Virgil stopped in his tracks when he heard the inhuman scream come from the other side of the cliff. At first, he thought it was Khada’an, but upon hearing the screech a second time, he knew it was no woman.
He rushed to the side of the cliff and lay on his belly to get a better look at the boiling lake below. He saw nothing, but he heard the tree below him trembling. Her branches shook with fury and fear so much so he ached to reassure her that everything was okay, but how could he comfort her when he was just as terrified?
He looked out again to the bloody horizon and spotted a man standing in the lake with the steaming lava up to his waist. But the closer Virgil looked, the more he realized the demonic scream did not come from the melting man but rather a figure beside him. Just barely breaking the surface of the lake, Virgil spied a very small mouth wide open in anger. The lake lapped at his lips causing them to scorch and turn black, but it was unmistakable. There was a man trying to break free.
“Khada’an, are you frightened that he will come to you?”
* * * * *
Khada’an heard Virigl’s words, but she had no energy to answer him. Whatever blood had been in her body had all been depleted. Barely perceptible on the sand below, she could see a dark patch from where her blood and pooled and sunk into the unforgiving terrain. But she never let her gaze stray to that patch because right next to her own blood was the pooled carcass of Captain Smith, the man who asked for help those many, many years ago.
What remained of him was a black, necrotic hand and two feet still submerged in the boiling lake. He had no face, no body, no being, but she was sure he still felt the searing pain of his tender flesh and the poison leeching through his veins. Before she could shed another tear for what was left of the man, she heard another puncturing scream come from the lake.
Samuel looked to his right in sheer terror, and Khada’an had no illusions to what he saw. She knew it was Temujin breaking free from the molten surroundings.
“Virgil, can you hear me?”
“Yes, Khada’an, I can.”
“Promise me something. Do not let that man be redeemed. He is not a soul worth saving.”
“Unfortunately, that is out of your control. If he is truly redeemable and remorseful for what he has done on earth, he has a chance at Paradise.”
“But I do not.”
“No, Khada’an. You do not.”
“It is not fair that my assailant has the freedom to escape when I, who only trying to save myself, am trapped here in this underworld with no chance to even repent.”
“You are right. You were only trying to save yourself. You were not thinking of the others who were affected by your senseless act. Did it ever occur to you that you had a bigger purpose on earth and that by taking yourself out of it, you changed the lives of thousands? They may not have noticed your impact on a daily basis, but every life changes another. And you robbed people of your change. That is unforgivable.”
“If I had stayed alive and been captured by that beast, he would have made me his slave, concubine, and wretch.”
“But it would have been temporary, and then upon your death, you would have gone into Paradise. You lived a virtuous and pure life.”
“And now, for my one sin, I suffer for an eternity.”
The demonic scream came again interrupting their conversation, and Virgil looked again at the man in the lake. There was nothing more he could do with Khada’an and nothing more to say. He stood on the cliff’s edge and looked down at her a final time. She winced as the painful scream filled her ears.
Virgil closed his eyes and when he opened them, he stood on the banks of the lake below Khada’an and her rotting corpse on the side of the rock. As he got his bearings, the smell of decaying flesh filled his nose. Beside him was the body parts of the former captain. His hand twitched and Virgil could see the tendons making the movement beneath the transparent skin. Black patches covered what was left of the skin and threatened to shred it at the next breeze.
Two feet were nearby at the lake’s edge steaming with each lap of the liquid. Small twitches matched those in the hand telling Virgil that while Captain Smith’s form may be no more, he felt no less pain for his sins. His soul still suffered in the underworld even if he had defied his hell and tried to escape. He would never try that again.
“Man! Can you see me?” Samuel’s voice pierced Virgil’s ears and he met his gaze.
“Yes, I can see you. What do you want?”
“Can you not hear this soul next to me? He is breaking free of his bonds and he terrifies me. For if he were to break free…”
“He cannot break free, I assure you.”
“You can assure me all you like, but this is the first time in a century that his mouth has broken the surface. What else can he do in another few years?”
