Hell's edge was a thin line.
Or so it was, for the small patch of it that she had been cast down to long ago. It was hard to tell time here, but geography was... almost stagnant. Traversible. When nothing chased on her heels, sometimes she would come here and look.
She had seen the human shade pass by once or twice before. No, more than that: enough to establish a pattern.
And so this time she came here with curiosity on her mind, barely more than a shade herself, bright white against only slightly-darker blue, at least from the mysts of everywhere-but-hell. Sometimes, if you looked carefully, you could see the shadow of wings stretching out past her back. She watched. And she followed. Sometimes she stumbled over her own feet, but as long as there was nothing there to take advantage of it - it didn't matter.
There is something...here. The shade didn't know where here was or what the something could be, it just knew--inasmuch as it knew anything which wasn't much--that there was something about this area that tugged at it. This place would feel familiar, if it had any idea what familiarity was.
But it didn't. So instead it just...drifted. Headed towards that part that its feet seemed to want to go to. There was nothing else to do, after all. There was only ever drifting.
The shade knew where it wanted to go, but it didn't seem to know why, or how, or what territory she was drifting towards.
The angel frowned, skating the edges. Brimfire burned at her heels, but she ignored it. She raised her voice.
"Hello?" she called, her voice gentle. "Little spirit, where are you going?"
The shade paused. Talking. It remembered talking. Didn't it? Was that something it could do?
The first sounds were nonsense, just getting used to the concept again. Only once it was able to start producing sounds that the nameless something inside of it identified as communication did it realize it couldn't answer the question anyway.
Where was it going? It wasn't sure. Just, "That way," it said, pointing. "Must go that way."
"No," the angel breathed softly. She could see the shade more clearly now. It was young. So young. "You don't want to go that way, sweetheart."
She pressed her hands against the dividing line, and her wings flared back into vision, high and brightly white. "Please. Be safe."
Oh. It didn't? Okay.
The shade turned around and started walking in a different direction, but the tugging was there there. It made a wide loop and started heading back, towards the boundary. Towards the familiar.
"Yes," it said to the angel. "Yes."
The angel frowned at her, wondering... wondering why she kept going this way. She had a good idea, and yet-- "This way is Hell," she said. "You don't look like you belong here."
And what you're looking for isn't here.
The shade stopped again, confused look sliding into something more thoughtful. "Familiar," it said. "Looking."
The longer it stood here, either by the boundary or the angel, the more the shade learned and understood. Or perhaps just remembered.
Looking the angel directly in the eyes, the shade said a single word, defining the shape of the familiar into something concrete. "Dante."
She'd suspected. She had. The way the girl kept coming here, even though she didn't even belong in this world - the way she was drawn here every time.
The name still caused the angel -- Eva -- to suck in a deep, desperate breath she didn't need at all. "Dante," she whispered. "So you do know him."
"Dante." The shape of the word in its mouth--in her mouth--changed each time she said it and each change brought different concepts it used to know. She used to to know.
"Dante." Frustration, confusion, annoyance.
"Dante." Fear, blood, violence.
"Dante." The word was whispered on the wind, and that utterance held only one concept--a concept so big it couldn't be shared because it contained multitudes within itself. "Friend. Dante is a friend."
She didn't know who she was, or what, or where, but she knew that much. Dante was her friend.
The shade couldn't have been dead long, if it took her this much effort to form a coherent thought. Eva's image sharpened; where the shape of her face had been clearly visible, so now was the rest of her, deep red curls running over her blindingly white clothes, all the way down to the blossoming red hole in her chest.
She pressed her hands against the barrier.
"He wouldn't want you to be here," she said softly. She wanted to ask. She wanted to ask so badly, but this one was so fragile still. "A few more steps and you're lost, little spirit."
The shade's face settled along stubborn lines, an expression Dante would recognize immediately. It was the expression she wore right before she ran into a burning building or declared she was staying in LA to fight zombies. An expression that said I will do what is right no matter how stupid I must be in the process. She didn't know what fires, or zombies or LA were anymore, didn't know what right was anymore, never mind how they once related to her, but her expression remained the same regardless.
"Familiar," she pressed, insistent. She didn't know why or how--she barely knew anything--but beyond that boundary felt like Dante. Not completely, no, but it was more than she'd found anywhere else in her wandering.
