"All sweeping generalisations are bad."
THE SEVEN GATES OF HELL
- or -
OBVIOUSLY INFLUENCED BY THE DEVIL TOO
by Richard Karsmakers
II - THE SEVEN GATES OF HELL
Part of the cave wall, making the awfulest noise, opened up to
reveal a gathering of approximately a dozen human skeletons clad
in armour that ranged in age through a great many centuries. They
stepped closer to check the skeletons - and the means through
which they had died - out. Without as much as a stony warning
groan, the cave wall closed behind them smoothly and soundlessly.
They heard and saw nothing.
"I think we can at least guess what they died of," Trom said,
pointing roughly in the pitch darkness at the direction where the
skeletons lay. It was amazing how quickly the air got stale and
oppressive when you're in a confined space with about a dozen
"Despair not," Warchild said, fumbling in the utter darkness, "I
think I found a lever."
There was the rusty sound of a lever being pulled, followed by
that of several dozen razor-sharp metal things being rapidly
pulled from their sheaths. Something sliced through a piece of
Trom's clothing, and he could feel the wind of something very
cold and very, very sharp flying past his ear.
The far side of this tomb-like cave now opened up and let a
certain degree of light stream in. As it turned out, several
dozen razor-sharp lances had appeared from holes in the floor and
had connected themselves to the ceiling. One had nearly impaled
Trom, who began very much to feel uncomfortable when that
realisation hit him. One of the lances, directly beneath Cronos'
genital area, seemed as yet hesitant to spring forth; probably a
rusty mechanism. It groaned softly, ticking, as if waiting for an
inopportune moment to finally let go.
"I think we should leave this place," Trom said, worming himself
through the lances to the far side where Cronos was sweating like
a pig at the prospect of that one lance colliding with his Mega
Absorb Groin Protector without a Battery Pack inserted.
Trom reached Cronos and pulled at the man. The mercenary annex
hired gun was frozen to the spot, however, totally paralysed with
fear (though, of course, he would never have admitted that).
"CRONOS!!" yelled Trom, tearing the potentially gonad-less
mercenary annex hired gun from his stupor of fear, "JUMP!!"
Before anyone could have asked how high, Cronos took an almost
instinctively giant leap and brought himself and his glockenspiel
in safety. Breathlessly, he looked at the one lance that was
still stuck in the floor, battling its mechanism with silent
determination. It stayed put. Cronos let out a deep sigh.
"Look there," Trom said, pointing, "would that be the First of
the Gates of Hell?"
Cronos looked in the direction where Trom pointed and saw what
didn't much look like a gate at all, really, let alone one of the
proverbially famed Seven Gates. It was, in fact, more like a
They opened it and walked through.
"That wasn't half as bad as I thought," Cronos said, "It's
probably not the First of the Gates at all."
Trom, wiping some perspiration off his brow, was about to tell
Warchild to knock wood when a man with quite a long beard and a
staff of lapis lazuli in his hand appeared as if materialising
from the very darkness around them.
"It is I, Nanna, guardian of the First of the Seven Gates of
Hell," the man intoned, in a manner of voice that made them
realise that, no matter how countlessly often he had repeated
these exact words, they were not to take whatever he said
"I possess the secret of the tides of blood," the bearded man
continued, completely ignoring the sound of the last of the
lances boring itself into the ceiling behind them, which
startled hell out of Cronos, "my colour is Silver and I am also
known to mortals as Sin. What is my number?"
The man looked as if he would take offense at them not knowing
whatever his number might be. Trom had the impression that the
man would not simply slap them on the cheek and tell them to head
back home, no, this was definitely the kind of man to use that
lapis lazuli staff of his and hit them on the head with it until
they would voluntarily take the shortcut, one-way route to hell.
Although the man as a whole looked friendly enough - like a
leaner version of Santa Claus with different clothing - his eyes
looked the exact opposite. They were "don't fuck with me" eyes.
Cronos was racking his brain. There wasn't much to rack, so he
looked at Trom hopefully. Trom looked back, exasperatingly.
"How the hell should I know?" he said.
The bearded man named Nanna - what a silly name for a guardian
of the First Gate of Hell - was becoming impatient. All
adventurers and questers alike had at least had the courtesy to
know his bloody number when they had the audacity to come here.
He was thinking of something particularly cruel to do to these
poor bastards - it had been quite a while since he'd been visited
and he'd thought long and hard of what to do next time someone
came - when the chunky dude suddenly looked up.
"Wait a sec'," Cronos suddenly said, as if some subliminal hand
had brushed by him and had awarded him with one of his
traditionally rare moments of True Lucidity. He took the demon's
note out of his pocket. There were several numbers on it, numbers
that had initially not made much sense at all but now suddenly
Trom looked at Cronos. He hoped he may have misjudged the
mercenary annex hired gun. He wished the hastily scribbled
numbers indeed bore some relevance to the situation at hand, for
this Nanna character seemed not too keen on letting them guess
more than once.
Warchild scanned the note. There were Seven Gates but only six
numbers. He'd have to take the chance, however. The first number
"Thirty," Cronos said.
There was a pause, during which time could have passed and
tipped its hat, but didn't.
"Thirty is my number indeed," the guardian named Nanna
enunciated, nodding solemnly, "you have spoken rightly."
"Cool," Trom said, suddenly again more confident and courageous.
