three—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Together, they can help bring forth all Three and the Lord that is One will shape the world of Hell and save Purgatory and Heaven from its grasp, defeating Lucien and his hell creatures that are rising to defeat both worlds.”
“Exactly,” Prima Dona’s voice was a mere hiss. “All I can say is that the defeat of that Beast may help the rest of the world and prepare for the prophecy of the Scripture, so that the Beast can be present on Earth to take in all the sins of the world and damn them to its evil confines of Hell. But Lucien is going to be hard on your heels, Zach. Damien is watching you wherever you go. Don’t be surprised to randomly find him the next time you look at yourself in the mirror. Pretty soon, Lucien will hatch up a plan behind you so that the Beat will be ready to take you down with it when it is kicked out from the sky and never to come back.”
“He’s probably already done so,” I muttered, frowning down. Lucien had already seen me for himself, and he didn’t seem to try and stop me. Come to think back, he didn’t even try as hard when I was back in the lands of Bhad, escaping him. He must have wanted me to escape, so that I could find my way to battle the Beast with the angels, and then Lucien himself would be ready to counterattack me and somehow have Satan himself pull me down to the Earth, and then to Hell.
“Well, I can help you out, my child,” Prima Dona’s voice became calm and feathery again, and she gently grabbed my chin with her two long and cold fingers. She tilted my head up to face her. “Where are you headed right now?”
“Well, Raman is taking us over the winds with his temporary form as one of the heavenly angels on his horse, Othello. If we keep up our pace, we should reach Primal within another day, right before Raman’s time is up as his form.”
“Oh? You’ll be passing the Evergrown Tree, then, wouldn’t you?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Yes, actually we will. I remember what the Shadow Man said about it though. That tree may be a good shortcut to get from the beginning of Pryde to the borders of Primal, but within that tree are many unholy spirits that have lived a separate life from the Lord, doing the worst in his name, and even worshipping idols and such.”
“Ah…that is correct,” Prima Dona narrowed her eyes as she kept her smile on me. “But trust me—that would be the best place you could find yourself to be prepared for Lucien’s counterattack. If you don’t want the Beast to easily drag you to Hell when it’s defeated, you’d visit that tree, make your way to the top—and you will find me awaiting you there.”
I raised my expression. “You? Come to Purgatory?”
“Of course….I care for you, Zach. As much as I enjoy your company and presence, I would want the best for you. If you don’t want to hold on to that evil that’s within you, then I’ll help you with anything that would make you happy. But mark my words—your blood of evil and darkness is what is so strong against my world of Primeval. Without it, you cannot see me again.”
She fixed me with a stony gaze. I blinked and gave a troubled gaze. “Why not? Won’t you visit me in Heaven?”
Prima Dona laughed. “Oh, goodness! Zach, look up. Look down. You realize that the snow in my world has no beginning, nor it has no end. What does that remind you of?”
I didn’t have to think hard this time. “That’s like the Lord. God Himself has never had a beginning—nothing has created Him. He has no beginning, and He has no end, yet, through the Son, He IS the beginning and the end, for it was through God that the beginning and end came to exist, and will come to exist.”
“Exactly,” Prima Dona’s chuckle was chilling. “The Lord created all—but because I’ve been the beginning for my world, the only spirit to have ever existed here in the Primeval, I will be the last as well. I would not make such visits to a kingdom where the Lord reigns though…..for as much as I extremely HATE to admit it….He is much more powerful than me and His kingdom would only make me feel all the more cold.” She hardened her gaze.
Facing her, I gave a slow nod, though I didn’t quite fully understand.
“Now….please mark my words, dear Zach. I will be waiting for you at the top of the Evergrown Tree, where I can grant you with a power, resistant against the Beast so that you won’t be defeated along with it. Make your choice—I will not force you to do anything. If you want to be truly prepared for Satan himself, you can meet me at the top of the Evergrown Tree, where I can appropriately give you a gift that can help you withstand the Satan Beast.”
The snow was starting to fall harder and a blizzard was picking up. Prima Dona became less visible through the snow, and I felt myself fading away.
Her sharp but softening voice was distant in the wind. “I’ll be waiting for you, Zach…..”
And just as before, my spirit exited from that strange and extreme coldness. I felt my soul thaw out as I entered the darkness of my dream trance again, feeling like my real self again.
But this time, I could feel others around me as well. My dream was not over yet.
“Zachariah Ezekreth!” Came a loud yell. It was the voice of Dewey. The earth-type SoulBird suddenly appeared hopping forwards in my vision, fixing me with an angry glare. His shining angelic body glowed in the dark as his halo hovered above his head. “There you are! Argh! Seriously! Are you trying to escape me every time I appear in your dreams?! I mean, come on! I have left you alone the pass several days, and just because I can still know what you’re dreaming about, does that mean you have to crawl away and hide again?!”
I huffed. “What are you talking about? You can’t tell me what to dream!” I felt my heart tighten, for I was relieved that Dewey had failed again to try and follow me towards Prima Dona. If he ever caught me and came after me, his soul would….freeze in the world of Primeval forever.
“Oh yeah?! Don’t think I won’t find up what you’re up to in your ‘private dreams!’ Who’s Prima Dona?” Dewey hopped forward and gave me a raised stare.
I flinched and gave him a haughty wince. “What the heck are you talking about?”
“Come on,” Dewey growled. “You know who she is—she’s that spirit you’ve been visiting in your dreams, right?” He smiled deviously. “Tell me who she is!”
I started to laugh. “I don’t know how you come up with these names! What’s a Prima Dona?!”
“Hah! You tell me! Is she a secret girlfriend?”
I flinched and widened my eyes. “Hell no!”
“AHA!” Dewey jumped up. “So you HAVE been seeing someone named Prima Dona!”
I rolled my eyes and gave a narrowed rotten glare at Dewey. “So what if I have? She’s helped me a lot, for without her, I wouldn’t have found out who Lucien really is. And now she’s provided me with much better information about what’s to come for us on our journey.”
“Oh yeah? Why would you believe her?”
My saints all appeared above the bird-- Grenada, Annabelle, Bernardo, and Hoshinda. They all had stony looks on their faces, and I knew they had heard me as well.
“Yeah, Zach!” Bernardo’s loud voice was urgent. “Why would you believe some lady in your dream if you can’t reveal her to us or have us find our way to see her?”
I told them about how useful and caring she had been, and explained how once the Beast was defeated, it could so much pull me down to Earth with it and throw me to Hell. I explained about meeting her on the Evergrown Tree so that I can be granted a safe defense and power against the Beast.
Grenada’s eyes narrowed. “Did she tell you what she would give you?”
“No, but she said if I am willing to find out, I can truly be happy when I receive it from her when I meet her at the top.”
“Pah!” Hoshinda gave a flick with her hand. “Yeah right! I bet this lady’s just gonna give you a spank on the butt for being so stupid! That’s if she’s even gonna BE there in the first place!” She threw back her head and gave a loud laugh and nudged Bernardo, who was narrowing a smiling expression at me.
I glared at them. “You’re just mad because I’m listening to someone you spirits cannot trace for once.”
“Of course we are!” Snapped Grenada. “You shouldn’t be going behind our backs like this!”
Bernardo laughed. “Yeah, boy! It’s our job to know everything about you.”
I glared at them all, but Annabelle was fixing a solemn gaze on me. Her hands her clasped and she hovered forwards with a longing look on her face.
“Zach,” she spoke carefully. “I’m sorry if we’re being so nosy, but the only spirit you should be speaking to without our knowing-- is the Holy Spirit.”
At this, I felt shaken, but I kept a narrowed expression to hide it.
Annabelle continued to speak. “The Lord Almighty is everywhere-- and He will always be watching over you. He can keep all your confessions private if you trust them with Him. Jesus Christ should be the only spirit that you speak to without us to watch you-- you shouldn’t be seeing some foreign spirit that we have never heard of or have any idea about.”
Bernardo gave a loud snorting snicker. “Prima Dona! I like that name!”
Grenada had her arms crossed. “Zach, don’t think we can ask the Holy Spirit Himself who this spirit is that you’re seeing. He can see you-- no matter how distant and blocked your dream is. He knows what you have done in your so-called ‘private dream.’ He can tell us what you’ve been up to.”
I glared at her with fury, but Annabelle reassured me. “Zach, the Lord isn’t a tattletale,” she said with a giggle. “He will only warn others when He thinks it’s right. The best thing to do is to stop seeing that lady, whoever she is, and start finding the Lord. You’ve learned a good amount from Christ’s followers, haven’t you? Keep in mind what faith truly is, and what it can do.”
Hoshinda gave her loud laugh. “Yep! If I were you, I’d confront the Lord and discuss all my problems and my strange dreams, and tell Him not to rat me out on my annoying, obnoxious guardian angels!” She gave me a wink.
I looked away. I said nothing.
Suddenly, in the darkening distance, I saw a light start to form, and recognized the angel, Gabriel, coming forth. By his side was an dark figure even darker than the atmosphere around us. It was the Shadow Man.
I narrowed my eyes as the Shadow Man came forwards with Gabriel at his side. “So you’ve found my way to my dreams? Who ARE you? Are you some kind of disguised angel? Why won’t you reveal yourself?”
My questions were pointless again, for he replied, “You still see enough darkness to cover me up. I don’t appear to those who only see the darkness and not the light.”
“Yeah, Zach!” Hoshinda’s loud voice was teasing. “Find the light of the Lord, and perhaps we’ll all be much nicer to you!”
I glared at her. “What does it look like I’m doing?” I snapped. “I already told you about the Evergrown Tree, and how I can be given a gift to help me defend myself against the Beast that’s trying to take me away from Heaven!”
“Why would you believe some weird lady would give you such a power and not the Lord Himself?” Dewey gave me a sharp look.
“Yeah!” Grenada snapped. “Only the Lord has most power against the devil!”
“Huh!” Bernardo huffed. “I bet she’s a super hot chick if she’s that powerful! She ought to show herself if she can do such things!”
Grenada rolled her eyes disgustedly. “I don’t know why you’re taking in so much trust to a lady that can’t even reveal her face to us!”
I didn’t know why either, but something about her just made me… her. And I was longing to see her again instead of being here with these group of pushy angels.
Gabriel rested a hand on my shoulder and gave me a warm look. “Zach,” his face glowed and his dark beard looked even darker.
I looked at him and huffed. “The lady has told me truth-- she says my uncle is with Damien on the earth, trying to destroy one of the SoulBirds so that they don’t become the Three-- the Godhead-- and save us all from Hell. That is true, isn’t it?”
Gabriel nodded. “Your uncle is with the possessed boy. It is not Damien that has obtained the devil in him-- the devil has found its way into him. When Damien was taken from the world of Purgatory, the golden SoulBird was trying to defeat the evils that surrounded them to keep Damien safe. But unfortunately, the boy’s faith was stronger. The boy WANTED to obtain the devil, and he chose to do the wrong thing. He became more and more evil, and now he’s tried to work against the golden SoulBird that is still trying to save him. Though Damien is powerless against such a holy SoulBird, though, the SoulBird itself couldn’t fully conquer him without the rest of the Three. He is working with your uncle right now this very moment.”
I looked up at him with wonder.
“Would you like to see him?” Gabriel spoke quietly.
But I didn’t have to answer. The rest of my star-portal dream was taking me to the planet of Earth, and after a glimpse of the wrecked planet, I found myself looking from the murky hazy clouds with the angels around me, peering down at a terrible city where I was seeing people running from corner to corner, setting place afire, or getting into fights with each other.
Many of the people were standing around smoking, and a few hell creatures were torturing some of the inhabitants of the city.
“This is the terrible city of Babylon,” said Gabriel. “Or-- it is what used to be Babylon. The city fell long ago due to its sinful power, but now it has risen again because of the horrible confines of the uprising Hell Christ brought upon the sinners for punishment.”
“Where’s Uncle E?” I looked around to spot a crazy haired person that stuck out like a lion’s mane, but all the people looked whacked up and crazy, and many were half naked.
“Look closely,” Gabriel took us to a quieter part of the city, where I saw an angry SoulBird running through an empty terrain. It was Aracto. The SoulBird was headed towards a tall darkly dressed teenage boy-- Damien. The guy was standing in front of a fire lit in the middle of the street, and the golden SoulBird’s body was hovering at the center of it. Aracto approached Damien’s side and squawked.
Dewey huffed and eyed the SoulBird. “I’ve always disliked him!” He hissed.
“What’s he doing?” I narrowed my eyes at Damien. “What’s happening to the SoulBird?”
“Damien’s had the SoulBird in that fire for three days, and he’s been planning a possession towards the bird. He’s been trying it from all the parts of Babylon,” remarked Gabriel.
“A possession?!” Annabelle gasped and put her hands on her mouth.
Hoshinda threw her head back and gave a loud laugh. “Waha! Does he really think that one of the Godheads would actually become defeated through that?”
“The kid’s trying all he can,” said Gabriel, glaring at Damien. “Look closely behind the fire.”
I saw a tall skinny man kneeling behind the fiery flames. “Uncle E!” I cried out, but he couldn’t hear me.
“Your uncle is receiving the possession through that fire, and through the ritual of Damien and Aracto,” explained Gabriel. “With a possession within Uncle E, the presence of the SoulBird would easily rid it, so at the moment, Uncle E isn’t possessed. But Damien’s trying to weaken that since this is only one SoulBird alone.”
“Surely all parts of the Godhead are powerful alone?” I muttered.
The Shadow Man replied to me. “The SoulBirds themselves don’t contain the full spirit of each Godhead. They only contain part of the spirits. The SoulBirds would never be able to hold the entire power of the real Holy Lord.”
“I really should help my uncle though,” I said, looking down at the poor man with sorrow. His face was wet and burnt from sticking around the fire so much. With all the rituals, he must have suffered so much. Luckily, there was the golden SoulBird there to make him feel better, which was the only reason why he still existed.
“We cannot do anything right now,” said Gabriel, turning towards me. “However, you do have someone calling you from a distant place-- a certain someone is having a dream right now herself.”
My hopes raised and I gasped. “Angeline?”
Gabriel smiled. “Would you like to see your sister?”
I felt Dewey and my saints turn to stare at me with admiration.
“Yes, of course,” I replied.
And pretty soon, my dream drifted to another distant place until I recognized the quiet city of Jerusalem. There was nothing left my now-- everything had been sucked into the boiling pool that I almost didn’t recognize the place as the city.
“Whoa,” I stared around with awe as we all appeared on the empty street. “Jerusalem is…finished?”
The Shadow Man stepped forward. “Only the altar of God still exists. The temple will be restored when the thousand-year reign in Heaven is finished, and then all of Jerusalem will be restored with new streets, new cities, new temples and dwelling where the good spirits of Heaven’s kingdom can reign forever.”
The thought lighted my spirits and made the desolately empty place look less creepy.
Suddenly, I saw two figures walking towards us from the distance up ahead the street. They were both two girls-- the shorter one being my little sister and the taller one on the left was Lexie. I recognized her pale innocent face. Somehow, I felt the uplifting feeling again in my heart when I saw Lexie again. I realized that I had actually missed her since the last time we met.
“Zachyyy!” Angeline threw her hands up in the air and ran up to me.
This time I was ready for her big hug. I smiled and bent my knees to catch her in my arms and hug her as well.
“I missed you!” She said, brimming up at me. “I was praying last night-- and guess who visited me?”
And out of nowhere, a bright glowing air type SoulBird was flapping its white graceful wings with a pretty coo.
I gasped and gleamed at the SoulBird. “Angeline, you got a SoulBird?”
“Well, I met her! Her name’s Lara! She only comes to me in dreams, though.”
I chuckled. “That’s cause you’re not dead yet.”
Lara flew around me and her bright halo glittered. She and Dewey immediately liked each other and played around as Dewey ran around on ground and Lara glided through the air.
Angeline gazed behind me at Gabriel, the Shadow Man, and the saints. “Oh! Zachy! Are those your guardian angels?”
“Yup,” I said. “And Gabriel, the highest angel in Heaven.”
“Oh my gosh, this is the best dream ever!” Angeline squealed as she ran over to meet them. All my saints were very friendly and excited to meet her, and even Saint Grenada smiled and adored the little girl. Annabelle especially became great friends with her.
“Oh! The child’s just adorable!” She praised. “She’s such a dear!”
“Eheh!” Bernardo laughed around her and gave her a rough pat on the head, messing up her curly brown hair. “The kid’s gonna love Heaven!”
I shook my head with a smile as I watched them. Why couldn’t have gotten a better acquaintance with my saints like that?
And then I watched as Angeline lastly approached the Shadow Man, who was standing at the back. Angeline had a look of wonder on her face as she stared at the Shadow Man.
The Shadow Man faced her with his blank shadowed body and raised his shadowed arms. “Come, child,” his voice was calm and loving.
Angeline gasped and slowly made her way forwards. She pointed at him. “I know you…..I’ve seen you before….”
The Shadow Man took her in his arms and chuckled. “Of course you have….”
I blinked at them. It was a little strange to see my little sister carried in the arms of a shadowed body. And what did she mean by seeing him before?
“Angeline….of course you’ve seen shadows before….” I said quietly. Perhaps she meant that she had recognized this shadow of another man she had seen before?
I turned as I heard another warm coo. I was facing Lexie, who was standing there a few feet from me with a calm look on her face. Her blue eyes were fixed and she gave a small, grateful smile as she met my eyes. She looked a lot cleaner and prettier than when I had last seen her. Her thin light brown dress wasn’t so ruffled and torn, and her short blonde hair was straight and nice. In her arms was a cooing air SoulBird of her own, though this one had a fluffier tuft behind its head.
“Hey, Lexie,” I came up to her and returned her small smile. “You found a SoulBird too?”
“Mm-hmm,” she looked down with love at her bird. “This is Micah. He came to me the same time Lara did-- in a dream the night after the last of Jerusalem had been sucked away.”
I gave a single nod. Micah gazed up at me with small round eyes, innocent as the angel it was. “Why did they come to you though? Was it because you two were the last living ones in Jerusalem?”
“Yes. Our time will be up soon, and these SoulBirds have come to meet us so that they can take us away and guide us to where we belong in the afterlife.”
