We walk through the door marked "Hades" and are standing to one side of a huge path with thousands of souls walking by. The path is at least four highway lanes wide and set into the rock. Three feet from where we are standing is a huge cement barrier and the roar of the traffic, mostly commercial vehicles, goes by. The barrier is pockmarked and streaked from various collisions. The path is worn smooth from the millions of souls who have used it. On the other side of the path are the cliffs and the huge landscape of Hell stretches out, all rocky landscape, black sky punctuated by red-orange clouds, and rivers, both watery and flaming. To our left is the flaming river Lethe and the giant bridge 20 lanes across. The bridge looks like the Golden Gate Bridge on steroids.
Nick is coughing. It is hot and the air is alive with the smell of sulfur. My eyes are stinging from the dust and I wipe my eyes. "You'll get used to the sulfur smell," I tell him. The souls glare at us as they pass by but they say nothing. Nick backs away away from me since I'm not longer shivering in the heat. The warmth is spreading slowly through my body, to my relief, although I know I'll be very uncomfortable soon when my seawater soaked clothes stick to my body.
"Hey, YOU!" We look at one of the souls, the shadow of a burly man wearing a torn jumpsuit. He shoves his way past the others and walks up to Nick. "Your sword is useless," I say, quickly. The man rounds on me.
"That's right, it's useless, pretty boy!" he says looking back at Nick. Then he turns back to me, laughs reaching out to grab me. I make a quick movement and then he goes flying into the crowd, knocking some of them down. The man recovers, sputtering and cursing, and then runs at me again. This time I easily throw him, slamming him into the barrier.
He gets up slowly, an ugly look on his face, but my words stop him short. "You're just a shadow. We can't hurt you and you can't hurt us."
He stands up, hands fisted, "It's NOT FAIR!!! I shouldn't be DEAD! I shouldn't be here with all these assholes!!! I shouldn't be dead at all!" The man begins to cry and then he runs at me one last time. I give him a gentle push. He collapses, sobbing so loudly that his voice is getting hoarse. I feel sorry for him but I know he'll get used to it eventually.
The rest of the souls just watch us as Nick and I walk in the same direction as them. We are heading towards the Great Gates, which loom ahead of us, blotting out the landscape.
"Okay, Miss Turtle, tell me what this is about," says Nick. I feel a pang as I think about Mr. Gryphon. I miss him and still won't let myself feel that loss. I don't speak for a moment as I get a hold of myself.
"This is Hell, as you no doubt guessed, and the way into the city of Dis. Let's hope April came this way."
"How will we know if she has?" Nick is no longer coughing, but he's still wiping his streaming eyes.
"People who are still alive don't come down here very often. I don't think we would be here if she wasn't here already. I have to put some faith in the emerald stones we all have." The crowd in front of us is thickening and slowing down. Everywhere we look the souls are mere shadows.
"Once they all settle in they will become less shadowy," I say, " They'll never be 'solid' as it were but they will become a little more solid. It's a way you can tell who has been here for a long time." The sounds of traffic and honking horns further off where the bridge ends and the roads are still a constant but aren't as loud.
"What's with the traffic?" asks Nick. We have stopped along with the crowd. My clothes are now heavy with saltwater and making my skin itch. I sigh. It will be a long time before I'll be able to take a bath.
"The demons are driving supplies into the city."
"Supplies?" Nick looks out over the heads of the souls towards the sounds from the roads.
"Yes, they need supplies here to keep everyone occupied," the crowd is all around us and I feel a deep pain in my chest. I try to get a hold of myself again but I can't this time. My throat begins to tighten and when I blink my eyes, tears run down my cheeks. I wipe my eyes, surprised. Nick turns to ask another question and stops. The hurricane that was threatening to blow through me is now tearing up my insides. I am shaking and then I am crying. Then I am wailing, then I can't see anymore.
I feel Nick take me in his arms and I lean up against him. He feels warm and reassuring but I miss the odd feathery smell of Mr. Gryphon. I wonder what I've done to myself and my world. I wonder what's going to happen to all of us, to me in the real world. I cry, a trembling loss. I'm grieving with sheets of salt water pouring out of my eyes. I cry so hard I'm not embarrassed anymore.
I cry for a long time and don't notice when the crowd around us starts moving. When I finally look up with puffy swollen eyes and stuffed nose I see the crowd is looking at me and still moving towards the Great Gates.
"Be glad you can still cry," says an old woman. She has short silver hair and is wearing a track suit. I say nothing in response, as I get my watery self together.
"Thanks," I say to Nick. He smiles at me. I wipe my nose with the handkerchief he's given me.
"Keep it. You can cry on my shoulder any time. It's nice to see you emotional and not so no nonsense. I look at him, my longing extending to him. I wonder what happened to him and why he is the way he is now.
"Nice, very nice," says a gutteral voice at my ear, making me start, "It's time you live ones came in for a chat." I should have noticed him coming from his rotten smell but I was too distracted.
Another demon appears next to Nick. He reaches for his sword but I put my hand up to stop him. "Tell your pup this is a neutral zone, designated by the Treaty. If he draws his sword he will be in violation," says the demon at my ear. His voice is rough, like sandpaper.
I nod towards Nick, "You'll have to leave your sword along. Can't use it here, like he says." Nick says nothing, just glares at me but he takes his hand off the sword. We are both escorted to the Gates, the demons' spidery fingers holding our arms. Both demons have reddish sweaty skin, angular bony bodies and narrow faces. Their eyes are black and they have razer sharp teeth. None of them have tails.
The other demons wave at our escorts as we pass the massive gates. The top of the Great Gates are thick enough for three lanes of traffic although there's never that many vehicles on top of it. We are taken to a door way in off to one side of the main gate and shoved into an elevator takes us up.
"You'll be needing to talk to the Concierge. He's going to have a lot of questions to ask," says the demon holding my arm. The rotten smell of them is overwhelming, making our eyes water even more. The other demon speaks in a low guttural voice and we can't understand him. The sound makes my hair stand on end. Nick shudders behind me.
"It's the language of the devil. That's why it has that affect on you," I say to Nick.
"You know a fair bit about us, eh?" asks my demon. My eyes are watering from the smell of both of them in the elevator.
"Yes," I don't bother to explain to him that this is my world and I should know something about it.
"The Concierge will be happy to see you. It's not often that we get three live ones in one day," says Nick's demon. Nick glances at me. I feel a flush of relief. The stones do work to keep us together. The doors open and in the vast white marble hallway more demons and monsters from a thousand nightmares are scuttling back and forth.
A bored looking human soul, sitting at the front desk of the Concierge, barely glances at us. He is an almost solid form and is dressed in purple robes. He was a young man when he died.
"Take them to the cells. Concierge is in a meeting," he says waving us away.
"What's he meeting about?" says my demon.
"I can't tell you that!!! Now take them away!" My demon sniffs in irritation.
The demons take us down the hallway to another elevator, this one has stone walls. We go down and the demons resume their inhuman comments to each other.
"Looks like we lucked out, Miss Turtle," says Nick.
"Yes, it sure does. I'm not sure how we're going to get out of here once we're locked up but it will be good to see April."
"She'll be irritated but glad to see us anyway," says Nick. I glance at him, a feeling of jealousy spreading over me. We are dragged through security and then searched and stripped of our belongings and weapons. We are then escorted into the elaborate prison but there are no other prisoners. Still, I'm happy we're all going to be together again. I'm thinking this when we are escorted past a long line of empty cells and the other prisoner finally comes into view. It's not April.