[Dante]: Ulysses, from within the fire, when my master told me your flame could speak, I didn’t believe him. Truly, after hearing of your voyage, I have no choice. I’ve been dying to ask you a very important question, the matter is dire. In fact, it’s a matter of life or death. How ー
The flame interrupted my speech and said:
[Ulysses]: “I hope that throughout your journey you have learned that this is a terrible place to be Dante. Protected by the grace of God, Beatrice came to visit me in hopes that I’d help you. Help you see that you must change your ways. If you want any hope for salvation you will become a man of God when you return to Earth. Beatrice has begged this of you, she’s been told that Florence has changed and so has your behavior. I had plans to deceive you, but it wouldn’t grant me the satisfaction I desired. Only now I see that I wasn’t the only one planning on deceiving you.”
“Now I must say you’ve been very naive to follow Virgil this far down into hell. As you well know Virgil has never faced Satan and therefore has never exited hell through the ninth circle, he may not even know how. When he worked with the witch Erichtho, in which he stole a soul, he went back up and never got out from the bottom. I fear he intends to trap your soul! I cannot allow that to happen, I’ve been cast to this fate for far too long, but I’ve finally acquired a spot in Limbo. Thanks to you dearest Beatrice, Virgil and I will be swapping places.”
The flame of Ulysses turned to Virgil and asked, “So Virgil, are you ready to be engulfed in the flames?”
Virgil’s face filled with anger and he began to rant towards Ulysses:
[Virgil]: “Are you mad? All I’ve done throughout this journey in hopes to protect him, shielding his eyes, telling him to have no fear, getting him away from the devils safely. I brought him thus far.”
Virgil turned to me and said:
“When Beatrice sought me out she told me that you have lost your way. When I came to you lost in a dark wood, wandering around, I knew I was meant to help and guide you through this journey. I have never intended to harm you Dante.”
Ulysses let out a laugh from deep within making me quiver in fear as the flame flickered:
[Ulysses]: “Shut it. When will you stop lying? I know a trick better than anyone, in fact I know all the tricks. Beatrice knew you would turn your back on Dante that’s why she entrusted me with this mission. Your fate has been sealed and soon you will burn and I will remain in the luxury of Limbo.”
[Virgil]: “How do we know this is not one of your tricks since you are such the trickster.”
Ulysses flame bellowed:
[Ulysses]: “Reveal yourself! Or you will have been the trickster all along. Dante can’t you see, he almost didn’t permit you to speak with me.”
Ulysses’ argument compelled me, compelled me enough to start questioning everything that has happened thus far.
[Dante]: “Master, say this isn’t so. There have been many times when your behavior made me weary and suspicious of your intentions. Like when you talked to that group of shades alone, but I could never have prepared for a betrayal such as this. What did you talk of with the shades? Is that where you plotted against me? Are you even certain that we can exit hell through the ninth circle? Ulysses, how did he intend to trap my soul here?”
[Ulysses]: “Soon enough you will meet a man that will speak of devils roaming the Earth and then you will discover your answer. Virgil are you ready to come clean about your acts?”
I watched as the look of regret was graced upon Virgil’s face.
[Virgil]: “Okay, I’ll admit it. It didn’t start as a malicious act. On my last mission with the witch Erichtho, I learned I’m not sure if there is a way out through the bottom of hell. IーI just wanted a second chance. I died too soon and I wanted to finish my work, I beg you to forgive me for deceiving you.”
[Dante]: I pondered momentarily and said to him “I understand your reasoning, our work is important to us. For that I forgive you, but you have wronged me so deeply. If I should return to Earth safe and sound and write all that I have learned about my journey, you will be shunned greatly. The world will know the man you truly were and your work will no longer be praised.”
[Virgil]: “Thank you for your forgiveness. I will vow to get you out of Hell safely as if it was my last mission. But I also beg of you not to let me burn down here with those who’ve committed fraud.”
I questioned his sincerity but proposed to strike a deal:
[Dante]: “If I make it out of hell safely, I will make a deal with the devil to ensure that both you and Ulysses are granted a spot in Limbo. If I return to Earth, I will begin to trick people and deceive them to make them believe that hell isn’t that bad, because great people have arrived here such as you two. Therefore, by tricking those souls more people will commit terrible acts to end up in hell.”
[Ulysses]: “What about Beatrice? What of her request for you? She wants you to be in heaven with her and this act sounds like the complete opposite. You have lost your way indeed. What if your plan doesn’t work and I get trapped here?”
[Dante]: “I understand her need to send me on this journey and I’ll be eternally grateful. She may make me a very famous man back on Earth when I tell this story to millions across the world. I understand your fear of remaining trapped here and I hope my plan works. Maybe we will all end up in Limbo together. But Virgil and I must continue this journey if we have any hopes to achieve that goal.”
I bent towards the flame with desire once more, hopeful that one day I’d be able to ask my true question.
[Ulysses]: “As long as I get what I was promised, I guess I’ll see the both of you soon.”
His flame began to drift off and the sound of the horn followed. One couldn’t possibly comprehend so much. As I gave my master a longing look, I knew the journey must continue. That meant putting my trust in him for the remainder of the time.
Since you are reading these words, that means yes, I have successfully made it out of hell. Also yes, the devil agreed to my plan, eagerly I might add. My idea of preying on innocent souls worked. Like me, the works of Virgil are greatly looked upon, and those who deemed him worthy decided that hanging out with him in hell wouldn’t be that bad.
I learned that but Virgil and Ulysses are among the dead in Limbo. Maybe I will end up in Limbo or worse, or maybe I might get a second chance at redemption, but that is not up to me to decide.
I must say that my dearest Beatrice did right by me in trying to stray me back on the right path. It is possible that I was too far gone, to begin with. She has granted me wealth and fame, and that’s all I could have ever asked for. That is paradise in itself and as you well know “The path to paradise begins in hell.”