Hunched into smallest shape he could manage, Paul’s body was shaking. He wondered if the lightning strike had killed him and if this was Hell. The grotesque monster in the flames could only be the Devil himself. Darkness pushed at him from all sides and it was difficult to think and impossible to move.
What had he done to earn this kind of punishment? He was a decent man. He had never killed anyone or stolen anything. Sure sometimes he drank a little more than he should and he had done his fair share of stupid things when he was younger, but he had never hit a woman or dealt drugs. He was far from perfect and he’d be the first to admit it, but certainly he didn’t deserve this.
Desperately trying to clear the fog from his mind, Paul struggled to understand the demon’s words. He’d said sometime about forgetting the gods and called himself Vulcan. Paul worked construction and he knew about vulcanized rubber like what was used in his boots, but that was the extent of his knowledge on the subject. And the sword, Vulcan had said something about earning the sword.
“You will answer me, insect!”
The flames flared as Vulcan raged and the terrible heat increased again. Paul’s head was pounding from the lack of oxygen and he knew that if he didn’t do something fast then he would pass out and burn to death.
Think brain, think! What would make him worthy of the sword? Perhaps if he refused the right and said that he was unworthy of such an honor then Vulcan would relent. He would humble himself before the god and beg for his mercy. Then again, maybe Vulcan would see that as cowardice. After all, the Greeks and Romans were always fighting weren’t they? Maybe Vulcan would think that Paul was afraid of a fight and therefore definitely not worthy of the sword of a god.
No, Paul would have to stand up to him and that meant literally having to stand up. Head throbbing, heart pounding, lungs panting and skin searing, he pushed himself onto his feet. Still hunched down, he took a minute before he tried to stand. Finally, feeling faint, he managed to uncoil his legs and straighten up. He was swaying more than a little, but all things considered, Paul felt absurdly proud of himself at the moment.
He pulled back his shoulders, took a deep breath and after a minor coughing fit gasped,
“O, great Vulcan, god of fire and … weapons. I stand before you, unafraid of death.” That was a lie; he had never been as terrified as he was right now. “I ask, no, I demand your sword as I alone am worthy of such an honor. I will fight with my last breath.” That might happen sooner rather than later. “I will fight for your glory.”
Ok, so it wasn’t the greatest speech the world had ever heard, but Paul was fairly impressed that he had managed to speak at all. As he waited for the god’s reply, his vision slowly started to fade. Blackness crept in from his periphery and he stumbled a little before righting himself.
This was it, he thought. This is how I will die.
To be Continued in Part 4!
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