First Page: Well of Souls, Site of the First Temple of Jerusalem
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Beliel rocked back, the bare skin of his feet sinking into the burning sand, flesh recoiling from the stinging pain. He closed his eyes, letting the human’s discomfort wash over him. Ah, he so enjoyed the bitter taste of their pain.
Shoving downward, he wriggled his feet deeper until the scorching granules covered the toes. Indeed, he welcomed their discomfort. So much the better when he shared their agony even as he occupied their bodies. As he did now.
He snatched the wide-brimmed hat from his head and passed a neck cloth across his brow. The moisture saturating his hair and skin should have been cool after being exposed to the slight breeze wafting across the barren desert landscape. It was not. Still. More discomfort for the human. The high heat was nothing compared to the boiling temperatures of Hell. Home.
His grit-covered, sun-baked lips spread into a thin-lipped smile. While he embraced his host’s agony, he had another reason to feel pleasure. After centuries of searching, he finally found the Vessel. How many of these fragile human bodies had he possessed over the centuries? How many times had he come so close he could taste success yet be thwarted by human weakness? Human frailty. Human uselessness.
Not this time. By chance or fate he’d encountered, and acquired, the human whose body he now occupied. One experienced in finding lost objects. Ancient objects. Of the kind the workers labored to pull from the sand-scoured Well of Souls.
"Bring it to me!" he called. His voice rasped with excitement.
From under lowered eyelids, he watched the workers’ slow progress. The four men, their faces broiled dark brown by constant exposure to the desert’s harsh environment, struggled up the dune’s steep incline. Between them, on a tattered oak plank, they carried the Vessel. The bronze jar of King Solomon. A thing more precious than life.
Beliel moved closer to the edge, his unblinking gaze intent on the tableau below. If not for the magic associated with the Vessel, he’d have retrieved it himself. As it was, he had no choice but to rely on these contemptible humans. Their sandaled feet slipped on sand and pebbles, sending debris plunging back into the recently excavated hole. One of the men fell to his knee. The bronze jar tilted precariously, rocking on the oak plank.
"Careful, you idiots," Beliel hissed. He curled his fingers. Nails bit deep into his palms.
Recovering his balance, the human male righted and the four continued their mincing shuffle. At the top, within a few feet of where he stood, they stopped and set the Vessel before him. Panting breaths broke the early morning hush.
Beliel leaned toward the Vessel. His pulse quickened. The arcane prison rested on a fan-shaped base and sat about one meter in height. Mystical sigils and wedge-shaped patterns were etched into the still bright metal. Scriptures that sealed in the seventy-two spirits captured inside. Powerful writing and glyphs to prevent against exactly what he intended to do.
Moisture deprived eyes drank in the sight. He reached out, his fingers hovering over the Vessel. The impulse to caress the sand polished exterior, to smooth fingers over the sharp-edged sigils, threatened to suck the strength from his legs.
Despite the several inches of space between his fingers and the metal, the burn of the protective sigils seared tender flesh as if the heat was desperate to burrow into the demon within. Skin sizzled, the tissue bubbling and splitting. Clear fluids splattered, hissing and evaporating as they hit the Vessel’s surface. While the human whose body he purloined would have jerked his hand back, Beliel dropped his arm closer. This time, the skin baked until it hardened, became leather-like in appearance. God’s protection, traveling from the hand up the soft flesh underside. He closed his eyes, letting the sweet misery of the aware human host wash over him.
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