So I fuck for money and kill for special privileges. The burning question left over is: what do I do for fun?
By and large, I’m a simple girl. I like kicking back with a trashy novel and a glass of vodka.
But when I really need a break, Fleming and I head to Cocytus.
Now, if your idea of good time isn’t cave diving in a frigid lake made from the tears of traitors, I would urge you to give it a try. You know, if you’re ever in Hell. It really is worth a visit.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not a popular destination. (Well, not anymore. There used to be a festival there in a the winter that attracted a lot of hellions. A few of the newcomers with the worst rap sheets were beaten, tied to poles in the center of the lake, and left to freeze in the water for days. I’m told it was quite a popular event.)
The lake’s care-taker is a man named Dante. That Dante? No. Probably not, at least. I’ve never actually asked. But considering that his arrival Below would have seriously run afoul to what he was preaching, I’m guessing the name is more of an homage.
Dante has a small shop near the lake where you can rent hiking gear and kayaks. Fleming and I stopped by Saturday morning before heading out on the water.
In the center of the lake is statue of the real Dante’s depiction of Cocytus. (I’d say this supports the homage-theory because, truthfully, its a bit gaudy. Then again, I know for a fact that Hades hates it and it somehow remains, so Dante must have some kind of pull) It’s a horned devil eating Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius from its three-sided head.
I asked Hades once what happened, really, to those depicted and he didn’t answer. He doesn’t like to talk about the ones he punishes.
(Neither, of course, do I. But that’s a different kind of punishment, I guess.)
Fleming and I paddled across the lake to our favorite spot. Normally we would chat about work, but this week we were pretty quiet.
Finally Ian stopped paddling. “Here?”
We tied the kayaks together, stood up, and drove into the water.
The water of Cocytus is cold like no water Above. It’s shocking. If Ian and I had still possessed beating hearts, they would have stopped when we submerged.
But that’s the thing about being Below -- you’re dead. You don’t have a beating heart. You don’t have a body temperature to maintain. You don’t need to breathe.
Above, people are constantly searching for what makes them feel alive. Here, Ian and I are looking for what makes us feel dead.
You can stay below the surface as long as you want and the cold water provides a kind of clarity I never found when I was alive.
Floating with my eyes closed, suspended in frigid water, only the most important thoughts mattered.
Things ran through my mind.
The stark reality of subverting angelic protection and the dire consequences.
The strange way Hades had been acting for the past few meetings.
I was enjoying the solitude when Ian tugged on my foot. I opened my eyes and he pointed down, to the bottom of the lake.
We swam down further and further until the light above us was almost gone. There was a cave down there, one we had been to before. If you swam far enough inside, you reached an alcove above ground.
Mostly, we used it for gossip. It was dramatic, but that’s what we like. We used to go down there to talk about Hades when he first started booking appointments. (To be clear, I never disclose what happens during any appointment -- unless there has been some kind of protocol breach -- we just spoke about what booking the appointments meant. Fleming has been fascinated with it from the start.)
When we reached the alcove, neither one of us was breathing hard. There was silence for a long time. I remembered when we first came down there and Flemming dissected Hades’s reason for booking services at all. Didn’t he have a harem somewhere? Was there no willing woman without a client schedule? Was one woman even enough?
I didn’t blame him for his questions. The day I got the request, I was surprised too. I knew all about the Devil of course, but I'd never seen him before and I’d never thought he’d seen me.
Turned out, he hadn’t.
In fact, it was a clerical error that brought him to me.
At that point, I had been Below for some time. But literally thousands of the recently-deceased arrive in Hell everyday -- the Devil obviously isn’t going to meet them all and they won’t meet him.
Which is a roundabout way of admitting I really didn’t know it was him at first.
It’s rare that anyone comes up in the scheduling system as ‘Anonymous’ -- and even less rare to except such appointments. However, the system also includes endorsements. Past or current clients can endorse new ones in a sexy sort of referral system.
Other prominent figures can also offer weighty endorsements. (Occasionally, War or his brothers will send along an applicant who wishes to keep their name to themselves)
This application was the first -- and remains the only -- one I’d ever seen with an endorsement from the Madame.
After I accepted, he arrived on time for the appointment. Opening a door to red eyes doesn’t unsettle me now the way it did then. I took a step back before inviting him inside.
He sat down at the table.
