30 Days Before the Launch to Hell
Eve sprinted down the deserted main hallway of the Royal Quarters, lab coat billowing out behind her. She was late. Her destination, guarded by an ornate royal blue door studded with gold ornaments around the outer edge of its rounded top, seemed to be further than she remembered it to be. Eve pumped her legs harder, making one last surge forward as her hand connected with the knobless door and stumbled in as it melted away upon her touch, only to reappear once she made it across the threshold.
Seventeen pairs of eyes turned to look at her, a range of humor to disappointment within them, but only one set of eyes meant something to Eve: Rapha, Chairman of the Council of the Most High and her father. His hazel eyes, much like her own, appeared alight with an understanding that was not present in the other eight members of the council flanking him on either side. Each of the council members sat in plush, cerulean chairs encased in gold frames on one side of an onyx table facing the entrance Eve just stumbled through.
“Father Rapha, Council members, children of the Council,” Eve looked at each party she addressed in turn, “I apologize for my tardiness and my lack of appropriate attire.” Eve shoved her hands in the pockets of her lab coat cursing herself for not wearing royal dress to the laboratory today.
Rapha inclined his head as a way of excusing her tardiness and advising her to take her seat at the table, the only empty seat remaining, which was directly across from her father. Nissi sitting directly on Rapha’s left, snorted in disbelief with such force that his purple, velvet beret adorned with a golden crown on its front, almost slid off his head.
“Daughter Eve, we were just about to begin. You’re right on time and unless your attire impacts your hearing, the lab coat is just fine,” Rapha winked conspiratorially, which caused Nissi to give another snort of apparent disapproval.
Eve scurried to her seat in between Adam, son of Jireh, and Lucifer, son of Nissi. Despite Rapha’s lack of anger, Eve’s face was hot with embarrassment and if it wasn’t for her umber skin, she was sure her face would be red. Lucifer gave her an apologetic squeeze of the hand under the table and she nodded, but kept her eyes straight ahead. During an assemblage, it was the job of the children of the council to listen only.
“Now that we’re all here, let’s begin,” Rapha continued. “Nissi, your report.”
Nissi rose from his chair, deepening the permanent frown on his peanut colored face. He pulled on the sleeves of his jacket before clasping his hands behind his back and addressed the council. “Thank you, Rapha. The dying fever is spreading rapidly. The Nether Quarters could likely be wiped out and the other Quarters may not be far off if we don’t contain the issue. Prometheus is the last remaining city on Mars. We must preserve it. Therefore, I move that we seal off the Nether Quarters.”
Eve let out an audible gasp. It was no surprise to her that the dying fever was claiming the lives of many citizens. As a medical researcher in the health sciences laboratory, she worked tirelessly trying to find a cure to the disease that was wiping out her people.
Looking pointedly at her, Nissi continued with his proposal. “We’ve been fortunate that the dying fever has only reached the Nether Quarters, but we cannot guarantee that if they’re still able to roam about the city. We can give them supplies and hope that it passes or…” He trailed off, but no one in the room needed him to finish his statement. Everyone in the Nether Quarters would eventually die. 25,000 Prometheus citizens would be gone.
But these are our people, Eve thought incredulously. She wanted so desperately to shout those words in Nissi’s face, but she did not want to risk further embarrassment for her father. Instead, she angrily ran a hand through her curly, deep chocolate afro while clenching her other hand beneath the cover of the table that separated the council members from their children.
The other council members remained silent as if pondering the proposal. Eve knew this was merely ceremonial contemplation. Anything brought up in the assemblages that the children attended were just formalities. They were already decided.
She looked at Rapha’s face, his hand at his chin stroking his salt and pepper beard. Their eyes met and, though she wanted to look away so that he could not witness her disapproval, his eyes bore into hers, seeking obedience or understanding, she could neither tell nor look away. After what was an unbearable silence, Rapha averted his eyes, cleared his throat, and spoke with authority, “I trust that you have made the arrangements and will oversee the containment, Nissi?”
“Of course, Rapha.”
“Very well. Update us on the timeline and progress at the next assemblage. Jireh, you’re announcement now.”
