“This is absolutely insane… I wasn’t expecting anything like this.” I gasped as we descended the staircase and circled around the city as Lucielle led us to our sector. The urban expanse was becoming more and more massive the closer we got to it.
The few people in my group, various ages, shapes, and colors, muttered agreements. The youngest were a couple teenagers, which made me wonder if younger children got sent here and what they did to cause it. Perhaps it was only the really messed up ones, those rare sociopath kids that kill younger siblings and have no moral compass whatsoever.
I seemed to be the only one to have a voice in this group, so I trailed closely behind Lady Lucielle and asked questions. “So what’s happening now?”
“All of the sector leaders are taking their new batch of souls to their sector, and showing them the ropes. Each of you will receive an apartment, the only designated safe areas in Hell, and your afterlife begins and you can live it as you see fit.”
Someone else in my group was surprised. “We get our own apartments?”
“Yes, and they’re very extravagant. Only for the best, right? Living in luxury was practically a sin on the mortal side.” She paused. “I should correct myself as a warning to all of you. The apartments you start off with are nice, but if you do anything to me that has the slightest possibility of annoying or disturbing me, you will get thrown to the Outer District, and that’s why there are openings.”
“How do we know what that could be?”
“You’re close to finding out.”
“What do you mean by safe areas?” I accidentally cut her off, suddenly worrying what it meant.
“Safe areas, yes. In your home, you are safe from violence and ill will, but anywhere else, you’re fair game. If anything should happen, like being raped or having your property stolen while you’re in your home, you report it to your sector leaders, and in your case, that would be me, and we take care of the perpetrator.”
“But what do you mean?”
“They’re aren’t any rules, Persephone. It’s Hell. You can fight all you want, you can fuck all you want, you can drink all you want, you can eat all you want, you can party all you want.” She paused and smiled devilishly, trying to scare me. “That reminds me, once you’re assigned apartments, you’ll find anything you could possibly want in there, and start getting ready. We have welcoming parties once a week and your batch has just made it in time for the one tonight.”
“Are we only allowed to explore our sector?”
“No, of course not. Go wherever you want. The sector you’re assigned to, if I can use a baseball reference, is basically considered home base. It’s the only place you’ll find that people are similar to you. But there are excellent casinos in Sector Greed, and lovely strip clubs in Sector Lust, delicious restaurants in Sector Gluttony, a massive fighting arena in Sector Violence where all kinds of tournaments are held. Bars are located all over, but I suggest you avoid the ones in Sector Violence. They’re sketchy and rough, even for Hell’s low standards. Although, maybe Persephone might like it there.” Lucielle grinned at me again, her way of intimidation. I had noticed and tried not to let it affect me.
Maybe I can meet up with Fia sooner than we planned, though I don’t know how I’d find her.
Another from my group found the nerve to ask a question. “So I noticed from up above that some of the sectors look like they are split in certain ways, any significance?”
“Yes. Pride, Gluttony, and Greed are split into different areas; border, business, housing, and outer districts. Lust and Violence combine their housing and business into one area, but Violence is mostly built around its arena. The outer districts tend to be more unsavory than the other parts.”
“Every city has them.” She shrugged.
I turned my head away, trying to observe as much as possible as we entered the massive gate to our sector. The person who spoke had been very perceptive. We were in the outer district of Pride, and things looked more than slightly run down. The buildings were compressed and made of brick, but further on, towards the center of Hell, everything looked glamorous, dark, and expensive. I would have never been able to afford these types of apartments, clubs, casinos, and bars. It was all over my head. I felt overwhelmed, but I was in awe. This was infinitely better than eternal torture.
Maybe the reason they don’t tell you about the real Hell is because everyone would want to be here.
Sin, sin, sin.
Our group traveled down a paved road, listening to Lucielle point out what everything was, but I heard cries coming from an alley. I didn’t really think about it and acted on impulse as I strayed away from my group for a moment and peeked inside, jerking myself back when I saw the sight.
A woman was slammed up against the cement wall, her long nails curling against its surface and her head pushed up against it, naked from the waist down and being pounded into by a naked man. One hand had a firm grip on her hair and the other on her hip; I could see the muscles in his butt flex as he thrust into her with a force that just looked… painful. He noticed I was there and turned his head, grinning at me.
“We’ve got ourselves a watcher.” He didn’t pause his antics, only increased them.