I gave a narrowed look. “Aw, you know you’ll go to Heaven.” I looked away. “You don’t wanna go to Purgatory, trust me.” I looked at Micah. “Make sure you guide her to Heaven, kay? She deserves it.”
Micah just let out a soft coo and Lexie chuckled.
“Oh Zach,” she said with a sigh. “I wouldn’t see you if I were in Heaven though.”
“I’ll find my way,” I winked at her. “I graduated Bhad within a few months-- just recently.”
“Oh, you did?” Her expression gleamed. “That’s great! How’d you do it?”
Before I knew it, I was walking down the desolate street by Lexie’s side and telling her all I had been through in my journey. Just like before, she listened carefully and fixed an interested look on me as I spoke.
“That’s wonderful,” she remarked when I was finished. “And I’m glad that you’ve met Jenna and Shion, and the rest of your saints.”
“Well, there’s still one more,” I said. “See, they only show up when they’re needed, like during times I’m in trouble. For it’s in during times of trouble that I call for help and believe in their existence so they can be comfortable showing up through belief.”
“Oh! Well, perhaps now is a good time to see your last saint!” Lexie raised her eyebrows. “The altar is right around the corner of this street and it can be the best place to call for your saint.”
I stopped and then looked uneasy. “Eh….I dunno. It’s just that every time I even peek inside the place, some weird light shines in my face and I either fade away in my dreams-- or die, just like how it caused me to die in my mortal life.”
Lexie raised her expression and looked troubled. “Oh. Well….I can try to do it for you.”
I winced and then shrugged. “Worth a try, I guess.”
When we finally made our way to the altar, I stared up at the large ark, and looked around, feeling like Lexie and I were the last two beings in this place. All was empty except for the ark in front of us. Lexie and I stepped up to the front opening where the curtains hung.
I looked at her. “So what are you gonna do?”
“What’s your saint’s name?”
“Saint Tyler.”
Lexie faced the altar and took a deep breath. “Okay. Lemme see if this can work.” She kneeled down and held her hands together under her nose. I did the same as well. “Repeat every word I say,” she said.
And the both of us uttered a strange prayer:
“Hear me, O Father of the Heavens. Let your angels of worthy hear me. I seek the one that has been watching over me-- I seek he who You sent with Your blessing. Through your angel I have been blessed; I seek the one that is left. Praise to you, Almighty Father, and bring forth my last and true guardian angel for my spirit.”
We waited for a few seconds, and I opened my eyes to slits to see if the dream had faded away yet. But we were still in front of the altar. The curtains started to shake.
I gasped and sat up, turning to Lexie. But she still had her eyes closed as she faced forward at the altar.
Then suddenly, the curtains stopped shaking. Instead of opening aside, a ghostly figure stepped through the curtains and hovered in front of the altar. I stared with wonder. The spirit was a man wearing a pure white robe, and he seemed to have no feet underneath like the rest of the saints had when they hovered. The man didn’t seem to even have a body under the robe, other than the neck with a head sticking out at the top, covered with a hood that hung from the back of his head. His arms were hidden in his long sleeves, and connected to each other and the hands. His head was hung low with the hood over him so that I couldn’t see his face. He did have a halo that hovered above the top.
Lexie opened her eyes and faced the man.
I spoke in a whisper. “Saint Tyler?”
The man slowly raised his head. I saw that his eyes were the strangest I had ever seen. The left eyeball was a yellow golden color while the right was a blue I had never seen in human eyes before-- a dark blue. His eyebrows were pointed down as if he were angry. His nose was long like my uncle’s, but something else about him was noticeable. Saint Tyler had no mouth. Under his nose and above his chin was the rest of his pale face, totally blank.
I raised my expression. Lexie didn’t seem at all scared. She smiled and stood up.
“Nice to meet you, saint,” she addressed.
I stood up and nodded. “Y-yeah. I-I’m Zach-- of course you know me.”
Saint Tyler was silent. He pulled his right hand out from the connected sleeves in front of him, and pointed at me with a long skinny finger. His finger shook and moved in a circular motion.
I winced. “Uh….”
There was a giggle behind me. I turned to see that Annabelle was coming, and behind her were the rest of the saints, with Gabriel, the Shadow Man, and Angeline, holding all the SoulBirds in her hands.
Annabelle hovered to my side, smiling at Saint Tyler. “He’s saying hi to you, Zach.”
Grenada nodded, narrowing her gaze. “Yes…..Saint Tyler is very fond of you Zach. He’s been more fond of you than you know.”
Saint Tyler remained in his position and drew his arm back to rest in his connected sleeves again. He gave what seemed like a bow.
Bernardo laughed. “Hee! Nice to see ya, bro!” Bernardo hovered next to Saint Tyler and gave him a hearty pat on the back.
Saint Tyler’s eyes narrowed and he gave a nudge back. What was creepy was that I couldn’t tell if Saint Tyler were humored or stirred if he narrowed his eyes, for he had no mouth for a full expression.
Then Saint Tyler fixed his gaze on me. His golden and dark blue eyeballs seemed to grow focused as he stared into me.
“That angel has weird eyes,” I heard Angeline mutter to Hoshinda.
Saint Tyler lifted out a hand towards me and gestured with his four fingers to come forwards.
Holding my breath, I stepped forwards to him, and as I got closer, I felt my dream slowly fading away.
“What?” I looked around as I got up to Saint Tyler. “Is it over already?”
Grenada hovered above me and Annabelle, Bernardo, and Hoshinda joined her. Gabriel hovered over them all.
“It is time to wake up now, Zach,” said Grenada. “For Saint Tyler wants to take part in the world of Purgatory where your real troubles lie.”
I gave a longing look towards my sister and Lexie. Angeline sniffed. “Bye, Zachy!” She let Dewey fly forwards. “Be sure to take Dewey too, next time you visit!”
“Of course I will,” I reassured as I faded away. I reached out a hand to Lexie and she and I held hands.
She smiled. “I’ll promise to visit you, Zach-- wherever I end up. I will be able to see you in the afterlife, no matter where I am.”
I gave her a smile and bid her a farewell before I disappeared all together.

Saint Tyler hovered around at the back of Othello as we continued to travel forth. We were just about a few minutes from entering the land of Pryde, and Gabriel even told us it would be less than an hour when we would pass by the Evergrown Tree, the highest tree in the entire world, ever so big and tall that it could even fit a whole entire state inside.
I told Jenna and Shion about my dreams and how I had met a lady named Prima Dona. I told them everything that I had told the saints, though, for I only wanted to give away what they knew before they gave it away themselves.
Shion seemed peculiar and suspicious, and Jenna was shaking her head with a sharp look.
“Why would you want to trust some lady stuck in an ice world?” She said. “How do you know that she’s telling you the truth? What if she’s spy for the devil?”
“She can’t be a spy. Her world is uninhabited, and I’ve seen it for myself,” I retorted. “She wants us to go to the Evergrown Tree where she can grant me a safety to confront the Beast so I won’t be easily pulled down to Earth when the angels defeat it.”
“What?” Jenna narrowed her eyes and her glasses flashed. “You trust her just like that?”
“Hey, it was my dream and I just had the strongest feeling that she was worthy.” I gave her a determined look.
“Oh, faugh!” Grenada hovered above me with an angry stare. “You’re just transfixed! I bet she’s gotten you under a spell. Your spirit’s freezing up ever so slowly since you started visiting that witch, and now you’re telling us to find the Evergrown Tree?”
Dewey scoffed at me. “You know, if only you let me into your dreams with this Primeval lady, I could probably help convince them for you.”
I rolled my eyes and arched my head to Raman at the front.
“Hey, Raman! You think we can try to stop at the Evergrown Tree from this point? We’re pretty high up, and if we land at the Evergrown Tree from here, we can probably climb up to where we can meet Prima Dona.”
Raman turned with an uncertain look. “Zach, if we land towards the tree right now, we would be a third of the way up, and it would take about an entire week to get to the top. We can’t waste time—Michael’s angels will need me and Gabriel especially to help them fight the Beast, and we can’t keep them waiting.”
Gabriel was nodding. “Through Othello, I just got word that Hannah and Michael have gotten the angels to Primal already, and today they are going to be leaving this world from that point and make it lower to the world of Earth.”
I huffed. “But it’s pointless if we get to the Beast and fight it—if I’m gonna be dragged to Hell with it!”
“You won’t be dragged to Hell, my boy,” said Bernardo. “You’ll just be upon Earth.”
I rolled my eyes and cursed under my breath. No one was going to listen to me.
Jenna looked at me with a raised expression. “You know, if you’re wanting to seek the right thing to do, you should--”
“I know, I know,” I grumbled. “Everyone’s telling me to pray to the Lord. But how can I get the right answer? I’ve never heard His voice whenever I do pray—even with Christ’s followers I couldn’t exactly hear His voice as simply as I heard….Prima Dona’s.”
“Well, what did they teach you about faith?” Jenna was looking at me sharply. “The reason why nothing’s coming to you is probably because you’re the most discouraged spirit I’ve ever known!”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You know what, you probably haven’t heard the His voice either. Don’t judge me—take care of your own problems first. That’s what the followers said.”
Jenna gave a huff of annoyance and whipped her head to turn away from me. She muttered angrily under her breath and Grace turned to look at me with a shrugging look.
I glared at her and felt alone now. Perhaps if nobody wanted me up here, I was probably just as well better off getting pulled down to Earth and then to Hell….
Suddenly, just up ahead, there was a large wide veil that seemed to stretch as wide as the distant mountains. It took me a few moments until we got closer—that I realized it was a tree. I gasped and looked up. Saint Tyler had his eyes narrowed and he lifted out one of his arms to point at the tree.
“The Evergrown Tree!” Yowled Hoshinda’s loud voice.
The tree was huge. Just from here, it was wide as the mountains, I could see one end at the left disappear into the foggy clouds, and the other end at the right was barely next to us as he rode passed it. Ahead, I couldn’t even see the end of the trunk to know when we would pass the whole thing. Above and below, it was just like that of Primeval. The tree seemed to have no end as I looked up, and it didn’t seem to have a beginning as I looked down.
While I was staring forward with awe, Truman flapped down and quacked curiously at my face, opening and closing his beak just a few inches from my eyes.
I winced and shook my head roughly. I gave the SoulBird a swat. “Get away from me, you stupid….” I swatted at Truman as his quacking grew louder and he started beating his wings at my face, nearly tipping me off the horse.
“Argh! Go away, you dumb forsaken SoulBird!” I yelled and everyone turned to look at me.
Truman was flapping at my face with that stupid curious look in his dimwitted eyes. He was trying to peck his flat bill at my face and I was getting pissed as heck.
“TRUMAN, GO TO HELL!” I lunged forward to grab the SoulBird and strangle the damn thing.
As I grasped the SoulBird in my hands, Truman squawked and tried to fly away, pulling me forwards and bumping against Jenna in front of me.
“Ahh!” She screamed, turning to push me with a glare. “What are you doing?! Leave Truman alone!”
“You tell Truman to do that!” I yelled.
“Zach!” Scolded Grenada. “Cut it out!”
“Heh!” Hoshinda raised her eyebrows. “What’s gotten into those two?”
Othello was starting to get distracted. The white horse neighed and cried, stopping in midair and raising his front legs to kick violently in front of him.
Raman gripped the horse and grunted. “Steady, Othello…..” He turned behind at us. “Zach! Cut it out! Othello’s can’t focus like this!”
I let Truman go and glared. “Well it was--”
But Truman pecked madly at me, quacking and carrying up a loud fit of squawks.
Dewey rolled his eyes and yelled out a shout of annoyance and jumped up to give the water type a kick. The two of them started to get into a fight as well, batting above my head and getting me even hotter with madness.
“Hehe!” Pete appeared above Shoin and joined in. “Oh boy! Another SoulBird fight!”
As he made the squawking and fighting worse, the three SoulBirds tussled in the air and bumped over and against our heads. Jenna and I were yowling and cursing at them and Shion scooted up towards Raman to avoid it. The Shadow Man shifted uncomfortably at the back.
Othello raised up again and neighed with anguish.
“Guys! Stop fighting!” Gabriel commanded.
“Dewey! Pete!” Grace looked up at the two SoulBirds pecking at Truman and avoiding his kicks and swats.
Finally, Othello couldn’t take it. The white horse kicked its back legs and all of us—Jenna, and Shion, and I were bucked off the horse’s back. We yelled with horror as we all fell down the air.
“Nooo!” I yowled. “Dewey!” I gazed up as I fell, and I saw the SoulBirds making their way down towards us like jet planes. The angels hurried down after us, and Raman rode down with Othello. The Shadow Man still remained at the back of the horse.
“Wahh!” Dewey cried as he reached my side. “How long are we gonna fall now?!”
“Argh!” Jenna grabbed her head as she fell. Her long red ponytail stuck up while she rapidly drifted towards the ground. “I can’t even see the ground yet!”
“Why’d we have to let Truman come with us?!” I growled.
Suddenly, a red arrow zipped past my face, and I felt a hot burn on my cheek.
Shion gasped. “What was that?” And then another shot of fire blew pass his head from behind. “Fireballs! Arrows! I think the tree’s shooting at us!”
We must have been passing down some unfriendly spirits hanging around the outside of the tree.
Every few seconds, we’d fall through a large branch sticking out, but we never landed on any part of the tree.
At last, we fell to a large pool of warm water. I bobbed up and gasped with surprise. there was water surrounding us everywhere, and I couldn’t even see the land.
Jenna and Shion appeared behind me and looked around.
“Where are we?! Is this still part of Pryde?” Gasped Shion.
The SoulBirds hovered above us and Raman and Gabriel were riding along Othello, steadying him to a halt before crashing directly into the pool. The horse cried and hurried over to us, hovering above the water.
The saints gathered around with horror.
“Zach! Be careful!” Cried Annabelle.
“This is the Ever Sea!” Called Gabriel. “It surrounds the Evergrown Tree and leads all the way around the stages of the world! Watch out!”
“Watch out for what?” I yelled as I struggled to tread the swaying waves of the water.
“There can be terrible outland spirits swimming in that water!” Said Raman.
And suddenly, as if to answer his words, I felt a large shadowy body move underneath me and make me sway to the right. I gasped as another wave splashed me down and made me thrash around under the water.
Opening my eyes in the water, I was gazing down at a bloodied sea creature—none other than a hellish lochness monster from Hell.
The creature slowly turned its large monstrous body and glared at me, opening its mouth to gurgle a growl, showing a terrible amount of sharp scissor teeth.
I thrashed and immediately bobbed to the surface and splashed around, but I just realized how far I had drifted away. Jenna and Shion were swaying away helplessly in the waves, crying out for help. Their SoulBirds tried to pull them together.
“Zach!” Dewey flapped rapidly around me. “Ugh! Sorry I suck at flying—where’s Truman?! We need that water SoulBird to help us now!”
“Argh!” I kicked around and spat out the water. “We’ll never need that stupid SoulBird ever again! Jenna! Raman!”
I saw that Jenna was nearing Othello as Raman carefully guided the horse towards her.
But suddenly, a huge bloody head crashed out from the water between them. The lochness monster jumped out of the water, sticking half of its large body out with a mighty roar.
I could barely hear the screams from the others as I thrashed around and felt gooey strands wrap around my legs underwater.
“Wahh!” I thrashed and struggled as the waves crashed at me and the terrible creature underneath tried to pull me in. “Dewey! Help!”
A loud thunder echoed through the sky and the clouds were a dark gray. Dewey yelled as he managed to grip my wrist with one of his big feet.
“Zach! Don’t struggle!” He cried.
Annabelle and Tyler appeared at his side to help. The water splashed over them, but they were unaffected, for they had made themselves invisible now.
“Zach! Come on!” Annabelle reached an arm down, but Tyler nudged her away.
Suddenly, a small fish jumped from their right side, nearly chomping at them as they hovered out of its way.
“Huh?!” Dewey looked around in horror. There were tiny round fish hopping around all over the sea now, making their ways towards us. These fish were hell creatures—I could tell it form their red glowing eyes. Their eyes were huge, but their mouths were huger—their teeth even longer and sharper than the lochness monster’s. They were no other than terrible piranhas from Hell.
Dewey yelled and let go to hover higher as one of the piranhas nearly darted at him and nearly chomped his whole body in one bite.
“Wahh!” I saw the water around me ooze with a dark red blood as the stranded creature released its grip on my legs. The piranhas were immediately eating it away, tearing at its jelly-like flesh.
But my they were going to eat my legs next. I struggled and cried out for help—for God, for anybody that could help us now. The saints were fighting their way through the piranhas, turning each of them to ashes as they made their way, but the rain suddenly beat down hard and the waves were too fast. I was drifting farther and farther away from them until I lost them completely.
Suddenly, while swaying roughly in the waves, at the same time I felt the water started to swirl around me. I felt like I was going to be sucked into a whirlpool. Then I saw a dark shape, and made out that of human body around me. Was I going to be raped by mermaids now?
Suddenly a loud squawked echoed through the thunderstorm and I recognized the cry of an earth type SoulBird. But it was not Dewey.
I turned to see that a devilish earth type was coming forth to peck at me. It’s eyes were squinting through the storm in a glare, and its tiny wings beat furiously as it hovered its way towards me. It was Shiigo.
And just to make more sense, the human circling me through the wavy stormy waters, was Miranda. She stuck her head out of the water and revealed her angry, narrowed scary gaze on me. Her hair was even darker when wet, and her eyes still had dark eyeliner that didn’t even seem to leak with the terrible waters.
I narrowed my eyes and tried to steady myself through the crashing swaying waves. “So are you a mermaid now?”
She gave a haughty rasped. “Shut up, you idiot!” She gave me a splash in the eyes. “It’s me….”
And as another wave washed over me, I totally felt my weak spirit body give away. I felt Miranda’s arms grab me and I was being pulled underwater.
I woke up, expecting to find myself surrounded by underwater hell creatures with Mira, but instead, I was on dry land. I choked and coughed, sitting up to look around with confusion.
Shiigo jumped in front of me and let out an angry squawk, and pecked her beak at my forehead.