Adam sat up a bit straighter and Eve chanced a glance at him. It was no secret to Eve that the children of the council always felt a bit proud when their parents were speaking. No council member was above the other, but there was an unspoken rank among them, and, therefore, there was a rank among their children as well.
“Right. The morale in Prometheus is understandably down with things being in such disarray, but more alarming is the lack of faith in the Council of the Most High. After much consideration of what we could do, we have decided to have a Binding Ceremony for Adam and Eve,” Jireh looked proudly at his son.
“What?” Eve gasped aloud, unable to contain herself. “I don’t want to be bound to him!”
“Insolent child!” Nissi spluttered from his chair.
“This is the stupidest —,” Eve began.
“Daughter Eve,” Rapha cut across Eve. “Mind your manners.”
“But we’ve only just turned sixteen!”
“As the First Daughter of Prometheus, being bound to the First Son, Adam, will show the citizens that we are not afraid of a downfall and we have hope for the future. It will encourage them to have hope too.”
“How about finding a cure for the dying fever or not sentencing 25,000 of them to a sure death as encouragement for faith and hope?”
“You shall mind your tongue while in this assemblage.”
Eve eyed her father, eyes heavy with the burden of unshed tears. There weren’t many occasions when she disagreed with his pronouncements. He was brilliant in the art of healing and an excellent diplomat. Some would even describe him as benevolent. However, the man sat across from her, dressed in the gold robes of the chairman, handing her over to a binding for superficial security, was not the father she knew. She angrily wiped at her stinging eyes, wishing desperately to let the tears fall.
“May I be excused?”
Rapha looked at each council member in turn before responding, “All of you children may return to your quarters to wait for our return. Just remember that you may not speak a word of the binding before the official announcement tonight.”
All of the children stood and shuffled out of the room, Eve at the front of the pack. She angrily slammed her hand on the door causing it to melt away so she could stalk through. Not making it anymore than five paces beyond the threshold into the hall, Eve fell to her knees and let the tears she’d been holding in fall. How could she be bound so young? She had nearly twenty years left before that should even be considered.
“Eve,” the voice was quiet, but had a quality of strength in it. “I could escort you to your quarters, if you’d allow.”
Eve opened her teary eyes to find Adam, with eyes the color of copper, staring intently at her with his hand outstretched for her to take. The other children of the council were still standing in the hall watching them and Eve knew this was the first test. She and Adam were the oldest and first children. The children of the council would follow their lead. All, but one of them, which is why she avoided catching Lucifer’s eye. She gingerly wiped her eyes, then took Adam’s hand, allowing him to help her to her feet. She adjusted her lab coat and brushed away nonexistent dirt.
“Thank you for the offer, Adam,” she breathed with a watery quality to her voice. “However, I’m afraid I must decline. While I did lose myself for a moment, I am quite capable of making it back to my quarters. Besides, how would it look if we were alone together at my quarters before a proper binding?”
“Why of course, Eve. We wouldn’t want that.” Adam inclined his head and gave her a lopsided grin, which made the dimples appear in the smooth chocolate skin of his angular face. “Perhaps we could meet later for a chat though? Somewhere other than your quarters.”
Eve looked beyond Adam into the eyes of the children of the council until she was met with the steady gaze of pools of molten silver: Lucifer. His expression was stony and she could not read it, but his eyes told her he was not pleased with the binding announcement either. She let out a small, uneasy breath and turned her attention back to Adam.
Eve turned away from Adam and traveled down the hall knowing all eyes were on her retreating back. There was no way this binding could happen. She’d just have to cure the dying fever before then.
14 Days Before the Launch to Hell
Where did she go wrong? Eve tested the formula for what seemed to be a million times, and they still died. All of them. She slumped against her lab table, head held precariously above the multitude of notes, facts, and figures that still led to nothing but death. In one swift movement she launched the many papers littering the table across the room and muffled a frustrated scream in her tightly wound fist.
“Tough day?” His voice was quiet and measured, an indication to Eve that he had not meant to startle her, but she jumped nonetheless.