The sense of adventure came flowing back into his veins.
"There is no reason for relief yet, I can assure you, young
man," Nanna said, condescending, "for now there is the Test."
Somehow, the way in which the guardian made the word "Test"
actually sound as if it started with a capital made Trom feel
"A test?" Cronos asked.
"Indeed, noble adventurer," the guardian said, somewhat smugly,
"a Test." He clicked his fingers.
A broad-shouldered Gorilla, Warchild's even more primitive alter
ego so it seemed, appeared from behind a bush as if it had been
hidden there all along. It licked its lower lip as if it was
craving for a banana, and in its hands it held a knife that
looked very sharp indeed.
The Gorilla grinned. A knife flashed. An upper lip was licked.
At around that instant, it became no longer apparent what
happened. A cartoonesque cloud of sand evolved around the human
and the primate, grass flinging off in several directions. The
occasional sounds along the lines of "BASH", "WHACK" and, indeed,
"THUD", were hurled at the guardian and Trom.
Few moments later the dust settled upon the unconscious form of
the Gorilla. Its fur was wrinkled, it had a black eye and its
nose seemed broken with a tiny stream of blood pouring out of one
It was dead, too.
Cronos brushed off some grass and sand, then snorted derisively.
He had just been hit by a Gorilla and the most acute sense of
déja vu he had ever experienced. He could have sworn he had been
through this virtually exact experience before. He suddenly had
to think of a white kangaroo wearing a clock, a guy called
Cranium and a most nauseatingly terrible smell.
He shook the memories off and looked at the guardian, who was
impressed. It was clear that he was the kind of man that would
have liked to place bets on this sort of thing. You could see he
didn't like the fact that there had not been another hellish
inhabitant to place bets with.
"The second gate," Nanna said, "is due south. Have a nice day."
Trom and Cronos walked off in the direction that the guardian of
the First Gate of Hell had pointed out. It was not until after an
hour's walking or thereabouts when they spotted it.
They stood before the second Gate of Hell. It looked a lot more
like a gate this time. It had wrought-iron hinges and looked made
of some kind of really solid wood, aged by many, many centuries.
In it was a peephole, below which hung a formidable door knocker
in the shape of a goat's skull with some ancient inscriptions
neither of them could ever hope to decipher.
Cronos lifted the knocker. It was black, heavy, and really cold.
He knocked the door with it once, twice, thrice, four times. A
twisted sound, almost embodying darkness, reverberated off the
door and echoed beyond and before them, forming the eerie words
"In...Madness...You...Dwell" that seemed to echoe for an
unnaturally long time in their minds.
Trom shivered. This was seriously scary stuff. His nanny had
never told him things like this happened in the world outside the
Hepplewhite Saintjohn Thurny estate.
The door opened slowly, and out of it stepped a man wearing a
long priestly robe and a crown of thorns. Although he had no
beard, he appeared ancient on every account. He was bent, had an
unhealthy-looking complexion, hollow cheeks, and leaned on a cane
that looked as if it was bought as a souvenir from the Mull of
"It is I, Nebo, guardian of the Second of the Seven Gates of
Hell," the man said, his voice sounding like a broom going
through a porcelain store that a rabid elephant had just been in.
"I am the keeper of the knowledge of Science," Nebo continued,
"my colour is Blue and I bear the sign of Mercury. What is my
Cronos hoped the list of numbers would continue to be correct.
He took out the note again, uncrumpling it. He knew there were
only six numbers on the note, yet seven Hellish Gates. He
fervently hoped the one missing would not be that of one of the
earlier gates. Not this one, at any rate. He wondered who in hell
was helping them, who actually wanted him and Trom to succeed
this quest and enter Hell itself.
Nebo was a man of infinitely more patience than Nanna, maybe on
account of his name not being half as silly as that of the
previous guardian. Still, Trom reckoned Cronos should not wait
too long with the revelation of the number, because you never
knew. It's best to be on the safe side, especially on your way to
"Twelve," Warchild said, holding his breath until Nebo nodded
slowly, the joints of the ancient man's neck creaking
Trom let go a sigh of relief, but caught himself.
"Of course," the old man revealed, "there shall have to be a
Another one of those capitalised words, Trom noticed. Dratted
Nebo took from a pocket a stopwatch. He flicked a switch that
had so far been quite invisible, upon which a couple of
spotlights went on. The spotlights shone on an audience stand on
which sat about a hundred demons and other assorted minions of
hell. They were all cackling, making ghastly noises and waving at
where they supposed had to be a camera.
"You have one minute..." the guardian said, smiling, "...to get
10 toothbrushes from our esteemed audience!" He pressed something
on the stopwatch. A hand began to rotate.
Trom and Cronos both ran up the audience stand. From somewhere
there came music, the kind of music that makes you ever more
nervous, it ever gaining more speed, ever becoming infinitely
more irritable. Some of the demons fumbled in their handbags,
looking if they had perhaps brought a toothbrush with them.
Miraculously, quite a few of them actually had. Some other demons
found the tooth brushes and ate them before Trom or Cronos
could come close enough to attempt to snatch them from their
ugly, warted paws.
"30 seconds..." Nebo said in the tone of one with all the time
in the world.
Trom had found a couple of tooth brushes already. Some of them
were shaped like bones, some others like bat's wings.
