So fleeting after a lifetime in the dark. Agonized screams filling the choking hot air in its memories. Steam surrounding it as molten ice slices into its former body. A scream joins the chorus of terror and fear that rises towards the arched ceiling miles above... a ceiling that seals it off from the worlds around it.
The misty air is difficult to see through during the torment, and to one used to the ways of Hell, the source of that mist becomes obvious even as another torture starts and skin is flayed layer by layer while tethered to the rack. Blood boils and fills the air. A thousand souls burn together.
Perception blurs. A thousand years pass in the space of a minute. A minute becomes a thousand lifetimes of agony. Other voices join whilst older voices are extinguished, making that final passage to demonkind.
Lifetimes of searching that dark realm had finally allowed the human-turned-demon to discover a crack in the barrier.
The writhing cloud of black smoke hovers near the coveted exit, blocking it from sight of the others that pass by. It worries the crack with a tendril, trying to widen it enough to slip through and escape back to reality.
Fresh air wafts through, and the demon freezes.
Such a crisp, clean breath of air. The smoke is displaced by the movement, and the demon triples its efforts.
For a second, a lifetime, a thousand agonies, the crack is wide enough to slip through. The demon surges upwards, thinning itself to a trickle. The opening doesn’t last long, sealing up and closing Hell off from earth like a healing wound. None can follow, and it can’t turn back.
None of that matters to the demon. It is free.
After an eternity in the dark where it has forgotten its very name, the world is open to it. It could do as it wanted. Be whatever it wanted.
There are no more barriers.
Across a sparkling night sky, a black cloud drifts.
Far below the drifting cloud of smoke, there was a campground on the edge of an expansive forest. The area was sparsely lit with fire pits dotted throughout the area, cheery flames pushing the encroaching darkness away. Nearly every spot was occupied, some with tents and some with the small trailer-hitch campers designed for more comfort. The distant rows of RVs had passed out of sight with the setting sun.
Jacob Andris sat in front of one of the campfires with two of his friends. Chase Lisong, a petite Chinese kid, leaned back in his folding chair to absently watch the clouds drift over the moon. Bobby Loran occupied his time poking at the fire with a stick, making embers crumble and send up sparks as they split. Jacob relaxed and listened to the wind in the trees and the crickets chirping, a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
As a last hurrah for the summer, the three had arranged to take a trip together to the land Bobby's family owned. His connections landed them a free reservation at the campsite. Jacob laughed and joked with his friends and they occasionally shifted from their seats to grab something from the cooler or toss something onto the flames. Other campfires around them had been abandoned to burn out as the campers retired to their tents, but the three teens remained awake, taking full advantage of the nice weather.
"Dude, I'm surprised Miranda didn't kick your ass for that," Chase snickered at Bobby after hearing his latest story.
"It's not my damn fault," Bobby complained. A Texas drawl slipped into the edge of his words, just barely coloring his accent. "She knows it, too, or she wouldn't be giving me the pouty silent treatment all week."
"It must be tough being a jackass," Jacob mused wryly.
Bobby lifted the stick he'd been using to prod at the fire to jab it mockingly at Jacob before lowering it down again.
"How did you manage to try to meet up with her at the wrong theatre?” Jacob asked. “Did you have a stroke that day?"
"Jesus Christ, guys, it's a mistake anyone coulda made," Bobby complained, looking besieged from all sides.
Jacob snickered. "Hey, dude, don't worry about it. Every group has its dumb blond."
Bobby scoffed. "Oh, you can fuck right off, Andris."
The cloud remained unseen as the banter between the friends continued, its path bringing it above the trees surrounding their campsite. Something about the words that were bandied so carelessly about struck a spark deep within its core, forcing it to remember times long past.
Once, it had been one of those creatures. Before the sweet parting of flesh became an eternity in the fire.
The writhing darkness might have left, there and then, to seek out better, more fertile hunting grounds, but it felt a glow of recognition from one of the three. A burning ember of resentment and entitlement that sang to the demon, seeing a kindred spirit within the paltry human.
This is the one.
The demon allowed itself slowly drift down into the branches and leaves that rustled in the calm night breeze, the darkness roiling around its core to appraise the humans and their campfire. The burning logs bore a slight resemblance of the Pit, and for a moment the demon yearned for the sweltering heat it had lived in for centuries. Earth was a sharp, cold world in comparison.
