It was decided that Nick, April, and I would take the trip to Hell to look for the sword. The others were afraid but I could tell they were relieved. We spent a half day getting ready and making last minute arrangements to reinforce the Library. I'd finished wrapping both feet and were trying to slip on my sturdy black boots when April knocked at the door and came in. She closed the door.
I glance at her but turn my attention to my boots. "What's on you mind?" I ask.
"I don't know. I think I'm afraid," she looks forlorn all of a sudden. A small teenage girl in a schoolgirl outfit.
I lace the boots up, finishing one then starting the other, "You should be afraid, this is Hell, after all."
She fidgets. "Don't you think it's...wrong to even talk about Hell? I mean, it could offend someone."
I finish my boot and stand up, testing them. "No. Dante didn't shy away from talking about Hell, did he?" I look up at her. "Look, I'm not saying I'm Dante but it's been done and who cares if people are offended. They can leave the story if they want. Even send me hate mail. I don't care."
"It's just weird. You aren't even religious and yet you talk about religious things all the time in your stories."
"The Bible's great fodder for stories. Christian imagery is well-known. I'm on the outside of the stained glass window looking in. Take your pick."
"I don't get it. Are you preaching at your audience?" She is still uncomfortable.
"Come on. It's time to go. We need to leave this conversation and move on with the story," I say grabbing my small backpack, "Are you going to change?"
"Yes, I think so," she says.
"Good. Meet us down at the maze entrance." She leaves, frowning when she looks back at me. I can't tell if she noticed I changed the subject instead of answer her question about preaching.
Later, we are all assembled at the entrance door to the maze. April has changed from her usual school girl uniform to wearing boots, loose fitting green cargo pants, a blank tank top and a black linen vest with pockets. The doors are reinforced metal. I am giving everyone instructions to seal off the doors after we've gone.
"No matter what happens seal the doors closed until I come back."
"What if she tries to impersonate you?" I stop. I hadn't thought of that happening but since she looks just like me it's not something that's impossible.
"I'll give you a password," I lean towards my Dead Self and whisper in her ear. She smiles at me.
"Good luck, Girlie," she says. The three of us, a now silent April, a nervous looking Nick, and I, wave for the last time and then step through the double doors. As soon as the doors are closed, we can hear the sounds of the doors being sealed and reinforced. We walk down the short flight of stairs and into the maze. The blue doors have a distinctive whoosh and grinding sound as they move and shift. The lights are on and we are approaching the first fork in the path and the first map.
[The Maze is a huge section of the sub-basement of my Cathedral and it is really a maze. It features thousands of my blue doors that shift and whoosh by. They are either geographic locations (some fantastical), songs, films, other times and places. If you open a door that says, "Kew Gardens," you can walk through the door and walk right into the garden.]
"What are we looking for?" asks Nick as he looks at the map.
"Nothing there, that's just to get you oriented. We need to find the right door. It will come along or something like it soon enough but we have to get deeper into the maze to increase our chances," I say.
Nick looks at me, "That's weird. Why have a random maze that changes all time?"
"Makes it more difficult," says April. I look at her. She's bothered by something and not just the religious aspects of this story. We walk on. The floor is still carpeted but the path will slope downwards taking us deeper underground and the carpet will give way to dirt and then to stone. We are all looking at the doors as we walk by. Titles like "Burning Man 2007," "The Iliad," and "Atlantis" whoosh into place, pause, and then move on.
We start on the downward slope randomly taking any path, still looking at the doors. The path gives way to dirt and then to stone. The air becomes still and the smells of dirt and stone take over. We don't talk. April is still brooding. I stop to look at a door that says "The Endurance Expedition."
"What happens if we get separated in here?" asks April.
I look at her, "We won't."
"What if we do?" I look at her not knowing what to say. I can get back home just by summoning a blue door but neither of them can. If they get lost, go through one of the doors in this maze, they might be trapped there forever. I can always come find them but if something happens to me, no one else will be able to.
"We're screwed, aren't we?" says April. I press my lips together. Nick is a little ways down the hall. Beyond him is a corner. He walks back towards us.
I smile, remembering. I pull off my small backpack and pull out a large emerald large enough to fit in the palm of my hand. I found it on my last major adventure with Mr. Gryphon and it saved my life. I squeeze it once and it splits neatly into three stones. I hand one each to Nick and April. "It's the Light of my Way. It will bring you home when you're in lost and will light your way when there's no light. Don't lose it."
"Do you think it will bring us together if we get separated?" asks Nick, looking at it closely.
"I don't know. I've never split it up before." April gives me a small smile. She looks visibly relieved as she looks at her third of the stone. It casts her Asian features in green light. She pockets the stone. We continue on down the hallway and turn the corner staying close together and looking at the doors.
The lights go out suddenly. It is so dark that the inky black seems solid. Nick's stone lights up first and then mine and April's. I pull out my knife looking around. April pulls out her own knife and Nick draws his sword. We wait. The blue doors, now an odd shade of gray green in the emeralds' light continue to whoosh by, pause, and then leave again.
I smell the Stranger from behind just before she slams into me. I'm pinned to the current blue door and before I can do anything, she opens the door and shoves me through it. I yell. I'm falling and falling then I hit freezing cold water. I slip easily into the crystal clear water, the cold enveloping me, as I slide down three feet below the water. I look up and fight for the surface. The daylight is blinding, bright blue, cold, and I see icebergs when I surface. I can't breath, taking a breath feels like death, and it feels like a thousand knives are stabbing into my body. I flail in the water. The sea water must be below freezing or close to it. I have to get out of here before my limbs go numb and hypothermia sets in and before the Stranger does the same thing to the others. I stretch out my arm and a floating blue door appears while the cold is squeezing all the air out of me. I take small gasps, mostly because of the pain. I swim to it as fast as I can, my arms moving awkwardly in the water. I push the door open, and fall through the door, choking and gasping. I'm back in the hallway. The door slams, keeping out the cold water. I can't breath and my body is shaking violently. April is nowhere to be seen but Nick is fighting the Stranger with his sword. I can't move, I'm so cold. I can't feel my legs but I will my limbs into motion. I stumble towards her and I pull out my knife and stab the Stranger in the back of the neck. Curiously, she screams instead of buzzing and looks back at me, her hood falling away. I am almost eyeball to eyeball with my own self. It's like looking right into the mirror only she has that weird wet metallic smell. I feel my stomach contract but I don't retch. She hisses or rather buzzes at me then runs for the nearest blue door. She vanishes through it. It says "US Festival." The door moves whooshes on
"Doesn't seem fair," I say when I can finally speak, still trembling from the cold.
"What isn't fair?" Nick is leaning against the wall, he picks up his emerald which has fallen on the floor.
"She gets to see the Ramones and I don't."
Nick laughs, an ugly hard sound. "She could be there on Heavy Metal Day. You know, Quiet Riot, and all." Now it's my turn to laugh but it turns to gasps.
"Did you see where April went?" My legs are cramping from the cold.
"No. Too busy getting attacked by your evil twin."
"Thought so. Come on," I reach out my hand to him, he takes it. I sigh. I'm still freezing cold and his hand is warm and reassuringly large. He moves closer to me, hesitates, and then puts his arm around me to offset my shivering. I reach out my hand and a blue door appears in front of us. It says, "Hades."