The woman opened her eyes to peer over at me, licking her lips. “A new one, by the looks of it. Well, don’t just stand there. Join us.” She reached out her arm and beckoned for me to come closer.
I took a cautious step back. “Uh, no. I’m good.”
“That’s no fun.” The woman pouted, but it was cut off with a moan.
“You don’t have to be shy in Hell, little lady. Come here.” The man grunted with force and pulled out of the woman, walking closer to me.
I took several steps back until I ran into someone.
“Better stay with the group, Persephone. You don’t want anything… unsavory to happen to you, do you?” She pushed me back at the group and cut off my view of the alley, but paused to address the people. “Carry on, but you’d do well to remember that the newbies are under protection until after their welcoming party. Off limits,” She hissed and then her eyes flicked to the woman. “Looks like your partner isn’t finished with you, can’t have that, can we?”
“It slipped my mind, Lady Lucielle, my apologies.” I heard the man walk away, and the moans and grunts started once again.
“Now, if I can continue without any of my group straying away, I can finish the tour.” Lady Lucielle shot a pointed look at me but continued walking. “The apartment buildings are just up ahead and then you can discover the rest of Hell for yourself.”
We came upon a massive group of identical skyscrapers, made of reflective glass and pulsing all colors of the rainbow thanks to the neon lights from the other sectors. It hurt my neck to look up at the top, which seemed to disappear into the clouds. Someone from my group quickly opened the door before Lady Lucielle reached it, who didn’t thank him, and my group entered the lobby after her.
“Now, this is where I end my tour and assign apartments.” Lucielle finished and the flickering board was in her hand again.
Another from my group finally found their voice and asked a question. “What do the lords and ladies do exactly?”
“We watch over our own sectors, but we aren’t your damn parents and you’d do well to remember that.” Lucielle huffed but continued. “Stacy is floor 93, apartment 2. Amanda is floor 93, apartment 3.” And this went on until she said my name. “Ah, Persephone Flemming, the divergent one. For some reason I can’t quite explain, I like you and I expect more interesting stories in the future. You have the penthouse suite. Top floor. Remember, sinners, the welcoming party is in a few hours, located in the center of Hell. You’ll know when you see it.”
Everyone muttered complaints, jealous remarks that didn’t phase me, but Lucielle glared at them and they piled into each of the elevator bays. I decided to wait until everyone was gone. This would take some time.
“Thanks for the penthouse, Lucielle.”
“Lady Lucielle to you,” She hissed.
I took a step back, but pressed the elevator button so when it was finished with my sector mates, it would come back for me.
“The penthouse has been vacant for some time, and I needed to fill it anyways. It just so happened to be you.”
“Oh.” She was extremely temperamental.
“But I do think you’re interesting.” She glanced down at my glowing nails. “You have potential, potential for what, I don’t know yet. It’s a rare quality to be found in Hell. Usually, the good in people dies out pretty quick, but we’ll see how you fare. See you at the welcoming party tonight, Persephone, and remember to have fun.”
The elevator dinged and its doors opened, revealing it to have one man inside. He wasn’t a part of my group but looked genuinely surprised to see me talking with Lady Lucielle alone. He glanced at me up and down, but left the elevator, nodding to her in respect. “My lady.”
She ignored him and turned on her heel to leave and reach the doors before he did.
I stepped into the elevator and paused to search all of the buttons before determining which floor was the top. There were a lot of floors. I pressed the highest number and the doors closed, the elevator immediately jolting and rushing to the top. It was certainly faster than other elevators I had been on. Eventually, I reached the top and the doors opened to a short hallway with a door at the end. My feet walked across the marble floors and reached the door, but the handle didn’t turn. It was locked. A flat black square embedded in the wall lit up with the shape of a handprint. I frowned and slowly pressed my palm to it. I felt it scan my hand.
“Persephone Flemming, welcome.” A computerized voice said, green light flashing with a click.
“That’s scary,” I muttered under my breath but turned the doorknob, opening the door to the best home I had ever seen. The door shut behind me and locked itself automatically. Immediately, there was a coat closet, but the front hallway opened up to a massive living room lined with gigantic windows displaying an amazing view of Hell. Off to the right was a kitchen and dining room and off to the left were several closed doors, which I assumed were bedrooms, bathrooms, and possibly a laundry room. I explored everything excitedly, opening cupboards and checking what was in the fridge, then raced over and started opening the doors that led to bathrooms and bedrooms. The master bedroom was gigantic, with a huge bed that looked incredibly soft and a door that led to the master bathroom. Another door was located on the opposite side of the room, and it opened to a walk-in closet lined with all kinds of clothes and accessories. I checked the tags; everything was in my size.