“Oww!” I yelled, grabbing my head. “What heck is your--”
“Shiigo!” Mira’s sharp angry yell came from behind. I turned as Shiigo ran back to her soulmate with a haughty look. Mira was sitting against a large wide trunk—the trunk of the Evergrown Tree. I stared with awe as I looked around and realized where we were. This was just a simple piece of land that held up the Evergrown Tree. The thing stuck out and disappeared up in the stormy sky, and its large branches were enough to fit the biggest cities inside as they stuck out over us and gave us shelter from the storm.
“Oh come on!” Yelled Mira, glaring at me as I faced her. “Are you staring at me, or the tree? I didn’t save you for nothing again!”
I snapped out of it and then felt sharp prods poke at my sides. I flinched and got up, looking down.
“Ahaha! Surprise, little spirit!” Demetrius was glaring up at me on my left, holding his trident. To my right was Jezebelle, frowning with hatred with her own trident.
“Ahh!” I jumped back and glared at them. “What the hell—you guys!”
“That’s right, you little twerp!” Jezebelle banged her trident on the soft ground. “You don’t think we didn’t know where you’d be falling after the route you had taken?”
Mira chuckled and got up. She strutted in a sexy fashion over to me. She still wore her low-cut black shirt with a skull on it, and her hair was still wet with her small ponytails at the top sticking against the rest of her hair. She gave me a dirty smile. “You must have had a long fall if you were riding on a warrior of Heaven, hmm?” She crossed her arms.
I blinked and faced her. “Of course. How did YOU get here?” I glared at Demetrius and Jezebelle, who were whispering snide comments about us to each other. “Why are you with Demetrius and Jezebelle?!”
She chuckled. “Oh, it’s a long story. After I left you with that snake, the two imps decided to help me find you since they were on the run to track you down for Lucien. I certainly didn’t want to catch you and hand you over to Lucien, though, but since they were on the right trail, I decided why not? I might as well go along with them so that Shiigo and I won’t get so bored on our own.” She gave a naughty smile over at the two imps. “I find it fun when Shiigo and I torture the imps when they don’t do what I tell ‘em to do.” She bit the end of her long black nail with a slight smile. “I like to see hell creatures suffer more than angelic creatures.”
I raised my expression. “Oh really?”
She nodded. “They express their agony much better.”
“Well, what are we going to do here? I need the rest of the angels to be with me!”
“Don’t you wanna climb the Evergrown Tree?”
I looked at her with caution.
She sighed and gave me a look. “Lucien told me everything, okay? He’s been on your trail.”
Demetrius came up to my feet. “Huh! Yeah, when we met with the jailbird, Lucien arrived and told us the news of where you were headed.” He glared up at me. “He knows where you’re at, and he’s listening to almost every word you say!”
I winced. “What?!” How did he know I was wanting to go to the Evergrown Tree while the others wanted to ride forwards? Someone must be a spy. I suddenly felt uncomfortable as I met Mira’s gaze.
“Hey, I only get the information from the devil himself-- whoever’s betraying you bhind your back as a spy-- that’s your problem to deal with.”
I looked down and winced. It couldn’t be any of my saints-- not one of them would ever be driven to do that. It couldn’t be Shion-- the little boy was just to innocent. It couldn’t be Raman or Gabriel, or any of our SoulBirds, for they were all angels alike and it would just be off guard to have them spy for the devil. Even Jenna-- I couldn’t blame her, for she was way too sophisticated with what we were doing, and she was no fake. I raised my head with a sudden feeling. It must be the Shadow Man….the spirit could be giving us very valuable information and providing us with the strongest help…..but at the same time, he never wanted to explain why he could do such things. Perhaps he could be capable of something most ominous that none of us would ever expect….
The thunders clapped and gave the loudest roar that shook the seas and trembled the islands. I immediately lost my balance and fell to my knees, and Mira let out a scream as the waves crashed over me and soaked me all over again.
I huffed and glared through as Demetrius and Jezebelle rudely cracked up and taunted me.
“Look at the wimp now!” Yowled Jezebelle.
“Aha!” Demetrius giggled. “Now in this messy state, he truly looks like the son of a--”
Before she was about to say it, I felt the anger pulse through me like crazy. I was ready to yell and lunge at the imp and rip her apart, but suddenly, Mira’s pointy black shoes stabbed into Demetrius’s side, shutting him up and making his eyes widen. I winced with horror as the devilish imp’s body bled and hung limp in her shoes, and Mira gave a flick with the end of her shoe and slipped the imp’s body off of it. Jezebelle let out a whimper and stared with awe at her mate.
Mira gaze down with bitter anger and crossed her arms, narrowing her eyes and blowing a strand of her bangs from her eyes. “If any of you idiots make fun of Zach, I’m telling Lucien that the both of you were fraternizing with angels when he wasn’t on guard. I’ll damn you both to Hell right this instant, whenever I want to.”
I gazed at Mira’s dangerous face and felt my spirit exhilarate. She looked amazing as she gave those imps her devilish threat.
Demetrius flinched and gasped a long breath of air as she regained consciousness. Shiigo strutted around, pecking at the stains of blood around the imp.
“Ugh!” Demetrius glared up at Mira. “You told us to catch him and torture him!”
“I told NO SUCH THING!” Mira screamed and grabbed the imp and threw him roughly against the trunk of the tree. Demetrius banged against it and a splat of fire burnt against the tree where he had collided. He looked ready to lose consciousness again. Mira snatched the trident from Jezebelle’s hand and it grew larger to a human trident, and she pointed it at Demetrius, who was barely breathing. “You dare do ANYTHING without my permission, I will KILL your spirit, got that?” She spoke through clenched teeth and the trident blazed in her hands. “Only I get to make fun of Zach, got it? And he is MINE. He is MINE and no one else’s. He does not belong to Heaven, he does not belong to the angels. He does not belong to Hell, he does not belong to the devils. He does NOT belong to Lucien, or his missing mommy. He belongs to ME and me alone-- forever.” She stabbed the trident forward at Demetrius and the imp disappeared in the flames.
Staring with awe and horror, I looked down at Jezebelle, who was staring with a frightened wide-eyed look. She looked up at Mira, who was glaring down at her. She screamed and covered her head, looking away from Mira’s terrible dangerous eyes.
Mira hissed and pointed the trident, giving Jezebelle a sharp nudge. “Don’t think YOU have anymore rights than your husband will ever have!” Her scream nearly shook the waters again.
“Ahhh!” Jezebelle jumped and backed away. “I know! I know! I don’t!”
Shiigo squawked and ran behind Jezebelle to give the cowardly imp a kick on the back. Jezebelle’s boy flung and hit Mira in the face, and immediately, Mira raged and threw the imp on the ground, giving her a heaving kick that flung her body all the way into the raging waters.
I stared with awe. I was too afraid to turn and meet Mira’s gaze, so I continued staring ahead, hoping there was someone out there coming to save me from this crazed woman.
But I felt Mira’s gaze rest on me hungrily, and she strutted up to me, grabbing me by the shoulder and pulling me up towards her to face her. She had the trident burning in her other hand and it lighted both of our faces as she stared maliciously with her scary grimace.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Zachy,” she said with a haughty sigh. “I’ve just missed you, that’s all.”
I chuckled and tried to look unafraid. “Yeah….hehe, I kinda missed you too.”
“Really?” She smiled and threw her trident aside, then grabbed me with both of her arms, pulling me to the ground and making me lay down as she crouched over me, facing me with a devilish look in her eyes.
I tried to play along. “Well, Jenna keeps my feelings stirred and angry, but they’re not nearly as strongly affected as when you do so.”
Mira chuckled and pushed a strand of hair from my eyes. I was bracing myself for her to suddenly kiss at me and make out any moment. She was incredibly sexy as she crouched over me with that look in her eyes. “Hah! She’s not bad enough, is she? Hmm, it’s a pity that you’re only here Heaven’s sake though, ain’t it?”
“Come on! I’ll make it fair. You don’t have to go to Hell if you don’t wanna, but I really wouldn’t make it to Heaven. We should just find a place the both of us can be together, now that I’ve finally got you where I wanted.” She gleamed deviously at me.
I raised my expression. “Well, anywhere but Purgatory! I’m not gonna be a Jehovah Follower.”
“A what? Oh, Zachy, you’re gonna have to explain to me all that you know,” she giggled as the waves crashed behind us and the winds tumbled.
Suddenly, a horrified voice screamed across the sea. “Oh my word! What in the….?!”
Mira and I suddenly looked to the right where we saw a beam of light hovering towards us. Mira gasped and gave a low snarl under her throat.
I narrowed my eyes and felt sick. “Oh great….”
Raman and Gabriel were riding upon Othello with Jenna and Shion back upon behind them, with Dewey, Grace, and Pete hovering above with the saints. The Shadow Man was gone.
“Yahh!” Grenada was glaring at me furiously. “Zachariah Ezekreth! What in the world are you up to?!” She screamed again as soon as they were close enough to the land.
I glanced at Mira above me from the corner of my eye, waiting for her to move, but she remained her position. She was glaring at the angels as they came forwards.
“Uh…Mira…?” I muttered, shifting under her.
“No!” Mira’s hand instantly grabbed my shoulder. “You’re not going anywhere.” She continued to glare at the angels as they came forward.
Othello arrived on the ground and neighed with horror at the sight of Shiigo, who ran her way up to the horse to glare at it piercingly. The earth type SoulBird ran through the horse’s legs and scared him, making Othello kick both it’s front feet and its back until all the angels and spirits fell off.
Jenna and Shion rolled against the muddy ground and hit the tree with a yell. Raman and Gabriel hovered off and landed near the side of the horse.
“Steady, Othello, steady,” Raman tried to calm his horse down.
“Oh, my goodness,” Annabelle was gazing over at me. “Zach!”
Grenada whirled around and glared at me and Mira, and then immediately hovered towards us, waving her ruler in the air.
“Hey! Beat it, you! You jailbird! You harlot! Get off of him!”
Saint Grenada whacked around Mira and the girl angrily hissed and crawled off me and away from the angry saint’s strikes.
I stared up at Grenada as she continued to yell her anger at Mira.
Saint Hoshinda appeared above me and gave a haughty look over at Grenada and Mira, and then snickered as she grabbed my hand to yank me up. “Whoop! Git up, Zach! She didn’t hurt you yet!”
I narrowed my gaze as I was yanked up, and I stood to my feet. Raman and Gabriel were making their way towards me.
“Zach, what’s going on?” Raman bent down and brushed the large amount of mud plastered on my side. “Are you alright?”
“Ugh….” I felt my head spinning. I heard a scream behind me and I turned to see that Mira was grabbing Saint Grenada by her wrists as the saint hovered in the air, screaming with envy to struggle free. From the look on Mira’s face, she must have been gripping her wrists pretty hard. Grenada’s ruler was on the ground right at Mira’s feet, broken in two.
With an angry, “Yahhh!” Mira twisted her wrists, but luckily, Grenada was fast and spun around, releasing Mira’s grip and giving her a smack on the cheek. Mira retaliated and was just about to lunge after the saint with an earsplitting scream, but I ran up to her and grabbed both of her arms as she reached forward.
“Mira, no!” I cried, and locked eyes with her again as I grabbed her hands in the air. Mira stared at me and slowly, her gaze seemed to slightly calm down. “Mira-- these are my saints. Th-they mean you no harm. I promise!” I looked up at Saint Grenada and returned her haughty glare as she hovered back towards the others.
Suddenly, Demetrius and Jezebelle appeared from the waters behind us with coughs.
“Ugh! The sea is dangerous!” Coughed Demetrius. “The hell creatures are worse here then--”
“HUSH!” Grenada commanded a silence. “Now, just before we all get swept away or taken in my unholy spirits, ZACH! Tell me what is going on! Tell me what you are doing with this…..CRAZED jailbird?!” She was glaring at Mira.
Mira let my hands go and pushed pass me.
“I’m here to fetch back what’s mine, you terrible excuse for a saint!” Mira yelled at the top of her lungs.
“Yours?” Bernardo hovered forward and laughed. “Hey! I remember you! Yeah! The chick we met back at the chambers! Hehe, almost didn’t recognize ya in that sexilicious wet hair of yours!”
Mira’s angry expression looked slightly humored as she faced Bernardo. “Hah! I remember you too,” she replied quietly.
Hoshinda winced and elbowed Bernardo in the side.
“Oop!” Bernardo shook his head. “I mean-- where did you come from? How’d YOU get all the way as far as here?”
Mira narrowed her gaze and she grabbed me, hugging me tightly to her side. Thankfully, she was my same height and not taller. I stood against her, with my eyes widened with fear. She glared at the saints. “I’ve come here for Zach. He’s mine-- we were always meant to be. He was always meant to go to Hell, or at least see me somewhere close to it.”
Hoshinda raised her expression. “Girl, you got the wrong spirit! If you want a bad boy from Hell, flirt with his father Lucien!” And both she and Bernardo cracked up in to laughter.
Mira growled angrily and hugged me tighter, and I felt like I would explode my spirit if she gripped me any tighter.
Bernardo gave his knee a smack. “Oh-ho! That Lucien’s mighty something, eh? Looks just like Zach too! I’m sorry, girlie! But Zachariah belongs with those who blessed him-- and his true belonging is with some blondie he met on Earth!” He winked at me mischievously.
I gasped and the image of Lexie appeared in my head. Then I looked over to find Jenna, who hadn’t even heard about her either, but I couldn’t find that redhead.
Mira started to shake with anger, and she gripped me ever so tightly, and then exploded, screaming in her loudest voice, “ZACHY IS MINE AND MINE FOREVER, AND THERE’S NOTHING HEAVEN OR HELL CAN DO TO STOP IT!!!” Her voice seemed to shake the island and immediately, she let me go to yell a command, pointing at them. “Shiigo! Kill them all! NOOOWWW!”
Shiigo let out a piercing cry, appearing from behind Othello, chasing Dewey again.
“SHIIGO!” Yowled Mira, screaming to the sky.
Suddenly, the island shook and the leaves of the tree rustled. A group of spirits were peeking from the leaves, and suddenly, two women with long hair peeked from the branches.
“Dear spirits,” one of them spoke in a beautiful feathery voice. “Are you lost?”
Pete looked up. “Are you guys naiads?”
One of the ladies chuckled. “No, we are spirits of the afterlife-- angels just like you.”
Jenna appeared at Raman’s side. “Shion is wounded. One of the devils has possessed his spirit,” her face was urgent.
Dewey gasped. “Are you serious?!”
“Oh dear….” both the women spoke at the same time.
The one to the right leaned forward. “You know, we do perform exorcisms. We can truly help you all.”
Gabriel faced the ladies. “I thought you guys were……anti-religious.”
“Oh, heavens no!” Huffed the other lady. “Come inside! You spirits must be terrified-- out there are the seas where terrible hell creatures are multiplying each day. We can help you! You know how big our tree must be.”
“And you must be Gabriel,” the lady eyed the angel curiously. She turned towards me and Mira. “Ah! And with the medium, I see.” She narrowed her eyes and pointed at me. “You-- you are Zachariah Ezekreth, aren’t you?”
I blinked. Before I could answer, Mira held me against her and answered for me. “Yes! He is Zach-- you got a problem with that?”
“Oh, we don’t have a problem with him,” said the lady. “But we know the rest of the world does.”
“Hey, come on now!” Huffed Hoshinda impatiently. “Are we just gonna hover around here and fraternize with you, or are we gonna receive some shelter from this terrible storm? Othello cannot handle this terrible whether!”
Raman nodded, looking up at the sky. “It’s a shame…..I never expected such a thing to happen after the Almighty granted me here.”
“Well, come inside!” Said the other lady. She turned to Jenna. “Bring the possessed boy too! We can surely help him especially.”
I tried to peek over and spot Shion, and as Jenna appeared with him at her side, I saw that the short Indian spirit was walking with his back bending forwards, snarling with a reddened look in his eyes.
The spirits hovered down and walked towards him. I inhaled as they passed by, filling the air with the fresh scent of flowers.
They took Shion’s arms and immediately, the boy closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. They walked towards the tree and one of the ladies etched a finger across its bark. A door started to form and she opened it to lead us inside.
The saints hesitated and entered first, and then Raman, Gabriel, and Othello entered the huge tree. Then Jenna, Grace, and Pete followed after them, and then last, Mira and I stepped inside.
At last, Mira let go and looked around. “Whoa! This place sure is a hell of a palace!” She muttered.
All around the tree, it was like being in a royal castle with groups of spirits here and there-- most of the spirits being ladies that looked similar to the two that had met us outside-- they all wore leafed skirts hanging around their wastes and flowered bushes wrapped around their breasts. Many had a flower in their hair, and the only few spirits that were men wore bushels around their wastes. They seemed to be serving the ladies, though, which concerned me.
I winced and looked up. There was a ceiling high above, but through a hole where the stairway lead, I saw that there was just another floor above.
I narrowed my eyes around me. The ladies were already taking Shion separately to another room upstairs, and Pete was flying behind with a worried look in his eyes. Dewey hopped at my side and huffed.
“Are you happy to be here now?” He narrowed his eyes.
I narrowed my eyes back at him. “Don’t look at me like that. This place is nicer than the house of the Jehovah Followers.” I looked around and the spirits seemed to be calm here, and the saints were already getting acquainted with some of the ladies. Annabelle was confronted by a long-haired blonde with a flower in her hair.
“Welcome! My name is Brianna.” She greeted. “Nice to see that you’ve taken interest to our Evergrown Tree! I’d like to let you know that none of us will ever bug you or interfere with the newcomers that enter this tree. We are spirits that come in peace, we nourish our tree and let it thrive to care back for us just as we care for it ourselves. What brings you here to become like us?”
Annabelle chuckled. “Oh! We’re not here to stay, we only want to have one of our spirits recovered before we move on.”
“Mm, you sure?” Brianna was smoothing a strand of her hair between her fingers. “Usually, whenever spirits come to visit here, they never wanna leave.”
“Ah! I’m always faced with that temptation whenever I visit such wonderful places of any worlds!” Sighed Annabelle happily. “Just like when I witnessed the Bahamas when Earth was still young!”
“I mean NEVER,” stated the Brianna. “Trust me, once you get acquainted to the likes of this place, you’ll never want to leave.” She giggled. “It’s a lovely feeling-- and you’ll be happy forever!”