If my heart could have beat at all, it would have beat faster. Obviously, I’d had high-profile clients before but this was different.
“What should I call you?” I asked, finding my voice and ignoring the waver in it.
“Hades is fine.”
I sat down across from him.
“May I call you Zosia? Or do you prefer Miss Scorch?”
“That really depends on what you are looking for here.”
I nodded. “With new clients,” I started slowly, my tone vaguely questioning. “I usually start with a few questions about preferences.”
He nodded back.
Everything about the meeting had been normal so far, so I continued as if he was anyone else. I took the pad of paper and pen in front of me and asked my usual questions.
“Would you identify as dominant or submissive?”
“Have you ever tried being submissive?”
“And you didn’t like it?”
“It has its...benefits.”
I wrote a few things down.
“Any position preferences?”
I lifted an eyebrow. “There aren’t any you don’t like?”
“None that come to mind.”
"And there isn't a single one you prefer to another?"
He shook his head.
I set the pen and paper down. “If you aren’t honest with me, I can’t do my job.”
He didn’t respond.
“If it’s a question of discretion, I think you’ll find -- ”
“I have found.” He smiled. It made his red eyes look even warmer. “I’m not the only one with high-level endorsements.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
He shrugged. “I’ve answered honestly. As I’m sure you can imagine, there aren’t many carnal things I don’t enjoy.”
I picked up the pen again and began to write. No sooner had the pen touched the paper when he interrupted.
“Actually, I once had...an encounter inside an active volcano. Thought it would be fun, but it wasn’t. So perhaps I do have some location hangups. But we could discuss those on a more per-meeting basis.”
I wrote that down and when I looked up, he was frowning.
“You don’t smile.”
“Smiling leads to laughing and I don’t laugh on a first date.”
He lifted an eyebrow.
“Mr...,” I stopped myself and he smiled at my mistake. ”Hades, I don’t know what you were expecting, but this appointment is largely about business. I need to know what you are looking for so I can --”
“Do your job. You said that.” He tilted his head. “I don’t mind if you don’t smile.”
“Would it help you if I stopped?”
He nodded, transforming his face into a scowl. I realized my mistake immediately -- he now looked like the Devil far more than before. His eyes were colder and you could imagine the terrible things they had witnessed their own hands doing.
If he sensed the tension, he didn’t change his expression.
I looked back to my paper.
“Do you have special requirements or requests?”
“Ah. Yes. I do have a few. You’ve already mentioned discretion, so I know that won’t be a problem. However, there are few other considerations. First, I won’t always look like this. I change my appearance daily -- though I’m happy to oblige whatever your tastes are.”
He looked at me with a smile starting in his eyes. My expression didn’t change. The scowl returned in full.
“Also, I run hot. Not a problem for hellions, of course, but certain things can be...uncomfortable. Largely, I know what to avoid, but I would ask that you inform me if you experience any discomfort.”
“Rest assured, I’m not a silent sufferer.”
“There is only one more question.”
“Why did you come here?”
He watched me for a moment. “Why did I book an appointment or why did I book one with you?”
“The official question is the first, but I’ll admit to being personally interested in the second.”
“A few weeks ago there was a time-audit on the Monitors.”
I was careful with my expression.
“There were a number of hours unaccounted for and a brief investigation led me to you.”
I stilled. “Madame Dusar --”
He waved a hand. “Yes, of course. It’s fine. The paperwork just hadn’t been filed.” He gave me a small smile though it disappeared quickly. “My fault.”
I still didn’t smile back.
“Ariadne told me why you requested Monitor access.”
I didn’t say anything else.
“How is your friend?”
“She’s doing better.”
“Ariadne also told me about your successes in her program. Not to mention, you come very highly recommended from one of my closest advisers.”
Then I wanted to smile. That endorsement could not have been easy to extract -- Warhorse was not chatty about anything and certainly not about our meetings.
“That answers the second part. What about the first? Why come to anyone at all?”
He smiled again -- more of a smirk, really. “Recently, I've had a little problem.”
I blinked and turned back to Ian, pulled completely from my reverie. We were in the cavern, somewhere we always came for a reason.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
He paused for a moment and looked around, as if someone could hear us.
“I had a Reaping yesterday.”
I wanted to smile, but something in the timbre of his voice told me not to. I frowned as he stepped closer and dropped his voice.
"I made a deal.”