"Look, Trom," Cronos said, showing a toothbrush, "this has a
really clever eye-of-newt design!"
Trom signalled him to hurry and not to bullshit. He saved a
toothbrush from a demon's fangs, almost losing a finger or two in
the process. The music was becoming louder; the tuba started
humphing ever faster.
"10 seconds..." Nebo said, appearing bored.
Cronos grabbed a last toothbrush on his way out. This particular
one had a pair of artificial fangs hanging onto it. He shook
them off. "Sorry ma'm," he apologised.
Right in the nick of time they arrived back at where Nebo stood,
"Zero," the guardian said. "Let's count those toothbrushes." The
demonic audience applauded.
Trom and Cronos handed the assorted oral hygiene devices to
Nebo. They both wondered why in hell demons needed toothbrushes,
but the fact that apparently they did had saved the day.
Nebo finished counting them.
"Eleven," he said. "Strictly taken, that means you've handed me
one too many..."
Trom and Cronos looked at each other. So this was where it would
"...but I'm in a good mood today! Haven't had this much fun
since Aleister Crowley came here, a century or two ago." The
demonic audience clapped, whistled, woo-woo-ed, yelled and
generally made a lot of noise, like some sitcom audiences tend to
"So we may pass?" Trom asked, hopefully.
Nebo nodded, "Sure, son, you and your friend may pass."
Cronos and Trom both shook his hand gratefully.
"If you walk south-east for approximately an hour," the guardian
said, switching off the spotlights, "you will find the third of
the Seven Gates of Hell. Now go."
So, after another hour's walking, they found themselves standing
in front of the third Gate of Hell. This particular one again
didn't at all look like a gate. It looked, rather, like the
entrance of an Eastern boudoir of sorts, the kind made of bead-
stringed curtains that really only serve to keep out flies. It
wasn't located in a wall, at least not one to be seen. Everything
around it was just darkness, a darkness so intense you could bump
into it. From through the beady curtain came inviting light,
though, soft to the eyes and enluring.
Trom held it open to allow Warchild in. "After you," he said, a
smirk on his face.
"After you," Cronos said, grinning, simply shoving Trom inside.
Trom was sick to the back teeth of Warchild telling him what to
do, but felt powerless to do anything about it.
They found themselves enveloped by the scent of a thousand
sticks of incense. There were candles and tea lights everywhere,
casting a beautiful glow over the room, which was large and,
well, cosy. Pillows lay everywhere, and drapes of priceless
damask lay all about the place and hung off the ceiling. It
seemed like they had entered a place straight out of some ancient
Fantasies about huge amounts of available women, such as those
invariably featured in those Eastern faerytales, were put on hold
by a huge, heavy-maned lion that introduced itself into the room
from a shadowy corner. It walked gracefully, a true king among
beasts, sniffing the air.
"Don't sweat," Trom said, who was trying to keep his pores shut
himself, too, "for it may smell it if you are afraid."
"That's dogs, silly," a woman's voice came from that same
shadowy corner. Into the light stepped a woman of insurpassable
beauty, with long curly black hair, a voice like an aural
sprinkle of silk and a skin tanned like some California beach
goddess who had insisted upon there not being any bikini lines.
Trom though he had seen her - or something pretty damn much like
her - before, though he couldn't for the life of him put a finger
on it. Again he felt a really peculiar sense of déja vu, strong
and omniscient, taking control of his body as if lead was being
poured in his veins and directed from some other plane of
"Gosh," he said, his voice dreamy and far-off, "that is surely
one hell of a babe..."
With those words, he embraced the swirlingly twirling earth and
threw another dreaming fit...
She had black hair. She wore a vari-coloured cloak with a golden
pin in it and a hooded tunic with red embroidery. She had shoes
with golden fastenings. Her face was oval, narrow below, broad
above. Her eyebrows were dark and black. Her beautiful black
eyelashes cast a shadow on to the middle of her cheeks. Her lips
seemed to be made of partaing. Her teeth were like a shower of
pearls between her lips. She had three plaits of hair: Two plaits
wound around her head, the third hanging down her back, touching
her calves behind. In her hand she carried a weaver's beam of
white bronze, with golden inlay. There were three pupils in each
of her eyes. The maiden was armed and her chariot was drawn by
two black horses.
Trom woke up with Cronos slapping his face again. He realised he
had dreamt, the same dreams he'd had before. It was almost as if
he was remembering bits of a life that had happened before him.
It was all seriously surreal but in a way like it was part of
himself, unmistakably. He now noticed the beautiful lady again,
who sat by him to see if he was recovering from his fainting fit.
It struck him how much she looked like the girl from which he had
dreamt, invariably, ever since he could remember. When Trom
turned out to have recovered sufficiently to erect himself, she,
too, got up and spoke.
"It is I, Inanna, guardian to the Third of the Seven Gates of
Hell," the insurpassably beautiful woman said, "I am the Goddess
of Passion, both of Love and War", she continued, "my colour is
Purest White and in my armour no Priest need fear to tread in the
Underworld. What is my number?"
Trom reckoned this woman had been using plenty Oil of Olaz if
she was aged anything close to the other guardians they had met
so far. He was virtually struck breathless. Just imagine...a
woman with such an amazingly young body yet the experience of
someone aged by centuries or even millenia... He couldn't believe
she would do either of them harm, but the thing was that she was
one of the guardians of the dread Seven Gates. He decided he'd
rather not put it to the test.