The relentless breeze that whipped the humans’ fire into a greater blaze also stirred sulfur free from the demon’s incorporeal form. The yellow flakes drifted free of the black cloud as it hovered in wait, caking the trees and even alighting on some of the scattered supplies the campers were using. It was all the demon could do to wait, to be sure that this human would suit its purposes. With others around, it would risk a fast exorcism to jump the guy’s body.
It had survived the Pit for centuries, it could wait for a few minutes more. Patience was something it had in abundance, especially if it could further the plans spinning inside its blackened heart.
Unaware of the malicious gaze upon them, Jacob grinned and held his hands up in surrender. "Oh, come on," he chided. "You were wide open for it."
Bobby rolled his sky blue eyes. "Yeah, and you're a shit," he griped back, though a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. The facade broke as the three of them snickered, and Chase leaned over in his chair to grab another can of soda from the cooler. He offered one to Jacob, but Jacob shook his head in a refusal.
"Bobby, you want one?" Chase asked, still leaning precariously in his chair with one hand on the edge of the cooler.
"Yeah, sure," Bobby answered, holding up a hand.
Chase reared back to toss the can to his friend, but that was all it took to tip his chair beyond the point of no return. The loss of balance tossed him to the ground and the can soared almost two feet wide of its mark, sailing past Bobby’s hand and landing somewhere among the trees behind him.
"Fuck me running," Chase swore, pushing himself up. "Sorry, dude."
Bobby snickered. "Dumbass." He put his hands on his knees and pushed himself up, wandering away from the campfire to find the lost can of soda. Even if he couldn't drink it without the risk of it exploding all over him, he couldn't litter on his own family's land.
Unseen by any of the teenagers, a swirling cloud drifted downwards even as the blond teen ventured into the underbrush to fetch the lost can. The seed of darkness that lurked inside the human drew it like a moth to flame. There was a kindred soul there, and with a little nurturing, that seed would blossom into something more to the demon’s liking.
Just as Bobby leaned over to snatch the can off the ground, the cloud of darkness whirled into action.
The human didn’t have time to blink or otherwise react as he was surrounded by a storm of surging blackness. A twisted, shattered soul forced open his mouth and poured itself heedlessly into the teenager’s body, forcing Bobby to choke it down. There was a roaring sound in his ears, and then darkness was pouring into the ears as well.
By the time he straightened, there was no trace of the demon.
Blue eyes like ice blinked, then changed to black.
Bobby turned back towards the campfire, where Jacob and Chase still laughed about something. He took a few steps towards them before realizing that he felt like he was merely watching himself move. He could see and hear, he could feel the breeze on his face, but he was apart from his own actions.
What the fu--
Watch, a commanding voice invaded Bobby’s thoughts, silencing him and pushing him further back into a cloud of no control. He was shunted to the corner of his own mind, and if his body wasn’t under someone else’s control his heart would be pounding with confusion and fear.
He picked up a sizeable log from their pile of firewood as he passed it, hefting it to test the weight. The others didn't hear him sneaking back towards them. They were probably making fun of him some more. While he'd gone off to correct one of their mistakes, they were snickering at him. Mocking him.
As Bobby lifted the blunt weapon in his hands and advanced a few more steps, Chase finally noticed him standing in the shadows. Bobby didn't pay Chase any attention; his first goal had to be knocking Jacob down. Jacob was the clear threat between the two. While his arms swung the weapon with a strength he'd never had before, Bobby found himself watching the action and thinking his friend deserved it.
A hesitant thought broke his concentration, and the swing faltered. The blow landed on the side of Jacob’s face as he turned towards Bobby, and it tossed him to the ground with a dazed look in his eyes. Bobby's hands turned to jelly and he dropped the log. Chase leapt up in surprise, but Bobby struck him in the chest with a speedy fist and the other boy started gasping and dropped right back down, startled into an asthma attack.
Bobby's body shook with adrenaline yet still the lack of control persisted. What the fuck am I doing?
There was a strain of annoyance from outside his thoughts, but he didn't know the source. We've got work to do.
He stared at his friends for a second more, and then, Bobby turned and dashed into the woods, heedless of the cries of surprise from other campers coming to see what happened.