All of this was mine.
“I think I’m in Heaven.” I laughed to myself but remembered that I was supposed to be getting ready and I ran to the lovely bathroom and turned on the faucet in the six-foot tub, complete with water jets, throwing off my dirty clothes and jumping in immediately. Rich, scented soaps were lined up along the rim of the tub and I smelled them all one by one, picking out the one I wanted to use. I scrubbed off all of the cavern dust and immersed myself completely in the water. Taking the time to use everything around me, I washed and conditioned my hair, shaved my legs and everything else that needed shaving, and turned on the jets just so I could relax into the tub, feeling the water pound against my skin and ease my tense muscles.
How was this Hell? My mind was struggling to comprehend everything that had happened, even though everything that was explained to me made complete sense.
This was my life now.
I drained the tub and found a towel hanging up on a rack already, drying myself off and wrapping the towel around my hair, skipping around completely naked. It was my apartment, after all, and I had the highest floor of this building, but I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I ran around my apartment looking at more things, finding a ridiculously nice stereo system and a collection of all of my favorite music. I blasted it and danced around naked, the towel falling off and my damp blonde hair flinging around me as I spun.
I remembered that I had found a fully stocked bar next to the kitchen and, thoroughly impressed with what the bar had in its inventory, I remembered a few recipes for cocktails. I used to watch videos of these crazy bartenders making incredibly delicious drinks and I always aspired to try it had I ever embarked on a legal job. Well, that dream went down the drain long ago but looks like I could anyways.
So, after a few minutes of trial and error, I came out with a sweet and fruity cocktail and nakedly danced my way to the bedroom. I inspected the closet, bellowing song lyrics, only pausing to sip my drink, and wondered what to wear. Lucielle had said it was a welcoming party, and stressed that it was important and we needed to be there, so I definitely had to wear a dress, but I had no idea what to choose. It was like I was at a mall, and I could get literally any outfit I wished. I started pulling out dresses that I was in the mood for, something daring, and threw them on the king-sized bed. This was a new life and I was going to cast away the curse of being shy.
Over the loud music, I heard something in the background, almost like pounding and yelling. I raced to turn the music down and once I had, I paused to see if I had only imagined it, but the pounding on my door came again. I slowly walked over to the door and peered through the peephole, not knowing who would be looking for me. I was greeted by a head of fiery hair and narrowed green eyes. I grinned and opened the door.
Fia looked like she had been about to pound on the door again, even though one of her arms was carrying a duffel bag, but her lungs deflated and she glanced down. “Well, I can tell you’re already getting comfortable here. I hope you don’t greet everyone this way.”
“What are you--” I was confused, but looked down.
I was still completely naked.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” I screeched, racing back to my bedroom and throwing on a robe. Between being preoccupied with the music, dancing, picking out clothes, and the potent drink that I had finished off, I hadn’t even realized I wasn’t wearing anything. “Seriously, I can’t believe I just did that. I am so sorry.” I exited my bedroom and tied the belt on my robe so it stayed closed.
Fia had let herself in and was poking around my apartment. “Quite alright. You should see Sector Lust; nudity is a normal occurrence, completely clothing optional. I’m not interrupting anything, am I? Do you have any guests I should know about?”
“What? Oh, no! No one is here except me. I was taking a bath and then dancing and drinking… Pre-game, you know?”
“I like your style.” Fia winked, helping herself to my bar. “And I love your crib. Holy shit, Persephone, this is crazy.”
“How did you even find me?”
“Wasn’t hard. You make quite an impression on people.”
“What does that mean?” I furrowed my brow, trying to think straight, which wasn’t working very well, clearly.
“You’re kidding.” Fia threw back a shot of tequila and looked pointedly at me.
“Uh, I don’t believe I am.”
“Unbelievable. An attractive woman who doesn’t even know she’s hot. That’s practically a crime in itself.”
I blushed from head to toe. “Oh, well, thank you, I guess.”
