The ferry glides silently on the Styx, Charon piloting it toward the branch that will take us to Tartarus. After leaving Nemesis, I’d gone home to my cottage. I made two quick meals, one for Charon and one for Hypnos, before changing my clothes. I had abandoned my traditional cloak. Instead, I am wearing a long coat, black slacks, and a gray sweater. Hypnos’s food sits in my lap as Charon’s food rests on the seat next to him. We ride in silence, which is fine by me.
Charon guides the ferry near the shores, and I disembark. Three figures wait for me on the bank. Two imps flank a tall, balding man with long fire red hair that curls around his head and runs down his shoulders, with a beard to match. I approach Acheron, the Primordial Lord of Woe, whom one of the rivers in the Underworld is named after. He is gazing off into the distance, his eyes large and unfocused.
“I sensed dire sadness. I could almost see it out there past the shoreline,” Acheron whispers.
“As well it should be. This is the Kingdom of Woe, is it not?” I say.
At the mention of the word woe, the two imps dramatically throw their forearms across their eyes and begin to chant.
“Lord of Woe! Lord of Woe! Lord of Woe!”
“Enough,” Acheron says softly.
The two imps stop their cries and stand at attention. Acheron’s eyes focus on me. They are filled with confusion, and a perplexed look spreads across the ancient Primordial’s face. He reaches up absently and strokes his beard.
“I know thee not, traveler. Is this your final destination?” Acheron asks.
With a heavy sigh, I snap my fingers, calling the shadows to me. They swirl and form around me, changing my outfit back to my cloak. For added effect, I summon my scythe and unfurl my wings. I now stand before the befuddled Acheron in my full godhood. He gasps and takes a step back, clutching at his chest.
“My Lord Thanatos, such trickery. Just like your brother,” Acheron accuses.
“My lord, I think you need to venture from Tartarus from time to time. Some fresh air will do you well,” I say.
He takes another step back at my suggestion of leaving. The imps mimic his movement, and I let out a slow sigh as he changes the subject.
“Did Lord Hades send you to deal with me?” Acheron asks.
“No, I am sure he will see to you personally. His last email indicated that the Furies have escaped,” I say.
“Speak not their names. They are sure to appear,” Acheron says, turning his wide eyes to the sky.
I grow weary of this conversation and this old paranoid fool. I secretly hope when Mr. Hades settles the matter of the Furies that he sinks Acheron back beneath his river for another millennia or two. I clench my jaw and grind my teeth, pushing past the aggravation. He has turned his wide unfocused gaze back over the Styx. I lower my hood and put my scythe away. I let out slow, measured breaths to control my temper before I address him.
“I am here to see my brother at the behest of the three kings,” I say
“Oh yes,” Acheron says in a breathy gasp, “the stealer of minds and wills. A true Lord of Woe in his own right.”
“Lord of Woe! Lord of Woe! Lord of Woe!” the imps chant.
“Silence,” Acheron whispers.
The imps lower their arms and stand at complete attention.
“No one crosses the line, my lord,” Acheron says.
“The line?” I ask.
“Yes, the sleep line. Those who do are lost to the God of Sleep forever,” Acheron says.
“Not forever, I have seen them wake. I require passage to this line,” I say.
“Yes, of course. The imp, Gregor, will escort you,” Acheron tells me, pointing to one of the imps, “I go no further.”
While he answers me, his gaze remains fixed out across the Styx. Gregor steps forward, and we depart, leaving that senile being to his own devices staring out at the dark water. We walk toward my brother’s coffin amidst the sounds of the damned. The howling cries, the maddening laughter, the begging, the pleading, and the screams for relief that will never come are constant. My mind finally allows me to go over that Skype call some months ago with Mr. Hades.
“There are other problems, Than,” Mr. Hades said.
“Other problems? What other problems?” I asked, my stomach clenching tight.
“Hephaestus’s machines have failed to remove the water that amplified his abilities. The water that has been extracted from him is under careful scientific scrutiny. Look, I am not much for beating around the bush, so let me be honest with you, Than. The three kings have convened and have come to the conclusion that your brother is too powerful and too dangerous. You are the only one immune to his powers,” Mr. Hades said, rubbing his eyes.
“I see. What would you and your brothers have me do?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“Than, he is already taking over parts of the Underworld with his poisonous will, and it only grows stronger by the day,” Mr. Hades said.
“You didn’t answer my question, sir,” I said.
Mr. Hades sighed heavily and said, “He is too powerful to be left alive, and a final solution needs to be put into place. You are the only one who can carry this out for not only us, the gods, but the mortals who are in danger. You know full well what your brother is capable of.”
“I understand. How will I go about it then?” I asked. Zeus and Poseidon joined the call, and we began our conspiracy.
I am so lost in my memory it hardly registers that the imp has stopped at a deep line drawn into the ashen gray ground. There are no cries or screams in this section of Tartarus. The silence is deafening and worries me greatly.
“Your brother has silenced them, my lord, and I go no further,” Gregor says.
I nod and cross the line, entering that eerie silence, and make my way to Hypnos’s coffin. As I pass the other prisons, I can feel the trapped souls moving around in a daze. Their personal horrors are temporarily forgotten, while Hyp has control of them. As one, they call out to me.
“Thanner,” they chant as I pass.
The ground crunches beneath my feet as I walk over pools of glassy liquid. These are wandering souls that have fallen under my brother’s sway. They haven’t been wiped out but imprisoned. I can feel the souls shifting around in the pools, their wills still under my brother’s influence. I see the pools shimmer as they try to form, desperate to free themselves.
I pass by the remains of imps that had been blown up. Dried blood, bits of entrails, and flesh lay strewn about the ground. I stop at Hypnos’s coffin while the chants of my nickname from the dead have only gotten louder. It is through the twin sense that he knows I am coming.
I stand before the stone coffin and breathe in deep, steeling myself to see him. I place down the plate and pull a small vial from my pocket. I drink the gift from Hekate. It will dim my twin sense when I need it. I check the hidden place where Hypnos’s dagger is stored. I received it along with his other personal items after he was tried and convicted. It is secure. I place my hand atop the coffin, and with a small prick of pain, my black ichor runs from my palm into the stone grooves. The coffin lid slides open as my hand heals. I bend down to retrieve the plate.
I descend the ladder to the floor below. The bottom is spacious, containing a bed, bookshelves lined with books, a television that was on but had been muted, a table with a chess game set up, and a radio that is playing the song “In The Pines,” sung by some young woman. Hypnos stands with his back to me in a bright orange jumpsuit similar to what mortal prisoners wear.
“Hello, Clarice,” Hypnos says.
He turns around, smiling his game show host smile as his black and gold fleck eyes shine with malicious glee.