The Seventh Circle of Hell
THE BASEMENT OF the Phlegethon seemed to serve as a base of operations for most of the castle’s administrative functions while the upper floors were markedly for glamorous visitors and servants that kept the castle alive.
After Lillian and the other unrecognizable woman started leading the refugees to assign living quarters, Berith quickly ushered me and his siblings down the stairwell into a meeting room of sorts.
Now, the three of the most powerful beings in this realm (perhaps in all of the dimensions, who knew?), ’re staring at me awaiting an explanation. While Berith’s stare felt more worried and cautious, Astaroth and Asmodeus were eyeing me with morbid curiosity.
“Explain,” Astaroth clips simply as she leans against the stone wall. “I’d love to hear how a child can offer a solution to this particular predicament.”
Asmodeus gave me something of an apologetic look at her words, but I shrugged it off. Maybe it was the poor judgment or the foolish disregard for my life, but I wasn’t scared of Astaroth. Not in the way that I should be.
“From the way you all entered, I’m guessing the only thing keeping these people safe was concealment,” I think it over in my head before adding something else, “Maybe some sort of safeguard like a guard dog or...something.”
Judging by the way Asmodeus shifted his weight slightly, I’m pretty sure I hit the nail on the head.
“What if I told you I could cloak this entire palace?”
Cloaking wasn’t an easy enchantment, as a matter of fact, it was one of those spells that took a lot of energy to maintain. It would be easier to do with multiple witches joining their magic, but considering I was likely the only witch among us...
I try to mask my apprehension at my own suggestion. I needed to do this because clearly, this was Asmodeus’s priority before helping Berith with finding the information we need to take down Leviathan. As annoying as it was, it was admirable that a demon would go to all this trouble to make sure these souls were safe from harm.
All the same, I couldn’t find it in me to empathize. When I tried reaching for a feeling that could relate to his own, I was left with nothing. An emptiness that I couldn’t quite figure out.
The only thing I needed was a way to kill Leviathan.
Because he owes me. They all owe me.
Astaroth let out a low whistle, “That would be impressive. But hiding this place isn’t enough, we need to mask the use of our magic to prevent our psychotic brother from hiding us.”
“I can do that.”
She raises an eyebrow in challenge, “We’ll also need a few safeguards.”
“Consider it done,” I snap back. “Anything else?”
Astaroth hums in response, a mocking lilt to the tone. “No. Correct me if I’m wrong, little witch, but won’t a spell-like this, several spells like this, take up a significant amount of your powers? How are we supposed to know that you won’t hurt yourself doing this?”
I laugh humorlessly, “I didn’t realize you cared that much for my wellbeing.”
“I don’t,” She counters flatly. “I don’t know you, so how could I? But we need this to work and you’re offering a very risky solution.”
Carefully avoiding Berith’s eyes, I keep my gaze on Astaroth even though the ancient power behind narrowed eyes were sure to have sent seasoned warriors running. “It’s still a solution,” I tell her softly, but firmly. “I can make it work, but...I might need some time.”
Her lips turn up in something of a smile. She turns to face Berith and Asmodeus who were standing by the door, silently watching our exchange. “She has two hours. Or we move the refugees back to Caina and leave you all to hopelessly chase Levi without a way to kill him.”
Berith’s eyes flashed red with controlled anger I hadn’t witnessed in a long time. “That’s not your call, Astaroth.”
She lets out a bark of a laugh, “Welcome to the big leagues baby brother. This isn’t the Kingdom of Violence where you get to impose your will. This is a war where the ones who have been fighting the longest make the tough calls. That’s our deal, take it, or leave it.”
“She just woke up,” He didn’t even glance my way when he said the words. “She’ll burn out.”
Great, talk about me like I’m not here. ”She’s right here,” I interject in annoyance. “I can handle it.”
I think. Two hours was not the time I needed. I was thinking closer to a day, to be entirely honest.
I shake my head to cut him off, “We need to do this, right? Trust me, I can handle this.”
