“There now, that’s better,” Azazel said, and I opened my eyes.  He had moved us, though I had felt no displacement.  We had left that endless cavern for a sumptuous hall, gilded with gold and swathed with rich red carpet.  Tapestries hung on the walls, lit by fiery coals in braziers on pillars.  Azazel sat on an ornate throne, and I realized that this room was a dark reflection of Neal’s Hall of Elders.

            “Why have you brought me here?” I asked.

            “Here we can talk without distractions.” He grinned.  “I guessed that you found Jason a trifle upsetting.”

            “I have no desire to talk to you.”  I said.  “I don’t keep company with demons.”

            Azazel barked a laugh, draping himself across his chair in his amusement. 

            “Really?  And yet, most of your life you carried Rage within you.  You seemed comfortable with him in your life, and then even let him out to play in your world while you withdrew into the realms of the Spirit.”

            I bristled at his words.

            “Be that as it may, I have no business with you,” I declared.

            “Ah, but that’s what I wanted to discuss.  Your business here.  Why are you in Hell, Ethan?  It arouses the curiosity.  Particularly when you have that.”  He gestured with disdain at the sword in my possession.  “It doesn’t belong here.”

            “Why are you here?” I countered.  “Where are all the other demons?”

            “How rude.  A guest in my home and you won’t answer a simple question.  Well, allow me to show better manners.  I am here because I sensed your arrival.  The others have begun the war with Heaven.”

            “Don’t let me keep you from the fun,” I said.

            “Oh believe me, I find this much more interesting.  Here you are, a veritable Orpheus in the underworld.  And I have to wonder how a man of such obvious faith could end up here.  Surely you can appreciate an interest in paradoxes?”

            “They gave me a choice,” I told him.  “Because I was split in two.  I could take Heaven or Hell.”

            “So Rage did bring you here after all.  How exhilarating!  That boy rarely fails.  After all, every sin ends in Rage.”

            “What do you mean?” I asked.

            “Think about it.  Oh, films and novels go on about vanity as the Devil’s favourite sin:  it dropped Lucifer from Heaven for Milton, caused Adam and Eve to eat that fruit.  Everyone wanting to play God.  But, for all its press, vanity is the favourite sin of vain writers and directors.  The greatest sin of all is Rage.”

            “Why?”

            “Take lust.”  Azazel gestured and suddenly Daniel was in the room, approaching some young woman.  They were kissing, then fondling.  I averted my eyes as they fell to a bed, naked, but Azazel insisted I watch the proceedings by snapping his fingers and causing the bed to appear wherever I moved my gaze.  At some point, the girl laughed at Daniel for some reason, and he grabbed hold of her neck, throttling her.

            “How many frustrated Casanovas have hurt the object of their desire?  How many turn into stalkers, murderers?  Passion drives them from one sin to the next, from lust to rage.”  Azazel smiled.

            “Pride drives the ambitious to destroy their competition, the greedy and envious fight to get what they want.  The glutton will rage at anyone who stops them from their feeding, and the slothful grow angry when they are roused.  All fuel Rage, and Rage awakens the Destroyer.”

            “That’s why Donovan killed the others,” I said.

            “He was so perfect.” Azazel sighed.  “He helped end the world.  Sadly, however, he failed to damn you, for all his other successes.  Which is why I’m fascinated to discover that you are here.”

            I stood in silence.  I could tell that it bothered the demon greatly that I was so impassive.  After all, he probably instilled terror into everyone he met.  But I had begun to realize something.

            He had no power over me.

            If Azazel did, he would have used it.  To make me talk, or for the sheer sadistic thrill of it.  He could have tortured me with unimaginable horrors.  Something or someone was protecting me.  Perhaps it was my faith, perhaps it was the fact that I was already dead.  Perhaps it was because I had accepted that my Saviour had died for me and conquered Death.  Whatever the reason, Azazel could not touch me.

            Which meant that all of this was a delaying tactic.  He was trying to waste time.  But for what?

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