The Dirge of the UnderworldA Chapter by Domenic Luciani
To be concluded..
“Where are the others?” I asked Grayson.
“Got held up " the Furies attacked us and they told me to go ahead.” He explained.
I didn’t have time to run through the details, there was too much to do. First things first, I thought. I opened the door to Hades’ chamber and found Avra rummaging around in Daedalus’ satchel, handing him a bottle at his command. Daedalus was holding a small bowl and grinding the contents of it with his thumb. Every once in a while, he would feed a spoonful of whatever was inside to Hades, but he remained motionless in his enormous throne. Daedalus would curse under his breath and start over.
“How’s it going?” I asked, afraid of what the answer might be.
“So far " not so well, however, I feel I am on the right path. There are few poisons even in the Underworld that have this effect, and I am making progress in narrowing down the likely antidote.
“Good,” I said. It wasn’t the most reassuring answer, but at least he hadn’t said it was impossible to cure Hades, which might’ve been the worst news I had ever received. Even more than finding out I wasn’t dead, which I was still quite shaken over.
The next step would be a bit trickier. Mostly because if I couldn’t open a door to the room where the contract was held, then, well, there was nothing to do.
I closed my eyes and raised my hand to a blank wall. I held my breath as I let the memory flood in and then " click. I opened my eyes and sighed in relief. There, in front of me, was the white door that leads to the contract. I wouldn’t even have to step inside. But then again, it all depended on whether Daedalus’ Greek fire worked.
“On three " ready . . . one . . . two . . . three!”
On one, I had pulled the clip out of the grenade, on two, Grayson had thrown open the door. The contract was there, inside the room. The blue candles illuminated the black binding and cast the walls in dim light. On three, I had hurled the Greek fire grenade through the open door. It landed right beneath the stand that held the book and rolled around for a moment. Grayson quickly shut the door, but before it disappeared, a blast shook the place, followed by spouts of green flame that reached through the space between the door and the floor. The flames continued to spew out until the door had disappeared.
“That was pretty intense,” Grayson admitted, rubbing his hands on his shorts.
Back to the task at hand, we checked back in with Avra and Daedalus to see how they were doing. Daedalus was finishing patching up Icarus’ shoulder when I peeked in, and I felt a little ashamed that I had nearly forgotten about brave Icarus up until that point. Avra snuck past me, through the door and whispered, “I think they’re having a father-son moment. We should leave him be. He’s only got a few more antidotes to go, anyways.”
I wanted to argue, but the way Daedalus was bent over his son reminded me of my own family.
“You have to stop being so reckless, Icarus. I can’t keep losing you.” Daedalus’ words were stern, but his eyes were shining with tears and his chest was swelling with pride as he wound Icarus’ shoulder with white bandages that slowly became less and less bloody. I closed the door softly and returned to the other room.
Grayson had already created a door that lead to the room with the high-vaulted ceiling. Through it, we ran to the door that led out to the bridge. Another bellow sounded and my fears were confirmed, and once we had started across the bridge, my heart fell.
Out across the battlefield, an enormous maelstrom was forming in the seas. The clouds had gathered immensely thick and were now mimicking the water and forming a massive swirling vortex in the sky. Lightning cracked, thunder boomed, and the wind was so strong it threatened to send us flying over the edge of the bridge. Down on the battlefield, something was happening. The fighting had simply stopped. Both forces were standing still.
There came a cry above us as the griffins descended and collected their respective children. Jack swooped down and landed in front of me, ready to go. But I wasn’t. Something was happening to me. My headache returned, worse than it had ever been. Near me, Grayson had doubled over in pain as well.
“You see kid. I told you, you were useless,” Chiron’s voice pounded in my head, and for a moment, I wasn’t staring out across a vast expanse to the sea, and I wasn’t standing on a bridge. For a moment, I was staring up at a white ceiling. The slow beep . . . beep of a heart monitor was the only sound to break the silence.
My body was in terrible pain. I could feel myself broken, and remembered being this way before. I shut my eyes tight and willed myself into sleep. I was back on the bridge, and Avra was screaming to me, in slow motion, to go. But I couldn’t move. I was in the hospital, reaching blindly for whatever plug or switch would cut me off from life. No, I was staring at a figure in a black suit. He was on the bridge with me.
“I’ll make you a deal, kid. You come with me to Tartarus, and this whole thing will go away, promise.”
I was back in the hospital, more awake than ever. I looked over to see a bunch of wires and chords. I had no idea what any of them did, but they looked important enough. I reached over and yanked them free from their plugs, and listened as the heart rate monitor fell into a single, drawn-out beep. My eyes closed and my head went fuzzy.
I was back on the bridge. Chiron was standing there, too, and he didn’t look happy.
“That’s it!” he yelled. “I don’t care anymore!” He whipped out his cane and raised it over his head, letting it fold over and reform into the deadly club. I blinked my eyes a few times and dove to the side, before I had even become fully aware of the situation, and felt the bridge shake as Chiron brought his weapon down.
I was still alive. I don’t know how I knew, but in the back of my head, there was this strange, tingling pulse in the back of my head.