I suppose I didn’t see the same thing in the mirror. Sure, I was pretty enough, but a rough life had marred that. I had ugly, ragged scars and broken bones that hadn’t healed quite right from dangerous encounters… but they had mysteriously disappeared once I got here. I had only noticed when I scrubbed away the filth and stood stunned when I almost didn’t recognize myself in my unblemished skin. Maybe I was more than pretty enough now.
“No problem. You’re a rare breed, Persephone, but it looks like you need help getting ready. I already chose my outfit and brought it with me.” Fia kept looking through all of my rooms like I had done earlier today.
“I’m good at makeup, but I’m not sure what to wear. I’ve picked a few things out.” I pointed my chin in the direction of my bedroom.
Fia paused to pour herself two shots, handed one to me, and walked to the other side of my apartment and threw open my bedroom door. “This is what you consider a few? Jesus Christ.”
“You should see what I had to pick from,” I muttered, trailing behind her.
“Where is your closet? Let me look at this. Wait… You can’t even call this a closet; this is a medium-sized room used just for your clothes. What the fuck, Persephone?”
“You see why I’m having trouble picking out one or two.” I leaned on my door frame and knocked back the shot like a pro. I decided that this one had better be my last for awhile because I didn’t want to be drunk and walking around Hell with only Fia and myself.
“This is so not fair.” Fia pouted.
“But isn’t your apartment nice?”
“Yeah, and I have a lot of booze and a lot of clothes, but yours is so much nicer.”
“Lady Lucielle gave me the penthouse in this building.” I shrugged, walking forward and holding up the dresses. “I want something daring, but unique. I feel like most girls are going to wear slutty dresses to this party and I’m not so sure if I want to follow the crowd with that one.” All of the dresses I picked out were short, so I put them back. Another day, maybe.
Fia helped me look through the vast selection of long dresses until my fingers hit a certain fabric and I knew before I even pulled it out. “This is the one.” I held my breath and took it off of the rod, holding it up to see. It was floor length, but everything in here had already been tailored to fit me, so I assumed it would fit perfectly. The dress was all black, with long sleeves made of lace, a deep V slashed down the torso, almost to the abdomen, and the skirt was form-fitting, but also had a long slit that raced up one side.
“I hope you aren’t afraid of showing a little leg or a little cleavage.” Fia grinned and nodded, approving my choice.
I smiled through my apprehension. This dress was made for me and I would wear it. I folded the dress carefully over my arm and searched some of the drawers in the closet until I found what I wanted, a lacy black thong. I didn’t waste time trying to find a bra because I couldn’t wear one with this dress anyways. I faltered when I realized Fia wasn’t going to leave the closet. “Should I change in the bathroom?”
“What’s the matter? I’ve already seen all of you already. Think I can’t handle a second peek?”
“Fine,” I grumbled and dropped my robe, quickly stepping into the thong and sliding it up both of my smooth legs. I glanced at Fia, who was watching me calmly. “You into girls?” I asked because I was genuinely curious; it didn’t matter to me either way.
“Depends on the girl, but yeah, I guess so.”
“Of course, even if they’re a pain in the ass, sometimes literally.”
I chuckled at her brashness and held my dress at length, determining whether I should try to slip it on over my head or step into it. I decided to step into it, unzipping the back and putting in one leg at a time. Slowly, I pulled the dress up and stuck my arms through their designated sleeves. I closed my eyes before looking into the mirror. “Can you zip up the back? I want to see it completely on before I judge.”
“Yeah, sure.” I felt her warm fingers on my back, and the cool metal zipper slid up my skin. “All done.”
I opened my eyes and looked into the mirror. Even though my hair and makeup weren’t done, I was completely transformed. I had a feeling it would be perfect, and it was.
“God damn, Persephone. I probably shouldn’t go now. I’m going to pale in comparison to you.”
“Nonsense. You’re hot too.” I smoothed the dress down but fidgeted with my hair. “Now, I’m going to do my hair and makeup.”
“I’ll be there in a second.” Fia started to take off her shirt.
I nodded and left, feeling extremely regal in this elegant but daring long dress. I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom and got out brushes and heat tools, as well as the high-quality makeup that filled three entire drawers. I blow dried my hair, which was already halfway done, so that was a quick job. I deliberated what to do with my hair, but came up with nothing so I moved on to painting my face. I applied the primer, concealer, and foundation with makeup sponges, then contoured my cheeks to accentuate my high cheekbones, and decided to use little eyeliner but have dark eyeshadow like smoke, using a deep purple to show off my vivid blue-green eyes.