Trom grabbed the crumpled note from Cronos' hands, and said the
next number in line.
Inanna's face darkened. The lion lifted its nose and bared a few
fangs that Trom decided he'd prefer looking at through solid
steel bars in a zoo, if at all. He suddenly felt extremely
nauseous. Even Cronos cringed, though he'd never have admitted
"Gimme that note," Inanna said, walking up to Trom and snatching
it away from him. She looked it over.
"They left out my number," she said, sounding hurt, giving the
note back, "they left out my number. Twenty is the next
guardian's number." The lion looked up at her, brushing against
one of her godly legs and purring reassuringly. Her hand stroked
the beast's mighty manes.
"Oh, well," she said, "it can't be helped, I suppose. Where
would I be without you, my dear Kittecat?" The lion purred a bit
louder, sounding like a distant avalanche.
"I'll cut you some slack," Innana said, pacing her boudoir,
addressing both intrepid adventurers, but particularly Trom. She
came closer to them now, and Trom noticed that she smelled more
heavenly than any of the women he had ever come into contact
with, most certainly his aunts. It was a heady fragrance that
conjured up visions of beds soft, pastures green, flowers
ablooming and passion immeasurable. Weirdly, it also had a faint
tinge of weapon oil and gunsmoke, which in turn slightly
"I can't tell you my number," she told them, "but it is..." She
"Fitting?" Trom said.
She shook her head.
"Flitting?" Cronos guessed.
She shook her head once more.
"Vivideen?" Cronos conjured.
Innana gesticulated wildly now, pressing her index finger
against the side of her nose, then making rotating gestures with
"Er...erm...fifteen!" Trom shouted gleefully.
"Yes!" the raven-haired beauty said, her face lighting up with
joy, "You guessed it right, young master!"
"And I suppose now," Cronos interposed, getting kind of
irritated at the attention Trom was getting and he wasn't, "we
have to do some sort of Test, right?"
The lady Innana appeared to be in thought about that.
"Yes," the said, solemnly, "there shall be a Test indeed."
Trom and Cronos waited for the lady to utter the words, for her
to formulate what further dreadful ordeal would lay immediately
ahead of them on their way to a place where, frankly, neither of
them would otherwise ever have wanted to go.
"I shall require the young master to kiss me," she breathed,
rather huskily. The lion looked at her accusingly, "you've gone
all soft, Innana" readily readable in its large black eyes.
Innana didn't see it, though, for all she had eyes for was Trom,
who couldn't believe his ears and stood rooted to the spot.
"Well?" Cronos said, "Come on, Trom, let's get this over with."
How come he always got the short end of the stick? He was
beginning to dislike all of this very much.
After a few seconds, during which there was an almost audible
crackle of lightning between Trom and the Passion Goddess and a
lot of chemistry to top if off, Trom regained the principle
of motion. Feeling on top of the world and not minding the lion,
which was growling indignantly, he strode forward the few steps
that were needed...and kissed her.
They both turned away and blushed heavily, like they'd just
found out they'd been sucking in the same strand of spaghetti.
"Come on, Trom," Cronos said, not at all pleased and sounding
it, "we haven't got time for all this dilly-dally and stuff. We
have four gates ahead of us, need I remind you?"
Trom and the lady Innana were torn from their moments of
"He's right, you know," she said, "you two do have to go." Trom
nodded, but didn't like the way reality had checked in again.
"Remember," Innana said just before she released Trom's hand,
"the next guardian's number is twenty...and remember, too,
Trom...remember the warrior inside you!"
They left her boudoir - Trom with a sense of loss - and walked
in whatever direction seemed most fit. Sometimes you have to
consult your brain, but some other times you have to listen to
your heart. Trom's heart felt there would be but one direction to
walk into, so that's what he did. Cronos followed, cursing and
muttering below his breath about the way things had gone so far
and how he wasn't happy with them at all.
So, after another short stroll, they found themselves facing the
fourth of the Gates of Hell. This time it looked most impressive
once more; it was a huge portcullis that Warchild wouldn't be
able to lift nor Trom would be able to crawl through. Far above
them, barely discernible above the blackened portcullis from
beyond which no light reached them, was a plaque that read,
curiously, "Zapfest". Under it, even harder to read, were two
initials, "J" and "M".
Just as they were about to give up their search for something to
press or pull in order to get the guardian's attention, they
heard a faint humming sound to their right. They turned.
Into view floated a giant throne of gold, upon which sat a man
wearing a crown of two horns, holding a sceptre aloft in his
right hand and a flame disc in his left. The flame disc sent off
rays in every direction.
"It is I, Shammash, guardian of the Fourth of the Seven Gates of
Hell," the Lord said, "I am..."
"And your number is twenty," Trom interrupted, grinning,
thinking back of the lovely lady Innana, "Stop beating around the
bush and lay the Test on us."
The Lord Shammash, who had just been about to impress hell out
of the adventurers by telling them he was also sometimes referred
to as Uddo, was taken unawares by the young man's boldness. So
was Cronos, actually, who had not expected Trom suddenly to go
courageous after a mere kiss from a Passion Goddess. Well, he
had to agree that she'd been quite a babe...