Then something like realization crossed Samuel’s face, and Virgil knew what his next question would be. “Does this mean, I can break free of my bonds if I were to…?” His voice trailed off.
Virgil could see a complete mutiny if Samuel realized he could, in fact, break free and escape the seventh ring of hell. If Temujin could find a way, what stopped the many other damned souls from doing the same? “Samuel, you are a sinner. There is no escape for souls like yours.”
“But I repent! I am remorseful! I am sorry for what crimes I committed.”
“I do not believe you. And if I do not, the Lord will surely punish you further for lying.”
Samuel was silent, but Temujin shouted again in a painful scream that shook Virgil to his core. He looked up at Khada’an once more and saw her gaze fixed on the lake. Whether she looked upon her enemy or not, Virgil was not sure, but he did know that if this Genghis Khan were to repent and be released into Paradise, Khada’an would due another thousand deaths. Why did this concern him? Not hours before did he feel disgust toward the woman who took her own life. Why would he feel any compulsion to help her and ease her pain?
Once again, Virgil closed his eyes and, when he opened them, he was floating just beneath the surface of the boiling lake, face to face with Temujin.
* * * * *
Temujin’s eyes widened at the sight of Virgil. His lips were all but torn away by the gentle yet fierce current, so any sound that came out was nothing more than a mumble.
“Do not try and speak. I am here to issue a stern warning.”
Fear filled his eyes. He had to tell the woman above him that he was sorry for his actions. He had to, and now that he finally had the chance to utter his remorse, this mysterious man was going to take it away from him.
“You have defied your hell, Temujin. You were assigned to be submerged in the boiling blood of your victims, and submerged you must be until the Judgment. If you question or alter your fate, you will incur intense punishments. Now, it it your good fortune that I found you before one of the other demons or titans found you because I cannot hurt you. They can.”
Temujin thought over this man’s words. They can hurt me? How much more pain can I possibly suffer?
“You must trust me. What you suffer here is not nearly as severe as the souls below you.”
Temujin turned his gaze to the bottom of the lake.
“Not below you here. You are in a hell of nine rings, and you merely endure the seventh. Your crimes were not light, to be sure. You murdered countless, helpless souls, not short of the woman who gazes upon you for the rest of her own eternity, but there are millions of others who suffer worse. Be sure of that.”
The submerged man thought this over and turned back toward the cliff’s edge. “You can do nothing for her. Do not make her feel worse for you have already robbed her of more than just her life, but also of her redemption.” Temujin closed his eyes. “Now, I must go, but you must no longer try to break free.”
I am not breaking free, Temujin thought. I merely want to talk with her.
“You cannot. You do not. You will not. Understand me, man.”
Before Temujin looked back at the mysterious man, he was gone. Once again, he was utterly alone in a red bubble of poisonous blood. Suddenly, he felt an invisible weight on his skull, or what was left of it since the day was nearing its end. The weight pushed him gently downward. His lips sizzled with the reacquainted pain of the liquid. If he wanted to get a word out, he had to do it fast. He didn’t care if he risked further damnation for defiance. She had to know how he felt for contributing to her plight.
The lake broke the sides of his mouth as he opened wide to shout, but instead of a shout, his mouth flooded with blood. “Uuchlaarai,” came out in a gurgled whisper before his whole body sunk to further down than his body had ever gone in the molten lake that held the blood of his many victims. The light from the surface faded away and he sunk deeper and deeper into the black-red abyss.
He closed his eyes just as his body broke apart and spread like an underwater explosion to the far corners of the pond, never to be rejoined in a single form again.
* * * * *
The soft apology entered Khada’an’s ears, prompting her to open her eyes and look out into the lake. She could not see her enemy, but she felt his remorse in her being. It is no matter.
She closed her eyes once more.
To be continued…
This is the end of Khada’an’s chapter in Dante’s Hell. Stay tuned next week as we flash forward in history but continue further down into the eighth ring of hell: Fraud.
To read more or start from the beginning of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2017, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.