Multiple tier transitions, date unknown

When I thought that he had rested enough, I woke Sir Pangolin with trepidation. He awoke easily but before I could speak again he motioned me to be silent. He has much better hearing than I and sense of smell. He motioned me to crouch low and move to the edge of the rocky platform where we had rested. Dimly we could look back over the improbable chasm that we had traversed before our rest. Sir Pangolin whispered: “Can you see anything?”

I focused my mind and searched the fragmented darkness. Just at the edge of my vision where the occluded quality of the light began to merge with slate grey of the stones, there was movement. A figure, too indistinct to recognise, inching along the path.

“We should go,” I said quietly but urgently, “we are being followed.”

The shape of the tunnels had shifted to a broad oval with the longer axis horizontal but as we walked here was a steady twist to that axis. Looking back, we could see that orientation of ‘down’ was changing as we walked. Given long enough we would be turned on our heads relative to the way we had come in.

The quality of the light was changing as well.

“We are shifting tiers,” I said.

“Nearly home?” asked Sir Pangolin but I shook my head.

“All of these tunnels lead to the Folded Hades. We will have to pass through Hell and find a way back up again,” I explained, “I’d hoped that somehow this route led another way — a tunnel that led from the upper tier straight to our own…but either we have taken or a wrong turn or the demon who found this route had a way of getting through Hell.”

“And if we did take a wrong turn?” asked Sir Pangolin.

“Then there is the gate to the Annexature, but also quieter ways out.”

Sir Pangolin grunted. “Through Hell then and then through the colony of Hell and then through traitorous Argyll or villainous Narb. That’s a long and bloody road.”

“The maps are confusing here. There is a section approaching that makes no sense to me, although it shames me to say that,” I shook my head.

The passage slowly shifted in character as we walked from oval to one with straight sides and floor and an arched ceiling. If the earlier shape had seemed like the product of some burrowing thing, like a beetle grub through wood, the tunnel began to take on more of the form of something worked by human hands. Dirt accumulated over the rock of the floor.

“Look!” said Sir Pangolin with more excitement in his voice than I had heard in a long time.

At the side of the wall was a fragment of a plank. I picked it up to look at it and even in the unreliable light of the tunnels I could see the rusted remnants of nails. How long it had sat there given the inconsistent time between tiers was an unanswerable question but it was clear evidence of human passage along this path. Sir Pangolin sniffed at it.

“It smells of the Soapy Sea,” he said.

“Maybe we are on the right path after all?” I wondered.

Sir Pangolin laughed. “I can’t say I never doubted you but lead on! If Hell is between us and home then Hell is where we are going.”

The light became more deeply red. The air began to shift between a prickly heat and a searing cold. The Folded Hades is survivable but inhospitable. The space curves so tightly that any besouled thing will feel the pressing weight of it on all sides. In Hell demons take on a substantial form, the warp and weft of the tier giving shape to the insubstantial. I could sense that twisting geometry already as our journey brought us closer to the lowest tier of the Inner Cosmos.

We turned a corner. Before us was a wooden double door way. It was barred with a heavy timber and burned into the wood in black letters were the words: “CAUTION: HELL IS BEYOND”.

Our descent through the tiers was complete. We had reached Hell.


One thought on “Chapter 27: The Low Way to Hades

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