The guardian grinned back at Trom - an icy cold grin in which
there was no pleasure. He liked a challenge. For centuries -
What?! Millenia! - people had been seeking him out and only the
smartest among them had ever passed his test. These two didn't
look smart enough at all. The young man was just an insolent
youth, and the squarely built guy looked like he'd been standing
last in line where god had been dishing out the brains.
"Yes, young man," the Lord Shammash spoke, "there is a test. It
is a test of tremendous mental skill."
"Yeah, come on, come on," Trom said, impatiently.
"Well," Lord Shammash said, "it is a question. And the question
is...name 10 song titles with 'hell' in it, as well as the bands
who recorded them."
There was a moment of profound silence.
"Hell," Cronos said, "I'm not into music."
"Neither am I, particularly," said Trom, "but a cousin of mine
is." He was thinking hard.
"And..." the Lord Shammash said, "at least four of the bands
must have had Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hits, though not
necessarily with the specific 'hell' song!"
Trom looked at the guardian, wishing the nasty old man would
vanish or something. They would probably be having difficulty
enough with this question without this extra condition.
"Is that all?" Trom asked, tersely.
The guardian nodded. He grinned; that last modification usually
cooked their goose.
"Lemmesee," Trom said, thinking harder than he could ever
recall, in his mind leafing through his cousin's album
"'Alison Hell'," he said, "by Annihilator."
The guardian nodded.
"Three of the top 10 hit bands are easy, too," Trom continued,
"Black Sabbath's 'Heaven and Hell', Kiss' 'Hotter than Hell' and
Pink Floyd's 'Run Like Hell', right?"
The guardian just nodded. Still six to go.
There was another silence. Cronos felt pretty useless. He
realised he'd spent his life totally devoid of culture
whatsoever. Maybe that ought to change. He only knew a few songs
by the Beatles, really.
"'My Hell'," Trom said, a sense of triumph gleaming in his eyes
as he reached half of the test, "by Nokturnel."
"That's a pretty obscure one," the Lord Shammash said, "well
done, young man."
"'Gates to Hell'," Trom added, "by Obituary."
He's actually alphabetically browsing through his cousin's metal
CD collection, the guardian thought. Any minute now he'll arrive
"'Cowboys from Hell' and 'Holy Hell'," Trom said, "by, er,
Pantera and Possessed respectively."
The guardian nodded. Two to go. And they'd never guess the
fourth Top 10 hit one. It was too outright devious. He was
actually quite proud of it himself. He couldn't wait to see the
look on their faces when he'd have to tell it to them.
"'Hell Awaits'," Trom sighed, "by Slayer".
"Well done indeed, young man," the guardian grinned, "but now
the fourth one by a band good enough to have had a Top 10 hit."
"Damn, triple damn," Trom grunted. Here they were, up pop trivia
creek lacking the necessary theoretical background to paddle
Cronos was reciting Beatles songs that occurred to him, "Lucy in
the Sky With Diamonds, I Wanna Hold your Hand, Michelle, A Hard
Day's Night, The Yellow Submarine, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely
Hearts Club Band..."
Trom looked at Cronos, grinning the grin of the triumphant.
"What did you say?" he asked Cronos, "Just now?"
"Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," Warchild repeated, which was
quite a feat in itself, "I Wanna Hold your Hand, Mi..."
"MICHELLE!" Trom cried, "MICHELLE! That has 'hell' in it." He
looked around at the guardian, who was not having a good time any
more. The Lord Shammash nodded. He felt he had to lie down for a
bit. He signalled them to pass through his gate. Had he left the
gas on at home?
They wiped sweat off their brows. They'd pulled it off again;
four down, three to go.
"We sure showed him, didn't we?" Cronos said.
Trom nodded. He wondered how long their luck would hold. So far,
though, they seemed to be a pretty good team.
Feeling quite good and chatting almost merrily despite what they
know was still ahead of them, they nearly walked into a chest.
It was a fairly large chest that, Cronos guessed, might contain
a stupendous treasure. Trom reckoned it would not, because it was
a luggage chest, the kind that people used to drag aboard ships
in the older days. As a matter of fact, he pointed out, there was
even a label attached to it. "Anything but Ankh-Morpork," it
They looked at it, not quite daring to open it, while it stood
there, simply, not moving, like luggage is supposed to do. Then,
quite suddenly and to considerably dropping of jaws, it acted
very much unlike luggage. It sprouted a couple of dozen chubby
legs, lifted itself up and gently trudged off in the distance
before either Cronos or Trom knew what was happening.
They both shook their heads in disbelief. Instead of pondering
over it for a long while, however, they quickly realised why they
were actually here and went about their business again.
And so it happened that, before they knew it, they encountered
what they assumed must be the next guardian, the guardian of the
Fifth of the Seven Gates of Hell. It was a lion - which made Trom
once more reminisce fleetingly of the beauteous lady Innana - a
lion with a man's head, bearing a sword and a flail.
"It is I, mighty Nergal, guardian to the Fifth of the Seven
Gates of Hell," the wingless gryphon said, interrupted
quickly by Cronos.
"We haven't even discovered your gate yet," Warchild said,
"aren't you supposed to introduce yourself until after we've
Nergal thought about that for a while.
"Yes, ho-hum, yes, indeed," he muttered, embarrassed, retreating
somewhat, "indeed, dear adventurers, it seems like that is in
fact, ho-hum, standard procedure, as it were."
