“What’s your name?” the young one asked. He was no more than five feet and he stood guarding a tall, rusted black gate.
“Can we keep my visit silent?” Slubgob asked, leaning in.
The boy chuckled and said, “That will cost you old one.”
Slubgob reached into his coat and pulled out a bag of stones. A smiled crept across the boy’s face as he watched Slubgob pull out three black stones and handed it to him. From the boy’s expression, he was probably proud of himself, thinking he had just fooled an old one.
Visitations beyond the Lake of Fire did not incur any fee, just a registration for records. Slubgob could have gotten a free pass if not for fear of being followed. If he was merely a pawn, then he better be a smart one.
The boy shoved the stones into his pockets before opening the gate for him to pass. It creaked as the boy pried it from each other. The boy entered first and closed the gate behind Slubgob. Slubgob was then led to a dock where a couple of row boats sat, floating on top of the fiery lake.
Light blue flames licked above the still waters. The lake was wide and deep but slubgob could only see twenty feet of the lake in front of him as he stepped onto the boat. Fog had covered most of what laid ahead, and the silence worried him.
“No new patients today?” Slubgob asked.
“We’re not at the dropping point, but we will pass by,” the boy said as he started to row.
The boat slowly entered the fog, and there was nothing much to see but the water. Slubgob dipped his hands into it, and the flames climbed up to his wrist before disappearing.
“I am surprised that someone of your age have never been beyond the lake of fire,” the boy casually said.
“It has been a long time since my last visit.”
As they continued on, Slubgob saw no land for a long time. He was starting to wonder if the boy was merely rowing in circles. But before he could raise his doubts, he heard a scream. The scream stopped with a loud splash before it continued again.
“We’re in the dropping point. But don’t worry, no human will be falling onto us. We have a clear route,” the boy said with a smile.
“How much further?” Slubgob asked in reply, as he heard more screams, some as loud as a voice to the ear, and others as faint as a whisper.
“Not far. Why? Is your old bottom getting itchy?” The boy laughed.
“No. Your inability to row any faster has bored me excessively.”
The boy narrowed his eyes at him, but spoke nothing more. He did not row anymore faster as well, which tempted Slubgob to take the oars from him and row the boat himself. But soon enough, to Slubgob’s delight, they reached the shore.
“You can wait for me here, I know my way around,” Slubgob said as he got off the boat and strode towards the mouth of a gigantic cave.
“But you said it’s been a long time. You could get lost!” the boy called after him, as he pulled the boat ashore.
Slubgob ignored him as he continued into the cave. The cave walls were glowing red, like hot metal, and they were the only source of light. The stalactites grew like monstrous teeth, and were dripping red drops that sizzled when they hit the ground.
Deeper into the cave, the dense smell of sulfur started to fill his nostrils, and Slubgob twitched his nose at the stink. The ground also became wet and sticky, and Slubgob grunted at the thought of cleaning the mixture of flesh and acid off his shoes.
Many apprentices, who were in training to be a Master of Torment, had made their way pass him, with a human dragged behind them. Slubgob had to make way to avoid the clutches of the dead, as even without flesh their bones gripped pretty well.
As Slubgob stopped at a pitch forked junction, he heard a build-up of footsteps and pleas coming from behind him. Turning around, he saw an apprentice, dragging in a man with a metal chain around his neck. The man was on all fours, and his bones were starting to show; some already sticking out from the joints.
“Straight to the dark tree,” the apprentice said, before dragging the man towards the left. Slubgob could hear the scrapping of bones against the ground as the man pleaded for mercy.
Mercy? Is that even a word? Slubgob thought with a chuckle.
After watching the apprentice and his new catch disappear, Slubgob continued on his way. Slubgob was certain he was close when he heard a faint choir of pain, which grew louder as he made his way into a big, circular room. Three by three by three cells, which looked like dog cages, were lined against the wall and stacked upon one another. The cells went up so high that Slubgob could not see the end of it.
The choir continued with a mixture of words and inaudible sounds made by the inhabitants of the cells. Slubgob edged towards one of them, and saw something that did not look very human. Its skin was peeling off and it was muttering apologies. When it saw him, it went into frenzy and started pounding the sides of the cage, screaming to be let free.
“You poor soul,” Slubgob said sarcastically, as he turned his attention to the center of the room.
There, the dark tree stood, taller than he remembered. Slubgob stared at its beauty, and wished he had made it. It would be his pride and glory, and no one would dare call the great architect an old one.
Sap that was seeping from the tree were forming snake like trails on the ground. Without thinking twice, Slubgob rubbed his shoes on the sap, immediately burning off the bits of flesh that stuck to his shoes, but it was a pointless effort; Slubgob had to walk back the way he came anyway.
Heading up to the tree, Slubgob examined it closely. He circled the tree, looking at every branch possible, hoping to find something.
There has to be something, Slubgob told himself.
Turning his attention to the bark, Slubgob found himself watching a trail of sap flow down towards the ground. Before it joined the slithering snakes on the ground, it flowed right next to a bump on the base of the tree.
Slubgob realized that there was something hidden beneath all the collected black sap, and did not hesitate when he reached for it. The sap covered the small square box well enough, as it was no larger than his palm. Slubgob immediately placed the box into his coat, and it was a good thing he did, because moments later, the boy arrived.
“You are not allowed to go wondering like that!” the boy scolded.
Slubgob laughed at him before saying, “Don’t worry, I’m an old one. Tell me boy, how far can an old one go?”
“Not very far, I suppose,” the boy stupidly answered his question.
“Aren’t you an intelligent one. Now take me back. I’m done here,” Slubgob said as he left the room.
Back in his office, Slubgob found a letter on his desk. He knew the box could wait, as he had a letter to reply and shoes to clean. Mrs. Gregious would not like the sight of his shoes and she would not be doing him any favors with them. On top of that, he found himself rather tired; but what does one expect from an ‘old one’.
Slubgob decided to hide the box among the flames in his fireplace before reading Vilefire’s letter at his desk. It was a rather brief letter, but after consuming the contents Slubgob decided to push it to another day, as his little sightseeing had left him aching to the bone.
I should have rowed that boat myself, Slubgob thought before drifting into a dreamless sleep.
(For the chapter list, visit here.)