She emerged from the misty rain into a world of shade and shadow. Leaving behind the deluge for the darkness, Madeline squeezed her eyes shut and wished away the fear that trailed her through the storm. The ground was soft and slippery just beyond Tophet’s threshold–a muddy river of damnation, possibly paved in the bile and blood of the victims of some nightmarish villainy–and she almost went down. Behind her, the last howl of the Hellish wind cried through the chaos just before the black gate slammed shut between the worlds. Now, where she once walked where the sun occasionally shined, she found herself now struggling to find her footing in the wicked wraps of some underworld.

The blackness before her was not utter; some snippets of light floated down from the prevalent moon, the true ruler of all lands.

All lands are dark, the stranger told her. Safety in light is an illusion, for the creatures of the dark can see you better.

He was a massive man: shoulders as wide as a Volkswagen and as tall as a diesel. His eyes looked like glue inside his atrocity of a head, half-jackal and half-goat. Giant tufts of coarse black hair exploded from the ripped shroud he had cast across himself, and the mephitic odor of decayed flesh emanated from him. It seemed a constant aura of shadow formed around him, pulsating like a light bulb about to die. Everywhere he turned, everywhere he stepped, the shadows swallowed all light, leaving it as nothing but shade behind him.

Was he the Devil? She could not tell. He said he had other faces. But, despite his grisly physique and unsightly countenance, Madeline was drawn to him, to some demonic magnetism that seemed to quicken her heart.

I am the Lord of Shade and Shadow, he had declared. All who enter my realm will be at my command; and, should those in the deceptive and odious world of light that I select decide to not come willingly, I will send horrors of which their simple minds could never devise to chase them into my embrace.

Now, as she walked the marshes on this road to Gehenna, she understood the omnipresent power of this vicious dark lord. She thought if she prayed, she would be alright; she thought if she was a good girl, she would be protected; she thought that if she was resolute to never stray into the dusk before this world of iniquity, of murkiness and devilry, then she would remain in the world where goodness trumps the immoral. But, now she learned that that story is just mere low fantasy told to the naive in a dimension not absent of evil, but proficient at masking it.

Prayer is folly, said the beast. Prayer to a far-away deity is futile. Prayer to a separate creator that longs for universal slavery is foolish. It is as I told you: all lands are dark; all worlds are shade and shadow.

 A crimson skyline began to emerge from the black and tangled forest she found herself in. In this world, the wind could talk, not like whispers that play tricks on the brain, but a breeze that actually says intelligible things speaks in this place.

Go back. Move forward. Stand still. Run. Walk. Sit. Cry.

Numerous conflicting bits of advice paraded invisibly around her. She tried to figure a way to obey them all, as if the wind whispered riddles on the air that could lead to her escape. But, treachery was not so conscience-stricken in this place, and its enforcers did not attempt to hide their perfidy. The wind was but the essence of the land–its soul and spirit–and its objective was no illusion: trickery, tribulation, torture. These were bald-faced elements, here.

As the scarlet hue on the horizon deepened and spread, it did little to chase the shade and shadow. The outskirts of civilization kept hold of the darkness, as if it clung to its life-force. The sun, itself, or whatever symbol of existence ascended to its zenith in the sky, was black, and it spun out ribbons of shadows as it turned. Madeline began to realize the truth: there is no dividing line between good and evil; and, there are no definitions. Everything is subjective, and the world from which she came–the world that pretended to be virtuous and proclaimed to champion truth and honor–was just a dying, rotted shell of a false reality, of a fallacy, of a fairytale.

Everything she had been taught, everything her world had claimed to stand for, was nothing more than an advertising campaign for power. The more the sheep bought the product, the mightier the shepherd became. The Lord of Shade and Shadow made no sales pitch. He was forthcoming in his proclamation that he was the nonpareil ruler of his domain and his actions were for the betterment of his land in his image; and, he was as transparent as he could be in the fact that anyone who dared defy him or challenge him would be utterly destroyed in not just this world, but them all, totally eradicated from all stages of existence he was capable of reaching.

My throne is already above the stars of Heaven, for Heaven is a wasteland of broken dreams and shattered hopes. It is the accursed exposure of the illusion that there exists an ultimate perception of good and evil. Heaven is Hell, and Hell is Heaven, and my eyes see them both for what they are, above and below, here and beyond.

 Madeline looked upon the ominous sky, meshing Light and Dark at once, and understood: darkness does not equal deceit; the light is not the truth; shade and shadow are but the purest forms of existence, where everything lies.

She sighed to herself, “All lands are dark; everything is shade and shadow.”

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