He mumbled an apology, leaning lazily against the door jamb, forcing the door to the laboratory to remain open. His eyes poured over her and with eyebrows knitted together in clear concern, spoke matter-of-factly. “You haven’t been sleeping.”
“The Nether and Mid Quarters are gone, Lucifer.”
Eve watched his eyes and, had she been anyone else, she would have missed the slight widening before he schooled them back to silver pools of indifference. It was maddening to her that even when they were alone, he reverted to his royal training, no doubt enforced by the forceful hand of Nissi, causing him to show no sign of emotion. “Does the son of Jireh know you’re not sleeping, Eve?”
“Oh, he’s just the son of Jireh now?”
“Isn’t that who he is to you too?”
Eve pursed her lips measuring her next response. His question, while seemingly harmless, was anything but that. She knew he wanted confirmation from her that Adam meant nothing to her. She knew he needed to know without any uncertainty that she was just going to do her duty. And more than anything, Eve wanted to give that to him, but something she could not readily identify was holding the words captive right within the borders of her tightly pressed lips.
“Adam and I… we’re meant to be bound.”
The space between her response and his next seemed to last an eternity, as if Eve could fit a multitude of lifetimes between her last syllable and his first, if that were possible. And she almost wished it was because when he simply nodded once and turned to walk away, it felt like all the air had been siphoned from her lungs, suffocating her in the misery of indecision’s consequences. The space within the door jamb that once held Lucifer’s lean frame now held a black laboratory door in his stead. Yet, it never seemed so empty to Eve before.
“Sorry,” Eve whispered to the empty space, vision clouded by the physical manifestation of her grief. If either of them were to survive this binding, she knew eventually one of them had to say the words neither of them could seem to say now. Maybe they’d never have to say them at all.
6 Days Before the Launch to Hell
“First Daughter Eve,” Nawali, Prometheus’ Curator and Royal Preceptor, beckoned from the other side of Eve’s closed door. “Please come out. It has been days. First Son Adam is worried.”
Eve rolled her eyes, though she knew Nawali could not see her. There were only two things on her mind: The dying fever, which was ripping through the High Quarters at an alarming rate; and Lucifer, who had not been seen since she last laid eyes on him in her lab eight days ago.
“Has anyone seen or heard from Lucifer yet?”
There was silence on the other side of the door, but Eve knew that Nawali had not gone. It was the day before her binding and she was supposed to be preparing with Nawali and the other daughters of the council, but Lucifer’s disappearance plagued her conscience like a dull ache that sneaked up on her at the most random times and rendered her completely useless. That is exactly how she had been since he had gone. The dying fever would likely claim the Royal Quarters next, yet Eve had not set foot in the laboratory to attempt to find the cure. It seemed pointless now. Much like the pointless binding ceremony that the Council of the Most High was adamant must still occur.
Without warning, the solid green door protecting Eve from the prying eyes of the outside world melted away to reveal Nawali standing there, a leather bound book hugged to her chest, with an expression of mixed exasperation and pity.
“In any other circumstance, I would not barge in like this, but we haven’t much time left.” Nawali pushed a silver loc behind her ear and bounded toward Eve who still lay prone on her bed, picking at the golden thread in the green comforter.
“Oh please, do come in Nawali.” Eve half-heartedly quipped. She wanted there to be a bit of bite in her tone, but there only seemed to be room for sorrow. “Have you come to explain to me for the millionth time why being bound to Adam is a good thing? Or, have you come to tell me that worrying about Lucifer’s well-being is not my concern?”
“When have I ever done either of those things?”
Eve had the good sense to look a bit ashamed of herself because it was true what Nawali had implied. Not once had Nawali ever endorsed the binding in their lessons nor had she ever admonished Eve for her preoccupation with Lucifer. Yet Nawali was there when neither her father nor Adam nor Lucifer was, so she was the easy target.
“I did not mean to —”
“Oh never mind what you meant,” Nawali grabbed Eve’s chin so that Eve was looking directly into her eyes. “There are more pressing matters than a small bit of your attitude. I care for you too much for that to bother me now.”
“Just tell me he is okay.”
“What gives you the impression that I have any clue?”
