The outline of a figure can be seen in the faint moonlight. Leaning one arm on his knee, he sits on a high stone. A muffled sigh can be heard as he rises and jumps down between the bushes of a meadow soaked in shadows. It's a quiet night. A perfect night. Perfect for putting a project that he has planned for years into practice. Perfect. Since there may not be another night. Not for the figure.

His iron-clad leather boots roam a few steps through the meadow, which extends far in all directions. A short sword hangs from the figure's leather belt and next to it, with a reddish glow, shines a round bottle. The triangular shield on his back rattles quietly against the silver plate armor as he walks and a white tabard with a red cross flutters around his loins in the gentle wind. Then he stops. He reaches for the bottle hanging loosely from his belt and holds it in front of his face. The glow of the liquid illuminates his helmet. It is the helmet of a crusader.

His breath accelerates as he pulls the cone from the vial. A foul odor rises to his nose. He brings the small container to his mouth after lifting said helmet just enough to give his chapped lips the freedom they need. Slowly the stinking liquid slides down his throat. Then he drops the container and waits. He breathes... His heart jumps up and down nervously while a cold shiver runs down his neck, across his back. Long has the Knight waited for this moment. Now the time has come. Now there's no turning back.

As the red liquid drips into his stomach, the man begins to stagger. A fire is lit in his body. A fire that begins to rage in his body and fiercely flickers in all directions. The man gasps - is brought to his knees. Nervously he stares around as the darkness of his surroundings thickens. Dancing shadows surround him - reaching out to him. Resigned, the knight leans his head back and spreads his arms out. No matter what happens to him, he's ready. Ready to receive. His gaze, directed to the sky, captures the moon. Then he feels the shadows feeding on him and... seeping into him.

They mix with the fire in his body, cool it down briefly, and then let it burn even stronger. The pain is unbearable. The knight is no longer able to restrain his cry. His voice rages like the fire within him and fills the night with pain - deep, sickening pain. Meanwhile, the man hears a slight tremor under his knees. The earth shakes, the ground loosens, and it finally tears in two. Whipped by suffering, the knight falls forward. With immense strain, he digs his fingers into the warm earth. He is startled as soon as he realizes that the earth is no longer earth at all. That which trickles through his hands is nothing but pitch. Black lumpy pitch. The rumbling of the earth now booms from the ground like thunder before the knight. A vaulted archway of glowing stone manifests itself. Inside the archway, there is a steel door decorated with antique writings. The shadow fire inside the knight emerges from his body in the form of shimmering shreds of mist and glides with smooth movements towards the heavy door. The shreds weave themselves into it - making the writing glow. The door's hinges creak as it slowly opens. The space that now reveals itself to the kneeling man lets fear and curiosity rise within him. He bravely stands up and walks through the door with his head held high.

He enters a hall that resembles a church, even though no such building was visible from the outside. The hall is illuminated by the eternally flickering light of blood-red flames. Ghostly shadows scurry across the floor - a brittle stone floor full of cracks and deep holes. The attentive steps of the knight echo in the vault. Then a rectangular opening becomes visible in the middle of the room. A steep staircase leads underground, but the man does not descend. Not yet. He circles the stairs and approaches the altar behind them, which is enthroned on a small hill. A few steps lead up to it. The man draws his sword and shield, kneels before the altar and carefully lays them on the surface covered with red cloth. Then he takes off his brown leather gloves. He strokes the inside of his left hand over the sharp blade. A few drops of blood leak from the now developing injury. Then he balls his hand into a fist and leads it in a flowing movement over the equipment on the altar. The drops slowly spread over it, while the knight pulls a tiny leather pouch out of his belt pouch. Now he also drips its contents, a white powder, over it.

