Chapter Two: Highway To Hell
Falling for what seemed like an eternity, Cerberus landed gracefully onto the ground and dropped Thelonious. The hound growled for a split second before running off into the unknown. Hyperventilating, he felt the toxin begin to wear off. His hands were the first to move. Tucking them underneath his chest, he pushed himself upward. Slowly getting on to his feet, his legs wobbled erratically, trying to fight their way upright. Forcing everything he had within, Thelonious regained his composure.
Taking in the area, he noticed he was standing on solid black rock made of graphite. Steam rose through the cracks as water could be heard flowing nearby. The commander shuffled around and tried deciding which way to go as there was no visible indication of where he was. Choosing randomly, he began to walk. The fog quickly crept upon him, the further he ventured. The bleak scenery soon became too blurred to make out. Every direction he went began to feel the same. It was as if he was not moving.
Not knowing which way to go, he yelled out in frustration. What was the purpose of this? Was this his punishment? To roam in an endless haze? Wondering about his predicament, he couldn’t help but notice a questionable stench looming around him.
‘Where is this ghastly smell coming from?’ he wondered.
A creature then abruptly broke through the misty shadows and struck his back maliciously. He bent down, groaning in pain. Whatever struck him moved swiftly and silently, which frightened Thelonious. Cautiously looking up above, he saw who attacked him. Her eyes were wide like that of an owl. Short in height, its skin was charcoal black, and its hair was made of spikes. The eyes were as yellow as the sun and wings tattered and sharpened like that of a bat. Hands and feet were replaced with talons, and its demeanor and presence were less than pleasant.
Hissing at Thelonious, the creature talked with hostility. “Murderer!”
Clueless, he did not understand the accusation. What could he have done to enrage a fury? Fearing the creature who faced him, he begged for mercy. The fury showed no signs of sympathy toward him, though. Raising its arm in the air, Thelonious saw its talons elongate. Knowing escape was futile, he gently dropped to his knees and waited for the final blow. The fury, determined to unleash justice, was close to striking her sentence before an oar whacked her hand away.
Both surprised by the interruption, a disgruntled old man with haggard cheeks, a scruffy white beard, clothed in a thin foul garb, and eyes as green as a meadow huffed at them. “If I had not come, this would have been most unpleasant to witness.” Turning to the fury, he stared at her with conviction. “Now leave before judgment is made upon you, Tisiphone.”
Tisiphone screeched at him for his disruption before flapping her wings in aggravation and taking off into the sky. The gentleman then waved his hand, and the smog retracted. Thelonious saw the stranger standing in a skiff on the edge of a river. Shuffling through his mind, he recalled something from memory in regards to this man’s appearance.
“Are you … Charon?” he asked reluctantly.
“I am he,” answering back. Silence overtook Thelonious. He had no words. If this was Charon, then he knew what that meant. A bell broke their silence, ringing loudly three times in the ferryman’s Pocket. Acknowledging it, he turned his gaze toward him. “It is time, come mortal.”
Thelonious getting cold feet, backed away. “I am not ready. I implore you, just god, let me return to my men. I have more to offer. This cannot be my end.”
“It is your time just as it is everyone else’s,” Charon countered. “You died just as you have lived. The fates have seen your end. The string has been cut. Now, the council of judgment has come.”
“What does it mean to be judged by one’s life?” Thelonious asked curiously. “Why must it be judged? We are flawed beings. Those flaws the gods engraved in us during our creation shouldn’t be held in the light. One tries within their best among the world we have been given.”
Charon exhaled intensely, not wanting to amuse this conversation any further. He had a schedule to uphold, and arguing with a mortal over how one’s fate is weighed only delayed him. Slamming his foot down, he muttered, “Entós,” from under his breath. Within a fraction of a mere blink, Thelonious was transported inside the boat.
“A word of caution,” Charon warned, “Keep within the confines of this vessel. The Acheron is a perilous river that will consume you if given.”
Pushing off the edge of the shore, he traversed down the river letting the current push them along. The weary god rested his head on the tip of his oar while Thelonious sat silently with his thoughts. One could do nothing within a boat besides wait for their destination. Nervously chipping the poorly painted skiff, Thelonious could not help but notice strange things beginning to emerge.
