Hellhound (13 - Unlikeliest of Places)
This one was kinda hard to write in some areas, though I hope it turned out alright:D Should be quite surprising near the end for some of you Enjoy
<- Chapter 12
Unlikeliest of Places
It wasn’t long after I began walking away from the Grappler’s massive carcass that my full strength finally returned to me, with the exception of my left leg, which was still dislocated. …I was sure that it would pop back into place eventually, though. The condition of my clothes had been detoriating with every death I was forced to suffer during my time in Hell and now, on top of that, I was covered from head to toe in the oil-like blood of my fallen foe. …I must have been quite the sight to behold. I chuckled at the very thought of what expressions I would find on the faces of my comrades when they first saw me in this condition.
“…Hehehehe, a mixture of disgust and rejoice, if I had to guess.”
The smoke that had once burned my eyes was barely a nuisance anymore. In addition to that, we must have set out no less than six hours ago, but as it turns out, I hadn’t even begun to grow hungry yet.
“Hmmm, this must be what it’s like when your mind’s completely focused on something other than your stomach. …That’ll change drastically after a few more hours. …Wait, …is that…?”
After an hour’s worth of walking, it seemed that my group had finally reentered my field of vision, …just as I did its own.
“DUDE, …DID YOU ACTUALLY DO IT!?”
At the time, I was much too overjoyed to reply to Sean’s question, but my appearance gave a much better answer than I could have on my own, …that and the fact that I was wearing a grin that could’ve blinded the sun.
“HEHEHAA, YOU CRAZY BASTARD!! YOU DID, DIDN’T YOU!? YOU KILLED THAT THING!!”
Greeted like a hero returning from war, I found myself completely surrounded by what remained of our initial troop, each of them cheering their heads off as they tried to get close enough to embrace me. …To be honest, it wasn’t exactly a pleasing experience, so I was quite thankful when Ivan and Carmine took notice of my uneasiness.
“Alright, alright, step back!”
“Come on now, give him some room to breathe, okay?”
Grateful for their consideration, I closed my eyes in relief, quickly opening them again to find Violet with her arms wrapped around me. …She was crying, though I couldn’t tell whether it stemmed from past fears or overwhelming joy.
“…I…I thought you would…you would-”
“I’m fine. …Don’t worry about it.”
In an almost reluctant motion, I placed my arms around her, as well. We kept this position for another two to three minutes before she finally pulled away. The demon’s blood still wet against my skin, some of it found its way onto her during this short moment of contact, …much to her revulsion.
“What the heck is this?”
“Blood, from what I’ve been able to tell. …Sorry about that.”
“No, it’s, uh, …it’s okay.”
Frustratingly attempting to wipe the blood from her blouse, she slowly walked away and dissolved back into the masses. Meanwhile, Sean approached me to give his own thanks, …however bluntly.
“Thanks for your help, man.”
“…Not at all. It’s…it’s all good.”
I was beginning to have trouble looking away from him, …just as he was having his own difficulties looking away from my bloodstained clothes.
“Diggin’ the new look.”
“Hmhmhm, I think some of it’s still wet, if you care to try it for yourself.”
“Eh, I think I’ll pass. …Hey, how the hell did you pull it off, anyways?”
This question immediately set off a spark inside my head. …I’d almost forgotten about the switchblade, which I quickly pulled out to show him.
He paused a moment to stare at it, the same level of amazement surfacing in his face that had surfaced in mine no more than ninety minutes ago when I first found it.
“How…where the hell did you get that!?”
“…I don’t know. I just…found it.”
I’m not sure exactly how long I spent staring at it, though I’m certain that Sean grew tired of it long before I did. Yet another strange feeling began coursing through my mind as this went on. …I could almost still see it descending through the air after falling from my backpocket.
“But, …how in the hell did it get there?”
“So, that’s your secret.”
Looking up from my stupor, I saw that Sean had moved along and Ivan made his way over in my direction.
“Hmm, took him long enough.”
“Well, believe you me. I haven’t a damn clue how I found it, …hmhm, but why start complaining over a good thing?”
“Hmhmhm, I have to say, you’re coming along rather well.”
