Cerberus paced back and forth restlessly in front of the large, black Iron Gate that he had been guarding for the better part of forever. He was nervous; the Underworld was quiet, and not the normal quiet. This was more the quiet of a long abandoned graveyard, there were no moans coming from those wandering the Fields of Asphodel, and the screams of the Keres had lessened until they were nearly non-existent. The line of dead, which usually had thousands upon thousands of dead waiting to get passed the gates to be judged, now, had less than 70 souls.
The three headed hell hound looked back and forth between the dwindling line, Hades castle, and the direction that Drake’s elevator was located, whimpering all the while. Souls were getting out, but not through the gate. He didn’t know what to do or what was going on. All he wanted was for someone to come down and explain the situation to him.
He was distracted from his worrying when he heard scuffling off to his right; the right most head turned and looked, ears and nose twitching as he sought out the sound.
Charon was struggling to get out of the black vines that Drake had trapped him in earlier that day. He was sitting propped up against the cliff face; vines wrapped around his wrists and hands so he couldn’t move his fingers, and around ankles the vines anchored themselves to the ground so the aged ferryman couldn’t escape.
Cerberus snarled at the bound and struggling god, with fangs bared and drool dripping from his mouth to the rocky ground below. Two of the heads moved closer to the struggling god, contemplating on whether or not to just eat him, despite Drake’s order not to. It’s not like the ancient god would die anyway, it would just hurt…a lot. Not to mention his whining was annoying and was starting to eat away at the hell hounds already impatient nature.
The third head kept a look out for Charon’s brothers as he watched the last of the line of the dead enter through the gates of the Underworld. He whined unhappily still confused and now worried about whether or not he was going to get into trouble. The third head turned to look at its fellows just in time to grab the ear of the middle head between his teeth, stopping it from taking a chunk out of the helpless god’s leg.
The middle head yelped and turned its head, ear still in its ‘brothers’ teeth, snapped back taking fur and a little bit of skin from where neck meets shoulder. While the right and middle heads bickered, jaws snapping and fangs clacking together, growls and snarls mixing in a morbid harmony, the left head was slowly inching its way closer and closer to Charon, who whimpers and pleadings were drowned out by the two squabbling heads; not that they would have listened if they hadn’t been.
Just before the left head would have closed the final few inches between Charon’s right foot and his mouth, and started on a well earned mid-day snack, a Door swirled into existence only a few meters away from the giant Hell-Hound and Charon.
The three-headed beast ceased its fighting and hunting, respectively, heads tilting to the side in curiosity as they watched the portal, wondering if whoever it was that was coming out would be someone that they could eat, or at the very least cause some serious bodily harm. Unfortunately for them it wasn’t, but it was nonetheless still entertained as they watched James come stumbling out of the Door.
The young man still wasn’t used to this form of travel, and he ended up tripping over his own feet and landing face first on the hard, unforgiving ground of the Underworld. The left and middle heads of Cerberus gave barks of canine laughter, tongues lolling out of their mouths and tails wagging, while the right head had turned to continue glaring at the now ferociously struggling ferryman. Charon had started to panic upon seeing James tumble through the Door, knowing that Drake and Aislinn could not be far behind.
He was right, seconds later Aislinn stepped out, easily stepping over James – who had just rolled onto his back – followed closely by Drake, who only raised an amused eyebrow at the newly discovered Godling. He started struggling harder which only caught Drake’s attention, and the young god headed in the elders direction, leaving a giggling Aislinn to help James to his feet.
“Ugh, will I ever get used to that?” James mumbled in disgust as he dusted the dirt and rocks from his jeans and t-shirt. He ran a hand through his snow blonde hair in agitation, which only streaked it with dust. He jumped when he heard Aislinn chuckle from behind his left shoulder; he didn’t think he had been loud enough for anyone to hear his mutterings.
“Eventually; it’ll just take a couple of months,”
“Sarcasm never solved anything you know,”
James gave a small grin as he shook his head to get the dust out, “Neither has violence, but that hasn’t stopped us yet today.”
Aislinn adopted a knowledgeable look as she raised a finger in front of herself, “Ah, but that’s because you’re dealing with gods, conventional wisdom doesn’t apply.”