“That’s nice!” Annabelle smiled. “But I think Heaven is much more suitable for eternal happiness.”
“Heaven?” The blonde girl winced. “Oh dear, there’s no such place as Heaven. Don’t tell me you’re one of those believers again.”
At that point, I didn’t bother listening to anymore. I turned to head away back at the exit and escape this conversation. I didn’t want to feel like I was in a place of foreign spirits that were so different from the lifestyle of this world-- again.
But as I turned around, I bumped into the lady that had first introduced herself to us. She was looking down at me with her hands on her hips. “Where do you think you’re going, spirit?”
“N-nowhere,” I replied. I stepped around her and tried to head towards the door where she had formed. But the door was gone and there was no sign of an opening around the tree. I winced at the wooden wall and looked around to see if there was another part of this hollow that I had entered through.
“You can’t leave, spirit,” the lady approached me from behind. “This is the Evergrown Tree-- it is more alive with more thoughts than the spirits can think. Once you come inside, you are not to leave.”
“I’m not kidding. Especially you,” she narrowed her eyes. “You bear the blood of Lucifer and Sarah Madonne, do you not?” She was whispering.
I narrowed my eyes.
“You cannot lie to anyone here, spirit. The tree is alive, and if your spirit is alive within it, then the tree can feel you, and deal with you itself.”
I winced. “How? Is it going to grow poison leaves in my sleep?”
The lady shrugged. “Here, in the Evergrown Tree, we spirits are treated in whatever we bring to the tree. If we mistreat it, the tree will mistreat us, if we are ignorant about it and do nothing towards it, the tree will do nothing to us, nothing to support our spirits or anything. Only by taking good care of it and nourishing it will the tree respond and do the same for us. You, as the son of the devil, must be very careful, though, for the tree will surely be stirred by your presence-- and all spirits thriving inside will get a warning of you.”
I stared into her eyes with caution.
“I am Elvira. I’m glad to be taking your spirit friends in, and I’m sure they will find their own ways around the tree and discover how much that it is truly very much alive. If you wish to leave, you may head upwards and towards the top, for the top is the only such opening that will always be present for the newcomers.”
With that, she walked away and left me alone.
I winced and then turned to stare at the wooden wall. I scratched my finger along the wall from left to right, but no door formed.
“Damn,” I muttered. I closed my eyes. “If the Lord could still hear me in here, He would keep me safe from these stupid spirits and whatever harm this dumb tree might bring to me.”
“The Lord looks after those who believe in Him, Zach,” said a voice behind.
I turned and flinched as I faced the tall Shadow Man again.
“Ahh! You again?! Where were you?” I faced him. “I thought you ditched us for good right when we were in danger again.”
“I’ve been with you the whole time, Zach,” said the Shadow Man with an uncertain tone. “Have you not been noticing me? I was there, watching you get yelled at by Grenada because of Mira.”
I blushed and frowned with embarrassment. “Oh, well… should have left at that time, then. But were you really there? I could’ve sworn I didn’t see you around the angels’ light.”
“I was tending to Shion and I accompanied him and Jenna when she took him to the tree ladies.”
“Oh, I guess you were blending in the shadows then, ‘cause I sure didn’t see you.”
The Shadow Man was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Seeing is not believing, Zach. Believing is seeing.”
I winced. “What does that have to do with this?” I sighed and rolled my eyes, looking around. “Hey, where did Dewey go? He was just right here….” I was wanting to ask Dewey if the Shadow Man was really where he said he was. I caught him ahead in the room, behind a linen veil, and I saw Mira’s SoulBird, Shiigo, wandering around with her eyes narrowed as if trying to search for the hidden SoulBird.
“Dewey….” I crept over towards him, but before I walked away, the Shadow Man spoke after me.
“Zach, you must understand,” he said. “I am but a shadow of darkness to you, but to the spirits around us, to the tree spirits that live within this sacred place, I will be nothing but invisible to them.”
I raised my eyebrows and turned to face him again. “You mean….none of these ladies in here-- they cannot see you at all?”
The Shadow Man shook his head. “To them, I am but an unseen spirit of air. To you, I am better seen and understood, but not completely yet, for I am still just a dark shadow towards you and the others.”
I winced. “Why? I don’t understand. Can’t you be more specific? Are you disguising yourself or something?”
“No,” answered the Shadow Man. And he said no more.
I huffed and turned around, but I saw that Dewey was gone. Cursing and stomping my foot, I looked around for the bird. I scratched the side of my forehead where my hair hung, but then paused. I looked at my fingers and saw they were sticky with blood. Was I bleeding on the side of my forehead? I realized this tree could be much more active than I could expect.

“Hey, Zach! Get over here!”
I squeezed my eyes shut and uttered a curse under my breath at the sound of Mira’s voice. She was on the other side of the large trunk, where the stairs curved up towards the high ceiling.
The Shadow Man was facing me. “Zach, be careful who you trust. This tree can affect all you spirits just as it has affected the ladies here.”
I turned to face Mira and put on a fake smile. “Hey….” I made my way up to her. Shiigo was at her side and Dewey was hiding behind Grace and Jenna, who were standing in front of Mira. Jenna had her arms crossed and looked like she was angry about something she had been discussing with Mira. I could only imagine what.
Mira wore a naughty smile as I came up to her. She grabbed my hand and raised her expression. “Zachy? Who’s the blonde that Bernardo mentioned?” She asked innocently. “You did mention going to Earth at some point-- did you meet anyone special there?”
I winced. I didn’t like where this was going. Jenna was eying me as well. “Yeah, I saw someone special. My uncle was there, and apparently, he’s not doing any good with Damien and Lucien’s SoulBird, Aracto.”
Jenna huffed. “Who’s Lexie? I thought your sister was the only one alive in Jerusalem.”
I frowned at her. “Well, you’ve heard of the temple, right? She and Angeline were the only ones to take refuge there, so they both survived.”
Mira gave a dirty look. “Why would SHE be alive with your sister though? And why would she come out just to follow you around?”
“She didn’t follow him around!” Dewey retorted.
“Oh!” Mira gave a scary glare at the SoulBird. “So are you saying he followed her and brought her outta the temple?”
“I did so such thing!” I rolled my eyes and from the corner of my eye, I saw Bernardo hovering by the Shadow Man’s side, snickering at us. I glared at the saint and yanked my hand from Mira, who flinched and gave me a sharp look. “Look! I don’t know what Bernardo told either of you, but don’t listen to him!” I bet he’s blabbered my whole dream I had last night about our visit to Babylon and Jerusalem-- and perhaps what we went through before that.
Mira stomped her foot and smacked my shoulder with the back of her fingers. “You still don’t wanna go anywhere with me! You’ve visited some foreign lady in an ice world when your dream, and you tell her all your secrets!”
Jenna was gazing at me. “Zach, I hope you’re happy now that we’re here in the Evergrown Tree,” she and Mira were starting to follow the SoulBirds, who were heading up the stairs. I walked up after them with a narrowing expression. “Now we have over a week to get to the top in order to leave this place, and that’s only if we don’t lounge around and waste time!” She looked at me indignantly.
I huffed. “Well, Othello wouldn’t have lasted any longer anyway.”
“Argh!” Mira screamed and turned to me, and I felt like she was ready to shove me down the stairs. “You know, you could’ve been riding on your father’s black horse with ME if you hadn’t been fraternizing with angels and such! I swear, Zach! I could’ve helped make everything better for you that Hell would not be like Hell!”
Jenna laughed. “Um, I’m sorry, but Zach’s sticking with his saints. Once we leave the top of this tree, he’s coming with us-- even the so-called Prima Dona in his dream is going to grant him to do so.”
“No way!” She yelled in a rough tone. She grabbed my arm and pulled me up the stairs to catch up to her side. “Zach is coming with me-- and I’ll steal the devil’s black horse to ride away together. I’ll keep him safe from the Beast and he won’t be dragged down to Earth of the worlds below. I’ll keep him safe with me!”
Jenna narrowed her eyes. “Yeah? And just where do you think that will be?”
Grace looked up at her. “Heaven’s the only safest place for now-- the farthest from Lucien’s grasp.”
“Oh, shut it!” Mira looked pissed and ready to throw a fit again. I started to gaze down and try to find any of my spirits still lingering downstairs, but there was no sign of them. “Zach is coming with me, and NO ONE’S going to change that.”
Jenna remained silent and didn’t look back as she reached up the stairs ahead of us. She held her head high and made her way through a leafy curtain where ladies gathered inside.
I winced and Dewey hesitated before following. He turned to me and Mira. “Is that where they cure their victims or something?”
“I dunno!” Mira snapped. “Ask one of the freaks that live here!”
I snickered and watched as two ladies were lying in a hammock made of roots, sticking to two branches with sap. The branches seemed to be brushing their hair and slowly swinging the hammock for the both of them. One of them sat up and I recognized Elsie.
Mira pulled me towards the curtains with a huff. “Come on! Let’s go see for ourselves.”
She tried to push past the curtains, but suddenly she was shocked by a loud static.
“Ow! Dammit!” She tried again and was shocked twice. “What?!”
“Hey, I think it’s the tree,” I muttered. “It probably hates us. I was told the tree will respond and deal with any soul entering this place, depending on who the soul is and where it ranks.”
Mira growled and faced the leafy curtains. “Well, I’ll show this damned tree where I rank!”
“Stop,” a sharp tone came from behind and Elsie was walking up to the curtains. “You must give respect for all parts of the tree. Because of your spirit, you will have different reactions as you climb your way to the top. Here, let me.” She closed her eyes and reached out a finger to touch the curtains. The curtain lifted and we were allowed to step through.
Mira huffed and cursed under her breath as she stepped inside. I followed her with a nod to Elsie. “Thanks.”
She gave a small nod back. “Be careful and watch your step around this place.”
I looked around and saw that the room was quite small, and there were about ten ladies inside, including the saints gathered above with Jenna, Grace, and Dewey underneath. They were all gathered around a small bed where I saw Shion’s body lying stiff and motionless. He had turned an icy blue color as if he had been freezing now.
Annabelle turned and noticed our arrival. “Oh! Hello Zach, Mira.”
“What’s going on with Shion?” I hissed. Raman and Gabriel stood at the left side of the bed as one of the long haired women was bending over to lay her hand on Shion’s forehead, muttering something. A canopy of leaves hung down from above the bed and swayed over Shion as the lady uttered a strange spell.
“Oh, they are performing their exorcist,” replied Annabelle. “The poor thing is seeing visions, and the tree spirit is being summoned to clear him from it.”
Mira snickered and gave me a nudge. “Hey! You think they can do the same for Zach?”
“Nah, no way,” I muttered. “I have its natural blood in me. To give me an exorcist would be like taking the devil out of the devil itself.”
Annabelle giggled. “Oh, don’t worry! We’ll be out of here in no time. Shion’s exorcist won’t take up too much. It’s almost over.”
The ladies were suddenly joining hands and forming a circle around Shion’s bed. One of them turned to Else, who stood at the door.
“Is the savior brought forth?” She asked.
Elsie nodded. “He will be brought.”
And the ladies all joined in the strangest hymn I have ever heard. Their voices echoed throughout the small room, and over the wooden walls, I started to see clear plastered liquid start to run through, as if the tree’s blood was running visibly.
Jenna, who stood at the back corner, took a step back with a wince.
I looked up and flinched, noticing Saint Tyler was staring down at me.
“Whoa! Where’d he come from?” Hissed Mira in a low voice under the hymn. She was gazing up at Saint Tyler with an interested look.
I sighed. “This is Saint Tyler, one of my guardians.” I looked up at the angel with a sideways smile, admiring how he had been the only one that hadn’t ordered me around nor irritated me.
Saint Tyler slowly blinked once and returned my greeting with a nod.
Mira laughed. “Those are awesome eyes! They make him look kinda cute. All he needs is a mouth!”
I winced at her. “You think like that about the angels you despise?”
“Hey! I never despised them!” She looked up at Saint Tyler with a wink. “You remind me of those quiet loner guys that hide their faces in hoods.”
Saint Tyler’s eyes gleamed and he faced down at me. He pointed out a finger towards my pocket.
“What?” I put my hand on my left pocket and faced him.
Tyler gestured with his fingers as if wanting me to give him something.
I blinked and then looked at Dewey intent face as the SoulBird hopped over.
“Oh!” I suddenly slipped out my rosary that I had kept. I handed it over to Tyler, and the angel hovered over to the top of the bed and raised the cross of the rosary high towards the swaying canopy above. The room was suddenly filled with hymns and the beat of drums, and the ladies all started to sway their bodies in a strange motion as the tree’s blood started to run faster.
Suddenly, Shion was starting to shift, and his body became less blue, and turned into a hot red. His shifting turned into a thrash, and he started to kick and yell and scream until the hymn was drowned in terrible devilish roars and growls coming from the little boy.
I watched with awe and Mira squeezed my hand.
Suddenly, I started to feel a drop land on my head. I looked up to where the sap ran from the ceiling, and dripped from a crack. Another drop came down and splashed into my eye.
Flinching, I rubbed my eye with my other hand, and then looked at it with a gasp. There was blood over my fingers, and I realized the gooey sticky sap that ran through the walls and ceiling dropped upon me as blood, and pretty soon, the entire ceiling started to crack and squirts of the tree’s blood started to pour all over my body.
“Ahh! Zach!” Mira jumped to the side, trying to pull me with her, but suddenly, vines from the wooden ground rose and wrapped around my legs, making me trip and fall to my chin, letting go of her hand.
I was suddenly drenched with showering blood and the vines that rose started to let me go and whip me with their thorny branches. I screamed and yowled with horror. The vines pushed me up to my feet, only to grow in front of me again and pull me back down to whip and whip at me. I fell behind Jenna, who turned with a gasp.
“Zach! What’s happening?” She jumped back.
“I don’t know! The tree hates me!” I felt the vines wrap around my entire body now, and I felt twice the amount of spirit being drained out of me then I felt when Igor had wrapped around me. Dewey and Grace tried to peck at the vines and free me with their light, but it wasn’t enough.
Then suddenly, a blast of light shot over me and all the vines disappeared, releasing my body as I gasped with horror and relief. The rosary was lying on the floor in front of me, and the blood had stopped dripping. But I was still drenched in blood. Saint Tyler was hovering over me with a narrowed look, for it had been him to hand me back the rosary.
The ladies were now facing me, not holding their hands. Shion was raised, sitting up on the bed and facing me with his regular eyes-- tired from what he had just gone through. The demon in him had been freed, but I felt like it had done twice the damage upon me. I panted and slowly took the rosary, and held in close to me, looking at all the ladies’ creepy stares.
Saint Grenada hovered to Tyler’s side and looked down at me. “Zach? I’d keep that around my neck if I were you-- especially if you share the blood of the devil.”
“Zach….” gasped Shion. “Are you alright? I’m sorry if I--”
“Child, do not apologize,” Elsie was at his side, and she laid a hand on his head. She turned to me and spoke to both of us. “This boy has been possessed by the spirit of a demon, given to him by a hell creature. We all now realize the dangers of the outside world. While the rest of Purgatory will be overrun by demons one day, this tree will stand tall and firm as it has always done for numerous amounts of time. Therefore, any evil spirit from the outside world will be dealt with by the tree itself, and the tree alone will take care of any spirit that enters this place and nourishes it. It has cleaned up the devil that has possessed this boy-- and it will do so to you too.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Mark my words, spirits….you can fool the spirits of the tree, but you cannot fool the spirits within the tree.”
And with that, Elsie and the other ladies left. They walked through the curtain as if they were all invisible, and Raman and Gabriel remained at Shion’s bedside.
I faced Shion and noticed a tall dark shadow at the right. The Shadow Man.
I sighed and slowly got up, not bothering to ask him this time.
Jenna turned to me and frowned. “You sure you feel okay? The demon didn’t possess you or anything?”
I gave her a look and put the rosary around my neck, facing her. “Does it look like it?”
She gave a sideways look and then nodded. “Yep. Of course it does.” She spoke with sarcasm.
“Zachy?” Mira approached my other side, narrowing her eyes at the Shadow Man. “Who is THAT?”
Shion smiled and looked at the Shadow Man at his bedside with a shining look in his eyes that I had never seen in him before. “Oh, you don’t know? He was the one to clear me from my possession. The other ladies in the tree didn’t see it, but it was really him who helped me when Saint Tyler offered the holy rosary.”
Mira winced. “What?! So wait! I’m confused! Who saved you? Was it the tree or the….necklace?”
Jenna turned to her with a prim look. “The ladies THINK it was the tree that cleared his spirit, but it was really the power of the Holy Spirit that freed Shion.”
The Shadow Man stepped forward. “The Holy Spirit will save those who believe in Him. By the presence of the cross, the Holy Spirit was made visible to Shion, who saw his light and was resistant to the darkness that tried to overwhelm him.”
Saint Tyler was just hovering above the Shadow Man and Shion, nodding.
Shion was nodding as well. “I had all kinds of strange visions just now.” He shuddered.
I looked at Gabriel. “Why didn’t the presence of you angels cure him?”
Annabelle hovered forward with a saddened look. “Unfortunately, the tree is too powerful against a small amount of heavenly spirits. Only the Almighty Creator of all worlds is strong enough to overpower the tree alone.”
“You see….” the Shadow Man was explaining. “The women of this tree do not believe in the Holy Spirit, or any Lord from the heavens. They believe in no god of their own-- they only look to this sacred tree and because there are so many of these unbelieving spirits thriving within this tree, the tree itself became foreign to the Lord and is stirred by any material or spirit that’s connected with the Lord, for the tree rejects the Lord and the Lord rejects the tree.”
I blinked. “Then why did Elsie tell me to keep this rosary around my neck?”
“She wants the tree to recognize you and deal with you itself. I assume she must have told you that the tree is stirred against demons? Well, the tree is just as stirred against those of the Lord as well as those of evil as well-- for all such spirits are but foreigners to this tree.”
“So it hates all of us?” Jenna winced.
“Oh, pooh!” Hoshinda crossed her arms. “Well then! I never liked this tree anyway!”
