Jacob and the eternal unchanging law

Jacob heard them coming long before he saw them.

That was one of the little quirks of the place; no matter how he was hurt, his hearing was always the first to recover.

Thus he heard the whine and the wind as the black clouds above started to move; he heard the snap as the legion of heavy banners delineating the boundary of his place of punishment was unfurled by the wind; he even heard the muttered curse of the devil as dust got into its eyes.

Usually, that would have been good for Jacob; the devil took its petty frustrations out on him, doing its job with greater vigor but with less attention to detail. Jacob knew from centuries (or millennia?) of experience that in torture, savagery was no replacement for subtlety, especially as the subject was one, like Jacob Cellini, that could not die.

Jacob’s head was locked between two bars so he could not turn to look, or look upwards much, but he heard the slow beating of great wings, getting closer; and he heard the curses of the devil, shrill and angry. A loose instrument of torture, a scalpel of some kind, flew past Jacob in a gust of dust.

Something big and heavy landed behind him; the devil skittered to it, chattering angrily. A big voice, like a rumble of thunder, answered in the same Hell-language, but with curiously different trumpeting tones. The devil screamed, then stomped away, its each leg hitting the ground with exaggerated rage, fangs and cymbal-ornaments tinkling, as if to show dissatisfaction it was not otherwise allowed to express.

The bars creaked, then fell away; Jacob slumped to his knees, and then something big that smelled of steel and oil picked him up. Whatever it was, a halo of white light and a bubble of cool air surrounded it and now him. The hands that held him were the size of his whole body; he had first thought they were rough and leathery, but now he noticed they were covered in leather gloves instead, stitched together from the hides of who knew how many dark-skinned beasts, and stained with something red.

Jacob did not know what new beast of Hell this thing was, but surely it meant nothing good for him. Not for Jacob, a sinner, of Hell for too many years for a mortal mind to fully remember.

The thing turned him around, and he saw its face against the black clouds roiling above. Up in the skies similar giant shapes with wide white wings streaked past like burning crossbow bolts, some carrying frail human forms. The one holding him, looming over him, was of man-shape, armored in black leather and mirrored silver steel, and its cold sculpture-face was translucent with fire beneath, shining through from the holes that were its eyes. Its hair flew behind it in the wind, a lesser vortex between the many others that, Jacob now realized, were white steel wings, gyrating and twisting in geometrical patterns too complex for him to follow, though easy enough to admire.

“Are you the sodomite Jacob Bonaventura Cellini, whilst of life of the city of Padua?” the thing asked, in perfect Italian, with a voice like the rumble of storm clouds, proud and certain like the magistrate that had sentenced him to the stake.

Jacob hesitated, then nodded.

The thing’s expression did not change.

“I am Zadkiel Eleven, an unfallen angel of the Lord. There has been an alteration of divine law”, it said, “and I am here to take you to Heaven.”

“What?” Jacob managed, as the thing launched itself up at the skies. The clouds were boiling as thousands, tens of thousands, millions, he did not know how many, angels of similar aspect raided the endless plains of Abaddon, curtly ordering angry devils aside, picking sodomites from their torment, and flying off towards a shining door in the far distance.

The angel looked at Jacob, seemingly puzzled by his puzzlement, and said one more thing: “The eternal law has changed, and now six centuries into your eternal torment the practice of homosexuality is no longer a sin. We will be landing in Heaven in fifteen minutes for your retrial.”

* * *

Just to save you the trouble of googling: the name “Jacob Bonaventura Cellini” came out of slapping together Italian-sounding names and furiously googling to avoid choosing the name of a real person. Not that being a homosexual in Hell is a character judgment any more than being a dissident in Stalin’s jail is, but still. The surname “Cellini” probably sprang from Smullyan’s What Is The Name Of This Book?, where a character of that name features next to one called “Bellini”; ah, the wit of us clever mathematicians.

That’s a bit removed indeed from a Warhammer 40,000-flavored jab at one possible illustration of changing religious opinions.

Edit: And a continuation of this was inevitable.

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