I rolled away again as Chiron struck the ground where my head had been a moment before. I got to my feet as quickly as I could and immediately began to search for my bow. I found it a few feet away from where I had first been, and a few yards behind Chiron. I ducked as he swung it across, narrowly missing me. I did my best to roll towards the bow and ended up doing more of a quick slide over to the bow. Either way, I stood up with it in hand. Chiron was just turning around, as I knocked an arrow in to the string and pulled it back.
“You’ve failed, kid.” Chiron growled.
I hesitated. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I have a clean shot, the contract is destroyed, and your army doesn’t take orders from you anymore. I’d say that’s a pretty clear win.”
Chiron chuckled to himself, but I couldn’t see the joke. “You’re dying, kid. And whether I have you now, or have you later, you will be mine. You’ve played along quite well until now, but you’ve never had to make a choice like this.” Chiron gestured to the maelstrom that was growing steadily in diameter. “The Kraken will take no prisoners and give no mercy. I’ve trained him on your friends, and how long do you think they’ll survive?”
“You’re a monster,” I spat.
“No, no, no. Like I told you before, I’m the Underworld’s dealer, and what the Underworld deals, my friend, is death. You just had to keep biting the hand the fed you, and now you’re paying the price.”
I pulled the arrow back further, training it where Chiron’s heart would’ve been if he had one, but I kept glancing at the maelstrom that was bringing forth Chiron’s Kraken.
“I could kill you, too” I said.
“No you couldn’t,” Chiron said with a laugh. “I’m a god, Nicolas. It will take much more than an arrow or a stab wound to kill me. No, this will be a proper choice " one or the other.”
I looked at him in his cold, red eyes and then over to the center of the maelstrom, which had begun to release enormous sprays of water as whatever was below it was rising.
“Choose, Nicolas Rider!” Chiron screamed.
In a split second, I had released the arrow and watched it fly straight through Chiron, blasting him backwards. I then jumped to the edge of the bridge, put my fingers in my mouth and whistled as loudly as I could.
From somewhere in the sky, a high-pitched screech came as Jack snatched me off the bridge and carried me off, away from the palace.
“YOU WILL NEVER BE RID OF ME!” Chiron cried.
I looked back and saw his body disappear the same way he had before: in a blur of colors and distorted scenery.
My heart trembled as a deep bellow came from the swirling sea. I gasped as something emerged from it, and at first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
It was the same monster I had fought at the lake of shadow, except this one was twice as large, maybe even more. The Kraken came out of the vortex looking like a whale coming out of a puddle. It moved slowly, but because of its size, it covered a lot of ground very quickly. The tentacles that sprouted from its back had to be a few miles long, at least. They surrounded " not a castle " but an entire city, crumbling and covered in moss and grey barnacles. Its head emerged along with its fins and then it was floating on the surface, its slightest movements through the entire sea into turmoil. It continued to bellow, and Jack was cooing nervously. I couldn’t blame him. The Kraken had been terrifying before, but now . . .
I looked down to the battlefield. It seemed that the immortals had woken up from their trance and were now fighting with the other children to bring down the Kraken. They launched spears and arrows, but they all sailed through the air and bounced harmlessly off the Kraken’s thick hide.
Avra and Grayson were already there, doing what they could to organize the children in a tactical offensive, though I wasn’t exactly sure if there was any ‘tactical’ way to bring down a monster like this.
By the time I reached the battlefield, the Kraken had already begun swinging its long tentacles around and slamming them one by one on the ground. Every time they rose back up, everything that had been beneath them had been crushed " including children.
This wasn’t good, I thought. At this rate, everyone would be sent back to the fields before we had a chance to kill it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was attacked. Not by the Kraken, but by the dog-faced furies. Apparently they had finished off the children in Hades’ palace and were now after me. One of them grabbed my leg and tried to wrench me free of Jack. I kicked it in its freakish face and Jack bolted towards the water. The others were soon following me.
In a sharp maneuver, Jack twisted left and shot along the coastline. The children saw the frightening creatures pursuing me and aimed their fire at them instead. The Furies were caught in an enormous wave of arrows, spears, and even a shield or two. When they were hit, they burst into dust, which is what I assumed was their equivalent of death.
When the volley had passed, only two furies were left, and one of them was crushed by one of the Kraken’s enormous tentacles. The last one followed Jack and I as he headed straight up in a blurred mess of dodging, rolling, and spinning through the mass of weaving tentacles.
The air was filled with the thundering of the Kraken, the sharp sound whizzing of arrows, and the shrieks of the last Fury. Then the pulse began to weaken in my mind and I knew I was dying. I didn’t have much time. The pulse jolted quickly. I could only guess that they were trying to resuscitate me back at the hospital. It happened again and head twitched involuntarily. Then there was the pain again. As Jack narrowly avoided a tentacle, I screamed in agony, and Jack hesitated for a moment to look down at me.
