Dante regarded Socrates over the table. He held up the wineglass. "Not hemlock, I trust?" Socrates chuckled.
"My execution is due in a month. You have no need to fear poison yet."
"What was it for again--poisoning the minds of Athenian youth?"
"Only on paper. The politicians, Eucil in particular, are afraid I will enlighten them to the rampant corruption of our so-called democracy."
"And would you?"
"I may be a man of morals, but I am not stupid."
"Forgive me if I offend, but you seem remarkably unafraid."
"I am a philosopher. I have finished my most important business here on Earth, and am curious to know what I may accomplish in the next life. What is death, after all, but the next great adventure?"
Dante gazed into the distance, past the gently sloping hills verdant with grapevines. He was remembering nights spent in a damp iron cell, and the craggy walls and sweeping ramparts of a black palace. He said no more, and Socrates tactfully did not ask his thoughts.
It was midnight, and the stars shone myriad in the blue-black sky. Dante thrashed on his pallet on the balcony, caught in the throes of a nightmare. In his dream, he saw Sophe and Marlen disappearing into pitch-black bowels of Hell. They did not scream, but watched him with wide, pleading eyes. Then the eyes changed, became accusing slits. The two forms morphed into one and became a squat demon with skin that dripped like wax, and narrowed, garnet-like eyes.
Dante awoke. "Beezlebub." The name dropped like a stone from his lips. The demon from his dream stepped from the dark, and bowed mockingly. "The dream was your doing, I suppose?"
"Just reminding you of the consequences, should you fail." The demon's voice came out in a sibilant hiss.
"I am well aware of the consequences. There was no need to check in on me. My progress with Socrates is coming along well. I've introduced him to strong drink, and he’s a budding gambler. He will be headed for Hell by the end of the month."
Beezlebub stared icily at him. For a moment, Dante was afraid the demon had seen through his lie. Could demons sense falsehoods? But then Beezelbub nodded, and began to vanish, still pinning him with sunken scarlet eyes. Wormlike shadows ate at his body, pulling it into Hell. His scarlet eyes were the last things to disappear. Released from his gaze, Dante shuddered. He was not impressed by Beezlebub’s usual drama, but shivering from the temperature of the night, which had turned positively glacial.