Darkness, darker than the darkest night, deeper than the depths of the ocean was nothing and everything. Darkness was, and reigned. Darkness was Ambrosios every conscious notion. Eternity had come and gone, or so it seemed, and still He languished. His tormentors had left him only after six days and seven nights, He knew the passage of time only from the Demons that did attend him. In the day the demons touch burned like fire. In the night, their rotten limbs froze him to the core. For those long days and nights they had tortured him to his limits and beyond, pulling, stretching, twisting, and morphing his malleable Soul so that his appearance might match that of his wickedness. Only on the seventh day did they finally leave him. When they were gone, he was utterly alone.
To one who has spent their life cloistered away from most of their fellow men, going days at a time without speaking to their fellow monk, this should not seem so awful a fate. Ambrosio especially should have been prepared for it, being set apart as holier than his brethren, never truly in congress with them when they met, always alone in his own purity. But no, this was different. Never before had He felt so alone, for the love of his Creator was now denied to him completely, irrevocably, eternally. While still living he had never realized how much a soul without the love of its creator writhes in agony. He had been too new at the black arts to feel the pain and torments of a soul withering inside its body. Now he felt it, though, and it was all the worse for the knowledge that because of his own oath, the love could never be returned to him and the pain in his bosom would never be eased.
The darkness seemed to grow more intense the longer Ambrosio lingered in it. He floated in a blackness so absolute that it constricted in, pressed in upon his eyes until he thought that they would burst from his skull. If eyelids had been left to him, he was sure that they would not have made a difference in his sight. The darkness seemed to be eating at him, slowly wearing away at his very existence as stone is worn away by the rushing wave. When he could no longer stand it he cried out for light, any light. And in answer to his pleas, light he did receive. A hideous speck of red appeared in the distance, repugnant in its dimness. Instead of being a comfort, a warmth to bask in, it was cold and distant. The pinprick of light grew, getting closer, its detestable radiance illuminating things that Ambrosio would rather not have seen. His hands had been stretched and mangled so that they were barely recognizable as the limbs of his previous self. That there was no mirror about that he might inspect the rest of the horrors that his tormentors had wrought to his features was the only blessing Ambrosio had received in this place. Yet it was not truly a blessing. Even though he did not realize it as such, not knowing what had been done to him was so much worse that knowing. His over eager mind could play tricks on his unwariness. He thought himself to be a hundred times worse than he could ever actually be, and that was all a part of the plan of his tormentors.
Poor Ambrosio, poor, poor Ambrosio.
The familiar voice came from the red light, just as repulsive as the glow itself. He knew that voice, though he could not remember where from. Memories of life had deserted him during his torture. All that he could remember were his crimes, the reasons for which he was being so severely punished. Yet he knew the voice that called out to him from the light, and even though it made him quiver insidewith hate or fear he knew notthe sense that he might know something or someone in this God forsaken place made his heart leap with the slightest measure of hope. That fragile hope was swiftly crushed as the light that had been approaching took on a more human form, and the familiar voice started to laugh.
Think you that I am here to comfort you, damned Ambrosio? The voice called, light and airy for all its horrific words, No, never shall you find solace in such a place as this. From the moment you sold yourself at so cheap a price, you condemned yourself to an eternity of torture. I could describe them to you, drive you into a despair so deep that the agonies your mind portrayed for you would madden you for a hundred years. But I do not wish to wait so long to show you what I can. Yes, I have things to show you, Ambrosio that shall make you quake in fear and despair, for they were what you could have had, but rejected.
The voice was maddeningly familiar, but he could not place to whom it belonged.
What, speak you not? The voice taunted, Have you nothing to say to me after all this time?
Who are you? Though he instantly regretted uttering such syllables, not knowing plagued upon what was left of his mind so that he could not help but ask.
What? Know me not? The voice was indignant now as the light started to solidify into a human like shape. Know you not the one whos virtue you took with glee before throwing away such a gift with equal vehemence? Know you not she who willingly sold herself into eternal suffering so that she might be able to spend a single day more with you in that retched place called Earth? Her form became clear then, and golden locks tumbled down her frame, hiding nothing of her charms, but truly only making them more visible to all those who looked. The only change that had taken place in her was that Her once fair skin no longer glowed with white loveliness. A hue of red akin to blood now covered her once fair skin. And yet it made her no less lovely to behold, for no mortal man alive would be able to look upon her and think that she was not the most beautiful creature to have ever seen the face of the earth.
Matilda, He breathed out the name with a reverence that one might use when witnessing a miracle, for indeed it seemed to him to be so. That Matilda appeared before him now, whole and without such blights as his time in Hell had left to him, seemed miracle indeed.
The laugh that issued for was anything but mirthful. Finally you do remember, Ambrosio, she who willingly ruined herself for your sake. I have not come to remind you about all of your crimes against me, however, for you shall pay for those equally in due time. Instead I come to tell you that your family wishes to see you one last time, though I know not why.
At this Ambrosio started violently. His sister and mother wished to see him? This was the only family that he could think of though he had known them not until it was too late. They wish to see me?
Indeed they do, enough that they would risk their eternal souls in Hell that they would come down from Heaven to see you, replied she, And though Lucifer be no friend of the Creator, he cannot deny a direct commandment from the One who made him from nothingness. And so those of Eternal Life shall for the first time descend to be among us here in Hell. Be glad, not everyone gets to divine a privilege, though I suspect that it be not for you that this favor was granted.
