Pepin's nights had been restless and fearful ever since the ground had opened up behind his hut. Reliable sources indicated that the foul-smelling chasm was a direct gateway to the depths of Hell itself. The ruddy glow and the muffled cries of demons and their victims seemed to bear this out.
Pepin had hoped the situation would improve after a band of heroes had emerged from the labyrinth with the news that they had found and killed the betrayer, Lazarus. They had told him their tale as he busied himself healing their many wounds. They had been lucky to survive. Lazarus had had as his allies a virtual harem of demonesses, including the two who had seduced him into the darkness. In the end, the heroes had managed to slay the former Archbishop by casting a Stone Curse on him and then delivering shattering blows to his petrified body.
The morning after Pepin had tended to the heroes' wounds he found something new and strange outside his backdoor. There was a narrow gravel path lined with pretty red and yellow flowers leading to the edge of the chasm. In the mud on either side of the path were many small clawed footprints. It looked as if demons, probably Fallen Ones, had built the path. It would have been perfectly charming in any other location and circumstance. Not knowing what to make of the new development, he went to find Cain.
"Poor Lazarus," commented Cain after observing the scene for a few minutes.
"Poor Lazarus?" sputtered Pepin. Of all the villagers, Pepin had been willing to give their fallen Holy Man the benefit of the doubt far longer than anyone else, even Gillian. "He let himself be seduced and it cost us all dearly."
"True," agreed Cain, "but he was not seduced in the way you think he was."
"What difference does it make?"
"Probably not much," conceded Cain, "but there is a lesson to be learned. Can you recite for me the Healer's Oath?"
"I should think so," replied Pepin indignantly. "'A Healer heals, always. A Healer does no harm, nor allows harm to be done. It is not the place of a Healer to judge the worthiness of those whom he would heal. God must judge and a Healer must heal.'"
Cain nodded. "Supposing a wounded demon crawled out of that pit and requested your services?"
Pepin opened his mouth and then hesitated.
"It's not so easy is it?" smiled Cain. "If the demonesses who tempted Lazarus had merely offered him sex or riches, he would have rejected them and probably had Captain Lachdanan or Sir Gorash come slay them. But demons can be quite clever at finding and exploiting the weaknesses of mortals."
"But what did they offer him that was so tempting?" asked Pepin.
"The one thing a man in Lazarus' position could not turn down," said Cain. "I can only imagine how it might have happened..."
Lazarus sat behind his desk studying the Writings of Zakarum, as he did every night. Having Caravan in town, and the inevitable fund-raising events that came with it, was both tiring and distracting. Still a hard day made unwinding with the Wisdom of Zakarum that much more satisfying.
Lazarus looked up, suddenly aware that he had company.
The girls were breathtakingly beautiful. One was olive-skinned with long black hair and almond-shaped eyes. The other was porcelain-skinned with a wild mane of red hair and piercing green eyes. Their garb was revealing, intended to tantalize anyone within sight. Lazarus recognized them. They were dancers who had arrived with Caravan. They had created quite a buzz around the town and Lazarus had caught part of their performance. At the time, he'd made a mental note to open the confessional an hour or so early that week. More than a few members of his congregation would need it to exorcise their guilt feelings. He could almost have thanked the girls. Nothing drummed up business like a little sin.
That was an exceedingly cynical thought. A little something for his own next trip to the confessional.
"What can I do for you ladies, this late evening?" he asked pleasantly.
The girls looked at each other for a moment as if trying to decide between themselves which should speak first. "We need your guidance," said the dark-haired girl hesitantly.
"Look at us," said the redhead. Her every movement was provocative. "We're not the kind of people we wish to be. Objects of lust and temptation."
"We feel as though we're falling deeper and deeper into darkness," continued the other one.
"We seek The Light," said the redhead. "Can you show us The Light?"
"I am but a servant of The Light, you must find The Light yourselves," said Lazarus.
"But we don't know where to begin," wailed the redhead. "We've led such wicked lives. All around us is darkness!"
"Do not fear," soothed Lazarus. "It is easiest to see The Light from the darkness. I would be honored to help show you The Way."
"What if it's too late?" asked the dark-haired girl.
"It's never too late," affirmed Lazarus. "The Light welcomes all souls."
"All souls?" asked the redhead significantly.
"Even souls such as yours, demoness," replied Lazarus with a sardonic smile.
"We didn't fool you for a second, did we?" sighed the brunette, noticing that Lazarus had quietly conjured up a Mana Shield during the conversation.
"I'm afraid not," said Lazarus, "Although, I did find your 'lost souls' performance quite moving. I may borrow some of it for my next sermon."
"What gave us away?" asked the redhead. Her outline shimmered slightly as she dropped her magical disguise. A pair of bat-like wings unfurled from her shoulders and tiny red horns sprouted from her forehead.
"Had you been ordinary mortal girls presenting yourselves as you are, I would have felt at least a pang of temptation," said Lazarus. "However, The Light protects me from your magical powers. I'm afraid that the only thing the supernatural scent you two are emitting does for me is reveal your true nature."
"That's a shame," said the dark-haired Hell Spawn unfurling her wings and sparing a lingering glance at her partner, "because it's driving us wild."
The redhead returned her gaze and licked her lips. "I told you we shouldn't try to take on an Archbishop." She turned toward Lazarus. "So will you be killing us yourself or will you summon the guards?"
"The Light has granted me the power to take care of you two without bothering the guards," said Lazarus. A Holy Flame spell would incinerate the two succubi and not even leave a mark on the carpet.
"Too bad," said the dark-haired demoness. "I would have liked to see that handsome Captain of yours again. By the way, I'm Black Jade. This is Red Vex."
