Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope—Ye Who Enter Here.~Inferno
Circle 3 concluded
The Crowned One faced the child.
You are truly of hell, Revolver. That one so small should cause so much pain–it cuts to the core of my soul, yet you leave no scar. Fifteen times you have come at me, and fifteen times I have repelled you. You are bested.
The child wept.
You stand short of breath and robbed of strength, while I lay here broken. Do not leave me vanquished. I beg mercy.
He remained unmoved.
Do not weep as a child. You are the Revolver. My journey to the final circle of Sufferlandria continues. I have received no mercy from you and your brethren thus far. None shall you receive from me.
The child was elated.
Then you have learned much in the first three circles, Crowned One. I have tested you and you have passed. Continue forth. The next circle awaits, though mercy does not.
She greeted him coldly.
Welcome Crowned One. You have made it to the fourth circle. I will be the one to test you, though you will surely find that Hell Hath No Fury—
A voice rang out.
They approached the Crowned One.
Nay riders. Be gone with you. I have come this far of my own strength. I have no need for companions. I seek the center alone.
Beloved Friend contested.
There is no weakness in sharing the challenge with others. We too have come here of our own strength and have received our own shares of pain and misery. The suffering will not be lessened, nor can we lend one another strength. But it is the spirit we can sustain as one, and that cannot be done in solitude.
You speak wisdom, Friend. I shall share my spirit with you, but not today. For now I continue on alone. But should you do what the keepers say is impossible and journey to the eighth circle, I will be there and will finish my quest alongside you and the Bright-Headed One.
Very well, Crowned One. Myself and Beloved Friend respect your answer and will await you in the eighth. However go forward with caution, especially when facing she, the keeper of the fourth. For I too can promise that Hell Hath No Fury–
The challenge began.
Enough of this! I, the keeper of the fourth circle, will not be ignored. Be there one or one hundred of you, I will not stand down. Come at me if you dare. Surviving will not be enough this time. Here you must overtake me.
The race began.
Her fury was not enough. The Crowned One made short work of her, though the brutal journey was beginning to take its toll. His body had become weary, his energy waned, and the worse was yet to come.
He did not waver.
I have come to this fifth circle and seek to challenge the keeper. Come forth if you think yourself almighty or remain in your shadows and allow me to pass unabated.
They came forward.
Did you hear that younger brother? That sounded like a command. It did older brother, indeed it did. Impolite. Yes younger brother. Though I would say insolent.
He questioned them.
I see only one in my presence, but hear the voices of two. Name yourself. I came to endure pain, not nonsense.
They took offense.
There he goes again older brother. He dares to command us?! So it would seem, younger brother. We will teach him manners.
The deformed twins revealed themselves.
I, the younger, am known as the Extra Shot, as is this place. I am the beginning. And I, the elder, am the Wretched, as is this place. I am the end. Alone we are weak, but together, we are strong. And we are always together.
He faced them.
Together you are ugly. And you are always together. Two against one?! Even your tactics are ugly, but no matter. You will fall just as the other four did.
The ride against the Extra Shot and the Wretched was indeed ugly. Though their strategy was underhanded, it was effective. Before the end of the ride the Crowned One’s limbs seared with indescribable anguish. Pride kept him moving forward. Patience kept his sanity. But Courage won the day. In time even the devious twins took a knee and he pressed forward, more than halfway through Sufferlandria.
A priest appeared.
Welcome weary traveler who has come so far. I give you my admiration at making it to this place. Would you not join me in a brief respite? Surely even you, though strong, could benefit from a small constitutional.
Good priest I cannot rest. A demon dwells in this sixth circle and I will find no rest until it is purified. Pray thee tell me have you seen the keeper of this circle of Sufferlandria?
The priest extended his hand.
You speak to him now, sir. I do not lie, for I am honor bound to challenge you. This is A Very Dark Place. Sleep now. And when you awaken I will be glad to accept your challenge.
His suspicions were raised.
What game is this, priest? There is no respite in Sufferlandria, only pain, nor could I stop lest I bring shame upon myself to last the ages.
The priest smiled.
Well said. But I keep to my words, both as a priest and as the keeper of the sixth. There will be pain, but also you shall have rest. For every four minutes of pain, you shall have three minutes to gather yourself before I come at you again. Am I not generous?
Your words would sound generous but not for the warning in my heart. Do as you will, but I know that the currency of Sufferlandrians is treachery, not generosity. I know not what game you play, but I will not yield.
Is the priest A Very Dark Place as treacherous as the other keepers of Sufferlandria? Will The Crowned One reunite with Beloved Friend and The Bright-Headed One? And will his journal to the final circle end in triumph or tragedy? Find out in part three of Steven’s Inferno.