Still looking in Nawali’s eyes, Eve gestured toward the mark shaped like an eye neatly tattooed on Nawali’s exposed inner-wrist. “You’re a Diviner. You have the Sight.”
“You know just as well as I that Diviner Sight does not work that way. Besides, you’re not the only one in this city that cares for him, you know?”
Eve’s eyes misted over. Cared for him? Could that explain what she felt for Lucifer, and he for her? Was this just a simple matter of caring? She knew Nawali did not mean it in the way she said it, but Eve could not help but feel a bit brushed aside by the simple way in which Nawali described what she and Lucifer had. Did they even have anything? Had they ever?
“Please,” Eve quietly implored as she grabbed onto the wrist that bore Nawali’s mark.
Much like when Nawali stood on the other side of Eve’s door, there was silence. However, this time, Eve could tell by the movement of Nawali’s eyes and the way Nawali stared at her, that Nawali was calculating the best way to handle the situation.
“If I tell you what I know, will you listen to what I have come here to say to you?”
Unable to speak for her tongue had gone dry in barely bridled anticipation, Eve nodded quickly. Somehow she knew that within the moments between her acquiescence and Nawali’s next words, everything would change. How could they not?
“Fine, you will be bound to the First Son Adam tomorrow. Ah, I’m not finished yet” Nawali sat beside Eve and swatted at her as Eve opened her mouth to interrupt. “You will be bound to the First Son Adam tomorrow, yet two souls will not become one depending on the decision you make in the final moments.”
Staring incredulously at Nawali, Eve nearly shouted, “Your idea of knowledge is a riddle?! I want to know if he is okay. If you haven’t noticed, people are dying!”
“And yet you’re wallowing in here instead of in the laboratory.”
Eve pursed her lips and cut her eyes at Nawali. She knew Diviner Sight was rather muddled and unclear, yet she hoped that for once Nawali’s inner eye had seen a clearer picture to provide concrete answers. “That’s not fair. Lucifer could be lost or hurt or —”
“And sitting in here doing nothing would be an awful way to pay homage to his memory.”
“Don’t say that. He’s not… he can’t be…”
“I was not implying either way, but seriously First Daughter Eve, I really need you to listen to me now. It is regarding the dying fever and what I feel may happen in the coming days.”
“And why bring this to me and not Adam or the council?”
“Because the last time a Curator trusted the future of Mars to men, the dying fever began. Never assume that powerful men will choose peace over battle. You gamble to lose your safety that way.”
“But what are you asking me to do?”
For the first time since entering Eve’s quarters, Nawali loosened her grip on the leather bound book and pushed it into Eve’s lap. “In the coming days, you and the other children of the council will likely be leaving Mars. There isn’t much that I can explain to you now, but everything you will need to know is written in this book. Keep it and guard with your life. No matter what.”
“But this is —”
“I know. I must go make the last arrangements for the ceremony tomorrow. Please do remember all I have said.” Nawali cupped Eve’s face in a motherly way before dropping her hands to her sides and rushing toward the door. “You will do well, Eve. I know.”
Eve sat numbly on the edge of her bed, yet her grip on the book was vice-like. Of all the things Nawali could have brought to her at a time like this, she had not expected to be given the most coveted book in all of Mars. What was Eve supposed to do now? She was being bound tomorrow and, now, she was in possession of The Curator’s Codex.
5 Days Before the Launch to Hell
Time seemed to run away with her and, before she knew it, Eve stood alone in the antechamber of the throne room minutes before she was to be bound to Adam. Her hair was twisted in a complicated pattern of strategically placed braids and curls, topped with a golden crown of vines and leaves. On any other day, Eve would relish the elegance of her royal garb, but today it felt like a prison uniform. Not to mention, her mind was preoccupied with the codex that lay hidden within her satchel in the closet of her quarters.
Perhaps it was the preoccupation that caused her not to notice him slip into the room, but after a while of pacing, the suspicious prickling of her neck signaling someone watching her caused her to turn around. And there he stood. Silent. Stoic. Safe. Eve had no idea that she could feel so many conflicting feelings at once, but the longer they stared at each other, the more one emotion beat out all of the others. Anger.