"Carpe sanguinem et haec ossa. Diabolus autem infirma.", the knight speaks in a calm voice. The powder, which now mixes with the blood, hisses softly. Slowly it solidifies to a black, crust-like substance, which covers the blade of the sword and the red-and-white outside of the shield. The man bows his head reverently, grabs the two objects, and stands up. A low humming sound emanates from his weapons. Then he descends the stairs in the middle of the room. Hot, stuffy air blows towards him. The temperature rises with every minute that he enters the underworld. When he reaches the end of the stairs after the thousandth step, he finds another steel door. Next to it, a basin with clear water hangs framed in the wall. The purest water he would ever have drunk - if he had felt thirsty. In this other world, the needs of his body seem to have no importance. Even before he steps in front of the basin, he pulls another object out of his belt pouch. A small clay vessel, sealed with a cork. Then he puts the tip of his sword into the water. It bubbles, steams, and discolors into a tar-like sludge. After he opens the vessel, he dips it into the strange broth without touching it himself. The viscous tar penetrates the container and fills its interior with a pleasant coolness. Before the knight approaches the heavy door, he closes the vessel and puts it back in his pocket. The door opens stubbornly as he presses his body, which has been hardened by numerous battles, against it with all his strength. An enormous amount of heat emanates through the door frame.

As soon as he steps over the threshold, a terrible and fascinating sight opens up to him. A valley. A valley of flames. Crisscrossed by pitch-black hills and pointed mountains. In the glistening sky, clouds of ash flow through the scenery - driven by the stuffy wind, which makes the several fires of the valley flare up. The knight takes a deep breath and then sets off down the hill. On his descent over the black earth of the slope, he suddenly hears a sound. It sounds like the flutter of great wings. When he looks up irritated, he holds his shield protectively in front of him. A winged creature falls on him from the sky, but it does not attack. It flies towards him, turns away screeching, and immediately seeks the distance. Still lingering in fighting position, the knight looks at it. Then he lowers his shield and continues down the hill. When he reaches the bottom and steps onto the ground, the wind carries distant cries. Hideous, pleading cries. The man carefully follows the path ahead, accompanied by the gentle crunch of tiny stones.

Numerous shadowy creatures seem to be watching his progress. They whisper to each other. Some hide behind the cairns and rocks that adorn the terrain, some scurry in front of him at a safe distance and a few others crawl carefully towards him - trying to sniff him curiously. Who is this stranger? This creature, which emits the smell of life. The smell that the creatures can only remember remotely. Then the source of the lamentation becomes visible. The creatures that are stuck in this world have little resemblance to humans. They stretch their charred, frail little arms out to the knight. Their faces are crumbling and old. Ancient. I wonder how long they've had to suffer this torment. A hundred years? Thousands? The knight tries not to be distracted by their wailing sounds. He can't help those pitiful creatures now. That's not why he came here.

Soon he leaves them behind and follows the path that leads around the shoulder of a tall mountain. Behind it, his pace slows down. There doesn't seem to be much further to go here. He stands in the middle of a large open space, which is surrounded by rocks. Already he wants to turn around again when he hears a voice behind him. "A little birdie told me you were stumbling around here. Who are you?" it asks in a calm tone. A hideous voice. It hums in the ears of the knight, like a deep echo that pervades the whole landscape. The knight turns around carefully. In front of him stands a demon shrouded in smoke, looking at him with bright red eyes. There is horror and death, but also wisdom in them. The demon is no larger than the knight but radiates a grandeur that no one would dare imitate. An armor of jagged, fire-colored material protects his chest and shoulders. However, he does not appear to be armed. The knight lets his eyes rest on the demon for a moment.

"My name is Castus Meridia. And who the hell are you?" The stranger seems amused but then turns up his nose. "I... AM... the Devil, you moron. Can't you see that?"

Castus tilts his head. "Well, I pictured you taller." The Prince of Hell snorts contemptuously. "Damn humans... A noisy bunch of small-minded people and show-offs. Your idea of size is like that of a toddler. If you are tall and have strong arms to punch someone else's teeth in, you are celebrated. Others like to kiss your ass to be part of your greatness - to adorn themselves with it. The superficial ones who push themselves forward and use every opportunity to get on top of others, only to not get lost in the never-ending game of 'who's better', are celebrated, while weaker-looking, truth-seeking, honest, kind people are kicked and driven into the clutches of heinous deeds. This 'greatness' is nothing more than weakness masquerading as strength."