Cronos and Trom looked around for the mystic Fifth Gate. The
problem was that it was nowhere to be seen. Around them was just
"Ho-hum, dear sirs, if I may be so bold as to venture," mighty
Nergal said, "I think I've gone for my afternoon stroll and
wandered a bit too far off, actually."
"Are you saying," Trom said, chuckling, "that you are actually,
"Ho-hum, well," the wingless gryphon replied hesitantly, "I
wouldn't quite put it like that, er, ho-hum, but, not too put too
fine a point to it, yes, I think I am." He shuffled his paws
"Some guardian," Warchild muttered below his breath, derisively.
"What does the gate look like?" Trom asked.
"Promise you won't laugh?" Nergal said.
Both adventurers nodded in a kind of noncommittal way. That
sufficed for Nergal.
"Ho-hum, well," he explained, "it's actually, ho-hum, a hole in
the ground. Quite embarrassing, really, but it was all they
hadn't yet assigned when I applied for the job. I was too late,
you see; got lost somewhere between the Styx and Hades, upper
East Side, ho-hum."
It was really too pathetic to be laughed at, so both Cronos and
Trom refrained from doing so, or at least tried to. They looked
around instead, Trom biting his tongue with some vigour,
searching for what looked like a hole in the ground.
"Oh, ho-hum," Nergal suddenly said, grinning embarrassedly,
"there it is, ho-hum, seems like I never wandered too far off in
the first place. Mayhap I should put a flag on a stick in it next
Standing next to his Gate - well, the hole in the ground at any
rate - Nergal took a deep breath.
"It is I, mighty Nergal, guardian of the Fifth of the Seven
Gates of Hell," Nergal said to the slightly bemused questers, "I
am sometimes thought to be the agent of the, erm, Ancient Ones,
ho-hum. I dwelt in Puta...er...no, Cutha for a time and my colour
is, ho-hum, deep purple? No, ho-hum, Dark Red, I am pretty
certain about that, ho-hum. Er...what was that last question
"What's your number?" Trom ventured, sighing.
"Eight," Nergal said, immediately covering his mouth, "Grmmbll."
They left the absent-minded guardian, this mighty Nergal, to his
musings and mutterings - which mainly involved the topic of early
retirement, and what the hell that test was supposed to be - and
jumped in the hole.
After a rather long sliding experience down a rather
claustrophobic length of almost gut-like tunnel they dropped onto
a large mound of sand that looked like some kind of dune. It
cushioned the impact sufficiently, though Trom was surely glad he
had jumped in second; "Made it beyond the Fifth Gate of Hell but
then died because a dimwit mercenary flattened him" would not
quite have made too satisfactory an epitaph to his taste.
Whereas so far the stretches of wasteland between the Gates of
Hell had been primarily dark and ravished, this time they had
appeared to arrive in what was definitely a desert. Sand
stretched out in all directions, and the only thing other than a
black starlit desert night sky and dark grey sand to be seen
around them was the thing from which they had just fallen. It
mostly resembled a black hole sun.
They decided they had to rest for the night. They had no
sleeping bags or tents, so the desert sand would have to do. Even
if they had had something with which to light a fire, they
wouldn't have done so. You never knew which creatures might be
attracted by the light, creatures which might somehow find it
comfortable to roam in the domain between the Fifth and Sixth
Gates of Hell. Now Cronos came to think of it, he did have a
hunch, which was all the more reason to keep things as dark as
They slept like logs. Trom woke up, somewhere way past what he
reckoned must have been midnight, to the sounds of an insanely
witty person shouting "Oh Beth! Beth!", but didn't heed it any
more than Cronos, who continued to snore peacefully.
They woke up to the sound of steps in the desert sand and the
heat of the sun on their faces. There was no telling how long
they had slept and it wasn't important either, for in a true
Mohammed-and-the-Mountain fashion it seemed that the Sixth Gate
and its guardian had found them during the night.
"It is I, Marduk Kurios, guardian of the Sixth of the Seven
Gates of Hell", said the guardian, not even waiting until Cronos
and Trom had rubbed their eyes clean, "bestowed on me were Fifty
Names and Powers by the Council of Elders, and I have put the
Queen of the Ancient Ones beneath my foot, though she is not dead
yet dreams. My colour is Purple. What is my number?"
They both looked up at the Gate. It was a most formidable
construction although, granted, they had both seen better and
less dated ones. It was a tremendously large, round stone, of the
kind that were used in ancient Palestine to close cave graves off
with. It was, basically, a big wheel made of rock. There was a
name tag attached to it, which read "University of Turin".
The guardian looked exceedingly grim and moody, as if it hadn't
been him who had awoken the others from their slumbers but vice
versa. He had been waiting for aeons upon aeons for the occasion
to arise, for no mortals had actually ever made it this far.
He'd been rolling around this stone through the desert for an
endless time. He had repeated his lines dutifully every morning,
hoping that some day someone would actually arrive to have them
recited to. He had had millenia to think of a really nasty Test,
too, and now there were not one but two mortals to toy with! He'd
be a having a field day... Well, OK...a desert day, for the
pedants among you.