“Conventional wisdom hasn’t applied since I met you two. I’m trying to decide on whether or not that’s a good thing.”
Aislinn laughed the first honest laugh she’d had since before Diana had been kidnapped. “You’ll eventually get used to that too.” She laughed for a few more seconds before she finally managed to calm down. Once she was calm she grabbed James’ wrist and dragged him off towards where Drake and Charon were. “Come on let’s go make sure Drake doesn’t do any lasting damage. He tends to get a bit violent when it comes to someone threatening his parents or the Underworld.”
The two Godlings arrived just in time to see Drake loose his temper, “Enough! Look here boatman, either you answer my questions or I start feeding you to Cerberus. Piece. By. Piece.” The air around his right hand rippled and his bronze broadsword appeared. His grip on the hilt so tight his knuckles were white and his short nails dug into the flesh of his palm, rivulets of silver blood dribbled down his palm and over the hilt of swords hilt. He twisted his hand inwards and moved his arm forward just slightly, so the tip of the blade was only inches from Charon’s left foot. “I mean, you really only need your arms to do your job, right?”
Charon turned wide and terrified eyes to James and Aislinn, pleading for help and at the same time trying to judge whether or not they would step in if Drake went too far. Zeus’ daughter looked bored and not inclined to care what happened to him, as long as it didn’t kill him. White eyes shifted over to the newest addition to their ragtag little group, James looked nervous and uncertain about the whole situation. Before he could capitalize on that fact though, James had turned his back enough that he could no longer see Drake or the ferryman. Seeing that his to best options for salvation were now lost to him, Charon turned back to look at Drake. The young god had lifted his sword and the gleaming bronze blade now rested easily on his right shoulder, the tip poking up over his left.
“So, what’s it going to be Charon? Are you going to tell me what we want to know, or do I have to start getting, violent?” He twitched his sword ever so slightly on the word violent, causing Charon to jump in his nervousness and drawing his eyes back to the blade. He broke out into a nervous sweat and started tugging on his bonds anew, hoping by some miracle he could break free, and cursing not for the first time his inability to create Doors. He was tied to the river and the gate, and could not leave the Underworld at all. It was one thing his brothers were planning on changing once their takeover was complete. If he told the three friends what they wanted to know, there was no chance of him ever being free of the torment that was his job.
Drake took his silence and repeated attempts to free himself as his answer and sighed, though it was more sardonic than actually disappointed, “If that’s how you’re going to be, I guess you leave me no choice.” Before Charon could say a word in defence of that statement Drake had switched his grip on his sword from an overhand to and underhand, so he could bring it swinging down from his shoulder towards the elder god’s trapped left foot. The blade moved with such speed that it was nothing but a golden blur of metal and a hissing of air.
Charon’s eyes were scrunched shut and his head was turned, facing away from his foot, as if he thought if he couldn’t see it, it wouldn’t happen. His chest rose and fell rapidly as his body had been preparing for immense pain. When he realized that no pain was forthcoming he opened one eye and turned his head slightly back towards where Drake and Aislinn were standing. The edge of the gods’ blade was millimetres from his ankle. He moved his white eyed gaze from his, amazingly, still intact foot to look up into the dark, angry charcoal eyes of the Prince of the Dead.
“Well ferryman, we’re waiting.”
Screw his brothers’ mechanizations, if that meant having to listen to Thanatos’s bitching for all eternity then so be it, Charon decided that he wanted to live. “Okay. Wh-what was it that you want-wanted to know?” He couldn’t help but stutter the question, not only was he surprised and relived that he was still alive, and in one piece, the look on Drake’s face was still making him nervous as well.
“You told us that Thanatos managed to redirect the flow of the rivers Styx and Lethe. Do you remember that?”
“Good. Do you know how he did it?”
Once again before answering Charon looked between the three friends; James had turned back to face the two gods, now that violence wasn’t impending, Aislinn and Drake both though still looked ready to inflict harm on the hapless god at a moments opportunity if things didn’t go how they wanted them too. The elderly looking god took a deep, calming breath before answering, “I’m not entirely certain how he did it. I do know though that Than doesn’t have the power, or ability to do it himself. He would have had to have had someone do the work for him.”
Drake rocked back on his heels, leaning away from Charon as he tried to puzzle out the answer that they had been given. “But who would do something like that?”