As if blown away by a draft, the devil disappears and suddenly stands behind Castus. "What about you, Castus? Can you forgive someone when they don't deserve it? Can you recognize the deceptive value of material possessions and share it with your fellows? Can you tell the truth? Do you refrain from using others as a stepping stone for your success or reputation? Or maybe you can even see your true self behind the facade of egotistical mind patterns," he asks as he slowly walks around the knight. Then he stands in front of it again. "That... Castus... That... would be truly great." The knight stands still. "You're still small," Lucifer growls. "Grrr... Wasted words. Why am I not surprised? But let's not do this. Now tell me what you're doing here. Since you still possess the body of a mortal, I assume that the ancient crypt is still unforgotten?"

"I have come to find my daughter. She doesn't belong here," Castus says determinedly. "Your daughter... What was her name?" "Her name was Lynn." With supernatural movements, Lucifer swings his head back and forth. He seems to be thinking. "Lynn Meridia... Lynn... Hmm. Oh, yeah. Died eight years ago. Adultery. She broke her husband's heart. A righteous, good-hearted man who took his own life and will now bathe in gloomy solitude for all eternity. Your daughter acted like a whore. And you think she doesn't belong here?" "Lynn made a mistake! People make mistakes! I talked to her about it after the fact. She regretted... She wanted to make up for it before..." "Before she was stabbed by her ex before he killed himself... Too bad." Castus takes a step forward and tightens the grip around his weapons. His anger grows. "Lynn wanted to make up for it! You had no right to bring her here!" The devil laughed dirtily. "I do not judge, Castus. I just receive. Who do you think sent your daughter here?" Castus falls silent and lowers his head. "Right... You picked the wrong floor to protest."

For a while, there's silence between them. Then Castus raises his eyes. "Show her to me." The devil pauses, glances at the grieving knight, and... snaps his fingers. A new shadow appears next to him as if from nowhere. Castus recognizes the fine features of his daughter. Gripped by deep longing he gasps - staggers a few steps towards her. "Lynn? I'm here, honey.. Dad is here." But Lynn seems to neither notice nor acknowledge her father's presence. "She can't hear you. Her... perception is very different from yours. She is dead, Castus. You can't save her. Go back home."

A sob escapes the knight's helmet. He falls to his knees, leans with his sword and shield into the scorched earth and weeps. The drops run down the inside of his helmet. Sluggishly they fall on his cramped hands. Then his grief gives way. And it gives way to boundless rage. No.. He won't go home. That there is the devil. He's lying. Castus' breath hisses as he rushes towards his opponent.

The Devil doesn't move a muscle. His arms flick up and turn into two pointed swords within seconds. Castus' sword cuts through the air from above, but the enemy's blade arms interlock and intercept the attack. The swords clash powerfully. The echo can still be heard in the underworld for a few seconds until it dries up in its endless vastness. "Blood and bone... Well done. You've done your homework," Lucifer praises, while Castus' blade is still stuck between his arms. Then he pulls them apart towards the top so that Castus is thrown back a little. But he is about to launch two new attacks. One rushes sideways towards Lucifer's chest. Sparks fly as the stroke is blocked by Lucifer's right arm. The second follows immediately after the first. In a flowing movement, the point of Castus' sword now comes from below, towards his opponent's leg. But even this is thwarted by a fast parade of the left blade arm. A furtive laugh gushes from Lucifer's throat, which in turn now leads into a lightning-fast series of attacks. His hard and focused attacks alternately rain down on Castus' weapons. Inevitably, he will be pushed back. He gasps under exertion, but bravely fights the inhuman movements of his enemy. The knight almost stumbles over some boulders under his right foot while backing away. However, he manages to keep his balance and ducks away under the arm that is speeding towards him.

