The dry dust gathered beyond the solemn gates, the embers of the eternal fires far, far below the city dancing in the air like obscene fireflies before him.
Snorting with flared nostrils, Wall watched the scene with dispassion, his swollen black eyes taking in the scene beyond the city gates.
For the longest time, the gates had stood against the surrounding lands, an ornate symbol of the principality beneath the soil, its regal status as both kingdom and gaol. Housed within Pandæmonium were the foulest of the foul, the ugly and interminable locked away forever from the blistering light high above and hidden deep, deep in the ground.
He snorted again, a shiver running through his ugly frame, the coarse hair that lined his body rippling as the dry wind stirred further about him.
The alabaster and marble of those other gates had been the last thing he had seen as he had fallen backwards into the field of stars.
He recalled them rising up out of nothingness, the presence of the unspeakable creator locked within His own gaol behind as Wall himself had fallen ever downwards, brave Lucifer burning a trail ahead of him.
Amidst the stars, there had been a trail of saddened morning light and peacock feathers; amidst the stars, there had been the taint of tears and the cry of a favoured son as he fell from grace.
Wall himself had never been favoured so it was hard for him to comprehend the angst and anxiety that the patriarch of the damned fell at his absence from the creator.
Fashioned from lesser stars, Wall was no morning light, no phosphorescent Venus rising up amidst the darkness like a dull knife to divide day from darkness. He was ugly as an angel and even more so as a devil, his face long, his jowls drooping and his appearance pugnacious. He did not inspire faith or awe in either of his forms, he was not skilled in the arts that caused the Nephilim to be so loved by wanton women amongst the tribes of the Hebrews.
He was not a charismatic charmer, merely a dull tutor knowledgeable only in the art of wooing yet not in the action.
Again, he snorted, his teeth grinding together, dust upon his tongue.
It was then that he saw the two figures upon the horizon, travellers clad in the robes of beggars moving across the dark sand, and at once the age old devil found his attention arrested.
He scanned the horizon, searching the rocks of the rising mountains that reached up to the firmament and finding a hole in the sky from where the two figures must have descended.
A hole… in the sky…
His heart leapt.
If there was a hole amidst the firmament, then there was a path into Purgatorio… and if there was a path into the grey swelling of the realm of the unblessed then surely there was a path upwards into the matter of creation and the universe beyond!
His black lips became dry, his gums peeling back from yellowing teeth as his heart raced within the animal carapace of his monstrous form.
A way out of the kingdom of barbarism, a way to be free of his duties to the thirty-seven legions of foul devils that remained at his command; a way to cast off the regal obligations of his role as duke and explore the stars once more!
The two figures grew much closer, their ragged robes wound tightly about their shivering dead frames as they traversed the sand.
His black eyes studied them, taking in the gaunt features of the one who trailed behind, leaning against a heavy staff of wood seemingly broken from some larger sculpture.
This traveller was a most pathetic example of a man, not the kind of which Wall would be inclined to impart his teachings unto.
Wall, who had been summoned up by kings and regents, philosophers and poets, did not take the passing of wisdom lightly; words such as his were not to be so lightly shat out as to remain festering in the laps in the uneducated and unappreciative.
No, Wall was a devil of fine taste and nobility, only for monarchs and artisans did he offer up what he knew.
The figure who accompanied the dismal traveller was of much greater significance to the old devil standing atop the gates of the city.
With a swelling of the robes bound about the form, with a chest heavy enough to suggest youth and motherhood, with hair that spilt from beneath the hood, it was emphatic that she did not share of the gender of her companion, that her shape was not comparative.
A woman, he reflected, a woman in robes, her head bowed, her steps steady upon the burning sand, a traveller in tow, leaking blood from wounds that no longer caused discomfort.
All hope died in his chest.
As if in response, the hole in the sky narrowed to a pinprick ensuring that no further thoughts might stir within his head.
These were not the dead; true, at least one of them had once numbered amongst the living, but they were no in way citizens of the kingdom of the dead beyond the gates Wall guarded.
Before the obsidian door that barred the city from the sand – one of seven fashioned in order to define the boundaries of the city – the two travellers slowed their steps, the first amongst them lifting her head and pulling back her hood so as to gaze directly at Wall where he stood, cowering amidst the battlements.
“W-Who goes there?” he stammered anxiously. “Fiend or foe?”
A smile played upon her lips.
“Who stands in my way? Foe or ally?” she whispered softly, yet her words boomed amidst the barren dessert.
“W-Who goes there?” he stammered again, his voice breaking. “Foe… or greater foe?”
The winds howled, calling out their anxiety and panic, urging him to flee north, to leave his station unattended, to allocate the protection of the city to Bifrons or Shax, to Vepar or Räum.
“Wisdom stands before you,” she continued, “and dictates that you open the gates should you wish them to remain intact.”
The words were not a threat, they were an implication of his inaction.
“And your knight with the bloodied staff?” Wall inquired. “What name goes he by?”
She turned and glanced over at the wounded man behind her.
“Dysmas is his name, lately Titus to the Arabs and Rakh unto the Russians. He stands not as my knight but merely a companion from the world above.”
“A-And your business?” Wall stammered.
A knowing smile formed upon the lips of the traveller before him.
“To harrow hearts,” she answered, “to bring tears to eyes that have grown dry over the years.”
Wall shifted uncomfortably upon the stone, his legs suddenly full of ache, the iron shoes nailed to the bone of his hooves suddenly causing great agitation.
“There is no need for stories here,” he retorted, his heart quickened, “the men and women beyond require no tales or missives from the world above.”
A hint of sadness seemed to creep into her smile.
“It is not tales of the earthly world that I would impart to those who languish here but stories of a greater mercy.”
He shuddered visibly.
“Are you he who was nailed upon wood at the third hour and passed on at the ninth hour?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“No man of that manner died this day save for the likeness of such. There is no spirit above in purity that might be chastised in flesh the way men of creation may be.”
“But your companion…” Wall began.
“Is of the flesh,” she answered, “a thief who passed on with the illusion of the man you speak of.”
She turned and looked upon the gaunt man and offered a reassuring nod of her head.
“And this day shalt he be with Me in Paradise.”
Wall’s heavy brows became furrowed.
“If no man died but for a thief, if no greater spirit was condemned for the soul of the present world above us, then what reason have you to stand before us?”
“Theletus this day has foregone his travels amongst men, the Perfect Age closes, the era of shadow arises. In these long nights, souls will need wisdom to guide them to a greater understanding – in both Pandæmonium and Trinovantum, in both Dis and Yerushaláyim.”
She spread her arms wide and the robes fell from her, revealing a breastplate and black iron pauldron, beneath which was a doublet linked to a base composed of black and white feathers.
Her face shone as the sun, her armour glistened like the night.
“I come to light the path to understand, to grant mercy to those in torment, to restore the universe beyond G-d. Open your dark doors, Wall and allow me to pass.”
The devil looked down upon her with a sorrowful gaze; La Pucelle, the Goddess of the Southern Ocean.
Solemnly, he withdrew from his station, shrinking back into the path about the gate upon the ragstone wall.
Before the two travellers – goddess and companion – the obsidian gates obediently parted.