The three friends spent a few moments in silence; the only sound was Cerberus’ breathing and Charon shuffling as he tried to loosen the vines that held him. After not coming up with any ideas James spoke, “What if, maybe, we’re not asking the right question?”
Drake and Aislinn turned to look at him in confusion, not understanding a word of what he just said.
James rolled his eyes, it seems this would be the fourth time he had solved a problem by stating the obvious, but who’s counting really? “What I mean is, what if, instead of asking ‘Who would do something like that?’ maybe we should be asking, ‘Who has the most to gain from something like that?’ You see?”
Aislinn was the first to speak after another few moments of silence, “So you’re saying we should be looking for a god, or gods, or whoever else has an even worse lot than Moros, Thanatos, and Hypnos?”
James nodded, “Exactly...or at least someone who thinks that they’re worse off.”
Drake cupped his chin in his hand and tilted his head to the left in thought, strands of his charcoal black hair falling into his eyes. “But who would think they had it worse off than those three?” He blew out a huff of air, trying to get the hair out of his eyes; he only succeeded in making more fall into his face.
“Okay then, new question. Who in “myth” that – besides mortals – usually get the short end of the stick?”
The three quest goers reached the same conclusion nearly simultaneously, “The Cyclopes.”
Aislinn whipped her head around, back towards Charon, who shrunk back trying to melt into the cliff face. “Where’s the hole that your jerk of a brother had the Cyclopes digging in the boundaries between the realms?”
The aged god scoffed at the young woman, even as he continued to try and get away. “Stupid mortal chit, you’ve already passed by it once today. Is your race still so self-centered that you cannot even see what’s right in front of you?”
“You think we would have noticed something like that, I mean it has to be massive.”
Aislinn and James were brought out of their musings by the sound of flesh striking stone. They turned towards the sound only to see Drake’s fist resting a few inches into the cliff face, a foot above and a few inches to the left of where Charon’s head was.
“That decrepit fossil is right, we are idiots. We floated right passed it on our way to find Diana,” Drake quickly scrawled words in blue fire and summoned a dozen Shades, Shades of some of ancient Greece’s most glorious heroes, to his side. “You lot, go to Lethe and find the breach in its banks, not one that leads to one of the other rivers, a fork that doesn’t belong. Fill it in and make sure it no longer leaks
“You said it yourself Nike, remember? You’d asked if ‘they’ had used a backhoe to dig a hole between the worlds.”
Aislinn stared at him unseeingly for a few moments as she tried to comprehend how much of this could have been avoided, if they hadn’t had such tunnel-vision when it came to rescuing Diana. If they’d just stopped, and pulled to the side of the river, when they realized that the current was getting much faster than it should have been, they could have fixed it then and instead of questioning a crotchety old god, they could be out looking for those bastards. She growled darkly at their stupidity and narrow-mindedness, “We are idiots,”
“That’s what I said.” Whatever else Charon was going to say was cut off by a scream of agony as a rage powered lightning bolt slammed into his chest; the smell of burnt flesh filled the air.
James could only stare in horror as the volatile girl completely lost her temper. He thought what had happened when they discovered that Diana was missing was bad, but this, this was easily ten times worse. He stumbled a bit when Drake rushed passed him and grabbed the arm that was surrounded by angry, dancing, blue electric death and shoved it up and away from Charon. Drake’s eyes clenched shut, biting back a scream of agony, as his hand caught the backlash of her bolt. The edge of his hand went from boiling red, to crispy, burnt black within seconds of having grabbed Aislinn’s hand.
“Aislinn, stop it!”
She turned angry black-green eyes on the young god, lightning still crackling around her hand, and snarled “Why should I?” The lightning worsened in reaction to her emotions and moved from encompassing her hand to cover her arm to nearly the elbow; encircling Drakes hand as well.
“Son-of-a-bitch, that hurts! Aislinn, you’re letting you anger control your actions, and that won’t solve anything or help anybody!” He yelped when the lightning spiked, surrounding his own arm to the elbow for a few seconds. “Gods that burns! You can’t blame Charon for something that we didn’t notice because we were too focused on getting to Diana!”