“Of course,” said the Shadow Man. “The tree knows that-- and it hates you back. We must all take heed and be careful as we make our way to the top. This tree would not have saved Shion if he were not a believer in the Lord, who would come forth and save any of His spirits wherever they go, even if it’s at a place like this.”
Mira frowned. “Ugh….only us demons have no one to rescue us.”
I turned to her. “Hey, we aren’t demons-- yet.” Luckily, I had become stronger with the Lord….at least stronger than I had before….and at least I had my saints with me and this rosary.
Raman spoke. “Well, do not worry. Zach, though you possess the blood of the demons and the tree is against you for that, you can still have faith in the power of the Lord to help you.”
Dewey laughed. “Yeah! Even if what will help you is to be rejected by the tree as well!”
Raman nodded. “Those women weren’t expecting such a thing to happen to Shion-- they were expecting the tree to wipe out his spirit like it almost did with you. But now that Shion is cured, they are stirred and surprised, and that’s why Elsie wants the rosary to be revealed much better upon you so that the tree can really deal with whatever inhabitants have entered inside.”
I raised my expression. Dewey snorted and jumped away from my side. “Yech! You’re COVERED in blood!” All over, my body was splashed with red blood from the tree, and my clothes were wet and reddened as if I had jumped into a tomato bath. Even Mira didn’t bother grabbing my hand again.
Shion coughed and rubbed his eyes. “Well…..I’m extremely lethargic right now-- that exorcist really took out a lot of energy for me.”
Annabelle nodded. “You should get some sleep.”
“But I saw something important-- something within this very tree that I must show you,” he was looking at Jenna and I especially.
Grenada winced. “Child, you must rest if you want to be strong enough to resist the rest of this tree.”
Shion shook his head and stepped to the right, in front of the Shadow Man. “I gotta see this. Zach! Jenna! Come on!” And he hurried to the leafy wall. The Shadow Man came up after him and stepped through the wall, holding an opening for him.
I winced. Jenna and I followed after and passed through. It was as if the Shadow Man was holding the door open for us, making a hole in this wall for us to pass.
I turned to him. “How do you do that? I thought only the women can do such things in the trees.”
The Shadow Man’s shadowy gaze bore into me, and he said, “Anything can happen through your faith, especially if it’s in the Holy Spirit to help you.”
Shion led us up through the tree and Jenna and I followed along quickly with the Shadow Man keeping with us. The saints and the angels stayed behind to follow upwards slowly, and Mira followed them along, wanting to get out of this place as quick as possible.
When Shion finally stopped into another floor of the tree, the rest of the spirits went forwards without us. All through the time, I had been getting weird stares from the tree ladies as they eyed me with the rosaries. Even the few men that were around gave me startled looks.
Jenna huffed. “What cowards! I swear, these spirits are going to be the most destroyed when Heaven and Hell come to battle each other.”
I gave a sideways look. “If only I had a real side, though. This tree can’t read whether I’m from Hell or Heaven! I’ve got both in me and on me.” The rosary was giving a weird flicker of light as well.
Shion made his way through a narrow branch and as Jenna and I crawled through the tunneled branches, the rosary seemed to sizzle against the wooden ground every time it came in closer contact with it.
Jenna turned and gave me a glare. “Can you put that thing away for a moment? I don’t wanna catch this only branch on fire if it won’t burn the rest of the tree down!”
“Hey! I’m gonna be covered with more blood if I take this off,” I hissed.
Finally, we stopped in an open room where I saw Dewey, Grace, Pete, and Truman flying and running around. The four SoulBirds seemed to be having the time of their lives in this room, and where Dewey was hopping and pecking around at the air, there were two air type SoulBirds flying through the room, cooing their sweet musical tone.
“Oh wow!” Jenna was suddenly brightened. “Angel air types!”
And I instantly recognized these two air SoulBirds. One had a bigger and fluffier tuft of white feathers behind its head-- and I recognized that one as Micah, the air type SoulBird of Lexie’s. The other one was no other than Lara, Angeline’s SoulBird.
Here they were, in the real world that their bodies belonged to. Micah and Lara were gliding around the room, chasing after Pete, Grace, and Dewey, and trying to avoid Truman’s annoying squawks and quacks.
“Zach!” A small voice suddenly appeared at my side and Lara was hovering next to my head.
“Lara!” I turned to the air type. “What are you doing here? How’d you get into this tree?”
The SoulBird giggled. “Ask Shion! I made my way through him!”
Shion was laughing and chasing after Micah. He faced me and Jenna. “Well, when I was starting to see the light, I saw Pete-- and Pete was being chased by two air-types he had found in Heaven. I guess by meeting Pete, they knew about his presence in this tree and made their way inside along with the holiness that flowed through to save me.”
Jenna laughed. “Well, they’re awesome! What are their names?”
Pete flew forwards and gave the air type a surprised push away from Shion.
“WAHH!” The air type cried and turned to flap its wings at Pete.
“Argh! Haha!” Pete yelled, dodging the airy blow from the bird‘s wings. “Well, this here is Micah-- the one that can’t fight against a simple fire-type!”
“And I’m Lara,” the one next to me introduced herself with a brightened look on her white face. “I met Zachy’s sister on Earth just a few weeks ago!”
Jenna raised her gaze and faced me. “Oh? So you’ve met already, haven’t you?”
I faced her and nodded. “Yeah. We all have-- recently.”
“Oh, really?” Shion walked up to me with Pete on his shoulder. “How? What happened? Was it a star-portal dream?”
Dewey rushed up with Grace at his side. “It was a star-portal dream!” He gleamed at me mischievously. “You remember well, Zach.”
“I know, I know,” I faced away, turning to head back with Lara flying after me.
The Shadow Man was awaiting the branch we came through. “You comfortable to travel this tree with more spirits from places foreign to this one?”
I winced. “Oh course. The more, the merrier.” I mumbled sarcastically. “I’ll fill up this tree with so many angels that the tree will have nothing against it.”
Jenna scoffed and followed me. “Great! So far, we’ve met spirits that are in-between Heaven and Hell, and they resist either one. Now, we’re surrounded my spirits that are in-between Heaven and Hell, and they are AGAINST both! Sheesh, what next?”
I turned to her with a sideways look. “You’ll meet a spirit that contains all three-- Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory within their blood.” I gave her a wink.
Jenna widened her eyes and then gasped. “Oh, no way! Zach, you’re far from being that powerful-- you’ve only got this world within you at the moment.”
I snickered and said quietly to Dewey, “Well, I’m born of the devil, blessed by the angels, and that’s made me live here in Purgatory. Of course I would contain all three within me.”
We hurried upwards along the tree, climbing so many stairs, and winding through many branches that led upwards when we got tired of steps. I explained to Jenna and Shion about my dream with Lexie and my sister, and how I had seen my uncle and Damien in the city of Babylon. Lara and Micah also explained how they had come to meet Lexie and Angeline through their dreams after the last of Jerusalem had been sucked away.
At last, Jenna faced me. “So! Lexie and Angeline are about to die soon, huh?”
I winced and nodded. “According to what they say, yes.”
“Well, that’s great! Aren’t you happy you’ll be able to visit your sister much easier now, instead of having to visit Earth through a star-portal dream all the time?”
“I guess,” I muttered.
Jenna gave a slight laugh. “Well, what about Lexie?” She pushed her sharp glasses against her face and stepped closer to my side. “Aren’t you happy to see HER soon in the afterlife?”
I frowned and met her gaze. “Lexie and Angeline are both gonna go to Heaven! Why would I look forward to their deaths? I won’t be seeing them here in this terrible world they don’t deserve to be in.”
Jenna frowned. “That doesn’t mean you won’t see them-- the angels of Heaven can visit this world whenever they want.”
“Not whenever they want,” I said. “Just whenever the Lord allows them to.”
Jenna huffed. “You know, you can just say it out loud how happy you are to have them join the afterlife! I bet you miss your sister very much, Zach. You don’t have to hide it in front of me!”
I stopped and faced her with a narrowed look of frustration. The SoulBirds ahead of us stopped and looked back to us. Shion and the Shadow Man did the same.
Embarrassed by all their stares, I met Jenna’s stern gaze. “Of course I miss my sister! But I barely knew her-- I’ve only got the memories I’ve had of her in my dreams and that’s it! The only thing I miss is the memories I’ve had when I played with her when I was alive myself.”
“And that’s all taken away only because Lucien wanted it so,” said Jenna, crossing her arms.
I narrowed my eyes and looked down. “Well-- yeah, of course.”
Jenna sighed. “I’m sorry, Zach.” She was suddenly looking at me with regret. Her green eyes were full of sorrow and she met my gaze as I looked up at her. “I--I’m sorry you’ve gone through so much. It’s already been enough to have lost the memory of your past-- as terrible as it was. But I bet it was much more terrible now that you remembered it.”
I nodded slowly, keeping my gaze fixed on her.
She huffed and looked away. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you. I guess I just didn’t realize how terrible things have been for you-- I suck at trying to be understanding of people who piss me off.”
I couldn’t help smiling mischievously. “Hey, who doesn’t? you’re no different than me.”
“Oh, I’m wayyy different than you, Zach,” she raised her eyebrows as she faced forward and walked on. “Trust me.”
I watched her walked up to Shion and the Shadow Man, and accompanied Grace’s side. They all headed forwards and I caught up to them to Dewey.
I winced, facing Jenna as she walked on, not bothering to turn her head back to look at me.
“What was that all about?” Dewey muttered. “What was she trying to get outta you?”
I shook my head. First, she snapped and me and forced me to tell her my feelings about my sister, and my past life. Then when I did, she apologizes for what’s happened and the way she’s been towards me. Either she was trying to make me jump from mood to mood, or she was just wanting to say sorry without making it look upcoming and sudden. Whatever she tried to do, I didn’t get it. She was weird-- all women are weird to me, especially up to this point.
Shion came to my side with Lara and Micah on his shoulders. “Hey! She may have reopened your old feelings and made you feel all sorry as you think of them again, but at least she told you how sorry she felt for all of that.”
I frowned. “Yeah, well who cares? It didn’t help me or anything.” All I could think about now was how much I had been through since the mortal life with my sister and my family, and all that I had experienced in my afterlife because of it. Having her just simply apologize about it after making me bring up all those thoughts was not going to help one bit.
Shion hurried up to Jenna’s side and started to talk to her in a low voice. He kept peering behind his shoulder at me, and I was just feeling more annoyed as well as saddened.
I cursed and faced the ground as I walked along behind them.
The Shadow Man approached my side.
“Zach,” he spoke, “you don’t have to dwell on the past so much-- that is done with. The least you can do is look towards the future, for there will always be a tomorrow.”
I winced at him. “You’re saying it’s just better to not think about it like when my memory was totally wiped out from remembering a thing?”
“I didn’t say forget the past. I said don’t dwell on it.”
“Ugh….” I hung my head low again as I walked on. “I’ve done so many things I regret though,” I muttered, thinking about all the trouble I had caused in the academies and all the horrible pranks I had done, disrupting and disrespecting the High Ones and the headmasters. I could only imagine what other things I had done back in the mortal life in Jerusalem.
“Zach, the Lord will forgive you for all that,” the Shadow Man was speaking calmly now. “Your saints have told you to pray so many times. They forgive you. The Lord will always forgive you. All the moments in your life that you’ve regretted doing-- all the sins that you have committed-- they will all be pardoned in the Lord.”
I winced. “Well, as much as He can forgive me, it doesn’t keep me from doing it again.”
“Well, that’s why there’s the Son that died for us. Remember that He died for all sins so that we can obtain His righteousness to be free from sin.”
“It didn’t work on me though,” I muttered. “If Christ died for our sins, why was I born a bad person, and I still continue to do stupid things pass my control?”
“You need faith, Zach. Christ’s righteousness will always be open to everyone he’s died for. Spirits can always be good and holy in Christ’s name, but you just don’t suddenly wake up the next day as a pure good and holy person. You need to believe in it first before it can take action on you. You need to believe in yourself, Zach. Yourself-- and the Lord alone.”
The next few days had gone by so slow after that, for Jenna, Shion, the SoulBirds, the Shadow Man, and I stuck to the emptier parts of the tree where there were less spirits to stare at us. When we finally reached another room, we stopped for a rest. I wished they had windows in this tree, for I really wanted to look out and see how far up we had really gotten.
“We are already almost a third of the way through,” said the Shadow Man. “And we’re ahead of the others.”
“Wow, how are we traveling so fast?” Said Shion.
Lara giggled. “We probably sped you up!”
I sat on a hammock between two branches and carefully laid myself down. This branch that we were in had a weird curvy ceiling that looked like it was going to fall on me.
I turned to lay on my side to sleep. I longed to be out of this tree and with Prima Dona as soon as possible. She was waiting at the top….I can only have faith to reaching my goals….
I opened my eyes in a snowy world again. Prima Dona was already with me, hovering over a mountain at my side.
I immediately fell into her arms and she gave me a hug-- a hug that cooled me off and chilled me to the bone, but it felt good. I had been heating up way too long.
Then Prima Dona suddenly stiffened like cracking ice and with a scream, she let go of me, jumping back.
“Eech!” She gave me a horrified angry look and pointed at me. “What is that around your neck?!”
I realized I was still wearing my rosary. “Oh….this?” I immediately explained what we had been through in the Evergrown Tree and how the necklace had freed Shion and kept me safe against the tree’s rejecting spirits.
Prima Dona listened carefully, up to the point when I talked about Jenna’s weird attitude after we had met my sister’s SoulBird.
“Hmph!” She crossed her arms and her hair caressed in the falling snow. “I’m glad you’ve made it to the Evergrown Tree.”
“Yep. We’re already almost a third of the way through, thanks to the Shadow Man. He and the SoulBirds have sped us up with strength and we’re ahead of the others!”
“I want you to get rid of that rosary, though,” said Prima Dona, eying the necklace with a glow of hatred.
I winced. “What? Why? Did I tell you how bloody I looked when I did? I can’t lose this!”
“Take it off,” Prima Dona’s voice was commanding and sharply scary. “Such things do no belong in my world.”
I faced her piercing gaze with confusion and slowly took it off my neck. But before I put it into my pocket, I said, “But….I must keep it on when I wake up. The tree hates both angels and demons-- any spirit from Heaven or Hell, or any of the outside worlds would be foreign towards the tree. Only those who are intermediate and don’t dwell on either things are welcome to the tree-- and that’s why all of those ladies are absent-minded and unaware of the Lord.”
“Who told you this?!” Prima Dona looked fiercely at me.
“The Shadow Man.”
“Ach!” Prima Dona hissed and swatted her arms out. “That Shadow Man angers me so! What else has he told you-- this stalking dark creep of a shadow?!”
“Well….he explained to me about faith in the Son and the Lord, and how He will always be watching us--”
“Radical!” Prima Dona threw her head back and laughed. “Zach, come on! I thought you were smarter than that. Dear, I don’t want you trusting another word that man says.”
I winced. “What? Are you saying he’s wrong about the tree?”
“He’s not wrong about the tree,” said Prima Dona, “but he’s wrong about who you should trust in.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What do you mean? Do you believe in the Almighty? He created…everything. Remember what I told you what I learned from Christ’s followers…”
“Bah! Nonsense!” Prima Dona gave a flick with her hand at me.
I faced her. “Isn’t the Lord watching us now? You say no one can see us-- no such spirit. But the Holy Spirit is greater than all, and always will be. He’s watching us now, isn’t he?”
“Listen!” Prima Dona lowered her head and faced me with an icy gaze. “Of course the Lord knows all. Yes-- like I mentioned before, He has more power over my world than I can ever have, which is one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to visit His kingdom of Heaven! But what I’m trying to tell you is this-- do not believe what that Shadow Man says. He’s wrong. Has the Lord ever spoken to you in person like I have? Hmm? Has He ever given you straight advice on how to deal with the problems you faced?”
“Well….no-- that’s just what I had said before.” I faced her with a stony expression. “The other saints-- they won’t listen to me. They don’t want me to see you anymore.”
“Oh? And why not?”
I hesitated. “Because-- because you are not…..God.”
Prima Dona’s gaze raised. “Hah! Of course I am not God! Does that mean you don’t have to see me though? Child, I think your angels are just jealous because they cannot see our visits together! Then again, think about it! Your saints-- are any of them the Almighty Himself?”
I shook my head.
“Exactly! They aren’t any more trustworthy than they say I am! But I’ve saved you before, and I can continue to do so. Wait for me Zach. Wait for me at the top of the tree, and I’ll be there to provide you with something-- something that the Lord Himself would never bear to give you.”
And with that, a loud cry screeched the air and the skies cracked open. Her air type SoulBird, Madonna, flew out and flapped its wings over Prima Dona until the blinding frozen light blinded my gaze from them all. The blizzards swept me away and I yowled with horror, thrashing around to fight against the hardening storm.
I awoke and found myself still thrashing with surprise and pain. I was covered with mouthed flowers that stuck to my skin like leeches. They were like fly traps stuck against me all over, and I was stinging like crazy.
I ran out of the branches and fell to the ground from the weight of the flowers that fell on me, sucking at my spirit. I thrashed and tried to rub them off, and suddenly, I fell down the stairs with loud yells of pain, groaning and grunting.
Finally, I hit the lower room and was dazed out of my mind. A light suddenly formed over me and the flowers disappeared. My upsidedown vision blurred into focus and I saw my rosary land behind me head. I sat up and looked behind me.
“Hey you. You dropped a little something before you fell down those stairs,” it was Mira.
I grabbed the rosary and held it tightly in my hands. “How’d you catch up to us?”
She chuckled. “Zachy, you really think I’d leave myself alone to a bunch of angels? Come on! Bernardo my be hot and Tyler is handsome, but really, I felt like I was gonna puke if I stuck around those spirits for another minute. I needed at least someone bad around me.”
“Hah,” I said lowly. “I’m that bad, huh?” I stared at the rosary, thinking about how Prima Dona told me to keep it off and not to listen to the Shadow Man. Why did she want me to take this off, though?
“Oh, of course you are,” she said mischievously, bending down to grab my hands and pull me up. She met my gaze naughtily and gently took the rosary from my hand, and put it around my neck herself. “Hmph….you don’t know how weird it feels for me to do that to you. Angels creep me out more than all the creepy crawlers in Hell.”