“Heh, now what in the world would make you say that?”
In truth, this question was meant to be taken sarcastically, though Ivan’s answer to it was anything but. …Of course, given what he had to say, I don’t blame him for sounding so serious.
“…I’ve been dead for over thirty years, Justin, …and not once have I heard of anyone ever managing to do what you’ve just done…alone. …Do you understand what that means?”
I did understand. It was rather ironic, actually. …I was dead. That was undeniable…and yet, in those last few moments of the Grappler’s existence, …I’d never felt so alive. All I could do was smile and nod my head, prompting Ivan to return the former. Halfway through this silent exchange, though, something else entered my mind.
“…Did you find out how many we lost to that demon?”
“Hmm, …I believe I counted forty-one, not including you or myself. …So, that makes for seven casualties.”
Seven…seven comrades lost to only the first Gatekeeper, over ten percent of our initial head count. …Although, I suppose that given Hell’s history, this is far better than what anyone else has ever achieved in the past.
“…And thank God for it.”
“There are twelve more realms to come and most of them are exhausted after passing through only the first. …We should probably stop for a while to regain our strength.”
I looked past his shoulder at the large group resting behind him. He did have a fine point, …but I knew much better than this.
“…No. It’s better we continue moving while we don’t feel hunger. …If that doesn’t take its toll on us later on, I don’t know what will.”
“…Hmm, yes, that’s probably true.”
Whatever humor was left in my face quickly vanished and my expression became stern.
“…I’ll have plenty time to rest…once the demon guarding the gate is lying at my feet…like the dog that it is.”
He remained silent for a moment, …but soon after, a smile appeared on Ivan’s face and a small chuckle emerged from between his lips.
“It would seem damnation is beginning to take its toll on you, Justin.”
“I suppose so. …Heh, eventually, you’ll probably have to start calling me Hellhound.”
“Hmhmhmhmhm, …well, all great leaders have a title that they’re remembered by.”
“…I appreciate the thought, Ivan, but I’m not-”
“Oh, I beg to differ, my friend.”
I turned my head in surprise. …I hadn’t even noticed that Louis had joined our conversation.
“You noticed the Gatekeeper’s actions before any of us did, and on top of that, you not only saved Sean and Violet, but you leaped out in front of Ivan and Carmine when they were about to share the same fate. …Now, I don’t know what you think entitles someone to be called a great leader, Justin, …but it’s that type of intuition and caring that I believe gives them every right to it.”
Maybe I was simply being too modest, …but regardless, I was glad that my friends thought so highly of me, …just as I did of them. Smiling to let Louis know that his message got through, I redirected my attention to another…more elderly member of our group.
“How’s Leonard holding up?”
Shortly after the question left my mouth, the three of us shifted of us towards the rest of our team, among whom was the old man, being helped by Carmine. …I couldn’t imagine how exhausting this journey was for him.
“Well, he seems to be doing just fine for now. …So, shall we start moving on?”
“…Yeah, …let’s do it.”
“Well then, lead the way, …hmhm, Hellhound.”
Without further protest, we gathered our comrades and continued moving. …I honestly hadn’t noticed that we were already standing in front of the enormous Ruins until this point. …Now, it was just a matter of finding its entrance.
“It’s hard to believe that an entire realm of Hell could consist solely of this one building.”
“Hehe, hey, I find it hard to believe that we’re actually trying to escape, my friend.”
“…Hmhmhm, very true, Carmine.”
“…Very true, indeed.”
Another thirty minutes was spent sniffing out the gaping doorway to these ruins before it was finally within view. Stopping for a moment, as did everyone behind me, I took one last deep breath before entering the second realm of Hell. …I must have taken no more than ten steps, though, …before spotting something I never expected to find out here: …another person attempting to escape.
“Uuuugggghhh, …what the…more people…here? …Heh he, well it’s about ti-…wait a minute…”
All the bewilderment I had ever experienced in both life and afterlife could not have come close to what I felt in that moment, …not even the revelation that I had been sent to Hell. However, it wasn’t the fact that we had found someone else during our journey that made me speechless, …but the fact that it was somebody I knew…personally.
- The End -