Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare ~ Japanese Proverb.
Despite the pitch blackness that prevented me from viewing my surroundings, I did as the disembodied voice instructed and moved forward. My arms outstretched, I baby-stepped my way toward a door or wall the voice said was dead ahead. Eventually I felt my palm touch a cool hard surface. Running my hand back and forth and up and down I concluded I had reached what was probably a stone wall.
"Feel for a knob down and to your right" the raspy voice that was instructing me directed. I felt around in the location described and found a cold metal knob. Twisting and pulling resulted in a door banging into the tips of my shoes. Stepping back I swung open the rectangular barrier on hinges, revealing a dimly lit passage. Stepping through the egress I pulled the door shut behind me. "Er, wait a minute" the voice that had led me to the door squeaked. The knob was pulled from my grasp.
Surprised, I jumped away from the door into the passage. The door reopened and a small imp hopped over the threshold into the corridor. A old-timey oil lantern swung from a hook on the wall when I backed into it. The blood-red horned imp with talons protruding from it's leathery wings barred it's fangs and hissed at me. "Keep back human" the demonoid warned. "My purpose is to bring you to my master, he who summoned you here".
"Is that so?" I asked, not trusting this evil-looking creature. "Yes, Mr. Charles is waiting for you" the imp replied. "Who is Mr. Charles?" I inquired. "Enough!" the imp shrieked. "My purpose is to guide you, not to respond to your inane chatter". The imp flicked the door shut with it's tail. It slammed closed and I heard a click. "Yes, the exit is locked" the imp confirmed. "Not that it would matter. The portal that brought you here is one-way". The imp cautiously passed by me, keeping close to the opposite side of the corridor.
"This way" the imp said, motioning me to follow with one of it's talons. Not seeing any other option, I followed. Soon we came to a four way junction, oil lanterns hanging from the wall illuminating the way. The imp turned right and I continued to follow. Hours passed and the imp and I trudged along through the dimly lit subterranean corridor. Growing tired I asked demanded of the imp "how much further"? Stopping short the imp turned. an angry look on it's face.
"Not that far now" he said. "Although we should have been there long ago" the creature muttered under it's breath. "What's that?" I inquired, growing exasperated in addition to exhausted. "I misremembered the way" the imp concluded after standing there motionless for some time (apparently he had been pondering). "You mean we have to return to the 4 way juncture we encountered so many hours ago?" "Indeed", the devilkin affirmed.
"M-effer" I groaned, contemplating giving the small creature a swift kick. But the imp (reading my body language?) hissed and bared it's fangs. "It has been many years since I have been in these particular corridors" he explained. "Not that I need to excuse myself to human scum" he added. "Back!" he commanded, raising his small (but viciously clawed) hand, motioning me to press myself against the cool rock wall. Which I did, not wanting to tangle with a creature possessing razor sharp fangs and claws.
The imp passed by and we headed back toward the 4-corridor junction. Many more hours passed until we made it back to where the wrong turn had occurred. "Now which way?" the deviling hellion murmured softly. Minutes passed as the creature contemplated. "Well, we came from that way" I said, indicating the passage that led back to the room this journey began in. "And we went this way before turning around" I said, referring to the passage I was still standing in. "That leaves two options". "One must be the way to... wherever it is we are going".
"Obviously" the imp agreed. "But I can't recall which one". The imp was looking quite frustrated. "Damn!" he screamed suddenly after several more moments of silence, causing me to jump. "Mr. Charles is not going to be pleased". "Wait", the devilkin finally concluded. "If we return to where we started... there is a map there".
"But didn't the door lock when we left" I said, remembering hearing a click. "Shut yer yap, mortal" the demonoid growled, pointing a sharp talon at me as a warning. "Don't you worry about that". And, as it turns out, there was no need to worry, despite the door being locked. When we got back to where we had started our journey the devilish sprite stuck a sharp nail into the keyhole and picked the lock. "Bring a lantern" he instructed as the door to the black room reopened.
Bringing a lantern with me into the inky darkness illuminated the room. "There", the imp indicated, gesturing to the wall to the left of the door after we had entered. There, affixed to the stone wall, was an engraved map. A you are here arrow pointing to where we were. "That cavern is where we are heading" the imp said, pointing to a enormous blank space near the top of the map. "I'm not sure of the scale, but this appears to be many miles from where we are" I deduced while examining the map.
After tracing back the route to where we were, I concluded that we should have turned left at the 4-way juncture. There were, however, many other junctures along the way to the enormous cavern. "Perhaps we should take this map with us?" I suggested, reaching for topographical depiction affixed to the wall. "Oh no, that map is firmly attached" the demonoid replied, moving toward the exit. "No need to worry any longer, human" the creature assured me. "I shall recall the way, now that my memory has been refreshed".
And apparently he did remember, as - after following him down the left corridor, we made our way with no hesitations at any further junctures. The imp knew where he was going (now). Or acted with confidence that suggested he did. And, after many more hours, the corridor opened into an enormous football-field-sized cavern (or many foot-field-sized, to be more precise). The cavern was lit brightly... and also quite warm.
In fact the temperature, before quite cool, increased to a degree that soon had me sweating profusely; and it was immediately apparent what the source of the heat was; a large burning lake of fire! "I do not wish to go any closer to the fire" I protested, feeling almost as if my clothing could burst into flame at any second. But the imp beckoned me on, pointing to the right. "There your host awaits you" he explained.
I looked in the direction the imp indicated and saw a long (60 foot?) wooden table surrounded by many chairs. Dinner plates, forks, spoons, goblets, bottles of wine and platters of food (down the center) rested atop the extended buffet. Approaching the far right end of the enormous feast, I was disgusted to find the food - large platters of roasted chickens, bowls of creamy mashed potatoes, cheesy green bean casseroles, large brown gravy boats and various other dishes - was rotten and squirming with maggots - reminding me of that pizza I had almost consumed in my kitchen (so long ago now it seemed).
The worms slithered in and out of the decaying putrid feast. "Ugh" I muttered as the stench invaded my nostrils. The stink did not seem to offend the imp, however, who hopped up on the table. His wings flapping a few times as he hovered briefly over the mess, then touched down on the table top. "I am so famished" the imp exclaimed, grabbing a green chicken leg, tearing it off, and chowing down.
"Disgusting" I exclaimed as the imp devoured the remainder of the decomposing grub-infested poultry - an act that almost caused me to vomit. "Over here" a gravely voiced proclaimed loudly. I turned and peered down the length of the table. At the other end a cowled figure was seated. This must be my host, I thought. Despite the intense heat a cold chill ran down my spine. Was this the mysterious Mr. Charles? The individual who had commanded my presence?
Image: The lake of fire.