I winced but forced a smile. “Why?”
“Oh, it’s just…me, I guess,” she shrugged and then turned to head towards a room. “I’m resting in this branch over here since its walls are filled with the most sap. I won’t bug you anymore-- I bet you’re already too tired out from your nightmare anyway.”
Watching her leave, I couldn’t let her go just yet. I was just about to step towards her, but then I looked at my rosary.
“Take it off, Zach,” I could almost hear Prima Dona’s voice in my head, and I was startled.
“Take it off!” She spoke even sharper now. “I don’t care what it means to have it on-- do not worry. I will be at the top of the tree to grant you what’s needed against the Beast, and I will be on the top of the tree to protect you inside as well. Just trust me….”
I was sure I heard her voice that time. Taking the necklace off of my neck, I stared at it and waited for thorns to shoot at me or the branches to swallow me up again. But this time, nothing happened. Instead, I felt a cold blow through my spirit, a cold blow as if I were nearing Prima Dona’s world.
“Zachy?” Mira peered from the curtains to the branch. “Are you still there? Are you going back to sleep or what?”
I looked at my rosary and then back at her. “Nah….I won’t be able to sleep anyway.”
“Oh. Well come here! Check this room out. It’s so different than the rest of the tree.”
I followed Mira inside and then realized where I had felt the cold breeze coming from. Inside this branch, all the walls were glazed with ice, and the branches were a whitish color that made the sap visible like bloodlines running through the tree.
“Whoa….” I stared with awe.
Mira turned to face me with a grimace. “Neat, huh? I bet the higher we go, the colder this tree’s gonna get. And you know what, I like it here! The lands of Bhad have made me burn way too much, it’s time for me to freeze up a little.”
“Same here,” I said as I looked around. I touched the walls with a back of my hand, and felt the coolness of a glass of water being left in a freezer.
Suddenly, I heard a murmur. “Zach…..I have arrived at the top,” it was Prima Dona’s voice and I flinched with awe, dropping my rosary to the ground. I turned to Mira, who was gazing at me with concern.
“D-did you hear that?” I stuttered.
Mira blinked and shook her head, wincing. “I can hear blood from the tree-- I can always hear blood running through when someone’s bleeding.”
But I felt Prima Dona’s voice echo in my head once more. “Zach! It’s me….I’m awaiting you at the top. Do not visit me in your dreams any more-- you won’t find me in Primeval, but I will be awaiting you at the top. Do NOT try to meet me and see the top of the tree for yourself-- for that will spoil what I will give to you, and it will ruin my chance of granting what you need.” A chilly blow ran across my face. “I am here to cool your spirits down, and calm all you down. Half this tree will be covered with a snow that has never covered it before-- and only you alone will know where it’s come from. Do not tell anyone about my arrival….”
Suddenly, I felt Mira’s hand grab my shoulder and throw me against a soft pile of snow. I laid on my back and stared up with confusion as Mira crouched over me again, gazing into my eyes with a narrowed gaze. “You look so cute when you’re scared,” she muttered. “What’s bothering you? Are you hearing something that I’m not?”
She was staring down at me with seriousness now, and she looked more like her dark, angry self rather than the naughty, mischievous spirit she was around me.
“N-no….I’m just…surprised to see this place. They’ve got snow in here-- I’ve never seen snow.”
“Oh yeah,” said Mira. “Me neither. They’ve got snow around the outlands of Purah and Guhd.”
We gazed up at each other, and I was feeling energized and relieved in this cold. Mira looked almost like Prima Dona in this cold place, for her hair was long and dark, and her eyes were narrowed right now, sharp and capturing. Her face wasn’t even close to being as pale as Prima Dona’s, but light enough to be distinctive in this whitish area.
She huffed an glared at me. “Tell me-- do you really wanna kiss me or not?” She started to sit up away from me. I sat up and faced her.
“Well….” I started to speak, but she looked away.
“I’m not gonna bother you if you really don’t wanna be with me. If there’s someone else…..someone you’d much rather see like Lexie or that lady from your ice world….”
I winced and then started laughing, giving the snow a hit. “Seriously?! The lady in my dream is NOT close to becoming a girlfriend-- I’ll have you know she is twenty-four thousand years old!”
Mira flinched and winced. “Oh! Really?! Ugh, that’s creepy, then.”
I chuckled and shook my head at her. “Mira-- I’ve always found you hot. Don’t worry about it.”
She blinked and looked at me longingly. “Really?” Her rough and hard voice was calm and careful.
I nodded. “That was one of the reasons why I followed you when you escaped the Gehenna Volcano.”
Mira looked at me and waited for me to say more.
I sighed and gave her a look. “I’m being serious. I’ve never called a girl hot in my life, or afterlife. That’s something I’m truly certain of. You’re the first one I’ve spoken aloud to.”
Mira twitched a smile on her face for a moment, and a moment passed between us. I was thinking about leaning forward and kissing her, but I was a little iffy.
Then suddenly, Mira huffed and shook her head. “What are you waiting for then?” She muttered quietly, looking down at the snow.
I didn’t quite hear her. “What’s that?” I leaned closer.
Mira immediately lifted her head up and kissed me as I leaned towards her. Instantly, I felt a frozen exhilarated feeling I had never felt before. But at the same time, I fell in love and was ready to faint again.
But Mira wasn’t going to let me faint. She grabbed my shoulders and pushed me to the snow, falling on top of me and kissing even harder.
For what was only a moment, Mira and I rolled off the snow and our lips pressed together the entire time. We went into some trance of making out and moving around, but the entire time, I was too lost and dazed to even notice what was happening to me.
Suddenly, there was a flash from rosary that I dropped on the ground. There was a small crack over the branch and the crack was making its way, stopping right at my feet.
Instantly, I opened my eyes and struggled from Mira’s grip. I yelled in a muffled tone and tried to push her off of me, but she was attacking me like a hell creature.
At last, I released my kiss from her and felt rage pulse through me. “MIRA STOP!” I yelled with such envy that Mira gasped and paused.
I pushed her off my chest and shot up to my feet, panting, feeling angry and regretful. What had I just done? Why was I feeling so bad about it? I didn’t know why I was so mad, but I was. I turned to glare down at Mira, who was looking up at me with confusion in her dark eyes.
“You!” I pointed at her, glaring with hatred. “Stay away from me! How DARE you attack me like that! I’ll never even touch your hand AGAIN!”
Mira immediately seethed and lowered her head, turning red with anger and she narrowed her eyes up at me.
Suddenly, the curtains behind me opened and Shiigo jumped in, squawking angrily and looking around wildly. She spotted Mira and angrily pecked at her with her beak. Mira screamed with rage and swatted her arms at her pet, getting up and giving her bird an angry kick. She gave it a look of hatred as Shiigo rolled over and hit the wall next to the rosary, twisting its body in pain.
I glared at Mira. “You planned this, didn’t you?”
Mira turned her head to glare back at me with the same hatred.
I turned to leave, keeping my gaze focused on her. “I’m never speaking to you again.”
And I left the place, not looking back.

The tree grew colder and colder the higher we climbed up. It even started to snow and freeze up in certain places. I could only imagine how cold it was on the outside-- it was already starting to feel like an open-air refrigerator inside here.
Jenna, Shion, and I were especially feeling quaint with relief around this sudden change in the atmosphere since we were from the warmer lands. Even Dewey, Pete, and Grace seemed to be feeling calmed or piped up around the sudden chilliness.
And the days passed by when we were just carelessly climbing up without even remembering why. The spirits of the tree were giving us strange looks, though they themselves were starting to look dazed and captured with the sudden snow and chilly atmosphere. They’ve been trying to read the outside of the tree and see if there was any such thing causing this sudden winter for the tree alone.
But they never knew about Prima Dona, or at least they never mentioned her.
I kept quiet about her and not even I blurted her name when we climbed upwards higher and higher. I was even starting to feel energized with this cool chilliness. Dewey and I got along better and started to look more like real soul mates we were supposed to.
The days passed and we were getting colder and colder the more we climbed. Pretty soon, we forgot why we were even in the trees, and at one point, Jenna and I were approached my a group of tree spirits and were invited to a dance in one of the rooms of the east branches. We got so involved with the fun that the tree spirits offered us, including their strange rituals and singing.
Only the Shadow Man seemed to remain extra quiet and disappeared whenever the tree spirits came about to have us hang out with them. Even our SoulBirds were caught in transfixion with the rituals the tree spirits pulled us into. I guess our brains were freezing in the coldness more than they had melted in the heat. Micah and Lara were the only ones that seemed confused and they tried to help us snap out of it, but it was no use. To us, they were doing nothing more than just tweeting at us and looking alert.
The rituals were strange, especially in the cold. The dancing and singing we did together in the branches were confusing our freezing heads more and more. And even though Jenna, Shion, the SoulBirds, and I were hyped up and energized by the refreshing coldness, we didn’t show it. We did nothing more towards each other but participated in the rituals and jumped around whenever such rituals were performed.
All through this, no thought came to my head except for the piercing voice of Prima Dona who was continuously occurring in my head to tell me, “Hurry Zach……I am waiting. Make sure you keep moving forwards….” That was the only thing that kept me heading up the tree, leading the others even though it was getting much colder
One day, the tree spirits even tried to let us out of the tree to perform a ritual outside the branches, and surprisingly, the tree thawed a door to let us leave-- something the tree wouldn’t have done to us if we were in the lower parts of the trunk. Apparently, this coldness was freezing the tree’s spirit as well. I had gotten a good view of the outside part of the Evergrown Tree at that point. Just up ahead, looking straight forward, I could see a part of a mountain in the mist, and the mountain still continued upwards, for the land of Primal would be just a few more days higher.
And then the day came when the tree became so cold that it wasn’t refreshing anymore. We were freezing to the soul that we became like mere robots, doing whatever the tree spirits told us to do and whatever the ladies had us follow. Even the SoulBirds were like witless pets now.
One night, I sat on a cold stone in one of the rooms, thinking about absolutely nothing. My mind was blank, but I wasn’t asleep. I was shivering cold and the air around me seemed to get colder and colder. I heard nothing in my head the entire time except for the constant voice of Prima Dona. Everyone else was laid down in front of me, looking passed out in the room, though Jenna still had her eyes wide open. Garce stood next to her, facing ahead, not breathing. Dewey wasn’t by her side anymore, but behind Jenna’s head, and Pete was just a few feet away from Shion. None of their bodies glowed, nor did their halos shine. This bitter cold was literally freezing our souls, and the light was going out in their spirits. Pretty soon, our souls would freeze up right here in this cold shadowy room that felt like a thousand degrees below zero.
Even Micah and Lara had been too late to snap us out of it, for they had become dimmer and had fallen isolated into the cold like the rest of us. They both stood next to each other at my feet, looking funny as air type SoulBirds on the ground.
But Prima Dona’s murmuring voice still seemed as alive in my head as a thought could be. Her voice was somehow reassuring me that I would not freeze up in her spell she had cast on the tree, though for my friends, the other angel spirits, they would suffer something different from this coldness.
Something buzzed at the right of the room where the exit was and glowed in the dark. I narrowed my eyes. The room suddenly seemed to shake, and I stood up, feeling hyped about the sudden movement. I followed that glowing light.
The light was a halo of a SoulBird-- but it wasn’t Dewey, Pete, or Grace. Unfortunately, this coldness and bitter freezing of the soul was literally freezing our spirits and we had no knowledge of it, except for me, though there was nothing I could do about it, for my head told me nothing, and my heart was frozen under Prima Dona’s spell.
The SoulBird I was followed was still angelic and glowing, and I was transfixed by the light. It was a water type-- it was Truman. But I could not recognize this creature whatsoever, for my brain was frozen except for the voice that forced its way to clear in my head.
Truman was looking around curiously, pecking his bill at the icy floor, seeming to smell for something.
I would have narrowed my eyes and asked what was it doing up here, still light and angelic, but I had no thought to bear in my mind, for I was like a soul frozen to robotic motions.
But then Truman came to a dead end, and he gave out a quack. He faced me and then flapped his wings, facing something at my right side.
Instinct told me to look down at my right and see what it was. Absentmindedly turning to my right and facing down, I saw Dewey standing there, long legged and stiff, unblinking his widened round eyes at Truman.
Truman was quacking and beating his wings, and the SoulBird flapped around Dewey’s body, expecting the SoulBird to react as it had done before whenever Truman had done such things to him. But Dewey stood still as a statue, so cold to the point where he wasn’t even strong enough to shiver. The both of us were literally freezing up, though Dewey was freezing all the more since the only thing that slightly strengthened me and kept my spirit alive was Prima Dona’s voice.
Then I noticed something else about Truman that was making him glow. He was wearing something around his neck-- a rosary. The cross was especially glowing brightly, and I could perfectly see the carved body upon the cross in the light. I started to widen my eyes, feeling something in my chest-- feeling something that hadn’t been felt in a long time.
Dewey was suddenly twitching and shivering. With a quick tweet, the little SoulBird pecked forwards at Truman’s neck when the wild little spirit jumped up and down again. Dewey managed to grab the cross in his long beak, and Truman tried to pull back, making Dewey slid forwards as he held onto the rosary around his neck.
Then Truman thrashed and flapped around in the air until his body flew through the rosary, shaking the entire necklace off his neck.
Dewey stood there, a few feet in front of me, gripping the cross in his beak. The light seemed to be overtaking him now, but before he became as bright as Truman, the water type SoulBird slid on the ice, bashing his head against Dewey and knocking the earth type SoulBird on his side, making him spin around and let go of the necklace.
The rosary slid over to me, and stopped right at my frozen feet.
I gazed down at it, letting its light overtake me. I heard Prima Dona’s voice in my head-- a little more muffled than before.
“Zach…!” Her voice was suddenly sharp and full of fear. “Look a….ay….loo….way…” She was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t quite hear her. “Don’t….”
The light of the cross was capturing my gaze. The longer I stared at it, the more warmed and relieved I felt-- for my spirit was starting to thaw out. Prima Dona’s voice was becoming fainter and fainter in my head until I could barely hear a sound. But pretty soon, I did start to hear sounds in my head-- I was starting to hear thoughts and start to understand myself think….and feel. My spirit was suddenly warmed and I bent down to pick up the rosary. I held it in my right hand and stared down at it, becoming more and more transfixed. The cross was glowing and clearing my frozen vision in my eyes, and I recognized the rosary as my own. My spirit thawed out all over and glowed with brightness from the cross, and I suddenly felt as if I had come back from being frozen in an ice block. I could feel again-- I was still freezing in the cold that was around me. But the light from this cross was warming me, and I was withstanding it. I could feel evil in this coldness-- the same ominous feeling I had gotten when I first arrived in Prima Dona’s world.
And it hit me. At the thought of Prima Dona’s world, I was suddenly remembering my dream and understanding what had just happened to me. Prima Dona had arrived at the top of this Evergrown Tree, and had cast this freezing spell upon the tree. The frozen aura of snow started from the top, and would slowly freeze its way down to the bottom of the entire tree, which was why it would get colder the higher we climbed. I realized that this extreme coldness wasn’t just any cold-- it had the same power as in Primeval, and it had the same ability to freeze up a soul that was confined to it.
But this wasn’t Primeval-- this was Purgatory. The snow would take time to have its effect and literally freeze us up, and it would be most quickly and effective at the top, where Prima Dona awaited us.
I gasped and clutched the rosary in my hands, feeling the warmth from the bearing light. I looked towards where Dewey was still laying on the ground. His dim light that had started to come back was now growing dimmer and dimmer, for I had taken the cross from him.
“Dewey….” I was able to hear my dry, quaint voice, and suddenly the branch shook. Truman quacked and bounced around Dewey’s unconscious body, pecking at him and kicking at him.
“Truman!” I couldn’t feel more relieved to see the bird-- for it had been this SoulBird that had brought my rosary to me. But how could he have caught up so quickly? The last place I had left this rosary was in the first cold room I had been in with Miranda…..
I bent down to shoo Truman away so I can lay the cross upon Dewey and help my poor SoulBird. But as I kneeled by his side with Truman squawking behind me, I heard a low, rasping angry female voice.
“Oh, you bitter fool, Zachy,” the voice was like a haughty snarl. I felt the room stiffen at the sound of that somewhat familiar voice.
I looked around and saw a reddish light at the right corner in front of me. A long-legged earth type SoulBird stepped forward, and I recognized Shiigo, glaring at me devilishly with her red glow around her body.
I gasped and felt stiffened again, but I narrowed my eyes and held the SoulBird’s gaze.
“Shiigo,” I muttered, lowering the rosary from Dewey’s body. “What are you doing here? I thought I told Mira--”
“Oh, to Hell with what you tell Mira!” Snapped Shiigo roughly, lowering her head and giving an angry flap of her tiny wings. “She won’t listen to you-- she’ll never listen to anyone. She’s been on your trail, watching you guys slowly turn to ice each day, falling into transfixion and join those foolish tree spirits that have had the same things happen to them. But now that it’s gotten worse to this point, she’s decided it would be necessary to help you.” Shiigo raised her eyebrows. “She’s still crazy about you, you know.”
I slowly blinked and focused on the SoulBird.
Shiigo went on, “And she’s spoken with the Shadow Man as well.”
“The Shadow Man?” I winced.
“Yes, she has spoken to me,” said a low voice behind. I flinched and whipped around to face the shadowy spirit.
“Argh! You scared me again,” I snapped.
“Zach-- it was I who convinced Mira into helping you all,” said the Shadow Man. “She was the one with the rosary, and it was because of that necklace that she and her SoulBird had their spirits saved. She could do the same and help free your spirits as well, for I couldn’t stand there and bear to watch you simply become confined to this……Primeval ice.”
I winced. “Well, what about you? Why wasn’t your spirit frozen up like the rest of us? Oh! Let me guess-- you put faith in the Holy Spirit and He kept you strong against this condition?”
“Exactly,” replied the Shadow Man seriously.
I raised my expression and gave him a weird look.
“You’ll be surprised what faith can do to you, Zach-- especially if it’s in the Lord.” The Shadow Man faced down at me darkly, and I looked down at the rosary in my hand. It was still glowing.
