Chapter 6

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The rings grew larger the further up Solus and Dante flew, their vast curves disappearing into shadow. Below them, writhing souls moved within the Circles in a continuous torture specifically designed for each kind of sin: lust, gluttony, avarice, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. As Solus flew over the seventh Circle, Bian, he glanced down at the suicide forest. Harpies pecked at the lifeless trees, and he caught the fleeting forms of souls running under the skeletal canopy.

Some souls were more solid-looking than others, but all shared a common trait. Because they no longer had a physical form to anchor them, souls could also technically Shift, which meant there was the possibility of escape. While it was unlikely any soul would gain the knowledge or discipline needed to Shift, a barrier was put in place to make certain nothing “accidentally” found its way out.

This also meant that demons and Fallen had to walk or fly through the Circles to get anywhere. Solus had explored a great part of the Circles and so was familiar with the landscape that rushed by below him. If his favorite spot was the red waterfall that fell from the gate between Trae and Heres, his least favorite had to be the whirlwind of the second Circle, Lascivio.  Since he could not Shift here, he had to maneuver through a narrow crevasse in the wall separating the second and third Circles, then once clear fly straight up and above the swirling tornado of wind and shredded souls without getting sucked in. Although he never had the pleasure, he knew of other demons who did and it took a lot of effort for them to heal – and a few never made it out.

Carefully flying over the tugging wind, he made his way to the final gate leading to Limbus. Seeing Dante descend onto the path at the edge of the forest, Solus banked away from the gate and flew over the cliff. He made sure not to make eye contact with the Gatekeeper, remembering the tentacled arm that cast him into Dis. As soon as Solus was on the ground, Dante continued on foot into the forest. Solus followed until they came upon an old iron gate that was a familiar first memory of this hellish place.

“This is how you will enter the Human Realm,” Dante pointing at the gate.

Solus hesitated. “What do I do, walk through it?”

Dante snorted. “Not literally. You Shift.”

“But,” Solus responded confused. “I can’t Shift if I can’t visualize the location I wish to go to.”

“You don’t visualize anything, idiot boy. You just Shift.” He threw his hands in the air. “You’ve done it enough times around the city to know what it feels like. Just do everything the same except don’t think of a place.”

Solus gave a low growl. “As a demon, I believe I am older than you. So stop calling me ‘idiot boy.’ Please.” He added the last part as an act of apology, realizing he had forgotten whom he addressed.

Dante only wheezed out a chuckle. “You may have been a demon longer than I, but your human form that you favor so tells me that you died young. Struck down before experience and learning made you wise.” His grin became a menacing grimace and his stance was that of a snake ready to strike. “I lived through political and religious turmoil, and experienced first-hand the evil that permeates the Human Realm. My innocence left me long ago, in that sense I am far older than you, idiot boy.”

“Fine,” Solus huffed. He had been taught that to complete a Shift, one needed to visualize the destination. Without one, he would go nowhere. Dante glared at him with eyebrows raised in expectation. He felt helpless beneath that gaze, and terrified that the old man would become so irritated that he would just strike him down where he stood for his ignorance.

Finally, Dante let out an exasperated sigh. “Close your eyes, pup,” he said.

Solus immediately did as he was told.

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