“Where have you been?”
He didn’t answer her. He just continued to stare, drinking in the image of her, as if the moment he looked away, she’d be gone. “You look beautiful.”
His compliment almost threw her off guard because he was not one to trifle with simple affirmations. To him, many things could be left unsaid. Yet today, in her royal binding robes, he found it necessary to disarm her, which caused Eve’s anger to swell.
“Lucifer, where have you been?” She punctuated each word with a slightly extended pause and took extra care to emphasize his name.
“Do you love him?”
“What? You left me without a word, not knowing if you were alive or dead. And you come here now with no explanations, no apologies, and you have the audacity to ask me if I love him?”
Before Eve could process his movements, Lucifer crossed the room closing the space between them and as his proximity to her grew closer, her anger began to wane. He was alive and he was here. When he was within arms reach of Eve, he stopped, opening and closing his mouth several times as if changing his mind about his next words.
“Before I say anything else, I need to know if you love him.”
“You’re asking the wrong question.”
They stared at each other again, neither one wanting to back down. Eve crossed her arms and cocked her head, “I will be bound to Adam any minute now. Time is wasting away.”
“Okay,” Lucifer sighed, shifting his eyes away from Eve before looking back at her squarely in the eyes. “Do you love me?”
“Yes.” The answer fell easily from her lips and she half expected Lucifer to sweep her in his arms and run away with her, but he didn’t. He remained rooted to his spot and where she expected to see a lazy ease to his posture like he had been for all the years she had known him, she saw tensed shoulders, furrowed brows, and a creased forehead. “Lucifer?”
“What I am about to ask you is crazy, and if you say no, I will completely understand.”
The urgency at which he spoke caused a slight panic to build in the pit of her already nervous stomach. Where had Lucifer been?
“I left the confines of the city to search for Taidung’s Rift and the Paragon Key. I —”
“But Lucifer, those are stories that adults tell children. There’s no such thing.”
“— found them.”
Eve gasped as Lucifer pulled a gold chain from beneath his shirt and held the shiny gold trinket that looked more like the tooth of a ferocious beast than a key. As she stared, Lucifer imperceptibly closed the remaining gap between them, taking hold of Eve’s elbows.
“Eve, when someone is bound, it is said that their souls are intertwined as one. The better match the souls, the better the binding will be. I do not believe your soul is to be paired with the son of Jireh. I believe your soul is to be paired with mine.”
Eve took in a shaky breath and whispered, “Lucifer, what are you saying?”
“You know the story of the Paragon Key. The man — or woman,” he added when Eve gave him a fierce look, “can hold his or her greatest treasure within the confines of the key for as long as he or she is in possession of it. You have no idea what I went through to get this key Eve.”
“But what are you asking of me?”
“Bind your soul to the key Eve. As long as your soul is with me, the son of Jireh will never truly have you.”
Eve took a subconscious step back, eyes wide and a bit fearful. “You sound crazy, Lucifer. This is just a child’s story. That is just a hunk of metal.”
“Then what harm will it do. Humor me. Will you bind your soul to the key for me?”
“But what about the binding ceremony that’s about to happen?”
“It will still occur.”
“Then why —”
“Because there is no way I can live with you being bound to him, Eve. You were supposed to be bound to me. You know this binding is a sham as much as I do.”
“Well yeah, I know that, but —”
“Just make a decision. Please. Do you trust me, Eve?”
And it was in that question that Eve remembered what Nawali said to her yesterday. You will be bound to the First Son Adam tomorrow, yet two souls will not become one depending on the decision you make in the final moments. With Nawali’s words still ringing in her mind, Eve gave a shaky nod of her head.
Without waiting for further confirmation, Lucifer closed the space between them, capturing her lips with his for the briefest moment before whispering tenderly in her ear, “Then hurry and follow me. We do not have much time.”
And without much of a second thought of what it would mean to have her soul bound to Lucifer’s Paragon Key, Eve ran after him feeling more hopeful than she had felt in nearly a month.