There was a low chuckle from Shiigo, who was looking at us naughtily. “Well, of course Mira did not want to see your face again, for as much as she was still in love with you, she was just as pissed and angry. Just a little while before the tree became crazily cold to the point where not even the tree spirits could bear it, Truman turned up out of nowhere, and she decided to let Truman be the deliverer and help your spirits. She sent me to follow him along and make sure he did the right thing.”
I flinched. “What? What about Mira herself? She’s got no cross with her, so she’s…..”
Shiigo nodded slowly, flashing her narrowed eyes. “She’s confined herself to the ice like the rest of you.”
“No!” I stomped the ground and felt frustrated. “No, why would she do that to herself?! Argh! Is sh that stupid?”
Shiigo snickered. “She sure is, especially when she’s mad. You have no idea.”
“Well, where is she?! We’ve got to help her.”
“Hey! Don’t forget about the rest of your friends, devil boy,” Shiigo’s eyes glittered. “Jenna and Shion are slowly freezing up their lives for Prima Dona right now as well.”
“Yes, I know, but I need to know where Mira is as well. Where is she?!”
Shiigo stared at me with an unchanging expression.
“Where is she?!” I repeated again, grasping the rosary hard.
Shiigo stifled a snicker. “Geez, boy, I thought you never wanted to see her again?”
“I don’t wanna see her again! I just want to rescue her!” I looked up at the Shadow Man and then my rosary. “Nobody deserves to be…..left behind and confined to evil.”
Shiigo slowly turned around to face away from me. “I ain’t telling you where she is. She doesn’t wanna see you either. She told me seriously-- she wanted to die here in this tree and just go wherever her spirit would be destined to go. She was never scared of going to Hell anyways.”
“She won’t go to Hell, she’ll go to Prima Dona’s world!” I yelled, feeling frustration pulsing through me.
Without another word, a blast of light suddenly appeared over me and I was looking up at Saint Tyler, who was gazing down at me with a narrowed, but urgent look on his face.
“Saint Tyler!” I looked up at the spirit as he waved his hands, aiming them towards me, for he was happy to see me.
Another spirit appeared next to him, and it was Saint Bernardo. He was coughing and spitting out purple spit all over the ice below him.
“Bernardo, what--”
“AHH!” Bernardo let out a loud yell and faced me. “Oyy! You there! I’ve been trying to get through to you, but egh! This darned atmosphere is so frozen that not even we angels can flow through here. What in the world has happened?”
Saint Tyler was pointing at me with a scolding look in his eyes.
I gave Saint Tyler a look. “Come on, you’re supposed to back me up here.”
Saint Tyler crossed his arms and sharpened his gaze.
I sighed and turned to Bernardo to explain everything about Prima Dona.
Bernardo was flabbergasted. “What?! Aha! She isn’t so powerful here, though. Her spell sure didn’t have any affect on us angels around here! The only thing we had trouble with was trying to get through to your frozen minds and warning you!”
“I know,” I said, bending down to lay the cross on Dewey’s body. I shooed Truman away as the rowdy SoulBird came to peck at it. I stood up and turned to look up at Bernardo. “But she’s going to get more powerful. Where are the rest of you guys?”
Saint Tyler pointed towards the exit and then stretched his arm horizontally in front of him. Bernardo nodded. “They are catching up to you all since this weather has been slowin’ ya down. Not even the tree spirits dare to come up this close! It’s way too cold, and only a lunatic who can still think enough to be a lunatic can find his way up here!”
“That would be me,” I retorted sourly. I told him how Prima Dona’s voice seemed to be guiding me and pulling me forwards in my head.
The Shadow Man looked at me and spoke. “Zach, you must help the others right now before they get confined to this ice. We must hurry our way to the top, for it is only another few miles upward. We should get there at the crack of dawn.”
“We’re still heading up?” I looked at him.
“We must-- it would take to long to climb all the way down again, and by that time, the tree would have already been entirely frozen to Prima Dona. We must hurry towards the exit at the top and then make a break for it, going forwards from there to the mountains just in front of the tree’s top, where the land of Primal starts.”
Dewey was shifting and pretty soon, the earth type was on his feet, blinking and standing up. He looked around with confusion and flinched distractedly and Truman’s loud quacking.
I bent down to carry the rosary. “Dewey…..” I looked down at the SoulBird as he turned forwards.
As soon as Dewey saw Shiigo pecking around at the corners of the branch’s end, he flinched back and panted.
I looked up over where Shiigo was slowly walking along the edge of the branch’s end in the tunnel, and realized that there was a clear reflection on the ice ahead of us. Shiigo was poking around the bottom of the reflection, and then suddenly, there was a burst of flames among the ice wall. All but the Shadow Man jumped back and faced the wall ahead with horror. There were flames reflecting on the ice, though there was nothing behind us.
Shiigo slowly lifted her head up and glared at the fire reflecting at her.
Through the terrible flames, another earth type SoulBird was glaring back at her, another devil one, but it was not her reflection-- but was the reflection of a familiar male SoulBird.
“Aracto,” rasped Shiigo, facing the earth type in the fire. “You go tell Lucien that Mira will never see him again, nor will she join the ranks of Heaven. She will be gone-- gone from all worlds, from Earth, from Purgatory, from Heave, from Hell.”
Aracto’s devil eyes gleamed and he lowered his head. “And why?” His ugly voice was like a low whisper. “Tell me one reason why Mira would let herself fall to some world other than Hell-- where she has always belonged.”
Shiigo chuckled slyly. “You haven’t heard, have you? Unfortunately no one has known of this world….none except for the boy.” Shiigo stepped aside and turned to nod at me with an evil gleam in her eyes.
Dewey gasped and looked up at me as Aracto’s devilish gaze rested on me.
“Oh,” Aracto seemed to give a slight smirk. “It’s Zach.”
“Yah!” Bernardo hovered to my left shoulder. “And me! Boo! You devils look ugly in that reflection! You’re burning up the ice just by reflecting such an image!”
Saint Tyler appeared next to him with his arms tucked in his connecting sleeves, glaring at the devil SoulBirds.
Aracto raised his eyebrows. “Ah, guardians, huh?”
I took a step back from Aracto’s scary gaze, and I accidently bumped into the Shadow Man’s right side.
Suddenly Aracto flinched and looked with horror at the Shadow Man. “Damn to Satan….” cursed Aracto.
Shiigo narrowed her eyes and looked at him. “What is it now, you fool?”
Aracto arched his head to peek over her body at the Shadow Man, and then immediately ducked down and let out a squawk of terror, making the fires burst.
“Zach! Damn you to have found such a treacherous spirit--- rowww!” Aracto screamed in the ifres as they burned away his image.
I stared with horror as a new image appeared on the ice, and I nearly dropped dead. It was Lucien, glaring at me with his fingers clasped under his chin. His red eyes were cracked and staring at me deviously.
“Hm-hm,” he was chuckling devilishly. “Hello Zach.”
Truman squawked and ran over to hide behind me and the Shadow Man.
I huffed and put the rosary on my head, glaring at my father.
“Lucien, you’ll never drag me-- your own son-- to Hell. You told me you would never force me, for I am your child and I can choose my own ways in the afterlife.”
“The afterlife is too late, my son,” said Lucien slyly. “You end up where you deserve to end up, and you cannot change that.”
“Well, apparently, Prima Dona can,” I said wryly. “She’s gonna send one of your incoming spirits to her own place-- a place where even you could die forever without even the spirit to live in the afterlife.”
“Prima Dona?” Lucien spoke calmly and raised his eyes with concern. Then he smiled. “Ohh! Prima Dona! Haha, well….Prima Dona’s got her own ways,” he narrowed his eyes and the flames danced around him again. “Trust me-- you’re not just going to escape her easily.”
“What are you talking about?” I winced.
“Lucien,” the Shadow Man spoke with anger.
Lucien flinched at the sight of the Shadow Man and widened his eyes with surprise, and then narrowed them again. “Geh….you again…” he growled.
I narrowed my own eyes. What was it about the Shadow Man that scared and surprised the spirits so?
The Shadow Man stood firmly on the ice. “Lucien, these spirits will pass her without a problem-- for they’ve got the power of the Holy Spirit with them.”
At those words, my rosary flashed.
“The one and only most powerful weapon they will ever need,” continued the Shadow Man, “is faith. They need faith, for that is what will bring upon the Almighty Lord, Who is always powerful over anything and everything.”
“Gah!” Lucien suddenly raised his arms up and his red robe hung behind him, with his dark red cape blowing behind him. The flames rose and suddenly the branch started to tremble, and I felt the ice crack. Lucien was trying to break the reflection and catch the place on fire again, just like he had done back at the house of the Jehovah followers.
Shiigo squawked and held her ground next to the mirror as hot wind blew from the reflection towards me. Dewey and Truman held the back of my ankles to keep me from sliding backwards.
Suddenly, the flames burst from the ice with Lucien aiming his arms towards us. But the Shadow Man was blocking him. He immediately outstretched his shadowed arms out to his sides, and the flames stopped, burning just a few inches in front of his shadowed body.
“Whoa!” Dewey yelled, watching with awe.
“Hoyy!” Bernardo grabbed my shoulders to keep from blowing away at the rush of hot wind from the fire.
The fires busted around in front of the Shadow Man as his arms stretched to his sides and kept the flames from going anywhere passed him.
The Shadow Man suddenly thrust his hands forward and sent the fire back into the ice, and the flames crashed back into the walls, overcoming against Lucien and toppling him over. The Higher One grunted and yowled a terrible devilish howl as the fires swallowed up his image. Shiigo was jumping up and down with angry squawks at the wall as if to call his image to come back.
Immediately, I was terrified as the branch shook again, and the ice in this room was starting to melt.
Turning to flee, I headed out of the room with the rosary flinging behind my neck as I ran. Dewey called and hurried up after me and Truman followed along, quacking and crying with horror.
I returned to the room I was in, thankful that somehow I had remembered the way back. I shone the cross over Jenna and Shion, and as soon as their spirits were revived, Bernardo snapped them into focus and got them to stand up and understand what was going on.
Micah and Lara didn’t need to be told, though they were just as surprised to hear about it as the rest of the spirits.
“Wah!” Shion winced and looked around. “What’s going on? What happened?”
Pete landed by his side and shook his feathers that were starting to burn up again. “Ugh! What in the world-- I feel like I’ve been stuck in a freezer for two hundred years!”
“Ow! Truman!” Jenna flinched and looked down at the water SoulBird. Grace was shaking her head as Truman swatted around and whacked at Jenna’s ankles. “What in the world-- where’d you come from?! Zach!”
As she turned to glare at me with confusion, I immediately explained to both her and Shion what was going on. Dewey and the saints with me helped explain as quickly as they can. Pretty soon, they were staring at me, surprised and horrified.
“What?!” Shion’s eyes looked ready to pop. “You mean there’s another place much worse than Hell-- another place that our spirits were just about to go to because of this condition?”
“Yes!” I huffed. “Prima Dona is waiting for us at the top-- she only wants me. Only I was able to withstand the cold a little more than you guys, for she spoke to me through my head, and her words were the only thought alive in me.”
“Well, we have no time to waste!” Jenna carried Grace and let the earth type ride her shoulder. “Let’s go right now!”
She started heading towards the room’s exit to continue climbing, and Shion and I caught up with her, with our SoulBirds at our heels and the saints above us.
“Just a moment now Zach!” Called Bernardo. “Saint Tyler will keep with you! I’ll go get the others and tell them to catch up and come along with you-- for they are not too far behind!” And he disappeared before I could even reply.
“Well?!” Jenna looked at me as she hurried up the stairs with Shion at her other side. She was waiting for me to explain what I was just going to tell her next.
So I told her about how Mira had really been the one to rescue me by returning my rosary, delivering it to me through Shiigo and Truman. I explained what she had done to herself in doing so, and how Shiigo had called upon Aracto and Lucien to speak to us-- even telling about what the Shadow Man had done to stop the hellsfire that would’ve spread around the tree again, dragging us into the reflection to Hell.
Jenna suddenly stopped at the top of the stairs. “Wait WHAT?!” She stared at me with disbelief. “Why is Mira sacrificing her spirit instead of just coming up to you herself and give back your rosary? And what was SHE doing with it in the first place?!”
I stared into Jenna’s sharpening eyes. In the shadows and in this cold atmosphere, her glasses looked even sharper and made her daze even more piercing. I had not told her about how I had made out with Mira and had left my rosary in there for doing so. And I surely did not want to tell her about that right now.
Dewey gasped and gazed up at me with horror. “Zach!”
I flinched and glared at my SoulBird to keep his mouth shut. He had not been there, but he knew.
“Hello?!” Jenna snapped impatiently. “I asked you a question! We don’t have time to stand around here waiting for you to answer!”
“Jenna,” a shadowed hand touched her shoulder and she gasped, turning around with a startled look. The Shadow Man was behind her. “Oh! It’s you… scared me.”
“Understand that Zach went through tough times seeing Mira, and his reason for leaving her rosary with her is private.
The Shadow Man was facing down at Jenna, but I could feel his shadowed face gazing me, if he even did have eyes.
Dewey winced, wondering how if the Shadow Man really knew.
“Now let’s hurry on,” said the Shadow Man, gently pushing both of us.
We hurried on and along the way Shion excitedly questioned him about how he had blocked the fire from Lucien. Jenna listened with interest, but I didn’t. I knew he was just going to say the same thing he had said to me when I had asked him. But at the same time, I was feeling uplifted and totally intent on the Shadow Man. He had told us a lot, and there was no doubt-- especially after I had seen him in that room-- that he could do so much for us when we needed it. I remembered him lifting us up from the house of the Jehovah Followers when it caught on fire, and wondered…..perhaps he’s an angel from the Lord, sent to guide us and follow the Lord’s ways, but then why would he be in the form of a shadow-- a shadow that never shone in any kind of light? He was always telling us to believe in the Lord with faith that will light our way, but why wasn’t he lighting up himself?
We pressed on and took up the rest of the night to get to the top. Jenna was strongly concerned for Mira’s sake, and she showed more worry to save her more than I did. I did feel very anxious about Mira, though I kept quiet whenever her name was mentioned, for I really didn’t want to show it.
“Come on, Zach,” Dewey was speaking to me in my head. I turned and widened my eyes at him as he looked up at me determinedly, running at my side with Lara flying over him. “Admit it-- you care for Mira. You told it to her, now you can tell it to your friends as well.”
I winced. “You know, this is the first time we’ve actually had a telepathic conversation with each other.”
“Ugh! Tell me about it!” Said Dewey. “It’s been so hard to talk with you since your mind is as hotheaded as the Hell your father came from!”
“Hey,” I narrowed my eyes as I kept my mouth shut.
Dewey gave me a raised look. “Zach-- Jenna’s a good friend. She won’t be mad when she hears your feelings about Mira. You can stop hiding.”
I winced. I looked forward and tried to ignore Dewey’s voice in my head. Things were so urgent right now that I didn’t have time to speak to my soul mate heart to heart right now. I did like Mira-- but something was telling me that I shouldn’t be feeling what I was feeling for her. Probably because she was destined for Hell-- probably because there was…..Lexie.
Lexie! The thought of her immediately made my mind go wild. I slowed down my pace to a jog and realized….Lexie really was the first girl I had fallen for. That first moment I met her with Igor at the Jerusalem temple, I really was struck, even though I didn’t know it. I didn’t know how to feel love, so when it finally came to me, I let it slip past without really letting myself feel it wholly.
“Zach!” Jenna’s sharp tone made me look up and realize I was a few feet behind. The Shadow Man was facing my at her right. “Zach, come on! What the hell?!” She glared at me.
“Come on, Zach,” the Shadow Man appeared behind me and gave me a push.
“Huh?!” I flinched and faced him behind me as he gave me a gently push forwards. I whipped my head to face where Jenna was standing, and saw that the Shadow Man wasn’t there beside her.
We hurried up and for the rest of that night, I kept my mind off Mira and argued with Jenna about how absent-minded I was. Arguing with Jenna always took my mind off of other things, and this time I could really use it.
At last, we climbed up a long straight pathway of stairs. Unlike all the other stairs of the rooms, this one was straight up, not curving around. The stairs led high up, but not as high as the stairways I saw to Heaven. I could actually see a mysterious light at the end of this-- a whitish light, not so bright but somewhat visible.
“We are nearly there,” said the Shadow Man as we hurried up.
Micah flew forwards. “Oh boy…..I’m freezing my feathers off-- why wasn’t there ever an ice-type SoulBird?”
Jenna laughed. “Truman is enough of a water type to withstand coldness….kinda.”
She looked down to where the water type was shivering against my ankles. The Shadow Man picked up the creature, for the SoulBird was too cold and tired to go on any further.
“Oh, come on!” Dewey looked at Truman indignantly. “We’re as close as we can be now! Just one more set of stairs and we’re done!”
“Well, it IS awfully freezing,” stuttered Grace, shivering against Jenna’s ankles.
“We’re nearly there,” said Lara, flying forwards.
We all followed and walked up the stairs this time, and either we were extra slow, or these stairs were just extra longer. The top seemed so far away, and it was like climbing the stairs to the top of Egypt, except we were doing so in the coldest weather we could ever bear. The light from my rosary kept us strong and warm enough to withstand it, but we were still as cold as can be.
At last, we made it. We were so tired that we barely noticed the opening that was in front of us, but Shion was pointing towards the light that shone from it.
“It’s…..snowing outside,” he said quietly.
Slowly, Jenna and I rose to our feet and the Shadow Man stepped on forwards, walking simply as if he wasn’t the least bit tired. We followed him and stepped out of the opening, and I breathed the fresh smell of open-air, feeling free to be out in the real world again. That tree was like an outsider to the world it was in, and now it had become frozen in its state. I was glad to finally be free.
But the stillness of the snow that fell around us was enough to make my spirits fall and dread again. I sensed Prima Dona.
“Come here, Zach….” her sharp voice echoed through the snow around us. There were no such branches over our heads, for we were at the very top branch. No leaves grew up here anymore, for the snow had killed everything off.
“Did you hear that?” Shion was looking around.
I gasped and looked at him. “You heard it?”