The two friends glared at each other, the light from the ball of electric energy casting frightening shadows across their faces; a silent contest of wills. Aislinn had the energy and the control to blast Drake off her and continue her assault on Charon, Drake had the choice of breaking her arm and knocking her out, or creating a Door and transporting her somewhere on Olympus. James was attempting to not draw attention to himself, leaving the job of facing off against Aislinn to Drake. Cerberus whimpered when a few sparks flew too close to his face.
Rage and pride were two things that affected the Heroes of Ancient times. James always thought that it had just been a product of the times that they had lived in, all the battles and wars that were fought, and the quests the gods sent them on. Seeing Aislinn now though, he decided it might just be because they had god blood.
After glaring at each other for what seemed like eternity Aislinn finally broke off the staring contest. Her anger deflated and the lightning that crackled around her arm vanished with a crack. She seemed to shrink in on herself, looking more like the scared and worried teenage girl she was, and not a tower of power and rage. She turned away from both James and Drake, her face red with embarrassment and shame, and walked away as she tried to collect herself. Her shoulders shook as she fought to manage her temper and get herself back under control; lightning occasionally flared up before disappearing a visible testament of the young woman’s battle with her roiling emotions.
After a few more minutes of calming breaths and pacing Aislinn was calm enough to face her friends, although the look of shame was still on her face. Knowing that Drake was more or less okay with her losing it she looked over at James. “Sorry James, I have no idea what…”
“Don’t worry about it, not now at least.” Both Drake and Aislinn looked at him strangely. “What I mean is, now isn’t really the time to be apologizing, we still have to fix the river. Besides, I have no idea what you’re going through right now, this stuff,” he waved a hand at the Underworld around them. “This is all new to me, for all I know this is normal everyday stuff for you two.”
“It’s not, but thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Right anyway, as I was saying. We have a job to finish, let’s do that first and then worry about apologies and what not.”
Aislinn smiled gratefully at him, though she was still slightly embarrassed at her outburst, “Okay…So what are we waiting for? We have some Cyclopes to find.”
Drake grinned at his friend’s sudden enthusiasm and slung an arm around her shoulders, “That’s the spirit!”
James shook his head as they headed away from Cerberus, who had decided that he should take a nap while he still had the time, and was curling up in front of the Gates of Hades. “It’s stuff like this that make people think you two are secretly dating, you know.”
They turned to look at him, once again confused by his statement. “What?”
James waved a hand at where Drake still had his arm around Aislinn’s shoulders. The two friends looked at each other, down at Drakes arm, then back up at each other.
“Never in a million years!”
They sprang apart like one of them was on fire, identical looks of horror and revulsion on their faces, and turned to glare at the now hysterically laughing James.
“We hate you,”
James ignored the glares, though he really shouldn’t have considering who he was dealing with, and continued to laugh. This meant he didn’t see Drake wave his hand at the space behind James, materializing a Door. Aislinn and Drake took a second to smile conspiratorially at one another before she pushed a still laughing James through the portal, and followed in after him, now laughing as well.
Drake shook his head, as if exasperated by his friends’ antics but in reality he found it rather funny. Before he could move to follow the two Godlings through the portal he was stopped by Charon timidly calling out to him, “What about me?”
“What about you?”
“Aren’t you going to let me go?”
“Now why in the name of my Father, would I do something like that?”
“Well, I answered your questions. Freeing me would be the fair and honourable thing to do.”
Drake twisted away from the portal and shifted all his weight to his right foot, as he turned to face Charon, regarding the much older god with well guarded disdain.
Charon began to hope, when Drake didn’t respond immediately, that he had appealed to the young prince’s sense of honour. He shifted slightly into a straighter sitting position in preparation to be released, he didn’t want to fall over, that would just be embarrassing, and he really didn’t need any more humiliations than he already had.
His hopes were shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, like a glass globe hitting concrete, when he saw the smile spreading across Drake’s face.“Now, while that is true, I’ve never been one to play fair.” The smile melted off his face to be replaced with a stare that could melt stone, “Besides you and your brothers lost all right to fairness from anyone, when your brothers poisoned my parents. In my opinion your lives should be forfeit. It’s only by Zeus’ will and wishes that you and your brothers will live to see the end of this day. If I had my way none of you would see tomorrow.”