Day 88. 79 pages, 33,429 words.
For several thousand years, the Greater Burning Fweig Data Routing Station and its huge rich-mirror transfer panels had floated on the edge of the Four Realms environmental envelope. Once upon a time, the station had been the backbone of the communications network between Heaven, Earth, Hell, and the scattered settlements of Cursèd. As the station had revolved, its panels had caught the rays of the rising and setting sun and turned it into one of the brightest and most enduring lights in the Earth’s night sky.
When the big data channels of the Eden Road had superseded the station’s usefulness, it had been decommissioned but preserved as a heritage satellite. Everyone was used to its faithful presence, appearing before the stars of the Playground came out to shine and not winking out until after they had vanished once more into the vault of space. It was grossly sentimental, but a little sentimentality never hurt anyone.
When the veil came down and Earth, Hell and Cursèd were rolled into a solar system of spherical planets, the Greater Burning Fweig Data Routing Station was left behind on the outskirts of the gulf. The newly-forged planet Venus, however, occupied the same well-mapped and familiar point in the Earth’s heavens. This was a feat of cosmic architecture and orbital engineering that even the slightest analysis revealed to be astounding – indeed, practically impossible for the finite mind to even conceptualise, let alone implement.
As luck would have it, of course, it was not the work of a finite mind.
Limbo, furthermore, had a sense of humour. This is something that too few scholars credit the Ghåålus with having, but about which most Firstmades and other immortals agree. “Limbo’s sense of humour is like a Bharriom crystal,” Pinian Second Disciple Hindab the Sly once said. “You don’t see it very often, it’s not for everyone, but it definitely exists,” to this the Pinian apocryphally added, “and wherever there’s a fuckalmighty swath of destruction spanning half a universe, you’ll probably find evidence of it in the rubble.”
The flatworld of Hell had, for the most part, been wrapped around the surface of the planet Venus.
Hell had never been what you would call balmy, but within hours it became obvious that the planet it had been reborn as was incapable of supporting life – and that evacuation was not possible. The temperature skyrocketed. The atmospheric pressure increased mercilessly. The wind rose through all sensible registers until it became a boulder-hurling global glacier of noxious air capable of scouring the surface bare. The atmosphere filled rapidly with toxins and corrosive agents. In less than a day, there was nothing alive on the surface of Venus. In less than two days, there was nothing alive beneath the surface, either.
Before the capital city of Hell was burned off the face of the planet, the ten sentient beings who were capable of living on Venus gathered in a crisis meeting that critically underestimated the severity of the issue they were facing. These beings, of course, were undead. Specifically, they were Angels.
It was a common misconception that Hell was a place of punishment, and that the Angels assigned to operate there were ‘fallen’ in some way – were even misidentified as Demons of the Adversary. There was some truth behind this misconception, but it was blown out of all proportion in the human religions that popped up like mushrooms on the carcass of the Pinian faith following the exile. The only humans in Hell were living humans – Hell was not a gathering-point for the souls of the dead. Not this Hell, in any case.
The simple truth was, Hell was almost as much of a work in progress as Cursèd, and it was a challenging dominion for an Angel to administrate. Its geography was largely unsanctified, its mortals stubborn and independent, its climate abysmal. And instructions and oversight from Heaven were even patchier than they were on Earth. About all Hell had going for it was that it wasn’t Cursèd.
Angels that were assigned to duty in Hell had usually done something to annoy their glorified peers, or even to irritate the higher authorities of the Four Realms. Angels that requested a posting in Hell were usually fantastically capable, relentless, and wilful to the point of God being relieved to see the back of them for a few millennia.
Only one Archangel had ever requested the station, and had become the de facto ruler of Hell on a more or less indefinite and undisputed basis thereafter. Lucifer was technically Chief Administrator of the Infernal Assembly and Overseer of the Pinian Church Throughout Hell and the Diabolic Territories, but that amounted to the same thing. Lucifer was an Archangel of singular resolve.
So it was that, when the Great Cathedral of the Sainted Madman succumbed to the burning winds and sloughed sideways across the ravaged bedrock, the Angels of Hell were all swept away with it barely minutes later. They were tossed like leaves out of the sanctified quarter of the City of the Burning Fweig, and succumbed to the slumber that overcame Angels caught outside of holy ground by daybreak. Their bodies, if they were not simply eroded or corroded over time, were never found.
And Lucifer, black wings folded tight and robes shredded, knelt upon the blasted stone and dug a hand deep into a crack there. Eyes slitted and teeth bared, the Archangel stared a wordless challenge into the insensible fury of the storm.
A day passed in this titanic and terrible battle of wills between the two Morning and Evening Stars. And then, when Lucifer refused to yield, a week passed.
Then two thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight years.
Sometimes, like with a Bharriom crystal, you have to look long and hard before you find one of Limbo’s jokes.