“You heard her,” Astaroth cut in. “Two hours. Let’s go check on how everyone is settling in, Asmodeus.”
And with that, the two were gone leaving Berith and me in the room together.
Sighing, I took a seat in the metal chair I had been gripping the back of for so long and slump against the large metal table. Berith gives me something of a sympathetic look and sits directly across from me.
“We can figure out another way,” He tells me quietly. “Asmodeus might be willing to give us the location of the book without Astaroth knowing.”
I shake my head, “You don’t really believe that.”
His silence was answer enough.
“Don’t you want this as badly as I do?” I ask him and his eyes flicker with some unrecognizable emotion for a brief moment. “Leviathan owes me--owes us--his life. We have to everything we can to stop him.”
Berith stilled at my words and began eyeing me warily. “Even if it costs you your own?”
I feel a fire set to my tongue as my next words come out, “My life doesn’t matter. I’ll gladly exchange my soul for his.”
If I hadn’t been watching his movements carefully, I would’ve missed the small, defeated sigh that passed his lips.
“Okay,” He agrees after a moment. “What do you need for the spell?”
I immediately think back to the dozens of grimoires I’d combed through for years back at the Storm mansion. Studying my mother and father’s handwriting as they came up with ways to cast and bind some of the most powerful enchantments in supernatural history.
They were permanently seared into my brain. Including one risky cloaking spell.
“Pigweed, nightshade, mandrake, peonies, white wood, Kronos’s blood, fairy fingers, ten glass bottles, a shitton of candles....”
Berith stepped over the threshold of the Great Library located in the Phlegeton’s watchtower. It used to be a grand library (hence the name), but a thousand years of inactivity and war had worn the space down. Hundreds of books were scattered across the floor, the bookshelves that lined the walls high were falling apart or completely broken, cobwebs had found their way to every corner, and the chandeliers were shattered on the floor.
Regardless of its state, Thanatos, ever the intellectual being, still managed to make a home out of Hell’s oldest library. He’d cleared the space near the window to set up a small study area where he was now furiously writing into a journal while reading from another book.
“What’s wrong with her?”
Berith had left Zara to her own devices in the old potions room which had most of the things she needed. He’d told her to find Lillian if there was anything that wasn’t in there (mandrake was the only thing on her list that wasn’t native to Violence). As much as he wanted to stay in there with her, he couldn’t.
Not until he knew what was going on.
Her words in the meeting room had set off several alarm bells in his head. Under ordinary circumstances, one might think that her desire to put her need for revenge above her own health was just the result of justifiable anger.
But he’d seen something like this before and only one person has ever made it out on the other side of it.
Thanatos didn’t look up at his old friend but smirked lightly. “I knew she wouldn’t be able to fool you.”
He dropped the pen and looked at the demon of homicide, slightly taken aback by the expression on his notoriously apathetic friend’s face. Berith didn’t even bother hiding his worry and concern for the Storm girl, waiting in angst for a painful confirmation.
“You already know what’s wrong,” Thanatos stated as he read Berith’s body language. “And you don’t think she can survive it.”
Berith shook his head in utter defeat, “How many people survive bloodlust?”
Libidine sanguine, or bloodlust, is a condition that often affects survivors that have a close brush with death. It’s exactly what it sounded like: an intense, debilitating desire to spill blood. It starts with wanting to kill the person that was responsible for the near-death experience, but it usually quickly escalates to wanting to kill everyone on sight.
But it acts like an addiction, the more you kill, the weaker you become until...
“It’s not bloodlust,” Thanatos says firmly. “She’d be more unhinged and wouldn’t be able to hide it this well. She was around me for a solid hour and didn’t make any move to kill me.”
An air of relief went through Berith, “If that’s not it...”
“That leaves soullust,” Thanatos finishes and slaps his book closed. “She’s not looking to kill, she’s looking for souls. It’ll work the same way as bloodlust--right now she wants Leviathan’s soul, but eventually, everyone else’s will do just fine.”
“She said something weird,” Berith says slowly as he thought back to their conversation in the meeting room. “She said that Leviathan owes her. I thought she made a mistake, but she said it twice.”