But for now they would first have to know his number. There were
preciously few who knew it: Satan, of course, who knew all those
things, and the Mad Arab, of course. But the Mad Arab lived no
more on earth, and last thing he heard the Arab's writing had
been lost forever. Granted, he hadn't been in touch with reality
a lot of late, so as far as he knew the whole world might be in
the know with regard to his number. However, if they didn't know
it he'd have a really interesting thing waiting for them,
involving flying chains and fluked hooks and rather a lot of
"Ten," Cronos said after consulting the ever more crumpled note,
confirming Marduk's worst suspicions about the world and the time
he had not been in touch with it. He who put the Dark Queen
beneath his foot was suddenly no longer so convinced that the
Test he had concocted was all too brilliant nor too impossible to
"You have spoken rightly," Marduk said, a bit unsure of himself,
beginning to feel really silly and as dated as his Gate, "and
now, as you probably now, there shall have to be a Test."
The adventurers nodded. Although they'd been lucky a few times
so far, there was no way they would continue to be. They knew the
numbers for all the Gates' guardians now, but all luck has to end
some day. They both had a distinctly nagging feeling that today,
like any other, might be it.
"My test is particularly difficult," Marduk said smugly,
adopting a somewhat friendlier tone of voice out of sympathy with
these people that, in little more than a minute, would be burning
forever in the effervescent fires of hell.
"You see," Marduk continued, "I have been assigned to this post
thousands of years ago. Hells, I lost track of the time, to tell
you the truth. On the brighter side of things, that means I've
had all that time to use my philosopher's mind to think of what
is conceivably the most difficult question ever to be posed in
the history of the universe." He could help but chortle.
"Well, it's been nice so far," Cronos said, "get on with it." He
had committed suicide once and lived to tell about it. This could
hardly be more difficult.
Trom just thought of that passionate flame in his life that he
would have to leave behind, the Passion Goddess Innana. In his
mind he once more smelled her delicate perfume and beheld her
beautifully tanned skin and her eyes...damn, he'd never even know
what colour her eyes had been. Still, he'd go out like a man.
He'd make her proud of him. Or proud of his memory, anyway.
Marduk was regaining his previously dented confidence when he
looked at the positively despondent faces of the adventurers
before him. For not much of an apparent reason, Trom had found it
necessary to bare his chest, as if expecting a sword to be thrust
"This is not a test of physical skill," Marduk said, "rather an
intellectual one. The question is..."
Marduk waited a bit. Trom hated guardians with a sense of
dramatic impact. Cronos began to hate guardians in general -
barring Innana, of course, who somehow he found quite impossible
"Come on, man," Trom said, "say it!"
"OK, at your behest," Marduk said, still taking his time, "here
is the question..."
Trom felt his heart beating in his temples. Cronos felt every of
his pores opening and excreting that most natural of scents.
"What is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?"
There was a silence broken only by the sound of molecules
adhering to the Brownian motion. The guardian nor the two
questers dared breathe. Suspense was so thick you would have
needed a blowtorch to cut it.
So heavy was the weight upon their shoulders that it took almost
a full minute before Trom's mind in some weird and possibly
arcane way started to function again, connecting a few simple
facts. Cronos had already given up and was wondering if perhaps
there was a way he could apply his carefully trained pain-
blocking skills to somehow live through the eternal fires of his
hellish destiny. He ought never have allowed that demon to steal
anything in the first place. Maybe this was fate telling him to
retire. Well, this time he'd listen to its inaudible voice. But
first he had to shut up this rich kid who was vigorously nudging
him in one of his floating ribs.
"I think I know it," Trom whispered enthusiastically below his
breath, nudging the mercenary annex hired gun once more.
"Er?" Cronos said. He had accepted forthcoming death with such
abandon that his body temperature had already been dropping
"I know it, I know it! The answer!" Trom insisted. He looked at
the guardian, who was looking any way but theirs, whistling some
Ditty From Hell.
"Sure?" Cronos asked. Already he felt his body temperature
rising again. The boy had better know it for sure, for else all
hope would be shattered once more. There are only so many things
a man can take, even when it concerned such an indisputably manly
man such as himself.
Trom just nodded. Cronos couldn't recall ever having seen such a
smug grin plastered on anyone's face. Then again, Cronos in
generally didn't remember much. Nonetheless, it can be said that
Trom grinned pret-ty smugly. As a matter of fact, he was having a
pretty hard time to not burst out in almost uncontrollable peals
of laughter. Biting his tongue did the job, though.
"Come on then," Cronos said, nudging the boy back in return,
"Er, Mr. Marduk, sir?" Trom ventured, sniggering. He clicked his
fingers to get the required attention.
The guardian turned around slowly to look at them, pity in his
eyes. The mortals were going to give it a try. Well, you couldn't
blame them, really. Humans could sometimes indeed be a fairly
courageous breed, you'd have to hand them that. They'd give it
their best shot - of course they'd not know the right answer -
and then he would deal with them swiftly and surely. Painlessly,
even. No need for useless violence, no matter how long he had
waited for this, no matter how alone he had been, alone and
bitter, in these long, long millenia. Maybe, some day, someone
else would come along and he'd treat them like real shit, the way
he had intended to treat these two.
"You think you know the answer?" Marduk inquired.
"Yep, Mr. Marduk, sir."
They couldn't, could they? The boy did seem pretty sure of
himself. No, they couldn't. Marduk was pretty condifent of that.
"Well, boy?" Marduk said.
"Forty-two, Mr. Marduk, sir," Trom said, smiling the smile of a
saintly little angel.