"Your inability to control your feelings will be your downfall", the devil now rebukes, visibly angry, "Just like thousands and thousands before you, you are the author of your suffering! I have allowed you to leave this place - given you freedom and insight, and even a glimpse of your dead child!" Castus shakes his head in exhaustion and disbelief. The drops of sweat now flow out in streams under his helmet. "I'm not here to learn! I'm here for Lynn! I will leave this place with her or not at all! Besides, you are Satan! I don't believe a word you say!" he shouts, jumping at the devil and attacking again and again without fear. An intense back and forth occurs. In the meantime, many creatures of hell have ventured closer to the action. Interested as well as confused, they watch the fighters, who seem to be equal to each other. Yet... Castus' endurance is creeping increasingly to its limits, while Lucifer seems to have an inexhaustible source of energy.

Then something unexpected happens. Castus' shield cannot withstand the force of a strong side blow and... shatters. The loose parts slide off his arm. Lucifer grumbles mockingly before he begins to mock the shield loudly. A mistake. Castus reaches into his belt pouch while his enemy is distracted and pulls out the filled clay vessel. He throws it up in front of him while his sword arm reaches out. The steel rushes towards the ball and shatters it into a thousand pieces. The tarry mass splatters together with the splinters towards the devil's body. It wets his right arm, chest, and face. His laughter falls silent as the wet spots, white and hissing, begin to change color. His arms turn back into hands. Coughing, he reaches for his face. "What... What's that?!", he shouts and staggers backward a little. Castus seizes the opportunity. Purposefully he storms towards the dazed Devil and cuts his leg in two with a mighty blow. Lucifer cries out. He falls - writhes in the scorched earth. Then he pleads with Castus, and extends a hand. "Wha... Wait Castus! You... don't know... what you're doing!" Yet Castus' ears remain deaf to Lucifer's words. With a single, further blow the throat of the demon lying on the ground is torn apart. Black blood drools from the gaping wound. And... after the next stroke... the head rolls.

Suddenly a faint rumble pervades the earth. Castus' tabard flutters in the now rising wind, while Lucifer's body slowly begins to dissolve. Tiny, dark particles detach themselves from it, swirl through the air and are carried away in all directions. They invade the countless creatures of hell. Castus' gaze follows a few particles that now penetrate Lynn's absent-minded figure. She's changing. Getting more solid. Her skin is increasingly gaining color. The shadows surrounding her slowly dissolve until her body is fully restored. Her nut-brown hair falls in curls on her shoulders. Beautiful, but visibly spectral, she stands upright for a few seconds and then collapses. Before Castus can hurry to her, something else demands his attention.

A tiny, radiant ball of fire flies out of Lucifer's mouth, hovers briefly in the air and then shoots into Caster's chest. It writhes as tremendous energy tries to take possession of it. They bring him to his knees - consuming his insides. When it's over, he slowly straightens up. Dark red pupils glimmer from the visor of his helmet. They are old eyes, full of wisdom and depth. Wisdom and death. But they are not completely different eyes. They are still Castus' eyes. As he looks around, he remembers why he is here. With conscious steps, he approaches Lynn, who is still lying on the floor and seems to be in a kind of coma. He brushes a strand of hair from her face. The knight has changed, but he feels the love for this girl, deep in his heart. Effortlessly he lifts her naked body and lays her gently over his shoulder. Then he makes his way back to the crypt.

There is now wild chaos around him. Castus wanted to save Lynn, but now he has made sure that absolutely every soul that has found its place in the depths of hell becomes human again. But most of them have been down here too long to remember anything other than suffering and agony. Many begin riots - driven by the consequences of immeasurable agony. Others cry about their happiness to finally be able to feel something again. Calmly Castus walks past the fighting, raging and whining people. He's the eye of a tornado. The silent core amid unstoppable destruction.