Yes, that was stubbornness - and a familiar one, in its own way. Eva's hands pressed more firmly against the barrier, and she felt herself beginning to pass through it. There was a price to be paid for such things, and she wouldn't have much time.
But she'd always had a bleeding heart for the humans, even back when she'd still had a heart of her own. And if this one knew her son, she didn't want her to come to any harm.
She phased through the barrier. It hurt. She could feel the warning bells going off inside her jailor's head, behind her, but she had time. "Yes," she said. "Familiar. But some things aren't meant for human spirits to pursue."
On the other side, without the wafting red energies of hell to obscure her, she looked... almost tangible. Real. A sad woman in white and red, her wings curled against her back, worry in her eyes.
The shade lifted a hand to the woman's face, tracing her features. Her whole face gave her that same feeling of familiar, even stronger than whatever lay beyond the boundary did. Soft fingers brushed under her eyes, over her nose, down to her lips. The girl she'd been once would have been mortified to take such liberties with a stranger, but the shade had no such compunctions.
"Why?" Such a little word to contain so much. It was like friend that way. It asked a hundred questions and the spirit would be grateful for whichever ones the woman decided to answer.
Eva didn't flinch under her touch. Instead, she touched the girl's face in turn, her wings curving around to create a shield around her, blocking out the long stretch of nothingness before them - and hell behind them. "You're newly dead," she said, trailing her finger along a blemish, "You're still struggling to let go of the memory of your body and mind at the moment they gave up on you. But you will."
A gentle frown marred her features. "You're already beginning to, so you're searching out what feels... familiar." Her voice cracked unexpectedly. "You've come to me because you know my son."
The shade didn't understand what she meant. Dead, memory, body, mind...these were all concepts she hadn't unlocked yet. But she was frowning, now, too. She had a feeling she wouldn't like them when she discovered them. Like Dante had flavored the air, so had dead. Pain. Fear. Longing. Regret. It carried with it the promise of understanding and that with that understanding would come hurt.
"Is he dead?"
"No," Eva said softly.
It was more hope than certainty, and yet, still: No.
Though now it was her turn to ask: "Why?" Was there a reason he might be? Had she been-- No. She couldn't ask questions that were too big. Not just yet.
"That means he's not here," the shade said slowly. She was still figuring out what dead meant; as far as she could tell, it meant here. Wherever 'here' was. "Where's here?"
Eva's wings finished their slow curve, hugging the girl to her. "Hell," she said.
Her jailor was close. "You need to go."
Hell, that meant something, too, and even scarier than death. But it was hard to feel that fear, inside the circle of arms and wings. Here, the shade just felt comfort and content, two concepts she just remembered and realized had been lacking sorely since...since whenever.
"Stay," she protested, hugging back. "Nice. Soft. Like a bird..." That meant something, she knew, but like so much else, it was gone. She wasn't even sure what birds were, but this woman...yes. It fit her.
"I can't stay," she said softly.
But she still had a few moments, to offer this shade the comfort she clearly dearly needed. "My name is Eva," she added quietly. "Please be safe."
"Eva..." the shade repeated. "Eva."
Again, that just brought up new concepts. 'I,' the idea of the self. 'Name,' a signifier of individuality. And from there...
"Kathy," she said, looking up at Eva with dark eyes that had lost much of their hazy confusion. "My name is Kathy. And I'm dead."
A soft, wistful smile appeared across Eva's face. "Hello, Kathy," she said. "You--"
Something unearthly, deep and dangerous, screamed behind her. Her wings retreated - vanished completely from sight, and she looked over her shoulder, eyes big. "I need to go." She stretched her arm out, pointing behind the girl. "Go there. That's safe."
Kathy's shoulders went back and her chin came up, like she was prepared to fight the screaming thing and anything else that came. And then, a moment later, the aggressive spark in her eyes faded, leaving them dull and hopeless. Her fists uncurled, her shoulders slumped, and her head bowed.
She'd fought once. Fought with everything she had. And she'd died for it. There was no point in fighting now.
"Okay," she mumbled, stepping backwards. "I'll go. Be safe. I'll go."
Every footstep felt like failure. Every inch felt like defeat. She idly wondered why both concepts also raised that feeling of familiar.
Eva would have liked to chased after her, but she couldn't even afford to stand there and look. She turned around, darting through the barrier.
Her jailor was waiting for her on the other side. She ran.
[Preplayed with the fabulous rebelseekspizza. NFI, NFB, OOC is always appreciated.]