Jenna narrowed her eyes and glared around at Prima Dona’s voice. “Of course-- we aren’t deaf now.”
A gasp came from Lara as she faced forwards. “Oh no…..”
I looked towards her direction and I could see that straight ahead was the top of a mountain-- the very place where Primal would be. If only we could drift forwards to that mountain just across the top of this tree, we would make it to the next stage finally. Going forwards in Primal, we would come to another mountain to hike to get to the next stage. But Primal was all we needed-- we just needed to get to that mountaintop and then meet up with Hannah, Michael, and Michael’s band of angels to fight the Beast.
But then my gaze slowly ventured down. There, sitting at the end of the branch, was a tall lady, leaning on her side with her beautiful dark hair blowing in the wind. Her eyes sharpened into me and her crown glittered. Prima Dona had her long thin body lying on her left side as she leaned on her hand and stared at me maliciously.
Jenna gasped and Shion stiffened. Micah and Lara hovered closer to their sides.
“Come forwards, dear child,” she was staring at me and when I didn’t move, a strong blow of snowy wind crashed behind all of us and we were all forced to walk forwards.
I saw that this branch was thick-- but not as thick as the ones I had seen below. This branch was only about twenty feet from left to right, while the others were probably ten times that length. I didn’t dare to look down, for the fear of falling from this dreaded point-- especially when we were so close to Primal up here.
At last, Prima Dona gave a snicker and rolled her eyes. “Alright, I don’t need the rest of you!” The lady thrust her arm forward and a strong wind blew against Jenna, Shion, the SoulBirds, and the Shadow Man, and blew me closer towards her until I was standing a few steps from her. Even Dewey was kept from my side as the others waited behind to watch.
I looked down as she gazed up at me with her piercing eyes. They glittered like icy blue sapphires….wait, blue? Prima Dona’s eyes were purple…..
“Zach…..I’ve been waiting for you,” she laid her hand on my head and gently brushed my hair to the right with her long fingers. “You didn’t have to bring your friends-- I was going to take care of them myself, you know. Didn’t you hear me?”
I was scared of being so close to this lady again, in real afterlife now, but I still narrowed my eyes at glared up at her with disbelief. “Darn right I heard you-- you tried to freeze their souls! Why would you do that? Are you mad that I told them about you?”
“Not exactly,” Prima Dona’s edgy tone was still calmed as she spoke. “You see…I only want to share my power with someone as special with you-- not anyone else. Your friends…they would’ve told you otherwise.”
“What are you going to grant me?” I asked carefully. “Can you truly give me power greater than that of the Lord Almighty-- more power than Jesus Christ can give me if I had relied in Him instead?”
“Grah…..” Prima Dona’s eyes flashed and she thrust out her spear from behind. “Don’t every mention that name again!” She struck the ground with her spear and the entire tree shook. The winds howled and the snowfall started to blow harder. Jenna and Shion gasped and nearly lost their balance. Prima Dona looked at me as I tried to steady myself from falling to my right. She grabbed me and pulled my towards her, keeping her hand around my shoulder. I gazed up at her with wide, startled eyes, feeling like a little terrified kid.
Prima Dona smiled at me evilly. Her icy blue eyes pierced me sharper than they had done before. “Do not fear, boy! For if you were to have my power of ice, you too, would be resistant to the fire-- just as you had seen before-- with your father’s image in the ice.” She winked at me. “With this power, you’d be able to conquer the Beast and resist its grasp to pull you to Earth, for you would be just as powerful as I would be.”
“What?” I narrowed my eyes and tried to flinch from her grasp, but she was grabbing me hard and her arms were freezing my spirit all over again. My rosary flashed, but Prima Dona immediately grabbed it, bending over to face me as she held the cross in her hand.
“This, I told you to throw away,” she hissed angrily. “This is not worthy and will not let you obtain the true power I am about to give you.” She turned me around so I could face the end of the branch. “Look carefully in the snow, now. What do you see?”
And to my horror, as I peered through the snowfall down at the very edge of the branch, I saw the body of a girl lying to her side with her long dark hair not even blowing in the wind. It was Miranda-- her body was frozen as a statue’s.
“Mira!” I gasped. I felt rage burn through me and I tried to push Prima Dona away from me, but she snapped and gripped tighter.
“What do you think you are doing--?!” She angrily gripped her arm tighter around my shoulders as I tried to break away. Her hand clasped my rosary and I couldn’t escape as I struggled in her grip.
“Argh!” I yowled with frustration. “I don’t want your stupid power!” I yelled with fury. “Let me go! I hate you! You’re a witch and a devil! You’re no worse than my father!”
And at that, Prima Dona released her grip on me and gave me a hard shove that banged me against the soft snow. My rosary had snapped off from my neck, and Prima Dona was gripping it in her left hand, gripping it tightly as she glared at me with a wild look of fury on her evil face. Her hand was trying to turn the rosary to ice, but at every block of ice, it immediately crumbled away from the rosary’s light.
“Yahh!” Prima Dona threw the rosary over Jenna and the others, and the snowstorm immediately blew it around and I lost sight of it.
I sat up on my side as I looked up at Prima Dona’s raging gaze. The snow swirled around her and she was in a wild rage of fury, and through all this horror I was going through from her, I was starting to feel a familiar sense of déjà vu.
“You despicable, ill-tempered, unworthy child!” Prima Dona’s scream thundered through the storms. “You dare turn away the most powerful ability ever granted to you?! You are no more different than the impious, foul-hearted child you had been before!”
She kicked at my side with her sharp icy heel and I yowled and groaned with pain.
Jenna and Shion watched through the storm with horrified looks on their faces.
“Zach!” Cried Jenna.
“”Unworthy, impudent, idiotic son of a bitch!” Prima Dona was kicking at me over and over again, kicking at my sides with the strongest kicks a woman could give, making me roll over so she can kick more and more. She cursed at me all the hateful words I had ever heard-- some of them I hadn’t even known existed.
I was wounded and bruised badly, and still, repeatedly, Prima Dona was kicking and kicking at me, in the side, in the eyes, even in certain terribly hurtful places.
“Zachariah!” Jenna cupped her mouth and couldn’t bear to look. She had never sounded so worried for me, though I was too much in pain and agony that I didn’t notice it at all.
Prima Dona raised her spear and then hit me on the yet with a loud scream. And that’s when it really hit me. As soon as that ice spear banged hard against my head, my memories were taken back to the days when I was a child, alive back on Earth, no more than two years old. I was in the palace, and I was suffering from being kicked, harassed and abused-- by my own mother. Sarah Madonne was kicking at me and I was wailing and crying out as she continued to kick at me and shout curses at me. I was only two at the time, and then I was five, and she was still kicking and screaming at me, throwing things at me as I tried to crawl or run away. I could not hide from her, even as the years passed. My mother, Sarah Madonne, had treated me with such abuse, beating me senseless and giving me scars and bruises that I would always look at for the rest of my life.
And now-- those old scars that I had always hidden-- they were being reopened-- and I was getting those bruises and marks all over my body and my face. My shirt was torn and kicked off, and I was starting to bleed and get beat up all over me. This was the same behavior I had had from my own mother-- and now it was being performed on me all over again in the afterlife.
“Bah!” Prima Dona put her hands on her hips and stared down at me with hatred. “Call yourself a spirit worthy for Heaven? No one will ever heal the wounds given to you by YOUR OWN MOTHER!”
And with that, Prima Dona gave one more strong swing with her spear and hit my chest, making tumble over to the side of the branch. I held on for dear life as I hung from the side of the highest branch in the highest tree, and the snowstorm whirled around me to pull me down. I glared up at Prima Dona-- but I wasn’t seeing the victorious ice lady I had met in my dreams-- I was seeing my own mother. Prima Dona was, no doubt, Sarah Madonne, my evil mother that had married my father and had mistreated me until the day of my death. And finally, here she was, in the afterlife, finally found after so long.
Prima Dona looked into my fearful eyes, and she smiled evilly, knowing what I was thinking. “Oh, Zachariah, my dear little boy.” She chuckled slyly and let the blizzards heave me up and blow me towards the ground in front of her again. I fell to my knees, wounded and bruised, covered in scars and blood all over. My right eye was dark black and the other was bleeding, and my bottom lip was stinging with a terrible deep cut.
Prima Dona knelt in front of me and grabbed my chin with her cold fingers, tilting my head up to face her. Her eyes were dazed and motherly now. “Oh, Zachy, understand that I want the best for you-- I want you in my arms more than anything in the world. For what more can a mother want than to have her own son in her hands?”
I gazed into her eyes with my wounded and disfigured face, and a trickle of blood from my lip landed on her fingers under my chin. Prima Dona slowly let go and my head immediately dropped, hanging as I leaned on my knuckles in front of her. Prima Dona leaned forward and gave me a soft kiss on the head. Her kiss chilled my entire body and shivered my entire spirit.
“Understand that no matter how I will treat you,” Prima Dona was speaking in a low tone as she gazed at me with narrowed eyes, “no matter what I will have happen to you-- I will always bear the love a mother would always have for the child she had brought to the world.”
And slowly lifting my bruised and wounded head to gaze into her eyes, I caught a glimpse of light flash from the right corner of my eye.
“Zach!” Gabriel’s voice echoed to the right. He, Raman and his SoulBird, Othello, were hovering in the air, with the five of my saints hovering up above them.
Hoshinda let out a scream. “Wahh! Good gracious-- that’s Prima Dona?!”
“Oh, Lord of Heaven!” Yowled Bernardo.
“Zachariah Ezekreth!” Grenada’s sharp voice was filled with a horror and fear I had never heard her have for me
I was too weak to turn my head to look. Prima Dona gazed at me meticulously.
“Remember me, Zach. Your father and I only want you with us, so that we can all be together-- as one happy family-- forever,” she added the last words quietly in a dreadful whisper.
Then her eyes flashed and turned from an icy blue to a glowing red. Sarah Madonne had had the most intriguing eyes-- Lucien had said. Yes-- I totally recall it now-- they had always changed colors.
And Prima Dona shot up to her feet and whipped around to face Gabriel and the others that faced her. Jenna, Shion, and the SoulBirds were just underneath them.
Without even glancing at them all, Prima Dona whipped to face them with a yowl, aiming her spear up at the sky and summoning a terrible swirl of a blizzard. The spirits were immediately thrown around and I watched as Shion fell to the side, off the branch.
I choked a gasp but I was too weak to yell. As soon as Jenna was tossed off the branch, I let the storm take me and whip me over the branch, letting me get one last glimpse of Prima Dona, my own mother, battling Gabriel, Raman, and my saints, and the body of Mira that lay behind her in the snow. Then I let the wind drift me off the branch until I was falling freely, passing by the branches of the large tree in a blur.
Then, I was caught in someone’s warm arms. My blurred and scarred vision whirled around and I caught nothing but a shadow.
“Zach, you’ll be okay,” the Shadow Man’s voice spoke to me, and he was holding me as we both drifted down from the tree.
In front of me, Jenna’s thin body fell silently in the wind, and the Shadow Man reached out an arm to catch her as well.
“Oh wow….” Jenna was breathless. “We’re….falling down the tree, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” said the Shadow Man gravely. “But we will be safe. We will not be at the same place we were when we fist came at the base of this tree.”
“Where are we going? And….what about Zach?” Her voice trembled.
“I will take you somewhere safe-- you and Zach. Do not worry. Both of you will be alright.” assured the Shadow Man. “We are going down, and we will be back in the land of Pryde where we started, but do not worry. We will be safe.”
I had no more strength to even listen. I let myself drift down the air as the Shadow Man held Jenna and me in his arms.

Lovely murmurings echoed through my ears, almost like the sound of angels singing a hymn in Heaven. I awoke to a fresh breath of morning air breezing through and I was lying on my back, facing the bright blue sky. a few clouds parted here and there and whitened the sky at some parts but from where I was laying down, the sun was shining upon me and brightening my vision until I was fully awake.
Sitting up, I looked up at the shine of light. That light was like a vibrant beam in the sky, and while all the rest of the sky was white and covered by thick clouds, the light shone a blue portion in the sky, casting a distinctive beam towards the ground it shone on.
I looked around myself. Short light green grass grew everywhere around me, and behind me was a vast plain filled with luscious trees and plants. I saw animals that I had never seen before—deer, squirrels, mice, rabbits, foxes—all kinds of animals that were of Earth that I had never seen before in Purgatory. A great bald eagle flew over me above, like a valiant silhouette in the sky, much greater and fiercer than the air SoulBirds and all the other SoulBirds I had seen.
I blinked and felt my spirits rise with surprise. Was I in Heaven? One thing was certain—I was not in Purgatory.
I looked at my arms and noticed my torn clothes over me. I was still in wounded and beaten up, and as I blinked, I started to feel pain. Pretty soon, my short moment of heavenly feelings were washed away as I remembered what had just happened to me. And by remembering so, I started to feel the horrible pains overcome my spirit again.
Jenna was lying to the left side of me, just about a yard or so away from me. Her back was turned as she lay on her side, and her red hair was tangled and messy in her ponytail. She, too, had been through a rough time in the storm above the top of the Evergrown Tree.
“Jenna?” My voice was a mere whisper. My throat was dry.
Jenna slowly sat up at the sound of my voice, facing forwards and not meeting my gaze.
“Where do you think we are?” I muttered.
She straightened her glasses and rested her arms on her knees. “I don’t know. This can’t be Heaven, though. Don’t get your hopes up.”
I gave her a raised look. “Like you would know if we were in Heaven?”
“Well, look at this place!” Jenna said indignantly. “Look at you!” She turned to me and then widened her narrowed gaze. “You’re still as…..beaten up as if Prima Dona had struck you just a few minutes ago.”
I blinked. My eyes hurt-- one bruised and blackened, the other bleeding and blurry.
Jenna sighed and looked sorrowfully at me, hanging her head low.
“Where’s Shion?” I looked around suddenly. “And our SoulBirds-- where is anyone? Are we alone here?”
“No,” said Jenna rather tartly. “The Shadow Man saved us. He brought us here somehow. This world must not be Purgatory…but it isn’t Earth, nor Heaven, Hell, or even that so-called Primeval we couldn’t exist in.”
“The Shadow Man must be here,” I said urgently. “He wouldn’t just leave us stranded in any foreign place, no matter how beautiful and relaxing it may be. We should go look for him….he could’ve left us here to fetch something in this land for a moment.”
“Well….then he might come back,” said Jenna. “We really need to thank him-- wherever he’s brought us, it might as well be somewhat close to Heaven, for this place makes me feel so…refreshed and reborn. And not like the way I felt in that Evergrown Tree!”
“You can go look for him,” I mumbled, wincing at the stinging pain in my lip. “I’ll stay here in case he comes back.”
“I’m not just gonna leave you here all wounded and in bad shape by yourself,” said Jenna sharply.
I chuckled and gave her a look. “Honestly, if you were in my condition right now, I would’ve left you to look for help-- I really would. You probably should do the same for me as well.”
Jenna huffed. “Fine, devil boy.” She looked offended rather than humored. “If I find him while you’re still waiting around here, I’m not gonna tell him to come back for you.”
I snickered. I knew she didn’t mean that.
“Oh, and by the way,” she stood up and peered at me with her hands on her hips. “How did you feel about Mira when you saw her frozen and dead in spirit behind Prima Dona? It really struck me-- I could only expect you to feel all the more struck.”
At that, I felt a stab of pain and sympathy reopening even more of my wounds. I looked away and felt my eyes water.
Jenna looked at me with concern. “Zach-- she wasn’t dead, was she? I mean…..her spirit was with Prima Dona rather than gone and out of the world. Maybe….maybe Prima Dona could be looking after her. After all, she was a good friend of yours, and she was confined to the icy atmosphere that Prima Dona set upon the tree. If her spirit didn’t disappear forever to her world of Primeval, then perhaps Prima Dona could be keeping her with her to look after her.”
I winced and said nothing. Silently, I thought that if Prima Dona was looking after Mira, she could just be doing so until she found the right time to send her to Primeval forever.
Jenna blinked and her glasses flashed. “I’ll be looking around this side-- I won’t go any further pass those trees down that hill. If he comes back before I find him, just tell him to look for me around here.”
I only looked from the corner of my eye to where Jenna pointed to the downhill part ahead to our left where there were tall trees gathered just a distance from where the hill fell into a slope.
When I said nothing back to her, Jenna turned and walked away, heading towards the hill.
I faced forward and fell alone in my thoughts. Prima Dona was my own mother, and she had beaten me senseless, here in the afterlife, just as she had done when I was alive in the mortal life, just a little kid, growing up being tortured.
Of course, that only meant Prima Dona-- or Sarah Madonne-- was married to Lucien Ezekreth, or Lucifer of Satan’s Hell. Prima Dona had told me a lot about her, about how she was truly the only living soul in her world, born from the ice in Primeval and had lived for over twenty-four thousand years. Was that part about her true? After all…..when the apocalypse was brought to Earth, it was said that my mother had not died, for her spirit was found nowhere in Hell. So instead, she could have escaped to Primeval, which was possibly the world she really was born in….
And she wanted to grant me that “power” to resist the Satan Beast. I narrowed my eyes. She didn’t want me to resist the Satan Beast-- she wanted me to become like her and fall into the evil she would give me so that I could follow her to Hell and reunite with Lucien, my father. My parents were both trying to drag me to Hell-- and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. If they were both tracking after me, then I was totally helpless. Not even the angels could stop them.
I looked up to the sky, expecting any of my saints to appear and give me advice, but no one showed up in this wide perfect place. Not even Saint Grenada showed up to scold me.
A black silhouette appeared in the sky-- not an eagle-- but a raven.
As the raven cawed in the sky, I felt the sudden urge to leave. This place was safe-- but deep down I felt endangered. I stood up, managing to hold up my wounded torn self. The breeze blew quietly around me, but just the slightest draft of air was enough to make me nearly tip over.
I felt totally weak, and I was almost about to just drop dead on the grass again and let my spirit waste away. This was a happy place-- fresh and luscious with life and plants, and it was the perfect place for my spirit to just waste away.
At my right, there was a trickle of water that led into the trees behind me. Trying to steady my clumsy balance in the breeze, I stepped around to face my