"Charmed, I'm sure," said Lazarus. He raised his arms and a great halo of pure white flame ignited above his head.
"I only wish you were telling the truth when you said that The Light could save us," said Red Vex sadly, "Instead of destroy us."
"Don't be foolish, Red," chided Black Jade. "The Light is no match for the Darkness that's consumed us."
"I guess you're right," agreed Red Vex. "The Light is no match for Darkness."
Lazarus was about to will the halo of Holy Flame to lance out and destroy the two demons, but he hesitated. He could not let the implicit challenge to his faith go unanswered. "There is salvation for all in The Light," he insisted.
"I'm sure it makes you feel better to believe that," said Black Jade coldly. "Now, if you could just get on with this?"
"We'll be suffering the torments of the damned for the next thousand years," explained Red Vex. "and the sooner we start, the sooner we'll be done. Mind you, after that first century or two in the dismemberer, it's really all downhill."
"I can't believe you think the dismemberer is worse than the centipede pit," said Black Jade, unable to suppress a shudder.
"It doesn't have to be this way," Lazarus told them. "All you have to do is embrace The Light and The Light will embrace you."
"From where we're standing," said Red Vex nodding her head at the halo of Holy Flame, "Being embraced by The Light doesn't look like it's going to help us very much. Now, if you'd be so kind, we have a date with some centipedes."
"Look," argued Lazarus allowing the Holy Flame to dissipate for the moment. "If you're going to be punished for your failure, then you must have free will. If you have free will, it follows that you are able to choose between right and wrong; good and evil. You can be saved, but it takes courage to say yes to The Light."
"We're demons, you moron!" snapped Red Vex. "We do evil. We are evil! Now, if you're not going to kill us, we'll be more than happy to kill you."
Lazarus was unfazed by the threat. "The path of righteousness is open to all. You would not be the first demons to Go With The Light. Look at the Horned Folk of the Badlands. Why, a valued member of our own community has rejected his demonic heritage to Walk The Lighted Path."
"You mean the changeling boy, Wirt?" asked Black Jade. "We noticed him in town. That boy is so close to the edge, it wouldn't take more than a smile and a wave from me to convince him to murder the next ten people he meets. Besides, being abandoned by servants of Baal isn't the same as embracing The Light."
"That's beside the point," pressed Lazarus. "All it takes is the willingness on your part to take the first steps to break the cycle of damnation. I can help you. Let me help you."
Red Vex and Black Jade looked at each other and were silent for a moment. "No offense," said Red Vex finally, "but we don't think you're up to the task."
"Look at you," continued Black Jade. "A happy, prosperous kingdom, a beautiful cathedral. I'll bet you've never had a serious challenge to your faith in your life."
"Believe me," added Red Vex, "when you're being raped and tortured to death as we were, the only Light you care about seeing is that of the next day."
"If that is what happened to you, then The Light can cleanse your souls of all the pain you suffered. There is peace, salvation and justice in The Light."
"So you keep saying," said Red Vex. "But frankly, we have only your word on that."
"And you're just not that convincing," finished Black Jade. "Maybe you'd better just kill us."
"What will it take to convince you to join me on the Path of Light?" asked Lazarus.
"What are you willing to risk to save us?" asked Black Jade. "Would you be willing to bet your own soul?"
"There is no risk to any of us if you are willing to embrace The Light," said Lazarus calmly.
Red Vex smiled and shook her head. "It's not that easy. If we were content to corrupt only people who were inclined toward darkness, we would have stayed in town. Instead we came here to seduce you."
"And you failed," smiled Lazarus.
"True," conceded Black Jade, "but we thought you were worth the risk and we're now willing to pay the ultimate price. Are you willing to take the same risk for the souls of two murdered and damned girls?"
"There is never risk to those whose hearts are pure and whose faith is strong."
"We'll see about that," said Red Vex. "It wouldn't be easy for you to convince us of the glory of The Light. We'd attempt to seduce and corrupt you. We'd resist you and lie to you every step of the way. In fact, I'm lying to you right now. If you succeed despite all that, you will have proved the power of The Light to any and all who could possibly doubt it. As converts to your holy cause, we'd spread the gospel and lay down our lives and souls in the name of The Light."
"Fail, and your soul would belong to our Master forever," continued Black Jade. "You'd know both the torments and glories of Hell, while all you hold dear here is destroyed."
"Of course, you'd also get us," added Red Vex turning around for him. "Not a bad consolation prize, if I do say so myself."
"What do you say?" asked Black Jade. "Your soul against ours to show once and for all whether Light beats Darkness?"
"Of course, if you and Zakarum aren't up to the challenge, you can always just go ahead and kill us" said Red Vex. "If you Holy Flame us right now, no one but you will ever have to know that there wasn't enough Light for the two lost souls who needed it the most."
"There is Light for all," said Lazarus firmly. "You'll see. One day, you will both stand at my side and, together, we will witness Its Glories."
A slight smile touched the corner of Red Vex's lips and, for an instant, Lazarus thought he saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "Then here is to the glories we will share."
"Let us begin," said Black Jade.
"Lazarus came to me with his story early the next day and made me promise to kill him if he appeared to be losing his wager," said Cain. "But he disappeared shortly thereafter and I was unable to keep my promise."
Cain sighed wearily for his lost friend. "I do not know how many days Lazarus spent in the company of Black Jade and Red Vex," he said, "But we all know the tragic outcome. Unable to save their souls, Lazarus lost his own."
"But he tried," said Pepin. "I guess it really is true that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
Cain knelt next to the footpath leading to the chasm. "Take a closer look at the gravel of this path, my friend."
Pepin crouched down next to him and let out a gasp.
"You see," said Cain, "the road to Hell is paved with Lazarus."
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