Title: Hell Gate
Author: Andrew P. Weston
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
The Angel Grislington is dead, effaced from existence during an epic battle with Daemon Grim that destroyed a Zion forged blade and one of Satan’s premier palaces in the process.
Chopin and Tesla have gone to ground. So much so, that they might as well be six feet under helping to push up hell-daisies.
Even Erra and the Sibitti, his living weapons of vengeance and destruction, seem reticent to show their faces.
Rioting sweeps the length and breadth of the underworld. Yet the halls of the Mortuary lie vacant, for someone is stealing soul-essence, the very means by which Satan condemns sinners to everlasting torment.
But who would do such a thing? And how does the hush that descends upon the dirty streets of latterday hell tie into ancient prophecy relating to the Reaper’s destiny?
It’s often calmest before the storm.
Just imagine how bad things will get with the apocalypse approaching.
The reality of Skull Isle was vastly different to the picture I’d painted in my mind.
On a prior sortie here, I’d headed a team of pirates on a mission that led to the recovery of two of my Hell Hounds— Yamato Takeru and Champ Ferguson— from a Sibitti holding cell deep in the bowels of the clustered peaks once again before me. On that visit, a verdant ring of menace had encompassed a snowcapped cordillera, providing a taste of what lay in wait at the center of the island: the mother of all obstacle courses. An apt analogy, for rivers of molten metal, booby-trapped bridges, and lethal labyrinths riddled with hidden snares protected their prison.
But of course, that was before a monster tsunami pulverized the encircling heights and dragged the whole island beneath the waves.
I cast my senses down through the curtain of hydrothermal gasses. Fluids rippled up from the depths. I watched, mesmerized, as a veil of silver-gray mystery turned the murky waters of the Bitter Sea into an effervescent wash of contradictions.
The faint tang of fading thaumaturgy still lingered, a timely reminder of the potency that once dominated this whole region. Even better, that echo was a surefire sign my suspicions about this place might be correct.
And if they are, I’ll have a nice selection of bargaining chips to take back to the Kigali homeland.
Albeit most of the mountains had toppled, the exterior of the catacombs remained remarkably intact. The visage of one of Erra’s enforcers— the Sixth, to be precise— with jaws wide open, marked the main entrance to the waiting maze, adding a menacing overtone to a locale that didn’t need any help exuding a heartfelt curl up and die vibe. A gentle surge of energy propelled me toward that access point. Igniting the gem adorning the tip of my scythe, I surveyed the interior to find things much changed from my previous visit. While the atrium had survived most of the destruction and still displayed an impressive array of stalagmites and stalactites, there any similarity ended.
Now a forest of petrified megaliths and jagged stumps had replaced the glittery splendor of diamond-encrusted limestone. Stained black by an all-pervading discharge oozing from a fretwork of fissures lining floors and walls, those ranked columns filed off into the distance, obsidian clad sentinels waiting to frogmarch miscreants to certain doom.
Far from muting the former glory of the grotto, the mineral-laden soup had transformed it into a nightmarish tribute to the inexplicable and macabre.
Here ghostly eyeless fish gulped for breath, their albino feelers constantly testing the inky darkness about them for microbes and other tasty tidbits. There all manner of gothically-armored crustaceans vied with territorial starfish of outrageous size and color. Obviously wary, both soon put their differences aside to scuttle for shared cover the moment my staff illuminated them.
The only creatures unperturbed by my presence were the new colonies of hell-worms infesting the rocks around each freshly opened vent. And it soon became apparent why.
Wreathed by a halo of whiskery tendrils waving invitations to all and sundry, the hell-worms provided a calm and languid counterpoint to the frantic game of survival playing out all around them . . . until a careless shrimp or crab happened along. No sooner did those welcoming tentacles detect prey nearby than vicious looking barbs shot out to snare the unwary and reel them into a central maw lined with razor-sharp teeth.
Every so often shrill cries from another hapless critter that strayed too close punctuated the percolating backdrop, followed by a resounding crunch cutting short its protestations.
No matter where you venture in our many-layered underverse, it’s a constant cycle of eat or be eaten. Exactly the way it should be.
Shaking free of this pleasurable interlude, I decided it best to crack on with the business at hand: I’d come to catch what game was afoot, not to sightsee.
Examining the gloom, I noticed the rear gallery had escaped much of the damage evident elsewhere. The exit porch still boasted the same message, inscribed in ancient Hellanese, across its lintel: “Fá entrig a-mhàile a’ cothreh-tah (Only the balanced may enter),” providing a subtle reference to the logic puzzle waiting beyond its threshold, where the pressure-activated floor-trap would consign reckless explorers to a lingering death.
A contending tide issued from within, resisting my progress. Working my way forward, I held tight to the doorjambs while I peered inside. Not until then did the cause of the outflow become obvious:
Four months previously, I had ruptured the wards emplaced by the Sibitti, Erra’s seven personified weapons, to keep my captive Hounds incommunicado. In so doing, I triggered the chain reaction that caused the island to sink. Given free rein, the encroaching sea worked its way along myriad passages. Conduits crisscrossing the massif in a pulmonary network of fiery capillaries led down into the lava chambers, precipitating a further series of volatile events that spawned the current conditions.
This cell contained one such channel, and the flue connecting its two main levels must have remained open. Scalding eddies redolent with the heady aroma of sulfur had boiled up from below so fast that one corner of the puzzle room’s tilting platform was forced against its roof.
Excellent. A surge of affirmation emboldened me. The Sibitti’s machinations were more thorough than I’d realized, effectively protecting the primary route to the oubliette from the worst of the damage. So I should be able to access the spire with minimal fuss. But first —
Summoning my strength, I encompassed myself within a gleaming sphere of power, and then directed a bolt of kinetic energy through my scythe and into the raised section of flooring. Solid granite slabs exploded as if no more than but brittle plaster. The resultant cloud of hydrous dust and larger particles swirled around a common center before being swept away with the rest of the outflux in a race for the surface.
If you could dress up as anything or anyone this Halloween, what or who would it be and why?
That would be Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king and lord of Halloween. In the film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, he travels through a special doorway to the real world so he can inflict his special brand of magic upon our reality. Just the vibe I was going for in Hell Gate, an interdimensional smorgasbord of dark delights. And he’d be just the one to spread its message far and wide.
Explain why your featured book is a treat to read:
Because critics say Hell Gate is – “A vivid tapestry of the macabre.” And isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
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Andrew P. Weston is an international bestselling author from the UK who now lives on the beautiful Greek island of Kos with his wife, Annette, and their growing family of rescue cats. An astronomy and criminal law graduate, he has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Science Fiction Association, British Fantasy Society and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
When not writing, Andrew devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with one of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories.
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