Launch to Hell
The dying fever had finally reached the edges of the Royal Quarters and the Council of the Most High, along with their children, were sequestered in the assemblage room once again. This time though, all pretenses of formalities had long gone away and arguing amongst council members and children alike could be heard echoing around the chamber. Eve sat in a corner with Adam, yet her eyes maintained glued on Lucifer who was in heated argument with his father Nissi about what should be done.
“Okay, enough!” the voice of Rapha boomed among the din. “We can’t let these moments be wasted with arguments when we need to be thinking of plans.”
“How did the binding work out for you?” Eve couldn’t help but mumble. Adam gave her elbow a small pinch, but Eve ignored him.
“Was there something you needed to say, Daughter Eve?” Rapha turned to his daughter.
“Actually, there is.”
“Son Adam,” Nissi hissed, “are you not going to control your wife?”
“Father,” Lucifer growled.
“Watch how you speak to my son, Nissi.” Jireh stood and placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“I was merely going to suggest that for once you be honest about what is happening here. Where did the dying fever come from? How is it impossible to cure with science? And don’t tell me it is not impossible because believe me I have tried. Isn’t anyone else just a wee bit curious? I know I can’t be the only one. Hannah? Luke? Peter? John? Sarah? Esther?” She looked at each of the other children, purposefully not asking neither Adam nor Lucifer. The other children, a mixture of ages between 11 and 15, looked terrified to say anything, but that didn’t deter Eve.
“No worries though. Maybe you’ll have more to say when you’re bound for some more hope and faith in the council.”
“Eve,” Adam whispered, “Maybe that’s enough.”
Eve whirled on Adam, her eyes glazed over with tears of frustration. “You do not get to tell me that. You don’t! The council makes all the decisions, including me being your wife. If they were so good at their jobs, we would not have lost the Nether, Mid, and High Quarters. Those were our people! And we’ll be next you know. If they really wanted to change things up, they should leave some things to us.”
“Eve you’re just upset. It’s a rather stressful time. We’re all feeling it.” Adam attempted to console her and Eve turned away from him.
“She’s right,” Rapha conceded, slumping into his chair. “It will be up to them. I’ve known it for some time, but I was hoping we’d find another way.”
“Rapha, you don’t mean…” El-Shaddai, the father of Esther, began.
The children, including Eve, looked between them. The members of the Council of the Most High looked grave. Even Nissi, in all of his unpleasantness seemed to be a bit subdued as he looked at his son, Lucifer.
“We’ll have to launch Project Exodus,” Rapha said.
“What?” Adonai cried, grabbing hold of Luke. “My son is only eleven years old. You can’t possibly think I’m sending him to that place!” The other members of the council except Jireh and Nissi cried their agreement as they latched on to their children.
“What if they die?” Abba asked. “I couldn’t imagine losing my Hannah.”
“They are sure to die if they stay here,” Nissi harrumphed, folding his arms and pointing at Abba. “You know what Project Exodus was created for. Worst case scenarios, and in case you haven’t noticed — hello — this is a worst case scenario!”
“Wait a minute,” Lucifer cut across his father. “What exactly is Project Exodus? Where are you sending us?”
Nissi turned a pale face to his son, then looked back to Rapha, who sighed.
“Project Exodus is a plan in case the longevity of Mars and our people is in danger. It involves all of you. In the event that the need for preservation becomes apparent, the children of the Council of the Most High would be sent to a planet that is not too far from here in the hopes that they could maintain our race.”
“But what about you?” Eve asked, finally calm enough to realize that she may never see her father again.
Rapha turned to his daughter and for the first time in her memory, she saw tears in his eyes. “Perhaps we’ll see each other again some day, but Project Exodus is all about you nine. I know you’d never believe it, but the members of the council and I know you’re all more than capable of finding a way to survive and build again. You, Son Adam, and Son Lucifer are old enough to guide the others.”
Adam, who seemed sick with the idea of being put in charge, looked to his father. “If this were to happen, when would we be leaving?”
“Today.” Jireh said solemnly.
“Does this place have a name?” Lucifer asked.
“Yes, Lucifer” Rapha answered, still looking heavily burdened with the consequences of bad decisions. “You’re going to Hell.”