For a moment, the guardian felt as if the earth had disappeared
from under his feet and he was now floating amid a vast wealth of
nothingness, without oxygene and doomed to die of suffocation.
How the hell had the little brat known that?! There was a
virtually limitless range of answers to his question, varying
from "your cousin's left sock" and "wednesday next" to "a darker
shade of dark" and "E minor", but no, no, they, they had to come
up with the right answer! He promised himself to be particularly
violent on the next mortals that would - hopefully - come his way
in what would likely be another four millenia or so. Suddenly
feeling very tired, he leaned on his Gate.
Cronos was hugging Trom. Not a very manly man thing to do, he
reckoned, but nobody would ever know about it and Marduk was too
busy feeling wretched and would, incidentally, most likely never
meet anyone of Warchild's acquaintance.
When the general merriment of the two adventurers had ceased,
Warchild cleared his throat.
"Say, Marduk," Cronos said, "might you be inclined to tell us
whereabouts the Seventh Gate can be found?"
"Inclined, no," replied Marduk, "Obliged by honour, yes." He
pointed somewhere behind them. They turned around.
"If you look carefully," Marduk said, still baffled by the
disappointing fact that these two mere mortals could so easily
have solved that most difficult of questions, "you will see the
Seventh Gate there."
Trom and Cronos stared in the distance, where lay a huge
mountain shaped like a goat's skull with the horns knocked off.
From its top vomited forth thick, black, bulging, genuinely evil-
looking smoke. It looked like one of those "look what's happening
to the environment" warning adverts by Greenpeace.
"Thanks, Marduk," Cronos said. Trom and him walked in the
direction of the mountain, in pretty high spirits despite their
Marduk was not feeling really happy with himself. Now he had to
find an even more difficult question for whoever would next
arrive at the Sixth Gate of Hell. He hoped he'd be in time, for,
now he came to think of it, if lucky morons like these two could
get so far he was pretty convinced so could almost anyone else.
When Trom and Cronos came closer to the mountain shaped like a
goat's skull with the horns knocked off, looming ever higher
before them until at a certain moment it almost blocked out all
the light from that side, they could see that before the mountain
there was the largest of the Gates they had seen so and by far.
So this was it, then, the Seventh Gate. The Mother of all the
Gates of Hell, as it were. It sure looked it. It was almost an
exact replica of those large "Jurassic Park" gates, only now even
much bigger and a pair of giant stag's horns instead of the "JP"
logo. The actual doors were made from a material unlike wood or
metal, or anything else they knew. When Warchild knocked on them
once, there arose a curiously resonant "boom" sound that carried
far and lasted uncannily long. For a moment he cowered, fearing
that he might have announced their arrival to every single of
hell's cursed inhabitants.
Not so, apparently, because the only person who eventually
reacted was a man wearing a crown of thorns and a long sword,
clad in a cloak of lion's skin. He seemed to have appeared from
through the Seventh Gate. He looked very old, too, which is what
they had expected. He must have been very patient, what with them
being the first people ever to come here. Nonetheless, no anger
or frustration seemed to radiate from him.
"It is I, Ninib called Adar, guardian of the Final of the Seven
Gates of Hell," he said, "I am the one whose essence is found in
burnt embers and things of death or antiquity, whose symbol are
the horns of a stag. My colour is black. What is my number?"
For the last time, Cronos took out the note. It was now crumpled
to such extent that the numbers were difficult to make out.
Nonetheless, the last in line was clearly a 4. Or was it a 9 with
the top not properly closed? Damn. He'd just have to chance it,
trusting his initial instinct.
"Four," he said.
"You have spoken rightly, noble adventurer," Ninib called Adar
proclaimed, "my number is four, as in the quarters of the earth."
A silence ensued in which Cronos and Trom waited for the
inevitable - the last and probably truly most difficult of the
Tests. None, however, seemed forthcoming. The guard merely seemed
a trifle bemused and volunteered no further remarks.
"What about the Test?" Trom eventually asked, hoping for the
best. They had come this far, so it would be a most extreme
bummer if they'd fail this last one. Close but no cigar and all
that stuff. An extreme bummer indeed.
"Test?" Ninib called Adar asked, frowning.
"Yes, sure," Cronos fell in, "all the other guardians had tests.
Surely you have one, too?"
"Actually," the guardian said, "I don't think any of us are
supposed to have tests." He seemed genuinely disconcerted.
"They surely had 'em," Warchild said.
"Be that as it may," Ninib called Adar said, "I have none. I
suppose the others did it quite of their own accord. I shall have
to take this up with my superiors some day." He sounded ominous.
"Innana had no test, though," Trom hastened to add, at which
Ninib called Adar's face broke in a smile.
"I will make sure to pass that information on to my superiors,
young man," the guardian said.
"When will that meeting with your superiors be, if I may be so
curious as to ask?" Cronos inquired.
"On August 28th 1997," the guardian replied, pressing a button
that had hitherto been totally invisible, "the day before
The huge gates swung open soundlessly, almost sucking them in
due to the differences in air pressure on either sides. They now
had an unobscured sight of that ghastly blackest of foul
They stepped through.
"Godspeed," Ninib called Adar said, which was an odd thing
indeed to hear so far down in the bowels of the earth, so close
to hell that it almost singed your hair. Before they could reply,
though, the doors closed and Ninib called Adar had disappeared.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.