I saw it a split second before we made contact, but I was too slow to react, and by the time Jack had looked back, it was too late. Even as he did his best to dodge it, the final tentacle caught him on the left wing and sent the both of us spiraling out of control. The Fury caught up to us and latched onto me. The hideous thing started to claw at Jack’s talons, making him shriek in pain. All the while, we were falling out of control. I looked the thing dead in its beady black eye and saw no emotion, no terror, no nothing. My bow hand was focused on pushing the creature off of Jack, but I was able to use my other hand to grab an arrow and shove it into the Furies neck. The creature shrieked, let go and shot off to the sky, clutching the wound as black blood sprayed around it.
When Jack had stabilized, I noticed something was missing. I felt around in my pockets, but the Greek fire grenade was gone. I glanced down and scanned the area for any sign of it, but it was no use. The weapon was gone.
“Hey, did you drop this?” Avra yelled.
Avra and her griffin had flown beneath me and recovered the grenade as it had fallen, much to my surprise.
“Pull the thing out and toss it,” I called down to her. Apparently she hadn’t heard me, but after I repeated the message a few times, she understood.
She pulled out the silver clip and let the thing fall until it was little more than a tiny speck somewhere upon the Kraken’s scales. There was a flash and a boom and the world split apart for a moment as an enormous bout of green fire began to flow like a river out of the spot where the grenade had been. It cascaded and grew like it was a monster itself, spreading over the Kraken’s scaly body. The monster roared in anger as the fire slowly but surely began to consume it.
I clapped my hands enthusiastically as the Greek fire wound its way up the Kraken’s tentacles and cover its head " but my celebration was cut short as all the tentacles suddenly shot in one direction " towards Avra.
There was nothing I could do, and in the moment that the tentacles surrounded her like hands around a fly, I commanded Jack to let me go. I felt his talons slacken slowly and then I was freefalling through the air. Wind rushed past my face as I past the place where the Kraken was slowly crushing her " somewhere amidst the great mass of limbs, and as I did so, the sun broke through the clouds for the first time in days. I figured it had something to do with the contract being destroyed and Chiron’s grip on the Underworld weakening.
There was the monster, right below me. The towers of the city rushed past me as I fell, and I had to angle my body to keep from crashing into them.
This was it. The absolute last, go-for-broke plan that would either kill me, or save the Underworld . . . no pressure, right?
The Kraken was only a mile away . . . no, a few yards . . . a few feet . . . now! I stretched out my hands to brace myself and squeezed my eyes shut.
By matter of pure luck, at the exact moment I came into contact, somewhere in a Colorado hospital, some doctor had yelled “clear!” and pounded my chest with a pair of defibrillators, and for that split second, I was perfectly balanced between life and death. Every bit of my mind was focused on being anywhere " anywhere but here.
Later, Grayson explained to me that the Kraken had just ripped apart and then gotten sucked into some black hole-looking thing. What I remembered was the feeling of space and air disappearing, and when I finally had the courage to open my eyes, I wasn’t anywhere I recognized at all.
There was sand and an endless desert off to my right, and to my left, a giant mountain of ice rose at the end of an enormous stretch of pearly white snow. There was movement all around me, I could feel the Kraken, but there were others here " monsters just as sinister, or even more so. Every inch that I could see was distorted and the outlines kept flickering like an old movie, and the wind that blew didn’t feel cool and didn’t even rustle my hair, but it vibrated and pressed against my body with enormous pressure.
Then a voice rang in my ears, and I recognized it as the one who had spoken to Chiron . . . his master.
It said, “Welcome, child, to the realm of Tartarus. I will make you a deal. If you "”
“BACK OFF THE KID!” Yelled a different voice, this was new, and it was even more fearsome than the other. The voice of Chiron’s master backed out of my mind like a frightened animal as the new one invaded.
I hoped it didn’t want to make a deal. I was getting really sick of deals and bargains.
“Come on, kid, let’s go.” The voice said quite casually, like a father annoyed that his child had gotten lost in a jungle gym. Before I could answer back, I was sucked out of the realm called Tartarus and landed hard on solid ground. It wasn’t a soft landing.
As I stood up, the first thing I noticed was Hades, sitting on his throne. He looked strong and stoic, compared to the pathetic man I had first seen. Next to him, on his left, stood Daedalus and Icarus; Daedalus puffed out his chest and Icarus smiled meekly. His shoulder was no longer covered and as far as I could see, his wounds were gone.
The man on the right however, I did not recognize. He wore silver armor covered in intricate carvings, his face looked thin yet strong, and"if it wasn’t the light"his whole body seemed to be glowing with white light. As I watched, he strode over to me and helped me up.
“Thanks,” I said, confused.
“No, no,” the man chuckled. “I should be thanking you. If it wasn’t for you, I’d still be stuck on that boat.”
I gawked at the man. “Hermes?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s me, kid.” Hermes said.
It took a moment of staring, wide-eyed, but finally I saw the resemblance, and for the first time, I realized that the man who had looked so decrepit and weak while being the ferryman, was truly a god.
© 2010 Domenic Luciani
Added on May 31, 2010
Last Updated on May 31, 2010
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AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..
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