Sorrowful moans began filling their ears. He looked in every direction possible but could not locate its origin. Finally, it clicked as to what Charon meant. Placing both hands at the edge of the boat, he had a moment of hesitation before looking over. Souls of the dead consumed the river below. Each passed by them, crying for help. Their fate was chosen for them as well. Floating in agony for all eternity. One leaned its hand out toward Thelonious in aid, for the pain was unbearable to take. Reaching his hand out, Charon quickly slapped his hand away. The commander looked up at the god.
“Do my words not resonate within your mind, mortal?” Charon asked. “I warned you of the Acheron and the dangers it possesses. Do not trust the beings residing in the waters, for you too shall be lost. Heed my warning.”
Now keeping his hands close, he watched the souls drift past them, following the same current. Charon informed him to brace one’s self as their travels drew near to the underworld. Waiting nervously, he could not see anything. The area ahead was once again Murky. How could he see that far through the fog? Thelonious could barely see what lay in front of him, let alone what was to come.
Feeling the boat slow down and the water calming, a shadow cast over the two as Charon navigated inside the cave. Even with limited visibility, how could one miss a thing as enormous as this? It’s as if it appeared spontaneously in front of them. Overwhelmed by the sheer sight, Thelonious stood up and gazed in awe upon a fifty-foot gate carved from Diamond. They were embedded with emeralds, sapphires, and rubies that would make even the wealthiest king weep in envy. Sailing closer to its entrance, the door opened automatically, expecting their arrival. Crossing the barrier into the world of the dead, their surroundings rippled like water in an ocean, changing its scene dramatically.
The familiar world Thelonious knew was now forfeit. Seeing the Underworld’s landscape was worse than ever imagined in scripts. The wars he faced were timid compare to what was witnessed. Screams rattled his eardrums as Gorgons, Chimeras, Harpies, and other various creatures flooded the gate’s entrance, punishing souls who tried escaping. Out of them all, Cerberus was the fiercest. Not only ripping apart the damned who tried passing the hound but also attacked the vile creatures who dare hinder Cerberus’ duties. Seeing limbs of both the dead and monster flying in wailing agony, Thelonious looked at Charon, who seemed to be unfazed by the events unfolding before them.
As if psychic, Charon nonchalantly assured him. “Do not be alarmed by what you see mortal.”
Thelonious stared at Charon in disbelief. “Alarmed? One is mortified! What madness resides here?”
“The sentence of which given is of eternity. Some tend to flee from fate,” Charon answered. “The dead try, and the dead fail. This becomes you if you challenge your fate Now look ahead and let us be done with this scene.”
Casually drawing distance from the gate, Thelonious could do nothing but examine the underworld further. Mountains as tall as titans surrounded the edges of the area, almost like a dome. As far as he could see, five rivers spread out from one another, including his, all flowing the same way. Where did its destination lead?
His curiosity was soon extinguished. Just several kilometers ahead, he saw a structure made of the same minerals as the gate. Thelonious couldn’t believe his eyes. Hade’s palace is the epicenter of the underworld. How could something extraordinary and stunningly magnificent reside in a place such as this? This stature deserves to be shown and praised for its architectural beauty but instead is trapped below the earth’s surface for no one to witness. In Thelonious’s eyes, it seemed almost criminal.
Admiring the place, Charon spoke out. “Do not be fooled by its looks, for its structure was made to penetrate the soul and test one’s true intent. I suggest one’s thoughts and heart remain pure for what is to come.”
Taking Charon’s words religiously, he broke eye contact and focused on the horizon. “One wonders if Adonis heeded your warnings as such.”
“Adonis?” Charon repeated back.
“Aye,” Thelonious strained. “Does one recall him?”
Charon scoffed at the human for his unmannerly comment. “I know all souls who enter upon my vessel. Even those of little significance, such as yourself.”
Ignoring the ferryman’s ill words, he pursued further information. “Then one must recall my fellow comrade?”
He nodded his head slightly. “Aye, the name you speak rings in one’s ears, for many winters have passed. A mind can be a maddening place when nothing but humanities squabbles of regret and fear plague you.”
“Many winters?” Thelonious turned toward Charon. “What does one assume by many winters?”
“Three, four?” he guessed. “Time is but a mere blur in the afterlife. One shall feel its keen sting soon enough.”
Stopping next to a wooden dock, he held his boat steady. “May the judgment of three grant you mercy, young mortal.” Thelonious thanked the god for his kind words and departed from Charon’s skiff. He stood upon the edge of the platform, watching the ferryman fading back into the river in front of his eyes. All alone, he had no choice but to follow the path that was laid out before him and face judgment that all have endured.