Berith could see the wheels turning in Thanatos’s head, “No, no. That’s not possible.”
"What’s not possible?"
Thanatos looked up at Berith and his expression was hardened, “Berith, we need to isolate her. Now.”
Over fifty candles were glowing a brilliant hue of orange all around me.
They weren’t flames of my own making--I had carefully lit each one with the matches in the old potions lab Berith had put me in an hour ago. Or at least, I think it’s been an hour, time moved weirdly here. It was going as fast as it was slow.
I sat crisscross on the floor, behind a flurry of pages covered in my scribbles and crossed out measurements and dimensional analysis. It took me a while to work out the correct amount of each ingredient for the jars in proportion to the relative size of the castle and the needed longetivity of the enchantment.
Thank God I made it through one semester of Alchemistry at the Academy, otherwise I wouldn’t have known to scale up the original spell, let alone how to scale it up.
Now, ten jars filled with various liquids and plants were lined up directly in front of me, waiting for the spell that would instruct them on what to do.
That had taken me a couple minutes to work out as well. Mom and Dad were struggling to figure out the right words in the grimoire that contained the mechanism of the spell, but I completed them the best way I could.
I needed the natural power of the candles to draw energy from because, as annoying as it was, Astaroth was right. Spelling these jars would take every ounce of power I had in me and then some. If I didn’t come at it with the right amount of energy, it would easily turn against me.
And I can’t die, not until I drain the soul of the one who sent me to the Waste.
Closing my eyes, I began to focus on entwining my energy with the breath of fire around me. Before I knew it, with every inhale and exhale, the fire was flickering up and down with each movement of my diaphram.
We were now one.
"Venit tempus praesidio,” The fire roared to life at the first words of the spell and I could feel its energy resisting. But it was too late, the flames had submitted themselves to me. They had to do as I asked. ”Venit tempus praesidio,” I repeated again firmly.
The flames backed down.
"Dissimulato et tempus advenit,” I continued. ”Invisibilia nudo oculo, crebrius fortificatur!”
Suddenly, a sharp breeze went through the room and I could feel my heart tightening as the spell began to weave its way into existence in the room. I opened my eyes to see that the pale orange flames were now a signature green.
When I went to gasp, my windpipe tightened in response, more energy going to the gust of unnatural wind hitting against the jars.
Pushing through it, I closed my eyes again and resumed the spell. ”Venit tempus praesidio. Dissimulato et tempus advenit! Invisibilia nudo oculo! Crebrius fortificatur!”
Then it all stopped.
As if someone had blown on the candles, the room darkened in one fell swoop.
Feeling legarthic, I struggled to push myself up off the ground and knocked against several edges of the lab tables trying to reach the light switch. When I managed to turn it on and leaned against the wall for support, everything looked normal.
No, no, no, no.
What if I did all of this for nothing? What if it didn’t work? I’d lost my chance of getting to Leviathan.
Something happened in the corner of my eye. Somewhere by where the jars were lined up. Where there was once ten jars, there were now...nine.
But as quickly as I had counted the jars, the tenth reappeared at the very end before disappearing again.
I let out a relieved sigh. It worked.
That was the most taxing and difficult spell I’d ever done in my life and I did it. I couldn’t feel any pride in what I had done, but my mind flitted to what Zander would think of the spell. After yelling at me for trying something so reckless, I’m pretty sure he’d try and figure out someway to improve it.
Arrogant conjurer. What a fatal flaw.
I slumped against the wall and watched the jar tell me that the spell was locked through its incessant disappearing and reappearing. I was starting to doze off when the door opened abruptly revealing two very panicked Hell dimension deities.
“What’s wrong?” I manage to get out and the two glanced down at me on the floor. Berith let out a low curse before kneeling in front of me, his eyes piercing into mine.
He let out another curse before examining my face. “Did you even notice what you did to yourself?”
What did I do to myself?
I reached up to touch my face and when my fingers came back, they were coated in blood.