Chapter Three, Part Three

The gate to the Fortress within the Fortress was directly to their left. With all the time spent side-tracking to Contrare's safe haven, the procession of dead souls had already begun crossing the second gate, the behemoths in the head of the parade long gone.

"We'll just have to wait until the last of them," Contrare sighed loudly, wiping his porous brow with a bare backhand.

"They will not take long," Samael shrugged. "The daemons in the back always hurry it up. You know, it's the same scenery for them every other day."

"Is that so?" Contrare turned to him.

"Indeed," Samael confirmed. "I suppose the trip from the gates are long. The same daemons throw their lashes every other day. Sometimes every two days, if the procession is extremely long, which it has been as of late."

"I haven't noticed," Contrare said absentmindedly.

"How can you ignore the processions? Don't they pass through your section, too?"

"I live directly behind that wall." He pointed to a far northern corner. "This procession goes directly through the Fortress' tiers, and I waste no time with them."

"Where do they all go?"

"To their respective vices. And Aethnici disposes of them all."

"To the Abyss?"

"Aethnici’s abode surrounds the Abyss, why not?"

Samael stood thoughtfully, staring through the empty souls driven by force now through that crimson arch. The two stood patiently beside the four guardians of the gate, waiting for their turn. Should anyone attempt to venture into the Fortress within the Fortress during this procession, it only took one giant guardian to put an end to their existence forever. He put a hand atop his pet's head in reassurance. He knew the pet felt as much apprehension and exhilaration as himself, though it kept its outward appearance calm.

Long silent moments passed until the last dancing daemon trundled past them. Then Contrare raised his spindly arm and put a long finger up as he began for the gate. Samael followed close. The giant nearest to the gates glanced down at him, then returned to his stare straight ahead.

"Quickly, before they shut it on us," Contrare urged and sprinted to the threshold. Samael kept up with ease, eyes wide and observant, his pet close to his heels. They passed through a long and wide uncovered hall with high stone walls which prevented any peepers during these processions to have a glimpse of what truly lay inside. Another gate lay in front of them, of which Contrare kept running to. Another forsaken giant, one on each side, stood beside these doors in the dusty passage. These did not even glance at the two miniscule figures and the odd beast that ran past them, and they stretched out their long arms to close the gates behind them.

Do you know them? Why did they let you through without even a confirmation? Samael wanted to ask, but his wonderment stopped him. Contrare had stopped as well, though not because of wonderment but for the fact that he could hardly catch his breath and was preoccupied with clutching his knees and gasping for air.

It was as if he had stepped into a different city. An immaculate acropolis. The streets were wide, clean, patterned; the buildings were spaced apart, they were not toppling over each other, and even the poorest looking building looked nothing like the wealthiest occupancy in that other city, built of fine mortar and some shiny flat material. Tile, if he assumed correctly. Thick walls, doors and windows neat and taken care of. He could see another wall about thirteen blocks down from where he stood, and the dead souls walked down this straight avenue towards another tall gate. The daemons here carried themselves with much more gravitas and pride than when among the lurking helots of the main city. The residents that walked by him here held their nose up, and as he'd stare at them, they'd turn away.

"They know you're a helot," Contrare huffed, noticing Samael's stares after the pedestrians.

"Obviously," he replied. Their dress was not altogether different from his own, but unlike his peers, these daemons wore jewelry and more subdued tones. Helots wore every shade and tone of cloth, some trying to wear every color they possibly could. Paradís was their circus. Paradís was their stage. But here, they didn’t seem so concerned with all that. And there were no beasts or pets wandering about. Pet held its composure and moved only when Samael moved.

"Come," Contrare finally stood up and shook his arms. "We still have a ways to go."

Samael followed him down the path. Every block or two, he would spot a large house, an estate, something more decorated and intricate than the other buildings, and Contrare explained them as the abodes of one’s a little higher than the daemons.

"And they all don't live here, either," Contrare explained.

"Who are they? I've never seen them."

"Of course you haven't!" Contrare spat. "They're here, they're outside the city walls, they're everywhere."

"Are they spirits? Ghosts?"

"Hm," he tapped his lips. "Not exactly." And he said nothing more.

As they continued, most passersby deliberately ignored him. Some called for Contrare, mocked him for his catch. Samael stared them down, and they turned away from him. And some others jabbed their fingers at Samael.

"Going to the Abyss, are you?" One snaggle-toothed hag cackled.

"And what crimes have you committed, boy?" Another jeered.

"How dare you bring that foul creature here!" One cried.

"Who's your judge?" Another said.

He would not fight back, nor would he say anything to them. He didn't know what to say. Was he here for a crime? What crime? Was observing the dead souls a crime? There was no legislature; there was no public ruling, who could know? Yet all those within these certain walls thought him guilty of a crime. As they approached the gates, now only a few blocks away, Samael turned to Contrare.

"Why were you sent to retrieve me?"

"I've told you, I haven't an idea."

"Who sent you?"

Contrare looked at him. "You will know in due time. My missions are not to be disclosed, not to my victims, not even to me half the time."

"'Victims?' " Samael frowned.

"Yes, they're all victims. And I won't be holding your hand the entire way, either. At some point, you'll be in the hands of another."

He wasn't sure if that was a comforting thought. As they came closer to the gate, he thought it hardly comforting at all.

Two more giants stood in stoic silence. The last of the crimson daemons had lashed their fodder through the threshold, and Contrare approached one of the giants. Unlike the past giants, one of them turned his gaze downwards.

"Who is this reprobate that defiles these streets? And this absurd beast that sulks beside him?" The muscular humanoid bellowed, casting his beady black eyes upon Samael.

Contrare answered pertly: "He has been chosen, my destination lies just past these walls."

The giant's expression didn't change. "You are the chaser." He turned his head to the open gate. "Rey-Krpfis, you are freed."

Samael and Contrare's gaze followed the giant's. A daemon, similar in dress to those that walked these streets, appeared from behind the doorway. He pulled behind him a wagon and came closer, hardly acknowledging anyone in sight, including the giants, and walked sluggishly past Samael and Contrare. Contrare ignored him, didn't even turn his eyes, but Samael looked inside that wagon and held his breath. A helot not unlike himself lay curled up inside, his eyes closed and laying almost lifeless. Perhaps he was dead. His wrists and ankles were bound tightly, his skin was lucent and had a strange lavender hue. Even his pet shied away from the daemon and its carrion, uttering not a sound. It was a strange sight, and as his eyes followed the departing wagon, he decided against questioning Contrare about it until they had put some distance in between them and the giants.

Contrare tugged at his sleeve. "Before they change their minds," he whispered, and Samael followed Contrare's hurried pace past the two. The gate was closing as they entered, and as they paused briefly, the gates finally closed shut them with a harsh clang.

This section was entirely unlike anything Samael had ever seen. But his eyes hardly noticed anything as he turned to Contrare.

"What was that? The wagon with the body inside?"

Contrare raised a brow and frowned.

"As one leaves the city of Paradís, so another must enter." 

The End

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