Then some people come towards him, waving their arms hysterically, having freed themselves from the turmoil. Their hands clenched into fists, they run towards him. But the knight hardly takes notice of them. Bored, he raises his arm and stretches his open left hand towards the attackers. A devastating shock wave of flames shoots out of it like a cannonball. The attackers catch on fire and are thrown back to crash against the hard rock face of a mountain ridge. Their bodies shatter against the rock. Cut up and bloody, their parts lie in the dirt. Then another group rushes towards him. They may not have noticed what Castus has done to the others, or they are so out of their senses that they can no longer think logically. A single flare from the knight's demonic eyes is enough to make each one collapse on the spot. They roll painfully on their backs and scrape their faces off their skulls. Undeterred, Castus moves on. As he climbs up the slope and disappears into the door to the crypt, he looks over his shoulder, lifts his arm again, and causes the hill in front of the door to collapse with the help of another powerful shock wave. Nobody else is getting out of here. Then he goes up the stairs and leaves the building through the heavy steel door through which he came at the beginning of his journey.

He now sees, through his new eyes, the veil that separates the worlds. That which prevents this world from flowing into the hereafter. It's almost transparent. Omnipresent. Everywhere and yet nowhere. Without any effort, he walks through the veil, his daughter still over his shoulders. Now he's back home. Back in this world. He lays his girl among the bushes in the meadow. It's still night. The same silent, perfect night as before. Castus kneels beside Lynn and grabs her hand. "Everything's all right now, little one... It's okay. You don't have to suffer anymore." He tries to calm her down. But something is wrong with her. The girl's beautiful, smooth skin suddenly begins to turn grey. "Dad...? I... don't... feel so good." Castus' calm fades. Nervously he examines the slowly decomposing body of his daughter. In disbelief, he shakes his head and stands up. "No... No! I saved her. She got her body back! She's not down there anymore! You can't take her from me again! Not again!!!," he shouts - his head pointing to heaven. Anger and fear are seething. But Lynn's body continues to decay. It seems that she cannot survive in this world. Lucifer was telling the truth. Castus could not save her.

Worried, he approaches her again. His hands are shaking. Memories push their way into his consciousness. He sees how, as a small child, after he won battles, she would come running towards him, and her smile alone was able to scare away the images of severed heads and slashed intestines. He sees her pride when she had caught the deer with the bow during their first hunt together - her sadness when she came closer to the dying animal and had to watch its agony until Castus broke the animal's neck. And he hears her cry as she repents of her cheating. An honest cry. A cry of remorse. The tears that form in his fiery eyes hiss softly as Lynn's faint breathing stops. But... she's... not dying. Not again. Instead, dull eyes look up at Castus while her bony arms clumsily reach for his boots. After the few moments he watches this undead creature, he can't stand the sight any longer. He draws his sword and stabs her in the head - ends her suffering. Then he sits motionless in front of her for a while. Unable to do anything. His whole journey, the fight with the devil, the preparations. All for naught. Castus has failed.

There is a crash among the clouds as a storm starts to take shape. Heavy drops of water patter on the knight's head. "Rain?" snorts Castus. The rain makes him angry - it disturbs his grief. Anger drives away the emptiness of the last minutes. A decision creeps up in his dark thoughts - solidifies. "No..." he goes on, "No no. Not rain... Not water." His flaming eyes crackle softly as he rises in the damp meadow. He focuses on the veil and raises his arms. He concentrates his newly gained energy in his hands - concentrating even more strongly on the barrier. Then a violent convulsion. The ground twitches as the veil is pierced by a fine crack. Then another crack. And another one. The wall to the afterlife suddenly breaks, like an egg on concrete. The vibrations are getting stronger. The earth shakes - creaking. Castus' eyes glow and the light flickers into the coming storm. Heaven groans as it begins to weep blood instead of water and the tectonic plates of the world begin to rip open - as mighty, house-high flames break through the earth and millions of bodies are spat up from the depths of hell. This world is inundated with misery. Once again Castus' gaze is directed towards the sky... and when the screaming and shouting of his subjects has completely dispelled the silence of this perfect night... next to his angry, flaming eyes... tiny, wrinkled laugh lines appear. Let it begin... the battle between heaven and hell.

Written by SwizzPower
Content is available under CC BY-SA

German Original:

Translated with DeepL / Fixed by the Community

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