Fia came in wearing a lovely short dress that suited her well and carrying two more shot glasses. She looked around, rolling her eyes in mock disgust and her gaze settling on my reflection in the mirror. “Damn, you are good at that.”
“What should I do with my hair?” I asked while finishing my lip liner and filling it in with red lipstick. Go big or go home, I guess.
“Curl it slightly, just enough to get a good wave going, and then put it up. You can take it out whenever you want to and have it still look good.” She set the shot glass meant for me on the counter after she downed hers.
I inwardly groaned but poured it directly into my mouth and swallowed it whole, not wanting to ruin my lipstick job already. I would save that for the actual party. “Sounds good,” I commented and got to work right away. I had a habit of watching a lot of YouTube tutorials during life, everything from beauty to bartending.
“What about me? Makeup ideas? Hair ideas?”
I glanced at her reflection. Her red hair, a voluminous mop of curls, and pale skin, a sprinkling of freckles across her cheeks and shoulders, were very much unlike what I had to work with. I deliberated for a moment. “Straighten it. It’s simple, but it looks good with everything. I would also go light makeup, maybe a warm, copper eyeshadow to bring out your green eyes, if you want eyeliner, give it a thin wing, and maybe use a little blush on your cheeks.”
When I was finished curling my hair, I ran my fingers through it to relax the curls and turn them into an elegant wave, spritzing it with a little hairspray when I was happy with the way it looked. I had realized the music was too quiet, so I left the bathroom to turn it up.
“Hey, since you’re out there, get me another shot!” Fia shouted.
Looks like I was going to be the soberest one, at least getting to the party. Nerves were already chewing at my stomach, but seeing my reflection in the many mirrors that lined my apartment filled me with confidence until I grinned.
I glanced in the fridge for something small and found a pomegranate. Ironic because of my name, but I genuinely loved the fruit. They’re delicious. I found a cutting board and a sharp knife, slitting the pomegranate in half and scooping out the seeds, popping a few into my mouth and the rest into a bowl. I poured Fia her shot while I licked my fingers before the red juice had the chance to stain my skin. I made sure not to forget either the glass or the bowl when I made my way back to the bathroom. I quickly put my hair into a simple but elegant up-do as Fia downed the fiery liquid.
“I see you followed my advice. You look awesome and I love your dress.” I smiled warmly, popping a few more seeds into my mouth.
“Thank you, and what are you eating?” Fia stomped over and inspected the bowl, her head snapping up sharply. “Are you serious?” I chuckled as she rolled her eyes and grabbed a few seeds, munching on them. “You know, the cloud of irony that surrounds you just keeps getting more and more noticeable.”
“I know, but they’re yummy so, I don’t care.”
Fia nodded her agreement. “We’ll need to go soon.”
“I’ll go find some shoes. I’m thinking black stilettos?”
“Maybe, I don’t think anyone will care about your shoes when there’s the rest of you to look at. I mean, I’ve known a few guys that really like women in heels, but nothing else, if you know what I mean.”
I laughed. “I don’t plan on that happening.”
“I don’t think you can plan anything here.” That was the first admissible excuse that crossed my mind. I left and searched through my massive closet for a pair of shoes. Like Fia said, shoes weren’t really a big deal. It was easy to find a simple black stiletto.
“Hey, can you pour me one for the road? I’m nearly done.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“And why’s that?” Fia asked, her words slurring as she exited the bathroom and watched me put on the heels.
“I’m sure there’s plenty of booze at the party, so quit drinking all of mine.” I stuck my tongue out and then grinned, not wanting Fia to know that I was genuinely worried about our safety. I stood and tested the shoes to see if they were comfortable, walking around a little bit, and I deemed them worthy. “Ready to go?”
“Yep. Is it okay if I leave my bag here?”“Sure, I’m sure you’ll have the chance to grab it sometime.” We left my bedroom and I turned off the stereo, shutting off lights as I went. The bowl of seeds was covered with plastic wrap and put in the fridge. Fia ran off to my bar and, with a look of defiance shot at me, downed a few gulps of the tequila, straight from the bottle. “Come on, you alcoholic, let’s go.”