As she spake there was once again in the distance a light. Unlike before this light did not immediately make the fallen monk quiver with utter disgust. No, this light made his wounded soul leap for gladness. White, shining and pure, this light provided in its very presence all that Ambrosio had been longing for whilst lingering in the depths of Hell. The light drew closer, and as before with Matilda gained human countenance, but this time in three shapes it did become. The Holiness of Heaven poured off of two of them, angels they were, untouched by the blackness of the Fall. Too bright to be see, they stood guard over the figure that stood between the two. Whereas those that were beside her were too glorious to be seen, Antonia was visible to all, restored and whole once more. She wore a shining white robe of the finest of silks, but that was dulled in comparison her own resplended beauty. Like it had been in life, hers was a different sort of beauty than that which Matilda held. Matildas was a weak beauty that inflamed the senses and made one wish to satisfy the cravings of the body. Antonias was the beauty of purity and innocence, and made Matilda look homely and repugnant in comparison. She smiled at her Brother, and Ambrosio thought that if it had been possible, he would have died all over again then in shame. Seeming to read the thoughts from his mangled face, Antonia shook her head.
Dear brother, I have come to tell you that I forgive you. While you were at fault, the love that our Creator has shown to me in spite of all my faults (and there were faults to be sure, despite what I thought upon my death) has made me realize that I cannot hold anything against you, or indeed, could not let you wait for eternity here in Hell without knowing that I did indeed forgive you. To do so would be a sin for me, and to sin now would have horrific consequences.
Her words seemed to sooth a part of him that he hadnt even known was hurting. He clenched his fist, then looked down, startled, when he found that one of his hands had been made whole again. He looked back up, tears in his eyes. There was nothing he could say, for it seemed he would not be allow. Even as he watched, the Glory of the Angels once again covered the redeemed Beauty and their light fled back into the darkness, leaving Ambrosio emptier than he had been before. Before he could despair, once again a light of purest white shone towards him, illuminating his Soul. Three shapes once more appeared before him in the void. Elvira, the woman at whose bedside hed once staid, the woman hed later murdered stood before him. He realized that she must indeed be his mother. But who was this standing tall beside her? The man spoke not, but he was most certainly human, unlike the angel that stood to Elviras other side. Might this have been his father? Ambrosio longed to ask, but his tongue seemed stuck fast to the top of his mouth. Guilt poured out of him as he gazed upon the woman whos life he had so cruelly stolen.
Ambrosio, Elviras voice cut through his self-pity, My son I have come to you because if I didnt, I would sin. I must forgive you in order for me to be able to enter heaven with my husband, your father. She looked up at the man beside her. So my son, know that I have forgiven you. And we beg for your forgiveness as well. We thought that you would be safe, but we were wrong, and you have paid mightily for our mistake in judgment. Please, if you can find it somewhere within yourself, would you please forgive us? She bowed, then, lowering herself before him. Beside her the man did likewise, prostrating himself before the son he never knew.
Her words cut through his soul like a knife, tearing at his Heartstrings. Mother. He whispered the word with a reverence he had never been able to find during his life, Mother, father, please, get up, dont do this. He felt as if time had regressed and he was five years old once more. This had been the most secret of his childhood dreams, that his parents would come for him, would beg his forgiveness for abandoning him, and would take him away from the abbey and the horrible old men that kept him there. Now, though, now that it was actually happening, he realized that this wasnt what he wanted at all. He didnt want them to beg, to plead for his forgiveness. What he wanted was their love, their affection, their touch. Mother. Father. He stretched out his hand, not noticing that it was no longer the grotesque thing that had been there only moments before. Please, get up, I forgive you. I swear by He found suddenly that he could no longer speak his Creators name, but he didnt let that hinder him, it seemed so unimportant at the moment. I swear that I forgive you. Please get up. Please.
Even as he reached for his parents to raise them up from where they lay, the Sword of the Angel, blazing with the radiance of Heaven fell between he and them. You must not touch them, quoth the angel, For you, one of the Damned, endanger them by your very presence. If you were to touch them, they would be condemned to Hell forever.
Ambrosio shrank back, a wounded child. As the scene before had been the stuff of his dreams, this had been the stuff of his nightmares. To be able to see his parent, hear his parent, but not to touch them, not to be loved by them, that was the cruelest thing that could happen to him. The two prostrated figures stood, and smiled at him. Mother, father. Tears were falling down his cheeks, the first he had cried since death had come and taken him. His parents could not stay, the forms becoming light once more and disappearing into the darkness just as Antonia had. Left all alone in the darkness of Hell, Ambrosio sobbed, a broken man.
Poor Ambrosio, poor, poor Ambrosio.
Matilda. Hed forgotten that she was there. That shed born witness to everything that had just transpired. In that moment of realization, he hated her. And yet he couldnt pull away when she ran her fingers lightly over his arm and down to his hand. Well well, it looks like the other one has healed up nicely as well. He looked down in surprise to find that she was indeed right. Both of his hands were now whole once more. In fact, She continued, It looks as if you are almost totally healed. If you were redeemable, I would think that you would be on your way to Heaven right now. He looked up at her, something akin to hope, alight in his once dull eyes. Matilda shrugged her bare shoulders, But, you did make a contract with the Prince of Darkness. You sold your soul, and nothing can save you now. She cocked her head to the side, as if listening to someone speaking. Ah, well, I am needed elsewhere, I will be back to check on you when I can. She smiled, Do not worry about being lonely. You will not be unaccompanied for long. She became a red ball of light and flew off into the darkness.
She was correct about his solitude. A short while he heard them. His tormentors were returning. He screamed as they came closer; his cries increasing in volume as they laid hold to him. He knew what was to come, what he was to endure for all eternity, and he dreaded with all his being. It was too late to do anything about it. He no longer had any hope.